Colorado Springs D-11 will vote on updated steps to school closures

April 7, 2014 Updated: April 8, 2014 at 6:49 am
photo - Clad in her cape, second grader Camden Habgood carries her award to her seat. Students at Taylor Elementary School received superhero capes for their reading efforts on Friday, March 16, 2012.
Clad in her cape, second grader Camden Habgood carries her award to her seat. Students at Taylor Elementary School received superhero capes for their reading efforts on Friday, March 16, 2012. 

Revisions to a 1983 policy on how Colorado Springs School District 11 handles school closures place more responsibility on administrators and teachers..

The district's board of education will vote on the changes at a 6:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday at the administration building, 1115 N. El Paso St.

Enrollment shifts and financial considerations resulted in the district closing 13 schools in recent years. While it has no plans to shut down more, Deputy Superintendent Glenn Gustafson said procedural updates are in order.

"The theory is that everybody's a little gun shy on whether or not their school is going to be closed. The intent is to identify triggering factors that could - but not necessarily - lead to the board discussing the schools' fate," he said.

The factors are the same as those used to determine which of the nine schools in 2009 and three in 2013 would be shuttered.

They include enrollment trends, building capacity, building utilization, student performance, the number of students using permits to transfer in and out of the school boundaries, educational programming, transportation eligibility and the condition of the building.

When a school has enough of the warning indicators, it can be placed on a "watch" status.

"And then the clock starts ticking to say, 'OK, you're triggering a number of criteria that typically lead to school closure,'" Gustafson said.

Schools must work with district officials to remedy the situation and have two years to correct the issues or face potential closure, according to the proposed policy.

District officials realize that some of the criteria - such as building capacity and building condition - are out of the control of school staff, Gustafson said. But others, such as enrollment, student achievement and students permitting in and out, are deemed as being aspects that a school's leadership can change.

"We want to identify the schools that are struggling for a variety of reasons and empower them to say 'We own this as a staff, as a community, it's our job as much as the board of education's to fix these things,'" he said. "By the time it reaches the board, it's way too late."

As of this school year, Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy, a middle school that emphasizes science, technology, engineering, arts and math, has the most flags, with five.

Four elementary schools - Patrick Henry, James Monroe, Midland International and Queen Palmer - have four flags each. The remaining 42 traditional D-11 schools have zero to three flags. Some aren't taking any chances. Taylor Elementary, a 60-year-old school in an older neighborhood near Patty Jewett Municipal Golf Course, faces stiff competition from two other popular D-11 elementary schools in the area.

But this academic year, Taylor has 274 students, way above the projected 208 and nearly at capacity.

"I sent out an alert: It looks like projections of our enrollment are to be low, what are we going to do to fix this?" said Principal Missy Hollenbeck.

They've done plenty. Hollenbeck, teachers and staff members have hauled brochures and home-baked treats around the neighborhood in a red wagon, talking up the school's merits.

Hollenbeck, who lives in the neighborhood, opens her house to parent meetings and activities such as cookie decorating classes.

Students earn superhero capes - handmade by Hollenbeck and school volunteers - for achieving goals in their schoolwork. Additional academic success is rewarded with stripes and eventually the student's name embroidered on the cape.

Hollenbeck credits word-of-mouth recommendations leading to half of the student body permitting in - living elsewhere but choosing to attend Taylor.

"People say when they walk into our entryway, they just feel comfortable," Hollenbeck said. "We try to make students want to be at school."

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