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Holladay Journal

Twin Peaks Elementary under consideration of closure

Nov 01, 2022 07:01PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Twin Peaks Elementary’s days may be numbered.

On Granite Board of Education’s Nov. 1 agenda is the ongoing discussion and decision-making of possibly closing Twin Peaks Elementary.

Twin Peaks, built in 1966, is in an established, aging Murray neighborhood. It is the smallest school in Granite School District with 225 students.

“A final decision has not been made. It’s on all three school closure proposals, but the decision rests with the Board,” Ben Horsley, chief of staff with Granite School District, said, adding that the Board also is scheduled to make a second vote at the Dec. 6 meeting and that any anticipated changes would take place for the 2023-24 school year unless the Board indicates otherwise.

He said that since February, the District’s population analysis committee had evaluated more than two dozen possibilities before presenting the three options to the community. The committee also discusses feedback from the 90 meetings it has had with stakeholders before it will make its final recommendation to the Board.

Also being considered for closure in all three options is Spring Lane Elementary, which is the second smallest school in the Van Winkle-700 East corridor study area with 280 students.

“We assessed all the feedback that we got in our community meetings last spring, it was very clear. Spring Lane and Twin Peaks have lost a majority of their boundary population to special permits. In other words, people have already left those schools for a variety of reasons and gone to their neighboring schools. So, it did not make sense that we continue to try to keep those schools open and especially because they are older facilities, we wouldn’t want to have to rebuild something unnecessarily,” Horsley said.

In each of the three options, one of three other schools—Lincoln, Moss and Millcreek—also are under consideration of closure.

“At the end of the day, the Board doesn’t have to follow any recommendations we make,” he said. “As long as we go through the process, and we’ve identified the schools that are potentially going to have boundaries adjusted or closed. They can ultimately do what they see as appropriate, including keep every one of the 25 elementary schools open.”

Although that is a possibility, Horsley said, “In recent history, I have not seen the board vote contrary to an official PAC recommendation. That’s the reason why it’s taken us nine months to get to this point where we came to these recommendations. They are based on a lot of expertise and public feedback.”

In the past five years, Granite School District has closed Oquirrh Hills, Westbrook and Sandburg elementary schools.

“Our population as a whole is declining, and we expect it will decline an additional few 1,000 students. We will go back to the west side, and likely close a few more locations, then come back in 2024 and evaluate the farthest eastern portion of the district. We anticipate closing between 12 and 14 elementary schools districtwide in total,” he said.

While Twin Peaks students feed into Bonneville Junior and Cottonwood High, Horsley doesn’t anticipate any closures for junior highs or high schools.

Much of the reason determined for closing elementary schools is to level the population of students to be roughly 550 students.

“We peaked at 78,000 kids in the ’80s and ’90s. Right now, we have roughly the same number of facilities that we had so we have a lot of small elementary schools,” he said.

Examining nine elementary schools in the current study, Horsley said those schools averaged 366 students enrolled, which was not at the optimum level. He said with closing three schools, it would bring that number up to an average of 550 students.

He said that with less than three teachers per grade level, schools typically have split-grade classes; it’s difficult to team teach; there’s a lack of parental choice to match a student’s learning style; it can be harder to maintain a PTA, school community council or even get volunteers in the classroom since there are fewer parents to draw from; teachers can be overworked as there are fewer faculty members to fulfill the same number of school committee assignments and funding per pupil is reduced, which results in less support staff and program supports.

“Overall, it’s not fiscally responsible or a good use of District resources,” Horsley said. “We do expect some growth on the west bench in the Cyprus network, but the rest of our District is maturing, and our populations are stabilizing at lower amounts than when those schools were originally opened.”

If the school board closes Twin Peaks, Horsley said faculty and staff will not lose their jobs.

“Faculty are not assigned to buildings; they’re assigned to students. So, they follow students. Even though we’re reducing the number of facilities, we’re not reducing the overall number of kids. We do not anticipate any staff losing their jobs as a result of closures, because we would need those individuals to serve another school location,” he said, adding that with attrition and retirements, usually there are more positions open than people to fill them.

If any of the schools close, Horsley said that likely “those facilities would be used as lifeboats as we rebuild other schools. The overwhelming likelihood is that they will continue to be used as schools, maybe for different campuses on temporary basis, or for specific programs. As we continue to use a lot of those facilities (that have already closed) the District and Board are reluctant to dispose of any property. Depending on the condition of the facility, it might be leased out for other opportunities, or it might be demolished and made way for open space within that particular community. But because we don’t know exactly what schools will be closing at this point in time, we’ve not made any specific plans.”

Last spring, Twin Peaks had 56.6% identify as ethnic minorities, and 34% English language learners, Principal Rebecca Spence said.

“We have such a diverse culture here,” she said then about her Panthers. “Cultural night has been very ingrained in the culture of the school. This is just an opportunity for us to remember how lucky we are that we have people from all cultures that we get to learn from.”

Horsley said that if schools close, their traditions, such as culture night, may not.

“It’s important for those schools embracing those communities look and evaluate the opportunities that exist to welcome those students and those families; that would include also embracing some of those traditions and opportunities,” he said.

Spence, who in 2021 became Twin Peak’s principal as her first administrative appointment, had ideas to increase enrollment as she knew it was a possibility then that the doors may close.

“There’s lots of rumors about whether or not it’ll stay open, but there are no immediate plans to close it,” she said then. “It’s just a really great school with a great community that’s just kind of aging.”