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Oquirrh Hills Elementary to close after 3-year effort to improve falls short

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Dec 14th, 2018 @ 6:52am

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KEARNS — Oquirrh Hills Elementary School is facing closure after a three-year effort to improve student achievement resulted in lower test scores and a school grade of "F."

Top Granite School District administrators met with the school community Thursday night to inform parents, students and other community members that they will recommend that the Board of Education close the school at the end of the current school year and change boundaries of nearby schools to serve affected students.

The school board will take up the matter in January.

Anna Dees, whose children attend Oquirrh Hills, said the students had been "failed by the previous administration and the school district" for not doing more to monitor what was happening at the school.

Others wanted assurances the students would not be failed a second time as they moved to other schools.

Rick Anthony, assistant superintendent over Title 1 schools, school improvement and educator support and development, said the school and district entered the turnaround effort with "an expectation of improvement. There really was."

Anthony said he did not want to "point fingers or place blame. It's everybody's fault. It's my fault. … I have some ideas what I can do better. I want you to know I own my part."

In 2015, Oquirrh Hills was identified by state education officials as a turnaround school, which meant it had three years to improve student performance or face sanctions.

Turnaround schools are those in the lowest 3 percent of student achievement statewide as measured by end of year SAGE tests in math, language arts and science. SAGE is short for Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence.

Schools identified as a state's lowest performing receive grants and assistance from experts intended to increase student achievement. The school forms a turnaround committee that includes parents, educators, a school administrator and the local school board representative.

Oquirrh Hills' school grade was a "D" in 2015, according to year-end state assessments. Three years later, it was an "F."

According to a letter to the Granite school board, Oquirrh Hills "did not grow sufficiently to either exit turnaround status or qualify for a two-year extension," wrote Superintendent Martin Bates.

In 2015, eight elementary schools and two junior highs in Granite School District were identified by state education officials as turnaround schools.

They included Bacchus, Granger, Lincoln, Oquirrh Hills, Redwood, Roosevelt , South Kearns and Wilson elementary schools, along with Jefferson and Westlake junior highs.

Eight improved student achievement and improved one letter grade, which allowed them to exit the state's turnaround program.

Redwood Elementary improved enough to qualify for an extension of its turnaround program.

"Oquirrh Hills did not. They did not improve enough to receive an extension," said Anthony.

Parents voiced concerns that their children would be labeled as they moved to other schools. Some expressed similar fears for the school staff.

"We plan in facilitating the transition in a very healthy manner to make sure your kids can be successful," said Ben Horsley, district communications director.

Statewide, 90 percent of schools that entered the turnaround program met exit criteria or qualified for an extension, according to the Utah State Board of Education. During the three-year period, one school closed and two others— Oquirrh Hills and Midvale Elementary School in Canyons School District — remained in the program.

State statute says schools unable to exit turnaround after three years and do not qualify for an extension may be converted to charter schools, be placed under contract management or the state can take over the school.

Granite District elected to change the boundaries of other schools in the area so they can serve displaced Oquirrh Hills students. Those schools include Arcadia, Western Kearns and David Gourley elementary schools, which are higher performing and have enrollment challenges.

Oquirrh Hills educators and staff will be subject to "involuntary transfer" as required under state law, said Anthony.

"We will work with them to find employment at other locations," Anthony said. "We are not firing anyone at Oquirrh Hills."

Oquirrh Hiils is one of the older elementary schools in the school district dating back to 1957. The building may be used to temporarily house students as the school district rebuilds schools in the area.

According to the Utah State Board of Education's Oct. 1 headcount, Oquirrh Hills' enrollment has dropped 14 percent since October 2015, when it enrolled 392 students. This fall, the enrollment was 336, making it one of the smallest elementary schools in Granite School District.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said state statute says schools unable to exit turnaround shall be converted to charter schools, be placed under contract management or the state can take over the school. The law actually says they may be subject to those actions.


Marjorie Cortez

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