Jordan Elementary School will close as a neighborhood campus at the end of the school year and become home to an early childhood education program, the Mesa Unified School District governing board decided Tuesday night.
About 60 parents, staff and community members were in the audience during the board meeting and public hearing on the closure. Many parents spoke about the care and special environment at Jordan because of the various programs there for special education, regular education and gifted students.
Margaret Mater, who has an 8-year-old child at Jordan, said her son has made progress in the autistic program there and the school’s closure would be difficult for him.
“Upsetting that routine can be devastating and a huge setback. It takes three times as long to get back to step one,” Mater told the board during the meeting.
Jordan Elementary School is located in Chandler, but is part of the Mesa Unified School District. Just five years ago, the district board voted against a proposal to close the school, due to low enrollment.
But enrollment has continued to decline. Earlier this year, the district again proposed the closure as a neighborhood campus. The school currently has about 370 regular education and special education students, as well as 150 preschool students. Superintendent Mike Cowan told the board it is the lowest enrolled school in the district and has been for the past eight years.
With the declining enrollment in the Mesa district, the board has closed Powell Junior High and Mesa Junior High schools and converted Brimhall Junior High School into a Franklin campus with a back-to-basics focus. It did the same at Alma Elementary School.
The district wants to create an early childhood learning center at the site for special-needs students, as well as regular students, similar to one it has in east Mesa by Red Mountain High School. The program will benefit the students and the district, Cowan said. It could generate more than $1 million in tuition, making it a self-sustaining program.
Some parents who spoke at the meeting left before the board made its 5-0 vote as board members indicated they would support the “repurposing” of the Jordan, to become the early childhood education site.
Mater said after the decision was made that she would find out where her son’s teacher will be next school year and try to follow her, even if it’s outside of the Mesa district.
“If she chooses to leave Mesa schools, I’ll leave,” she said.
Gail Herberth, whose grandson attends Jordan, said she was “disturbed” by the board decision.
“I fail to understand why do we have to destroy something that’s totally awesome rather than enhance it. They could take part of their proposal and make it even better,” she said.
Board members said during the meeting that the decision was difficult because it involves students, staff and teachers.
Board member Michelle Udall, who has a child who is autistic, said she understands the concerns from those parents.
“That can be difficult, but at the same time, I know we have to prepare our students for transitions and our children need to know how to make those transitions,” she said. She also encouraged the parents to seek assistance from special education staff the district will provide to help students make the change.
Board clerk Mike Hughes said school closure is never taken lightly. An 18-year veteran of the board, he said noted that the board has to look out for the entire district and the funds of the district. During the past few years, the district has lost $122 million, as well as nearly 15,000 students.
“This is a great district. I have no doubt the Jordan parents will support their sons and daughters no matter where they’re at. These are tough decisions, but for us to sit by and do nothing is wrong,” Hughes said.
The district also voted to create a special education day school on district property on Country Club Drive. The school will serve students with extreme special needs, Cowan said. The district now sends those students to private facilities and pays tuition.
The district will also look to eliminate excess portable buildings in the elementary schools, expand the hours of programming at East Valley Academy, and change Eisenhower Elementary School into a “school of innovation.” Eisenhower will be given additional technology, and teachers there will be allowed to “think outside the box” in curriculum planning, board members have been told.
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