Hey South Jeffco, What Choices Will You Have for your 6th graders in 2017-18?

Do Chatfield area schools need cleaning up?  What options will be available to South Jeffco families? Will 6th graders lose precious reading and writing instruction time?  How much is Deer Creek enrollment decreasing? Is there a secret plan to close Deer Creek or Ken Caryl Middle School? What is expeditionary learning? Will GT students be the only 6th graders left in elementary schools in the Chatfield area? These are only some of the many questions swirling around coffee mugs in south Jeffco these days.  

For years, 5th grade students at Shaffer elementary knew they would spend their 6th grade year at Falcon Bluffs middle school. In 2013, the district decided that 5th grade students from other south Jeffco elementary schools could also complete their 6th grade year at Falcon Bluffs and opened some 6th grade STEM classrooms at Deer Creek. Next year, Bradford will add a 7th grade to their offerings (and change to an expeditionary learning, one-on-one curriculum). That is certainly a lot of choices and has been sold as such, and it could be very confusing. Maybe that is what Sam Palamara meant when he we quoted as saying “Chatfield area schools need to be cleaned up”.

But was Sam really revealing some secret plan to get all 6th graders out of elementary schools in the Chatfield area? In South Jeffco?  All except at affluent Bradford?  There have been some badly-publicized meetings in south Jeffco to discuss what some are saying is a done deal for the 2017-18 school year, moving 6th graders out of elementary schools. Rumors abound that the changes would mean the closing of Ken Caryl Middle School. Yes, most of us remember closing that Ken Caryl was the number one recommendation from the 2009 Facility Usage Committee. It was thought that Ken Caryl had the most commercial salable value and closing it and selling the school could provide money that might be used to build schools in northwest Arvada.  Perhaps money from selling this land would be used on interest payments now that the district is $78 million more in debt.

Others are saying GT kids will stay in elementary schools while all of their peers will move onto middle school for 6th grade, apparently in order to save Ken Caryl for at least for another year or two for the sake of the GT 6th graders who should still be able to stay in the same school for 7th and 8th gradeSome are saying with Deer Creek losing the Bradford middle school students, Deer Creek is on the chopping block. Won’t there be 60 less students at Deer Creek next year? Haven’t we lost two teachers at Deer Creek because of the Bradford 7th graders staying at Bradford? Won’t another 60 students stay at Bradford next year as they add 8th grade?  That is a whole team full of Deer Creek teachers, plus the loss of Bradford 6th graders from the STEM classes means even less students at Deer Creek.

Many are asking how Deer Creek will be able to offer students the range of choice next year with so many less students. Others wonder: Where are the Deer Creek parents and staff who should be screaming to protect choices for their students? What have they been promised that they are keeping quiet?  Were they promised 6th graders from Ute Meadows and Stony Creek as if those students were pawns in a chess game? And still others wonder if giving Bradford 7th and 8th grade was an attempt to keep those “wealthy” parents out of the conversation about where 6th grade students will be taught and which schools should close protecting their community school regardless of how it impacts hundreds of other kids.

With over 70 Bradford students choosing other Jeffco schools last year alone, many wonder why there weren’t more community conversations about what an expeditionary learning school actually provides for students. If Sam Palamara was so out of touch with what parents wanted and so unable to deliver high quality education for his students why is he the first expeditionary elementary school in Jeffco? Do parents understand their elementary school will no longer be a comprehensive elementary school?  Will the 60 students attracted by the new K-8 offering leave like the other 70 students did?  Then what happens?  Why wasn’t this mass exodus of students understood before being granted 2 additional grades to refill their capacity levels?  Was it to pay for their newly hired Vice Principal?  (Yes folks – Bradford now has 2 Principles and 1 Vice Principle). Would’nt we rather see another teacher or 2 to reduce class sizes to under 30?

With Bradford on its way back to full capacity and if 6th graders leave all of the other elementary schools in south Jeffco will one of the elementary schools be closed and sold? Think it can’t happen? South Jeffco families need to remember Russell elementary (closed and sold), Martensen elementary (closed, now a security center) or Zerger elementary (closed and vacant).

Many are also asking the most important question: how is this good for students? When 6th graders are treated as middle school students, they often get less reading and writing instruction time. If 6th grade doesn’t exist in elementary schools in Chatfield area, will students that want to attend Summit Ridge or Ken Caryl make three transitions in four years? In 2009-10 when the district considered moving 6th grade into middle schools parents went ballistic and filled auditoriums and gymnasiums across the district demanding 6th grade be left in elementary schools. Slowly over the last couple of years south Jeffco has been ground zero for ignoring those voices and moving toward giving us fewer choices while selling us on having more choice.

South Jeffco, are we being snowed? Will the only choice for 6th graders in 2017-18 in Chatfield area schools be to send them to middle school? Is that what Sam Palamara means when he says Chatfield needs to be cleaned up, except for high income Bradford students, will all other elementary schools lose 6th grade?