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The Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously voted to close 16 elementary schools on Nov. 10, approving a consolidation plan initially presented to the Board by the District on Aug. 25.
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Sixteen elementary schools will be consolidated into others not more than 3.5 miles away.
Glennon Heights Elementary
Green Mountain Elementary
New Classical Academy at Vivian
Sheridan Green Elementary
Wilmore Davis Elementary
Under-enrollment and lack of resources were continuously cited by the District and Board over the last three months for why the consolidations are necessary, with specific attention to inequity in school programs due to stretched District resources. An hour-long public comment before the vote showed no parent, teacher or community member speaking in support of the decision, though.
“Closing 16 schools with no public process or input the way you have done it is not appropriate,” Sarah Stites, a local business owner and former Jeffco teacher said.
Many parents and community members see the decision as rushed and lacking sufficient input from the community, calling the community meetings and public hearings that each closing elementary school had “performative,” as Board member Paula Reed put it.
However, she clarified “that these sessions were not for debating whether or not to close these schools, but rather how best to make the transition…perhaps we jumped into that too quickly.”
“If I thought that Regional Opportunities for Thriving Schools would cause kids to lose anything without gaining a great deal in return, I would absolutely vote no,” she continued. “As an educator, I cannot leave some kids in under-resourced schools, while others get everything they need and more.”
Board member Mary Parker similarly pointed to programs like special education and how consolidations will help address their limited resources, and the negative effects that can have on the program, in the long term.
Parents at Emory Elementary, now slated for closure and the only school with a dual-language program consolidating into one without, are similarly concerned for their program in the long term.
“If the District doesn’t provide us with the support or the resources and training that the teachers need, it’s going to disappear,” Aida Kline, a parent from Emory, said after the vote.
Lisa Relou, the chief of strategy and communications at Jeffco Public Schools, said afterward that there is a transition plan in the works that parents will have access to in time for December enrollment.
Even as the Board spoke continuously on how consolidations will help this stretch of resources and funding, parents and community members have argued it is a rushed plan, and do not see it as well thought out.
“The District does not have a long-range plan or even a clear phase two after closing 16 schools,” Sheryl Lammers said in public comment. “We, as stakeholders, cannot make informed decisions about the future education of our children, or the impact on our property values.”
Board member Susan Miller, speaking before the vote, said that consolidation is not a solution in itself to their $40 million budget deficit or the other issues of equity the District is having, but “just one step we will have to take in this long hard process.”
Trust was brought up repeatedly, in public hearings and meetings before the vote and during public comment the day of. Destiny Farr of Lakewood called trust for Jeffco schools “scarily low,” and Alana Richie said, “I’ve gotten to the point that I’ve lost all trust.”
Board President Stephanie Schooley acknowledged that loss of trust in comments before the vote. Afterward, she told Colorado Community Media that delivering on the commitment the Board made with this vote is partly how she wants to rebuild that trust. That, and being reflective and changing practice where necessary to make community members feel more meaningfully engaged.
She also points to the actual resolution.
“We thought long and hard about how we would integrate those voices and concerns, fears, of parents,” she said. “And we did that through the resolution itself.”
She said the Board was able to address almost every question or comment that came up over the course of the community engagement.
“They’re responded to within the resolution as a directive from the Board, so the District is held accountable for those things," Schooley said.
Further information about what these consolidations will look like can be found here.
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