Parents Urge Changes to Hillside Closure Redistricting Plans
Hillside parents object to splitting up their kids, while Brookfield Elementary parents don't want their children to move to a "swing school" without enough peers.
There's been a certain symmetry in Elmbrook School District for years, with three elementary, one middle and one high school each on the east and west sides of the district.
But with the School Board voting to close Hillside Elementary School and move from a six-elementary school feeder system to five elementaries, the symmetry disappears and perceived inequities arise.
Throw into the mix the board and superintendent's interest in redistricting in a way that leaves room to close a second school if needed in the future — without moving the same families yet again, and it doesn't become an easy task.
Some major themes emerged:
- Don't separate Hillside students. Instead, move the entire school's resident students en masse to Brookfield Elementary, as parents said they were promised as a "saving grace" to losing their school.
- For those Brookfield Elementary students who must leave to make room for the Hillside merger, move them to Swanson Elementary, not Dixon, in order to have more peers moving with them to the same middle and high schools.
- Don't make a "swing school," where some students would move on to middle and high school on the east side of the district and other students would move on to west side — at least not unless it was a 50-50 split. If it's not close to an even split, then concentrate non-resident students (Open Enrollment and Chapter 220) at that fifth school.
The latter theme was the most difficult, because all three scenarios presented Wednesday envision Dixon as a swing school.
And rather than pack Dixon — one of the Elmbrook's two newest elementary school buildings and an east-side school — with non-resident students, the scenarios envision moving some west side students to Dixon and then back to the west side for middle and high school.
Superintendent Matt Gibson said about one-third of Dixon's fifth-graders would move to Wisconsin Hills and Central High, with two-thirds to Pilgrim Park and East High.
But many Brookfield Elementary parents objected Wednesday, saying the number to be moved was too small and would leave their children with few friends as they enter the developmentally rocky middle school grades.
"My third-grade daughter will know 17 kids, and I don't think that's right," Debbie Seymour said.
Kerri Swart said: "Swing schools are bad educationally and financially. It's not sound educational practice for those kids to go to a middle school not knowing any of the kids."
Swart drew applause when she added: "Swing schools need to be eliminated."
Hillside parent Angela Wellsmith cautioned her west-side peers about being willing to squeeze into Brookfield and Swanson elementaries in order to avoid going to a swing school.
"It feels like the west side is taking a full brunt of over capacities and over sections," Wellsmith said. "Our kids are going to have the biggest classes, the fullest schools."
She noted that in all three redistricting scenarios, Tonawanda is not impacted. "Tonawanda gets low classes sizes," she said.
But Tonawanda is the other school with the cloud over its head, slated for likely closure if declining to flat enrollment does not materially increase or if budget deficits aren't closed.
Gibson said the scenarios leave enough room for Tonawanda to close and its students move to Dixon, pushing Dixon students to Burleigh. The district has studied the numbers and if Brookfield Elementary students move to Dixon, they would not have to move again to Burleigh if Tonawanda closes, Gibson said.
One parent said she doubted Tonawanda will close so Elmbrook should forget about saving room to absorb a second school closure and instead more equitably balance a five-school system.
"If we're not strong enough to tell no to Tonawanda now, Tonawanda is not going to close," she said.
Some urged the district to move quickly to make a decision so students and their families can begin to heal and adjust to their new school.
Brookfield Elementary parent Barb Calkins said she was saddened that the school closure was causing divisions among families — "it's causing us to break apart" — and that she wants to warmly welcome and partner with Hillside families.
Others said more analysis was needed to make the best redistricting which will impact families for years to come.
The School Board plans to discuss a redistricting plan at its meeting Tuesday and and make a decision Nov. 22. Both board meetings start at 6 p.m. at the district's central offices, 13780 Hope St.