Letters to the Editor

Reader Offers Argument Against Closing PUSD’s Wilson Middle School

– Courtesy photo

In the ongoing discussions of possible secondary school consolidations, many board members talk about their preference for choice and the schools they think represent it. What I think some may be missing is that often parents either do not have a choice, because they did not get their choice in open enrollment, and others cannot exercise a choice, as they do not have transportation. Also, I wonder if maybe they don’t see that choosing a neighborhood school is as much a choice. Lots of choices are less evident when a school is not labeled a “choice” school or is not well known to have mostly students from outside its area attending it (like Blair).

I am a Wilson parent and I reside in its neighborhood, but I specifically chose it. I chose it over Blair, because I felt Principal (then Vice Principal) Tucker’s SPED background gave her greater care and understanding of my child with an IEP. Parents, psychologists, educational specialists and district staff will tell you it is the best place to place a child an IEP. While this is not an obvious marketing campaign, their “Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day” motto is. What guides most parents’ choices is to get some individual attention for their students.

Its late start, close location, long term staff members, and Advanced Studies programs were attractive to us. The robotics program attracts a lot of students as well. Though not official district program, the drum corps attract a lot of students and provide a lot of good press at a time the district desperately needs it, without costing them anything.

One choice, even my family’s, should still not be more important than another and all students needs should be addressed as equally as possible. This is a difficult task amid dwindling resources and harder and harder to do across as many school sites as we currently have, and children suffer. I see why we need to close some schools, but please don’t unfairly place the bulk of this burden on certain children because their parents didn’t make the most visible choices or are working too hard or don’t have the language skills to be as noticeably engaged at their kids’ schools. Just because parents are not at all the PTA meetings or Board meetings doesn’t mean they are not supporting their child at home or emailing their teachers.

Most importantly think of what is the most practical and fair thing for the most people. We are trying to move forward as a district. We are trying to provide more choices to all; which can happen if we properly consolidate. When decisions are hard and emotional, logic needs to be more heavily relied upon. Sure, I am an emotional mom who doesn’t want her child to have to change schools, but I am also a practical woman. There’s no logic to closing Wilson.

The purpose of school closures as I understand it is to provide more choices at fewer campuses. Only Wilson on the south side of town has the capacity to have an entire other middle school consolidated into it. It could possibly house another two middle schools. It could have Marshall in with it. The advanced studies program at Wilson could equally prepare students for the rigor of Marshall High School’s AP program and would allow more students to be able to choose Marshall HS. It could also have both Blair Middle and McKinley or Sierra Madre and McKinley. The only other middle schools that have close to that capacity – Eliot and Washington – are not even on the closure options list.

People keep talking about the fact that Wilson is only 31% full and the figures of 26% full from 2016 seem to have put a target on it. However, that 26% was a mistake as it listed capacity at 1,994 when the capacity is now listed as 1,296. Still, this percentage is the wrong figure to concentrate on. Wilson’s enrollment numbers prior to talk of closure were at the same or higher than other middle schools besides Marshall and Sierra Madre. They were at 493 in 2016, higher than Eliot, Blair or McKinley. They were pretty steady and at 492 in 2017, ahead of Blair and McKinley. After their name got put on the possible closure list in 2017, only then did it have a significant drop in 2018 (454), but at the same time Blair (450) and Washington (454) also had significant drops.

Wilson shouldn’t look worse than another school just because they have more space – using the capacity percentage – Blair at 450 with 600 capacity is going to look better than Wilson at 454 because Wilson has a 1,296 capacity. It’s not a fair comparison. This year, two years of closure rumors did their damage, but enrollment will bounce back once it is off that list. Wilson’s available capacity in this time of consolidation should be treasured.

When you want to consolidate, a surplus of space is a good thing. Wilson can take more students and therefore can offer more choices. The other way doesn’t work, you are scattering students into schools that are mostly full and it’s doubtful this formula will lead to more choices. Offering more choices on fewer campuses is what this is about. If, unfortunately, you need to consolidate again, you’ve lost the biggest Middle school campus to put students. It makes no sense. Wilson is the only middle school on the south east side and has the second largest boundary area next to Eliot.

If you close Wilson, most of those students have nowhere practical to go. SMMS and Marshall are full and McKinley and Blair are close to full and inconvenient to most in their boundaries. It’s hard for Wilson area students to travel to the other schools. I’ve heard rumors of a bus plan to three different schools. To bus kids to three different schools, it will cost a lot of money. If we are talking about three buses, that’s $260,000 at minimum. I think that figure is low and it will take more buses. Many students may prefer to move as a group rather than be split up in thirds. There’s nowhere for Wilson to be consolidated into.

It also places an unfair burden on these families who mostly will have to get to school at least an hour earlier because the other schools, except McKinley, start earlier. It is complicated and expensive to get these kids to other schools and I’m pretty sure a lot of them will just opt out, especially the San Gabriel area students who have much closer options in other districts. And the San Gabriel area is one of the “reddest” bits of the school age children heat map.

Its late start is also a bonus to the district as it is already in compliance with the newly signed state law.

Wilson has a much higher rate of free and reduced lunch students than many schools, which the district desperately needs to keep. Once the level of students receiving free and reduced lunch drops to below 55%, the district loses $5 million. PUSD has been losing SED students across every grade level in the last five years. We need these students. The district is losing SED students at a rate much faster than it is gaining middle class students. It needs to retain these students as the district builds its vision and implements a plan for the future. Once they do that, the work of attracting more middle class students will be easier.

These decisions are hard, but they are being made so that the district will be healthy and full of choices down the line. Logic and fairness are in favor of keeping Wilson open. Nothing else makes sense.

– Sabrina K.


October 17, 2019

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