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Murray Journal

Spring Lane and Twin Peaks school closures seem inevitable after district meetings

Nov 01, 2022 07:50PM ● By Heather Lawrence

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Granite District held community meetings Sept. 28 and 29. They discussed population studies in Holladay that point toward boundary changes and school closures. Elementary schools in Holladay all seem to fall short of optimal enrollment numbers.

“The ideal numbers when we’re looking at an elementary school are 550 students enrolled and three teachers per grade, that’s kind of the sweet spot,” said Granite spokesperson Ben Horsley in his introduction.  

Horsley moderated the discussions along with Steve Hogan, director of planning and boundaries. Community members were invited to share concerns ahead of time on GSD’s website. They were also given time at the microphone to ask questions and participate in the public forum.

Horsley said the Population Analysis Committee has studied this area for a long time. “The PAC is made of 16-18 people who help analyze boundaries on an annual basis throughout a school calendar year. These are our findings from the Van Winkle/700 East Corridor Study,” Horsley said.  

The meetings had big turnouts and emotions ran high. Horsley and Hogan presented a slideshow to explain the data and the options. But all three scenarios pointed to the same thing: close three elementary schools, two of which will be Spring Lane and Twin Peaks.

The third possible school closure options were Penn, Lincoln or Millcreek.   

“We’ve studied enrollment numbers, students attending the school from out of boundaries, from outside the district, and for special programs like Dual Language Immersion,” Horsley said.

The PAC’s findings will be presented with a recommendation to the Board of Education, who will then vote on what to do.

Both meetings ran over two hours and were attended by community members, parents, teachers, administrators, students and lawmakers.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (House District 37) was in the audience and commented on how good it was to see so much community engagement. Spackman Moss taught at Olympus High for most of her career before running for office. Her daughter teaches at Skyline High.

“My reason for running for the legislature was for education. I care a lot about these issues,” she said. She questioned whether closures would lead to more students choosing charter schools.  

Other people were concerned that the closures were short-sighted—the numbers reflect current demographics, but not future ones. There were questions about what happens if a school is needed in the future for a growing population, but had been closed.

Horsley and Hogan acknowledged several times throughout the meetings that they didn’t have a crystal ball. Horsley addressed the district’s desire to hold onto their properties, even if they aren’t in current use.

“I was on the board when we made the decision 14 years ago to sell off the Granite High School property. Looking back, I regret that decision. There’s an ebb and flow to these spaces and with a little patience we might have found something to do with it that worked for the community.

“We got $11 million for that property, but it’s worth far more now. And considering our annual operating budget and that a new elementary school is $35 million, that sale was just a drop in the bucket. We got a one-time boost, but now that property is gone from us forever,” Horsley said.

Parents were concerned about what is lost when a neighborhood school closes. The feeling of community, the building itself that holds memories, and the traditions of a school would all be broken up by a closure.

Being too far to walk to school was also a concern. “Transportation has been part of the PAC discussion. Getting a bus route, setting up courtesy stops, and establishing safe walking routes have all been part of the conversation,” Hogan said.

April Flores, a parent and PTA member at Millcreek Elementary, was at both meetings. She introduced herself and read a prepared statement.

“I do not appreciate how often I hear Millcreek and closure in the same sentence over and over again,” Flores said.

Flores went on to praise Millcreek’s culture, diversity and new administrator Amber Clayton. 

The schools are up for closure because the PAC’s findings show numbers are unevenly distributed at the schools. There are 3,300 elementary school students and nine schools within the boundaries they studied. The average is 366 students per school, which falls nearly 200 students short of the district’s “sweet spot” of 550. 

Closing three schools means that 3,300 students are distributed among six schools, which is an average of 550 per school.

Community members expressed over and over again they felt numbers were taking precedence over intangible experiences in these decisions. Hogan and Horsley said they were there to listen to these thoughts and experiences.

 “We don’t want a school that’s too big or too small. We want a minimum of three teachers per grade level. This is where we see the best educational outcomes,” Hogan said.

The documents and numbers presented are all available on Granite School District’s website. Questions and comments for the PAC can be emailed to [email protected].

Of the schools discussed, Granite presented their enrollment as of May 2022 in their “Three options with busing summary:” Woodstock, 475; Oakwood, 350; Spring Lane, 280; Twin Peaks, 225; Moss, 475; Millcreek, 340; Lincoln, 400; Walker, 420; Wilson, 300; and Penn, 550.

Though all the options point to inevitable closures, parent Bella Johnson argued that people are overlooking the strengths of a small school.

“There is something to be said about the camaraderie and community in a small school that you can’t touch in big schools. I would venture to say it’s hard to bond and hard to create that community network,” Johnson said.

Johnson also addressed the issue of socioeconomic differences between schools. She said as a person of color, she has noticed people have a different attitude toward a school that is seen as older, poorer or more ethnically diverse.

“Everyone wants to send their kids to the ‘nicer schools,’” Johnson said, hinting that what people really meant were the whiter schools.

“How do these numbers address these attitudes?” Johnson asked. “If these schools close will our diverse kids feel less like a part of the community?”