BELLFLOWER — The Bellflower Unified School District will reopen an elementary campus next fall to accommodate a projected enrollment increase in the district's seven elementary schools.
After months of studying several options, including the establishment of two middle schools for grades six through eight, the school board voted 4-1 last week to reopen Horace Mann Elementary School in Lakewood.
The campus was closed in 1980 along with seven other of the district's 16 schools to cope with declining enrollment. Since then, enrollment has been steadily increasing, forcing district officials to take another look at the organization of the schools.
Boundaries Must Change
"We still have a lot to do before August," Supt. Kenneth L. Davis said. "We have to rehabilitate 19 classrooms, we will have to hire a principal, teachers and revise our boundaries."
Davis said the district's next step will be to study boundary changes. They will be discussed at a board meeting before the end of the school year.
Many of the parents who attended last week's meeting and those who crowded a public hearing on the issue last month expressed support for a sixth-through-eighth-grade middle school, but district officials said that option would be too costly.
Two High Schools
The district, which serves Bellflower and the northern portion of Lakewood, has seven kindergarten-through-sixth-grade elementary schools and two high schools serving grades seven through twelve.
Elementary school enrollment has increased 23% since 1980-81 to 4,977 this year and will continue to grow steadily over the next 5 years until enrollment reaches 5,800 in 1991, according to district projections.
The board's 1980 decision to consolidate--which closed seven elementary schools, one junior high school and integrated grades seven through eight into the district's two high schools--triggered protests among parents opposed to sending their seventh- and eighth-graders to a senior high school.
The opposition pushed district officials to try various ways of physically separating the seventh and eighth graders from high school students; eventually they fenced off classrooms used by the younger students.
The cost of renovating the Horace Mann site, now being used as a child care center, is estimated at $836,000, and the cost of opening one middle school is estimated at $5 million, according to Davis.
Reserve Funds to Be Used
Renovation costs will be paid from the district's building fund and from reserves that total about $1 million, Davis said.
"There was a strong temptation to open up a middle school, but the district is financially strong right now and I would like to see it stay that way," board President Larry Ward said. "We just don't have the money to open a middle school."
Justine Miller was the only board member to vote against reopening an elementary school. She urged the board to open a middle school instead, and when that was rejected, asked it to reconsider that option in three years.
"It's an educated opinion that a middle school offers the best education to kids 11, 12 and 13 years old," she said, citing a report by the California Middle School Task Force, which was created last year by Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction.
Advanced Classes Available
Bellflower district officials have argued that seventh- and eighth-grade education in the district has improved since those grades were integrated into the high schools. They attribute that to students taking advanced classes that are not available in a middle or junior high school.
But parents' fears about sending their younger children to a high school campus have not diminished over the years, according to board members who also voted to require parental consent before a seventh- or eighth-grader can enroll in a high school-level class such as advanced algebra or Spanish.
In the past year, the district has tried to separate the two groups by installing fences around seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms and by having high school classes start one hour earlier. Neither option has been successful, according to Davis.
"Students resented feeling fenced in, and the staggered bell schedule resulted in classes being disrupted by students who arrived early," Davis said. "But I really feel we need to separate them.
School Within a School
Davis said he would eventually like to see a "school within a school" on the two campuses with different school names, principals and teachers.
Board member Jay Gendreau, who voted against continuing to separate the students, said it is unrealistic to expect that students can truly be separated unless they are moved to another site. He criticized the board for catering to a small group of parents.
"It's hard for me to conceive that the board who once sat discussing a common bell schedule and ways to further integrate the schools and staff voted to further separate them," Gendreau said. "I understand the perceived need to keep the grades apart, but I'm not so sure it's bad to have them co-mingled. As long as we have the seventh- and eighth-graders on campus they ought to have the opportunity to take advanced classes and improve their education."