Rethinking School Closures

Today, our communications team sent out the following letter to the Jeffco community regarding school closures. I’d welcome your feedback and thoughts.

August 25, 2017

Dear Jeffco Students, Families, Staff, and Community,

In my brief tenure as Superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, I have worked to get up to speed on a number of pressing issues facing our community. One issue discussed last spring was the possible closure of several elementary schools.

Decisions around closing schools are never easy. Certainly, there are considerations around building age, available space, and financial impacts which must be considered. But the factors which go into the decision of closing a school are far deeper than just the numbers.

Schools are at the heart of communities and serve as gathering places where families build lifelong friendships, solve community concerns, celebrate together, and grieve together. Here in Jeffco, many of our schools have deep ties which stretch back (and forward) decades – where generations of families have memories, connections, and dreams for the future. Any conversations about closing schools must consider both responsible and efficient use of public funds and facilities – but also the larger community needs and values.

I believe in and value all of our schools and understand the disruption which occurs in a community when a school is closed. Toward that end, it is important that we are deliberate and thoughtful about school closures. This begins with an intentional effort to ensure we have done all we can to help every school be a thriving, positive, and quality option for families.

Barring any drastic, unforeseen changes in school funding or our current situation, I feel we can take time to carefully consider this issue. Therefore, I am hereby notifying the Jeffco community that my administration will make no recommendations on closing any neighborhood school until the 2019-20 school year, at the earliest.

This will allow us the time to work with all our school communities to offer attractive and quality programs, consider equity concerns, and partner with other community organizations to use available space to provide important services and supports to our Jeffco families.

To be clear, I am not saying school closures are off the table going forward. There are situations and circumstances where that is a necessary outcome. However, unless we have really given every school a reasonable chance and the necessary support to succeed, it just doesn’t sit right with me.

Further, when and if we come to the place where we must seriously consider closing a school, this decision should be reached in partnership with the affected community. Toward that end, we are re-evaluating our processes and practices relating to school closure recommendations and communications and will work with a cross-section of our community to develop a thoughtful and respectful approach to school closures.

On behalf of all of us with Jeffco Public Schools, thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve your family and this wonderful community.

Kind regards,
Jason E. Glass, Ed.D.

Superintendent & Chief Learner

Jeffco Public Schools

7 thoughts on “Rethinking School Closures

  1. Dr Glass
    Will Jeffco elementary students currently in 5th grade move to neighboring middle schools in the upcoming 2018-19, 6th grade school year?
    Thank you

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  2. Thank you! While personally I am not against school closures per se, this a step in the right direction to rebuild lost trust in the school system. Losing the trust of the community is losing social capital and community cooperation, so I consider a good thing eliminating the periodic sudden “threats” of school closures and the associated turmoil they create.

    That said, I have a question. What are your thoughts on the socioeconomic segregation happening in the Wheat Ridge-North Lakewood area as a result of excess capacity in elementary schools? That excess capacity is used by upper middle class families in the area to concentrate in a number of wealthier schools, while leaving less wealthy families concentrated in what they are considered less desirable schools. I am an advocate of school choice, and our family has enrolled our children out of the neighborhood schools several times, but I think that it is a discussion the district has to have in the open. If you look at CDE profiles for Vivian elementary (our neighborhood elementary) since 2003 (when our oldest daughter enrolled in kindergarten) to today, you can see a clear drop in the enrollment of students of upper middle class families, which doesn’t match at all the evolution of home ownership nor the real estate trends.

    Are you familiar with the district attempt of consolidation of the Vivian – Stober elementary schools in 2007-2008? That exercise brought the worse of human nature to the public forums. For me, the most vivid memory of the consolidation attempt were the comments made by some less wealthy Vivian parents in the aftermath, once the plan was scrapped. They expressed how clear it was to them that they lived “in the wrong side of the tracks” and how they were left feeling that they were a liability to the way-of-live to the families of the other school. No family should be left feeling as a liability after a school community forum.

    People may ask: why try to reduce socioeconomic segregation? Achievement gaps between children of different socioeconomic status is a real issue to be addressed and research shows that mixing students of different socioeconomic backgrounds is a way to do it (http://www.tcrecord.org/library/abstract.asp?contentid=12152). But we need buyout from wealthier families. I don’t advocate eliminating school choice, but families must consider carefully and honestly their motivations to segregate. These are real issues to discuss. I know that one family experience is anecdotal and doesn’t constitute data, but I want to share ours for those families considering to bail out of schools like Vivian. Our children elementary career was at Vivian, Foster Dual Program and one grade at a very segregated parochial school (97% free and reduced lunch, only 5 white families) in the Upper West Side of Manhattan (across the street from Columbia’s Teachers College), yet their school performance has always been on par with students of their socioeconomic cohort. One is in college out of state with a partial merit scholarship. The other one, a student with dyslexia, has been invited by College Board to apply to the National Hispanic Recognition Program, based on her PSAT/SAT scores.

    I would like the district to have this conversation and families to take the challenge of mixing their children with students of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

    PS: English is my second language, forgive me for any errors or inaccuracies in expressing myself.

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    1. Hi Alejandro – thanks for your message and no need to ask forgiveness! Your English is great, especially taking on such a tough and complex issue.

      I am concerned about any practices or systems in our community which result in concentrated poverty. We have decades of studies which tell us such conditions create a number of difficult educational outcomes. It is not impossible to overcome them, but it requires an expenditure of additional resources to accommodate for the challenges some students face. We also have a great deal of research supporting diverse schools, which basically says that students from disadvantaged backgrounds do better when in schools with more socio-economically advantaged peers. At the same time, affluent students do not lose any ground when being in classrooms with disadvantaged students and it may lead to better critical thinking, empathy, and problem solving.

      This is all to say we must be vigilant and cautious about practices which effectively segregated our community by race, income, or language. Diverse schools which look like the community are a better route for us to pursue, but there are logistical and political realities which can make that outcome elusive to obtain.

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