Sixteen Jefferson County schools will be closing their doors beginning next school year. The JeffCo Public Schools Board on Thursday voted unanimously to close all the schools on a recommendation list addressing declining enrollment in small neighborhood schools.
After the vote, several parents and residents in the audience said, “Shame."
Jessica Tribbet has two children who go to Kullerston Elementary in Wheat Ridge. She knew the decision was coming down, but she still had hoped to send a third child there. She said she was devastated by the vote.
“This isn't the right plan. They did not do their jobs. They failed us,” Tribbet said. “They've slaughtered our education system.
She worries kids who were enrolled at schools with 200 students will be have to go to schools with enrollments of double that or more. Now, she is looking at possibly taking her kids out of the school district.
Wheat Ridge City Council member Val Nosler Beck’s family has lived in Jefferson County and attended its schools for generations. Her two daughters are in first and third grade at Wilmore-Davis Elementary. She was saddened that her children won’t be taught in the same schools as their grandparents before them.
“We were working with the school district and the principals. And all of that work time and effort was not reflected in anything that was put forward by the school district,” Nosler Beck said. “And so, the school district needs to do a better job of working with the families and the communities that they impact with huge decisions like this.”
Fifteen of the closures and consolidations will take effect for the 2023-24 school year. Bergen Meadow K-2 will close and consolidate with Bergen Valley the following school year.
The district recommended the closures in August due to the decreasing number of school-aged children
Jefferson County’s population increased by almost 56,000 in the last 20 years, but the school-aged population decreased by nearly 30,000.
Jeffco Public Schools superintendent Tracy Dorland expressed regret in making those recommendations to the room filled with concerned families and residents.
“This is not an easy decision for me to make … and I think, as evidenced by tonight's meeting, it is a big impact on our school communities,” Dorland said. “I feel a great deal of responsibility to support the impacted communities in a way that helps them through the transition.”
Dorland, who is in her first year as superintendent, knew the district had issues with declining enrollment when she took the job. But, she said she didn’t know just how bad it was.
“I was surprised at the level of severity in which it was impacting so many of our small schools,” Dorland said. “And so, once we realized that, the board asked for a more comprehensive approach to school consolidation.”
The schools chosen for closure were based on a certain criteria:
- The enrollment had to be less than 220 in grades K-2, K-5, and K-6.
- Less than 40 percent of its space was being used.
- And another school is less than 3.5 miles away and can serve displaced students.
There are currently 157 schools including charter schools serving 69,000 students in Colorado's second largest school district. It has the capacity to serve 96,000 students.
The Jeffco district said it plans to hire support staff for the neighborhoods losing their schools. Families will be connected to an enrollment specialist next month to help parents enroll their kids in another school.
The district will also work with the Jefferson County Education Association and the Jeffco Parent Teachers Association to help find employment for staff affected by the closures.
Jeffco Public Schools isn’t the only district that is facing closures and consolidations, nor the only district to announce plans on Thursday night.
Denver Public Schools’ superintendent announced that the list of schools recommended for closure would be cut in half. Now, 5 elementary and middle schools are on the list to close by the end of the year. The school board will vote on the plan Nov. 17.
The Aurora School District has already closed eight schools since 2018 and plans to phase out more.
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