School reform has focused on four options for improving student achievement, which include closing a school, changing staff, changing instruction or changing management.
The Mt. Diablo school board could pursue a fifth option dreamed up by its president, Gary Eberhart: moving a school to a higher-performing neighborhood, eliminating two-thirds of its low-performing population and replacing it with higher-performing students in the new community.
Eberhart proposed the idea to keep $1.2 million in School Improvement Grant funding over the next two years awarded to Glenbrook Middle School, which is one of the lowest-achieving campuses in the state. The district submitted its final $1.7 million, three-year grant application in November, after school and community members chose the "transformation" reform model, which required them to implement new instructional programs.
The grant money is providing the only secondary school library in the district that is open five days a week; educational enrichment including field trips to museums; valuable staff development; and funding for a four-week summer school for some lagging students, Principal April Bush said.
"We're doing some wonderful things here this year," she said. "We've been able to add math and reading intervention classes after school. We have a full-time data coach looking at individual students' needs. We have a part-time math coach, a literacy coach, increased time for our resource teacher and an administrator. We've beefed up our counseling and psychology program, which is huge. And we have art this year that we haven't had for a couple of years."
Despite these benefits, the school board voted 4-1 on Feb. 8 to close the school, based on recommendations from a School Closure Advisory Committee and Superintendent Steven Lawrence. They estimated the district could save about $619,000 annually on staff and utilities by closing the campus, as part of a plan to slash $1.5 million a year to help balance the budget in the wake of state education funding cuts and declining enrollment.
But closing the school would force the district to abandon its improvement plan and forfeit the $584,002 a year through 2013 it was scheduled to receive. Eberhart said officials from the state Department of Education told him the district could keep the grant if it continued to operate a campus called "Glenbrook Middle School" under the same identification code.
So, he proposed closing the North Concord campus and moving it 3.2 miles away to the current Westwood Elementary campus, next door to El Dorado Middle School. He suggested closing Westwood and operating Glenbrook on the site as a sixth-grade only campus, consolidating Glenbrook's students with El Dorado's students. Seventh- and eighth-grade students from the two schools would be consolidated on the El Dorado campus under the plan.
Christine Swenson, director of the state's District and School Improvement Division, said the grant doesn't require the school to keep a certain percentage of its students from one year to the next.
"It's still the school that got the grant so it would continue to receive the grant as long as it's still doing what it agreed to do," she said. "It's going to still have a number of the same students."
Lawrence said the district is waiting to receive confirmation from another state official. But, he's not recommending the board approve Eberhart's plan Tuesday.
The superintendent recommends closing Glenbrook and Holbrook Elementary and moving some special education students in nonpublic schools to the closed Glenbrook campus, redrawing boundaries to minimize overflow transportation costs, consolidating costs for small necessary high schools, and providing online instruction to independent and home-study students.
Trustee Linda Mayo, who voted Feb. 8 to close Glenbrook, said Friday that she needed more information to decide whether to support Eberhart's idea.
"Before I can make a decision about movement of Glenbrook sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to the El Dorado-Westwood campuses," she said, "I would like to see clarification from the California state Department of Education in writing."
Glenbrook Middle School librarian Nancy Brenner on Friday shows students a website to help them with a project. The Concord campus is set to be closed as part of a Mt. Diablo district plan to save money.