Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Somber resignation prevalent at school closure meeting

KRISTINA IODICE Updated: January 10, 2013 at 12:00 am

“We want our school to stay open,” Shelby-Ann Sharpton, a junior at Wasson High School, told the Colorado Springs School District 11 board on Thursday.

District administrators recommended Wednesday that Wasson and Lincoln and Bates elementary schools be closed at the end of this school year.

The mood was somber at a public meeting Thursday at the Tesla Educational Opportunity Center attended by about three dozen people.

“They’re like another family,” Shelby-Ann said. “That’s a big part of my life.”

She said Wasson students were told by staff on Thursday, leaving many in tears. Juniors were especially heartbroken, she said, because they want to graduate from Wasson.

“It was really sad, everybody was in tears,” she said. “They practically decided already.”

D-11 administrators repeatedly said during Thursday’s meeting that the recommendations could change and that they are only proposals until the school board votes.

The proposal to close Wasson is packaged with a plan to combine the district’s alternative programs with new offerings at the campus.

The recommendations are expected to be presented to the board as a discussion item at the Jan. 23 meeting. A vote is expected at the Feb. 6 special board meeting. People may address the board about the plans at those meetings.

But many seemed resigned to likely closures.

“We’ve been railroaded for years,” said Wasson parent Maureen Miller. “Wasson cannot recover from the damage done.”

Students, parents and teachers said Wasson never had a fair chance. Every time talk begins of a possible closure, students leave, they said.

Enrollment was at 1,061 and increasing until district officials talked about closing a high school, said Wasson teacher Theresa James.

In a November report, enrollment was about 900 students. Several people on Thursday night said that had dropped to about 860.

District administrators aren’t taking responsibility for problems, James said.

“We went through the process in 2009 and where did it get us?” she said before the meeting. “When will they come out with a long term solution?”

Just two weeks after Wasson escaped the ax in 2009, a majority of the D-11 school board voted to keep the comprehensive high school open for at least five years while pursuing other options to boost attendance.

Closing Wasson will hurt kids at Mitchell as well as Wasson, James said. Some students, especially those considered at-risk, perform better in smaller schools, she said.

Wasson sophomore Jared Hunter said closing the school would put the district on the road to failure.

Some who would have spoken in support of Wasson couldn’t make it: The girls basketball team was playing in Woodland Park Thursday night.

“The hardest part is not knowing. It’s sad,” said Terri Spencer. She’s the production manager in the school cafeteria and has worked at Wasson for eight years.

“It’s feeling like everyone has just given up,” she said.

Three more public meetings are planned to allow people to learn about and comment on the recommendations.

Also recommended is the closure of Bates and Lincoln elementary schools. Students would be spread among Jackson, Edison, Audubon and Fremont elementary schools.

One parent of a Fremont student asked administrators for a guarantee that schools gaining students under the proposals would be given additional resources.

Monica Morrel, whose son attends Bates, said the district should look at all the ways to market the school near the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Enrollment could be increased by bringing in Lincoln students.

Even those finishing their time at a school recommended for closure are feeling the pain, especially Wasson seniors.

“The girls that have been here for four years it affects the most,” said Wasson Varsity Girls Basketball Coach Jerry Austin. “It’s hard to bring down a building with such tradition. A building that they love. They love that school. It’s hard on them.”

Sports reporter Justin Felisko contributed to this report.

Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina Facebook Kristina Iodice

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