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Should students help decide which schools to close?

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 at 8:24 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

College Park High School student Michael Sullivan.

College Park High School student Michael Sullivan.

By Theresa Harrington
The Mt. Diablo school district is undertaking a very big and very unpleasant task — trying to decide which of its more than 55 campuses it could close to save about $1.5 million a year.
Trustees have agreed to establish a 35-member committee that will begin meeting in September to evaluate sites and give its recommendations to the board in December for four to six schools that could be closed in 2011-12. The district is accepting applications through May 7 from potential committee members including parents, school employees, administrators, community members and representatives from other groups.
But College Park High senior Michael Sullivan believes something very important is missing: students. Unlike most school representatives who address the board, Sullivan capped off his usual comments about campus activities Tuesday by expressing “strong disappointment” about this apparent oversight.
“I understand a community member, but nothing can replace a student,” he said. “Must I remind the board and council that the reason you are here is to serve the students?”
The students of College Park suggest that at least one student from each of the six high school area feeder patterns (including middle and elementary schools) be on the school closure committee, he said.
Trustee Gary Eberhart said there was still time to include students. But, the board does not meet again until May 11 — after the application deadline.
Sullivan was pumped after speaking to the board. He told me he hoped his comments in the Contra Costa Times would spur others to push for student representation on the committee.
“What are they thinking?” he asked me outside the board room. “What’s the whole point of even having student representatives?”
Sullivan showed me a note that Eberhart had slipped to him after his remarks. “Great advocacy…” it began.
But Sullivan didn’t want me to reprint the entire note because he’s hoping other student advocates will step forward to be heard.
At previous board meetings, students have shown that they have strong opinions and care deeply about their schools. They have advocated eloquently on behalf of music and sports programs.
The committee members are expected to help evaluate every school in the district according to these criteria:
1. Facility condition: includes all buildings and mechanical systems. Age, modernization, maintenance and repairs will be considered.
2. Capacity utilization: includes enrollment as a percentage of capacity.
3. Operations and maintenance costs: a per pupil cost will be calculated based on utilities, administration, staff and maintenance.
4. Adjacent facility capacity: determine whether nearby sites have extra space or could be expanded to allow for additional classrooms.
5. Academic performance: includes Academic Performance Index (API) scores and API growth.
6. Improved facility conditions for students: School sites considered for closure will be evaluated on the basis of the percentage of students which would be relocated/consolidated to sites with improved (relative to closed site) facility conditions (eg. moving from a site with no classroom air conditioning to a site with classroom air conditioning).
7. Cost of consolidation/closure: includes costs to close school and relocate students and staff, such as moving, interim housing, additional classroom construction and improvements or modifications for special programs.
The district intends to divide the large committee into smaller teams that will each evaluate schools according to one criterion. Do you think students would add value to these teams?
One would assume they could speak for themselves and other students about #6, which is expressly concerned with improving conditions for students. It is quite possible that students may have different opinions than adults about what is most important to them on campuses.
Applicants are required to submit applications stating why they want to serve on the committee and why they feel their participation would benefit the committee.
Sullivan told me today that he had not heard back from the district about his suggestion, so he planned to call Pete Pedersen, assistant superintendent of administrative services, to pursue it.
“I guess we should act under the impression that it’s not getting done until we see it done,” he said. “It’s an urgent item, because the application is due back May 7.”
If students can make persuasive cases for being included, should they be allowed to participate?

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