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D-11 middle school shuttered perhaps forever

click to enlarge Parts of East Middle Schools interior are in disrepair. An - impending $3 million renovation helped move D-11 to - consider closing the school. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DISTRICT 11
  • Photo courtesy of District 11
  • Parts of East Middle Schools interior are in disrepair. An impending $3 million renovation helped move D-11 to consider closing the school.

East Middle School enrolls more native Spanish-speaking students than any school in District 11. More than three-fourths of East's 340 pupils qualify for free or reduced lunch.

But neither of these things explain why last year, for the fourth year in a row, East failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards.

Now their school's about to close, and those students will be forced to start over.

Last Wednesday, the D-11 school board voted to shutter East for the 2007-08 school year while a committee decides what to do with it. The decision followed two public forums and the meeting's heated comment period, during which one East teacher described a student's take on the closure, the district's first in 20 years.

""It feels like when we watch TV and we see those videos, with someone blindfolded, about to have their head cut off,'" language arts teacher Shirley Cannon recalled her pupil saying. ""And they are pleading.'"

Beyond the emotion, which included a request not to close from state Rep. Michael Merrifield, is the story of a neighborhood school that has drained district dollars as hundreds of area students opted to attend other middle schools.

Last year, 371 pupils permitted out of the school. Less than a fourth of the student body scored proficient or advanced on the C-SAP tests. East ranked lower than TESLA, the district's alternative school.

No single factor can account for East's performance. At Wednesday's meeting, some cursed federal guidelines that force dissimilar students to conform to a single test. Others, like deputy superintendent of instruction Mary Thurman, point to problems with curriculum alignment. Board president John Gudvangen cites a lack of central leadership; the school changed principals several times in recent years.

"I think it got to the point where we could reasonably ask the question, "How well are we serving students from the standpoint of providing greater equity in education?'" he says. "The answer was, "Not well enough.'"

East's test scores weren't the only issue. The school served as a center for the English Language Learners program; 130 students were permitted into East last year, most to take specialized English courses. A recent study by the Colorado Department of Education urged D-11 to decentralize its ELL program by moving those students and some staffers back to their neighborhood schools. After the proposed redesign, East would enroll only 220 students, dipping to 27 percent of its capacity.

East was also due for a $3 million renovation, an expenditure the board has avoided for now.

Next school year, East's students will attend Mann, Sabin and North middle schools, where Thurman hopes they will be monitored to ensure progress.

Meanwhile, an East committee will form to consider the school's options, which include reopening with a new curriculum, using it as a D-11 facility, selling it, turning it into a math and science magnet, or handing it to a charter program. (Cesar Chavez, a Pueblo-based charter program, has shown interest.)

Glenn Gustafson, D-11's chief financial officer, prefers to sell East, which he estimates is worth $4 million to $5 million. With the district's enrollment declining, several schools are below capacity reason, he says, to consolidate. He would not disclose the names of buyers who have expressed interest in the building.

Gudvangen says that may not happen.

"People aren't looking at the extremes of the options."

  • D-11 middle school shuttered perhaps forever

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