Amid massive confusion about what changes are actually being proposed in the Arvada articulation area, parents attending the North Arvada Middle School facility plan discussion, expressed opposition to the proposals to move 6th graders to middle schools, close neighborhood elementary schools and build community busting, supersized elementary schools. Additional concerns were raised about the loss of teachers that could happen with the plan, and the reduction in resources that schools will have when they no longer have their 6th grade students.
Among the audience of about sixty, seemingly half were from the Hackberry Hills community and about half were Jeffco staff members. According to the written plan 6th grade general education students from Hackberry Hills will move to North Arvada Middle, while GT students will stay at Hackberry. District staff assured the attendees that was not actually the plan. They asserted that elementary schools east of Wadsworth would change to K-5’s, while schools west of Wadsworth would stay K-6’s. However, the plan also calls for schools in the Ralston Valley area to change to K-5’s, so community questions were not adequately answered and there seemed to be no plan for updating the information provided.
More confusion arose when discussing both the grade configuration and boundaries for Foster and Lawrence elementary schools. In the written part of the plan on page 26 it says 6th grade will be removed from elementary schools east of Wadsworth except Foster and yet the graphic shows Foster losing 6th grade. More confusion came when parents asked about the boundary changes for Lawrence and Arvada K-8, saying the proposal could cause students close to Lawrence to not be able to attend there. Staff again said that was not the intention, but parents were less than pleased with staff’s explanation versus what is in the written plan.
Parents from Campbell and Stober elementary expressed loud opposition to their schools being closed and their students being forced to attend the new supersized elementary schools. Questions arose about how much funding Jeffco would lose because the two title one schools being consolidated could lose title one status. Parents discussed all of the capital improvements made at their schools over the last four years and what a waste it would be to then turn around and close those schools. In addition, many parents expressed frustration that the plan disregards communities and would attempt to force parents from one community to attend a school far from their home. In addition to the potential financial burden of having to pay for a bus, parents expressed concern that they had purchased homes specifically to be able to attend their neighborhood school, and this plan pits Jeffco on a path to close small community neighborhood schools.
More frustration erupted when parents expressed their opposition to moving 6th grade into middle schools. Parents were upset that their children would lose literacy instruction, would have to travel longer distances to schools and that teachers might not be able to teach 6th grade in middle schools. One parent shared that her family moved to Jeffco last year specifically because 6th graders are educated in elementary schools. Another mom said this plan seems to take into account the wall needs of the district but not the heart needs, a reference to the lack of regard to the “community feel” many small neighborhood schools create.
It was clear from the first comment/question that the room was filled with angry community members. The first statement made slammed the board for scheduling community meetings only two days after the plan was made public. Furthermore, this person complained that attempts to ask Jeffco principals for clarity were not able to be handled because staff was not adequately versed in the proposals. Superintendent Dan McMinimee said that the principals had been briefed on the plan on Monday before the board meeting, but it was clear there was not a thorough staff roll out when even the presenting staff couldn’t agree on what the plan contained.
In addition, the staff in the room had a myriad of questions about how the potential changes would affect staffing and job statuses. If 6th graders move to middle schools, concern was expressed that the instrumental music staff would be cut as they would lose half of their students. Staff also expressed concern that specials teachers might be eliminated as schools lose their 6th graders. While central staff said this was certainly not the intention, we all know the funding available to support smaller student teacher ratios does not exist.
Finally, community members expressed dismay in the lack of transparency and community engagement of the current process to provide feedback on the $800 million facility plan. Although there are twelve community meetings scheduled, eight of them are scheduled in June after school lets out and many parents and community members are away for the summer.
Sentiment for the evening seemed to be summed-up by the parent who said this may be a good plan for the walls, but killing neighborhood schools is not a not a good plan for the community.