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Parents dismayed by closing of D-2 school

February 8, 2011

About a dozen parents braved icy roads Tuesday to hear details of plans to shut down Chamberlin Academy and transfer students to nearby Stratton Meadows Elementary School next school year.

The afternoon meeting at Chamberlin, in Harrison School District 2, was calm, but parents had questions about academics, safety and transportation to Stratton Meadows. Some expressed sadness at losing the tightknit 54-year-old school that they said “was a second home” for their kids and themselves, too.

Others focused on the practical. One parent worried about the expense of purchasing new uniform clothing in Stratton’s colors. Chamberlin’s colors are red, white and navy. Stratton’s colors are red, white and black, but officials said students can wear navy instead of black.

Harrirson officials on Friday had announced the closure, which will be at the end of the school year and will save $600,000  to $700,000 a year. Some Chamberlin teachers will be reassigned to Stratton and elsewhere in the district.

The Adult and Family Education school that provides alternative education and English language classes for 400 to 800 adults also is being closed to save $400,000.

The are about about 135 students at Chamberlin, the all-year school on Slater Avenue in the Stratton Meadows subdivision southeast of D-2 headquarters. That’s down from 250 in past years. About 83 of the students are from the surrounding neighborhood that has transitioned from young families to mostly retirees.

The district, with a $90 million budget and about 10,500 students, had to trim $13.5 million in the last three years, Superintendent Mike Miles said.

Like other districts across Colorado, it has been hit by state budget woes that have forced deep cuts in education funding.

“It will be hard to replace Chamberlin,” Miles said. “We had a lot of mixed feelings in closing the school. It’s been a great neighborhood school, but with only 83 kids from the area attending and enrollment declining, we had to make tough decisions.”

Parents wanted to know why their school was targeted, and why they weren’t told sooner.

Board President Deborah Hendrix said there were discussions a couple of years ago when the school first had been targeted for closure. The district tried to save it by making it an all-round school. However, they found that kids didn’t want to go year round and parents wanted them to be free for vacations.

One parent, Khalila Briggs said she’s concerned that Stratton Meadows doesn’t have as good an academic record as Chamberlin.  

Miles responded that Stratton received the highest academic growth in the district, growing 120 percent last year.

“I hope you give Stratton Meadows a chance,” he said. “They are doing right by kids. That didn’t happen by accident. And if there are any other problems we will take care of  them.”

Another parent expressed concern about liquor stores and a seedy park near Stratton Meadows.  

Chamberlin Principal Sheryl Hobbs, who is retiring this year after nearly 30 years in the district, noted that the Stratton Meadows has the same safety features that Chamberlin does.

A shuttle will be provided from the Chamberlin site, and there will be other stops. The usual one-mile radius that determines when a child will walk to school has been waived and children will be able to ride a bus, Miles said.

He said Stratton Meadows is not targeted for possible closure in the next few years, another fear the parents expressed.

 Bottom line, the parents worried their kids were leaving a small friendly neighborhood school for one that has 300 or more students.

“You will be okay,” Miles said.

Desiree Espinosa, in tears, said: “I know we will be ok. But it is unfortunate.”

D-2 board member Richard Price added, “You are strong parents, and will be recruited to help make things happen at Stratton.”

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