SOUTH SALT LAKE — The Granite School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to close Westbrook Elementary School in Taylorsville and Carl Sandburg Elementary School in West Valley City, effective at the end of the academic year.
The board took the votes following a public hearing, with the board hearing testimony from affected patrons of each of the schools.
Board President Karyn Winder acknowledged the emotional toll of school closures, both for the school communities and school board members.
“We understand school closures are emotional. They are gems of your neighborhood,” she said. “This a hard vote. I don’t think any of us get any joy in just discussing these.”
Parents and educators urged the board to take into consideration the aftermath of a school closure.
“There’s a fantastic culture at Westbrook. You can’t transplant through numbers,” said Steve Swasey, a Westbrook parent, noting the rich diversity of the school.
Karen Haslam, a kindergarten teacher at Westbook Elementary, said closing the school will mean “you take a faculty that works together so well and spread us to the winds.”
Another Westbrook parent, Kaleb Knobel, urged the board “to leave us alone,” and do more study before making school closure decisions.
But the board voted to close the schools citing the need for schools to have three or more teachers per grade to give families more options to match children’s learning needs with specific teachers, ensure the best use of taxpayer resources, and place students in school buildings that are in the best condition.
Board member Connie Anderson was persuaded to vote for the Sandburg Elementary School closure because “it was clear Jackling was in better condition for the children.”
Board member Gayleen Gandy said she had personal connections to Sandburg and Jackling elementaries, but she ultimately decided it made no sense to disrupt 30% more students and move them to a building that was smaller and in worse condition.
Initially, both schools were under consideration for potential closure.
Jackling is a Title I school, which means it receives additional federal resources intended to enhance educational opportunities for disadvantaged students. Its enrollment is about 350 students. This school year, Sandburg’s enrollment dropped to 245 students from 650 in 2009.
Both schools were built in the 1960s, but according to the school district’s facility condition index — with 1 being the worst and 100 the best of all Granite District buildings — Sandburg ranks eighth while Jackling ranks 61st.
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.
The closure of Westbrook surfaced as the school district has labored to eliminate school boundaries that straddle Bangerter Highway. The highway has undergone updates in several locations, adding freeway-style interchanges intended to improve traffic flows and enhance safety for drivers and pedestrians.
Ryan Reneer said his family lives in the Jacking boundaries but they opted to send their child to Sandburg based on recommendations from the neighborhood.
But they also made the choice because they felt unwelcome at Jackling Elementary, which he said felt more like a jail than a school. They were told they missed the registration deadline and were given materials to prepare their student for school that were written in Spanish, “which is not our native language.”
This is a hard vote. I don't think any of us get any joy in just discussing these.
–Karyn Winder, board president
At Sandburg, “it has been nothing but a positive experience for our child,” he said.
Sandburg and Westbrook schools were second and third schools the school board has voted to close this calendar year, the first being Oquirrh Hills Elementary School in Kearns, which was shuttered in May after declining enrollment and poor academic performance.