The latest school to appear on a list for possible closure in the Mt. Diablo district is Westwood Elementary in Concord — which was not included in earlier recommendations made by a School Closure Advisory Committee or by Superintendent Steven Lawrence.
Trustee Gary Eberhart raised the idea Feb. 8, when the board voted 4-1 to close Glenbrook Middle School and Holbrook Middle School, which are both in the Mt. Diablo High School feeder pattern of north Concord. Trustee Cheryl Hansen opposed the closures, saying the district should develop a strategic plan before shutting down campuses.
If the district closes Glenbrook, it would lose a School Improvement Grant of nearly $1.2 million over the next two years, which was awarded by the state to help “transform” the school by increasing student achievement. To try to keep this money, Eberhart came up with the idea of closing Westwood Elementary and “moving” Glenbrook to that campus as a sixth-grade only school, combining students from Glenbrook and the El Dorado Middle School attendance area.
According to this plan, Glenbrook’s seventh- and eighth-graders would be consolidated with El Dorado’s seventh- and eighth-graders on the El Dorado campus next door.
At the board meeting last Tuesday (Feb. 15), Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the 21 students in Westwood’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing program would go to Wren Avenue Elementary in Concord, if Westwood is closed. The 17 students in the school’s Severely Handicapped program would also go to Wren, while the rest of the students would be split between Mountain View and Monte Gardens elementary schools.
Westwood students, parents and staff showed up in force last Tuesday, advocating to keep their school open. Silverwood Elementary parents also spoke passionately about keeping their school open, since it is also being considered for closure to help meet the board’s goal of saving a total of $1.5 million a year starting in the fall (including the savings from closing or “moving” Glenbrook and closing Holbrook Elementary).
On Wednesday, Westwood supporters rallied along Concord Boulevard to save the school and prevent the creation of a “mega-middle school,” prompting many cars to honk their support. The group then marched to the district office.
Here’s what some of the supporters told me:
Erica Wilson, who teaches deaf students at the school, organized the rally. She said she considered the idea of moving Glenbrook students to El Dorado and Westwood “absurd.”
“There’s a direct correlation between dropout rates and school size,” she said.
She also stressed the importance of keeping the deaf program at Westwood.
Rob Farrell — a Westwood parent and Westwood, El Dorado and Concord High School alum — said the Westwood students and staff bond with the special education and Hard of Hearing students. In fact, he was so inspired by them that he ended up taking American Sign Language courses in college.
Farrell was also concerned about increased traffic in the area, if Glenbrook students come to the El Dorado and Westwood campuses. Coordination of County Connection buses was also an important issue to consider, as well as possible gang affiliations, he said.
“Westwood is the only school in the area considered ‘Distinguished,'” he added. “Public trust was thrown out the window when Gary Eberhart came up with that recommendation.”
Sue Hernandez, whose children attend Westwood and El Dorado Middle School, said the School Closure Committee and board have not had adequate time to study the new proposal to close Westwood. She pointed out that some people asserted Westwood’s entire population would move together to Mountain View Elementary, but said that’s not true, since they would actually be split between three campuses. Many special education students, she said, are partially or fully included in mainstream classes and would miss friendships they’ve established if they are diverted to Wren Avenue Elementary, which is not familiar with deaf students.
El Dorado Middle School eighth-graders Starr Wargo and Haley Smith, both 14, stood holding a sign that said: “Save Westwood.”
Haley said her next-door neighbor, who currently attends Holbrook, was planning to go to Westwood next year.
“Since Holbrook is closing, if they close Westwood, she doesn’t know where she’d go,” Haley said.
According to the Jan. 25 PowerPoint presentation, Holbrook students would be split between Wren Avenue and Sun Terrace elementary schoools.
At the Tuesday meeting, some parents pointed out that no School Closure Advisory Committee members voted to close Westwood and that Westwood didn’t appear on any of the original school closure scenarios they considered.
Here’s how the School Closure Committee rated Westwood:
Facility condition: 11
Capacity utilization: 10
Operations and maintenance costs: 9
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 15
Academic performance: 12 (API: 810 – grew 5 points; state target is 800)
Geographic equity: 20 (highest possible score)
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 19
Here’s how the committee rated Silverwood:
Facility condition: 1
Capacity utilization: 8
Operations and maintenance costs: 8
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 10
Academic performance: 12 (API: 828 – grew 23 points)
Geographic equity: 11
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 6
Overall, elementary schools scored between a low of 41 (El Monte) and a high of 111 (Cambridge). Middle schools scored between a low of 57 (Glenbrook) and a high of 104 (Diablo View). High school scores ranged from a low of 52 (Ygnacio Valley HS) to a high of 107 (College Park).
On Tuesday, the School Closure Committee explained how it arrived at the facility rating (by looking at improvements completed and planned). However, the public has never been given an explanation of how the committee arrived at the other ratings. The “geographic equity” rating is especially puzzling to Glenbrook MS and Holbrook Elementary families, since they were both targeted for closure, even though they serve the same low-income neighborhood.
Berta Shatswell, Glenbrook’s office manager, told me that she asked Lawrence whether the committee included students’ socioeconomic levels in their criteria. His response, she said, was: “no.”
“It’s not all about graphs, numbers and lines,” Shatswell told me today. “It’s about the personal hardships of these famlies. That that wasn’t a criteria, that just amazes me.”
On Tuesday, Olympic High School teacher Skip Weinstock suggested another alternative: allowing sixth-graders in the Glenbrook attendance area to stay at their elementary schools and sending the seventh- and eighth-graders to El Dorado. This would eliminate the need to close Westwood and could possibly allow the district to keep the grant money, if it “closes” El Dorado and reopens it as “Glenbrook” under Glenbrook’s school code.
Shatswell had another suggestion: Close the Willow Creek Center and move it to Monte Gardens Elementary, which is next to the district office. Monte Gardens students could be dispersed to nearby schools, she said.
Do you think the board should consider other options?