SALT LAKE CITY — The Granite School District Board of Education is studying the possibility of closing elementary schools in West Valley City and Taylorsville before the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
Open houses are planned in mid-September with the communities of the three schools identified for possible closure: Westbrook Elementary School in Taylorsville and Jackling and Sandburg elementaries in West Valley City.
Jackling and Sandburg were identified for possible closure in the district's latest population analysis study. They are neighboring school communities, and their enrollments have been dropping as more charter schools have opened in the area and growing numbers of parents are using open enrollment to attend other schools, said school district communication director Ben Horsley on Thursday.
According to school district documents, the enrollments of Jackling and Sandburg are 340 and 280, respectively. Jackling is a Title I school, which means it receives additional federal resources intended to enhance educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.
Both schools were built in the 1960s, with Jackling 52 years old and Sandburg 53 years old.
But according to the district's facility condition index — with 1 being the worst and 100 the best of all Granite School District buildings — Sandburg ranks eighth and Jackling ranks 61st.
Given Sandburg's condition, it was among schools scheduled to be rebuilt in the first phase of the district's 40-year plan to build, remodel and update 31 schools. The first phase of the program is supported by a $238 million bond passed by voters in 2017. Sandburg was scheduled for a rebuild in 2025.
The district's population analysis committee prefers the option of closing Sandburg Elementary School, according to district documents.
Mycka Murphy, who lives in the Sandburg school community, questioned why a school scheduled to be rebuilt is now under consideration for closure.
Murphy said the school community supported the bond because it would eventually mean a new school.
"I just hope the district can follow through with those promises and give the taxpayers what they voted for," said Murphy, addressing the school board Tuesday night.
State School Board member Linda Hansen, who lives a block from Sandburg Elementary School, told members of the Granite board that she had received multiple telephone calls from concerned patrons.
This is my fifth school closure that I've been directly involved with and they are hard. ... They're hard on neighborhoods. They're hard on kids.
–Linda Hansen, state school board
If Sandburg closes, affected students would be split between Jackling and Hunter elementary schools, resulting in schools with estimated resulting enrollment of 575 and 525 respectively.
Many families in the area would rather their children attend Hunter because is closer for them to walk to, Hansen said.
Beyond that, Hansen asked the board to keep in mind the human element of school closures.
"This is my fifth school closure that I've been directly involved with and they are hard. My first one was when I was 7 and they closed my school. They're hard on neighborhoods. They're hard on kids," she said.
Hansen said someone from the district office told her that "it's just a building."
"It's not just a building. It's part of a community. It means something to communities," she said.
Jackling has 30 classrooms, compared to Sandburg's 25. The square footage of Jackling's media center is nearly twice as large as Sandburg's. It also has more student restrooms, hallway water fountains, and sits on slightly larger acreage than Sandburg, 13.7 acres compared to 11.9.
Jackling's school building is about 6,200 square feet larger than Sandburg's, 55,000 to 48,800 respectively. The schools' multipurpose rooms are of identical size. However, Jackling has 120 parking stalls compared to Sandburg's 48, and there is nearly twice as much asphalt at Jackling than Sandburg.
Horsley said smaller school enrollments pose challenges to a school's academic mission because there are fewer teachers, which means there are fewer options to match student learning styles to teacher strengths.
It also makes it difficult for teachers to team teach, and it can mean bigger workloads for educators because there are fewer of them to fill committee assignments required for all schools, according to school district documents. Smaller schools also have more difficulty creating effective professional learning communities to share the best teaching practices and collaborate on strategies to help struggling students.
It is also a concern for school accountability because "one ineffective classroom can greatly impact school or grade-level data," a school district PowerPoint presentation states. Poor performance on standardized tests and other benchmarks of school performance can land a school in state school turnaround status.
"It really can come down to one struggling teacher or one struggling classroom" in a small school, Horsley said.
The possible closure of Westbrook Elementary School in Taylorsville surfaced as the school district has worked to avoid school boundaries that straddle Bangerter Highway. It also plans to open a new South Kearns Elementary in 2020, which could increase its enrollment from 325 students to 700 in the new building.
A complete schedule of open houses regarding possible school closures and boundary shifts to be conducted in mid-September will be released in a few weeks, Horsley said.
School board president Karyn Winder said the open houses will inform the board's decisions and she hopes many community members will participate and provide input.
"As we get feedback, that's going shape where we go," Winder said.