Parents defend Eagle-Vail elementary school
EAGLE-VAIL – Dana Gumber isn’t taking any chances.As soon as Gumber heard the Eagle County School District was considering closing Meadow Mountain Elementary School, she put her kids on waiting lists for every private school in the county. Fellow parent Bill Hammer has already downloaded state forms for creating a charter school. Hammer, Gumber and nearly 100 other Meadow Mountain parents met for nearly two hours Wednesday afternoon during an informal session with district superintendent John Brendza, assistant superintendent Karen Strakbein and school board member Carri Tedstrom. Throughout the meeting, the parents continually hammered one point: Don’t close this school.While no decisions have been made yet, closing Meadow Mountain is one of four options the school board is considering to handle crowding at some of the district’s other schools.The ideas (see box) were generated during discussions by district officials that distilled ideas gathered during a series of public meetings in January. At those meetings, district officials asked parents to talk about 14 options to address crowding problems in some of the valley’s schools. But the idea of closing Meadow Mountain wasn’t one of the options presented. A newspaper article last week was the first most parents had heard about possibly closing the school.”You’ve instilled fear and fright in all of us,” said Gumber, a member of the school’s parent-teacher association. “You’re creating another opportunity to chase people out of the district.”By not telling parents directly about possibly closing the school, Gumber said the district has lost a lot of trust and credibility.”I don’t know how you’re going to mend that fence,” she said.
Teacher traumaIt’s not just parents who are apprehensive about the future of the school.Principal Kim Walter said her staff is anxious as well. And, despite assurances from district administrators that no changes will occur until the 2006 school year at the earliest, Walter said that hasn’t helped much.”Even if you say ‘You’ve got one more year,’ that’s not comforting,” Walter said.And several parents said the only thing that will ease their fears about closing the school is if the district takes the plan off the table immediately. But that won’t happen, at least not until after a pair of community meetings on March 7 and 8 (see box).”The best thing is to get into the community meetings,” Brendza said. “We’ve got to be able to talk about all this. It’s important for the process to get through the next round of meetings.” That next round of meetings might produce even more options to solve the district’s current problems.The reason for all the meetings is crowding at some, but not all, of the district’s 15 schools. District officials say the rough numbers indicate there’s plenty of space for roughly 5,000 kids in the valley’s 15 schools. And assistant superintendent Karen Strakbein recently told the school board there’s no glaring need for new buildings. But some shuffling is needed, they say.The simplest problem to solve is in Gypsum. Gypsum Elementary School is nearly full, but there’s room for more kids at Red Hill Elementary School. Solving that problem will require a relatively simple boundary line change.
While boundary changes are never completely easy, district officials don’t expect much trouble with moving that boundary by a block or two.The student shuffleThe issues get more complicated in the eastern valley.Meadow Mountain is full, and Edwards Elementary is close, but there’s plenty of room at Avon Elementary. Battle Mountain High School is also nearly full.Meanwhile Minturn Middle School is about half empty. The low numbers there don’t meet district minimums for funding technology and other programs, so the district is looking for ways to make that school more efficient. None of the 14 options presented in January solved all the eastern valley’s capacity problems, Brendza said. But the four options the school board reviewed at its Feb. 9 meeting do solve them, Brendza said.Closing Meadow Mountain would move most students to Avon, while moving fifth grade classes into middle school. Meanwhile, Battle Mountain would expand into Meadow Mountain’s space, creating more capacity there.”This is such a difficult decision,” Brendza said. “No matter what we do, there are going to be people opposed. We’ve got to talk about everything, and land somewhere that’s best for the students.”Where the talk started heading at the Meadow Mountain meeting was toward another option that doesn’t require any new schools.
That idea would create a five-grade junior high, with fifth- and sixth-graders attending one middle school – probably Minturn – and seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders going to Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards.That option is by far the least expensive of the four now on the table, with an estimated price tag of about $5,000 per year, mostly for transporting ninth-graders to high school activities.The down side to that plan would be that one year’s eighth grade class would spend an extra year in middle school. For Walter, though, the junior high concept might be the best one available.”Speaking as a parent, as an educator and a former middle school principal, I think it’s a great idea,” Walter said. “I know there are principals beating down the doors to be involved in it.”Is listening enough?As parents seemed to gather enthusiasm for the junior high idea, Brendza urged them to come out and lobby during the March 7 and 8 meetings, which will be attended by several school board members.The board members’ attendance will be important because it will give them direct information from the public. That’s important, Brendza said, because it’s the board that will make the final decisions about moving school boundaries or closing buildings.After the meeting, parent Jodi Teague said she was happy to see district officials explain more about what’s going on within the administration.”I’m jazzed that they were here and willing to listen,” she said. “They could see we’re a passionate community.”
But that wasn’t enough for Gumber, she said. “We’re going to have to take the best option available,” she said. “I wonder how many teachers are thinking the same thing. What do you do? Bail out now to take an opportunity or take a risk you’ll be one of 20 teachers in a pool for the next jobs?”
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado