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Westwood Elementary community rallies to save school

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, February 17th, 2011 at 8:48 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

Westwood Elementary students and supporters rally along Concord Boulevard to protest school closure.

Westwood Elementary students and supporters rally along Concord Boulevard to protest school closure.

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?

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7 Responses to “Westwood Elementary community rallies to save school”

  1. Exhausted Parent Says:

    “Do you think the board should consider other options?”

    Yes. Close Wren, Silverwood and Sequoia Middle.

  2. Tired of Waiting Says:

    I think the Board should stick to the orginal plan and close Silverwood. Westwood does not meet the criteria they were looking for…if the only reason is to keep the students together then it doens’t seem right. They say Silverwood would be split to 3 schools but so would Westwood ..some to Mountan View, some to Monte Gardens and all the other transfers back to their home schools so they too would be affected. Not to mention the deaf program they have there, it WORKS, leave it alone. The idea of keeping the Glenbrook area to 6th grade is good BUT that would mean Holbrook so where would the 5th going on 6th grade attend???
    Moving Monte Gardens should not be an option as they removed the scenario already….why go back in circles. Stick to the so called plan and close Silverwood as they were included in the top 2 scenarios…Going forward they should definitely study more options carefully and longer so we have no more surprises!!!

  3. Mary Silva Says:

    West wood is a California Distinguished School with a deaf education component that has been in place since 1971. Also they keep saying that the whole school would be moved together but this is NOT TRUE. They want to split the school and move the 25 deaf kids to another site. Some the hearing impaired kids are mainstreamed part or whole day. What would become of these kids?

    Closing West Wood would:
    * Cause major traffic problems
    * Lower property values
    * Cause an unmanageable size Jr High
    * Cause a hardship on the kids from Glen Brook as it is too far to walk to West Wood and taking mass transit would cost $100 per month and take an hour each way
    * The school would lose attendance money, if the student is not checked in by 9am the state doesn’t give the school attendance money. If these kids are taking mass transit (many of them would have to transfer) their arrival times will vary
    * Cut off the deaf kids from their mentors at Concord High
    * Cost the school district money in retrofits to West Wood as it is not set up for Junior High sized kids
    * Any school that takes the deaf kids needs to have carpeted classrooms, acoustical tiles on the ceiling, FM systems (these items are already in place at West Wood
    * Neighborhood vandalism, graffiti and break-ins would increase. Grade school kids don’t get into that kind of trouble.

    The list goes on but I think you get the point that closing West Wood is a HORRIBLE idea.

    Save the future of North Concord.

  4. More questions than answers Says:

    Everyone keeps saying that since Silverwood was recommended for closure by the SCAC the board should just close it and ignore other options. I submit that the entire process by which Silverwood was identified by closure is highly suspect. First of all,Silverwood rose to the top of the list because of so-called facility condition.

    Board member Dennler asked the committee how it was that Silverwood received a “1” facility rating, when that does not square with what is in plain sight. The answer was that a formula was used as to how much in “improvements” were needed at the campus and how much those improvements would cost per pupil. If they are referring to Measure C improvements, then that would not affect the General Fund, so it should not have been given so much weight.

    There was a second criteria used having to do with facilities, that being “improved facilities for students if the school is closed”. Again, Silverwood received few points in this category.

    So, just in the example given by Theresa above, Westwood received a total of 30 points related to its facility, whereas Silverwood received a total of 7. There is nothing wrong with Silverwood’s facility. No, most classrooms don’t have air conditioning but neither do many other schools in the district. The district’s website lists Silverwood’s facility condition as good with no repairs needed.

    How and when Measure C improvements are done at a site are not under the control of the students, teachers, and parents. Yet, it was apparentely a huge factor in Silverwood being chosen.

    The second thing that stood out to me is that from what I observed at both the January 19 meeting and the February 15 meeting, the commitee was not impartial. I saw committee members openly advocate for schools that they have an interest in. One committee member even said that there were schools that should have been considered that “fell off the radar” early in the process and inexplicably never seriously considered.

    Third, there has been mention of Westwood being a “Distinguished school” as a reason to avoid closure. It is an acheivement to win that award, however, when compared academically head to head vs. Silverwood, here are the facts:

    API SW 828 WW 810
    Met 2010 Schoolwide growth target? SW Yes WW Yes
    Met all subgroup growth targets? SW Yes WW NO
    CST Results, % proficient in Grade 5
    Science SW 75% WW 67%
    English Language Arts SW 69% WW 66%
    Math SW 77% WW 67% rating (out of 10) SW 6 WW
    Residents compared to capacity SW .78 WW .57, meaning the neighborhood around Silverwood utilizes their school whereas a high percentage of WW students come from outside the WW attendance area.

    I poring through the data, it seems the board should consider closing schools that have low site capacity AND are not meeting their academic performance targets. Schools that should have been given more consideration include El Monte, Fair Oaks, and Ygnacio Valley High. There was a proposal made by the district to combine some middle and high school campuses, but was scoffed off the table by the committee because it wasn’t their idea.

    Silverwood would be split 4 ways when you consider that the Autism program would be transferred to Wren. Westwood would be somewhat split up as well. Both are utilizing their campuses and both are meeting their overall performance targets.

    The board should halt the school closure process and reconsider El Monte, Fair Oaks, and possibly others based on site capacity utilization and academic performance. Silverwood and Westwood are not the best choices for closure based on those criteria.

  5. Anon Says:

    Can someone comment on this agenda item for the Feb 22 board mtg – 16.1 School Closures:

    Provided the Governor’s Budget proposal is approved and our funding is only reduced by $18.38 per student, staff recommends that we implement the approved facility closures and:

    • Develop a program at Glenbrook that will allow us to reduce the number of special education students served by nonpublic schools;

    • Redraw current boundary lines to minimize overflow transportation costs;

    • Investigate ways to meet student needs in our Necessary Small High Schools more efficiently; and

    • Update our Independent Study\Horizon and Home study programs by providing online learning opportunities.

    Staff believes the above recommendations will reduce $1.5 million on ongoing expenses

    If the above recommendations are approved, does this mean that the board does not need to pick a 3rd school to be closed?

  6. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Yes, if the above recommendations are approved, the superintendent is saying he “believes” the district could achieve the $1.5 million total goal without closing an additional school.
    So far, however, he has only been estimating costs and savings. I assume he will present another PowerPoint on Tuesday. Hopefully, he will have hard numbers to back up his belief. Some board members appear unwilling to make decisions based on uncorroborated estimates.
    I will posts this agenda item separately and ask for comments.

  7. Wait a Minute Says:

    Talk about a potential game changer on closing schools.

    I’ll tell you what, if the Federal Office of Civil Rights investigates the MDUSD because of parent(s) complaints (as is reported that at least one Glenbrook parent is requesting) that they are targeting low income areas for school closures, Lawrence, Eberhart and the others will wish they only had to deal with a local Grand Jury inquiry by the time its all over.

    When OCR comes in they REALLY investigate and they have the resources to do so!
    They also tend to stay for years sometimes depending on the severity of the problems.

    This could be the reason for this attempt to stop at only 2 schools

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