Nearly 100 community members attended the Feb. 24 Elizabeth School Board meeting to hear staff recommendations for closing Frontier High School. The meeting was moved to Elizabeth Middle School to …
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Nearly 100 community members attended the Feb. 24 Elizabeth School Board meeting to hear staff recommendations for closing Frontier High School.
The meeting was moved to Elizabeth Middle School to accommodate the large crowd, which included teachers, students and concerned parents. Students at the alternative high school were informed last week that their school was slated to be closed, and rallied support from the community to try to keep their doors open. The Feb. 24 meeting was a work session, so there was no public comment allowed, but attendees listened quietly to the reasons given for closing the school.
“There are two broad areas that are leading to recommendation of the closing,” said Superintendent Douglas Bissonnette. “They affect each other but also stand independently in regard to serious financial issues.”
The first, according to Bissonnette, is the cost per student each year to keep funding Frontier.
“The most difficult one to deal with is the cost per student this year of Frontier, which is $17,000,” said Bissonnette. “The rest of our schools average $8,000 per student. The school's a great school and really makes a huge difference in the lives of the students. But it's not economically viable to pay twice as much per student as every other student in the district.”
The second issue pertains to the capital — or infrastructure — needs of the school.
“The facility is an old facility, and it's been identified multiple times as needing costly repairs,” said Bissonnette.
District staff presented capital considerations to school board members, citing the cost to bring the Frontier building up to its original condition for educational use at $11,493,592. Allocating that cost on a per-pupil basis would average $294,707 per student at Frontier.
Frontier student Destiny Goodes, a junior at the school, said students asked about fundraising or alternatives to help keep the doors open, but were told there was nothing that would help cover the costs of repairing and maintaining the building.
“They basically shot down every idea we gave them,” said Goodes. “They said there was no way we could raise enough money to cover the costs.”
Board members also heard from staff about the declining enrollment in Frontier, which has been going down for several years. Enrollment peaked in 2011, with nearly 70 students enrolled at the school. This year fewer than 40 students are enrolled. Enrollment at Frontier is based upon an application and interview process, and although students from other districts can be accepted, the current enrollment consists almost exclusively of Elizabeth School District residents.
Attendees also heard recommendations for handling the transition of Frontier High students into other schools. Many students who attend Frontier transferred there from Elizabeth High School, because they weren't excelling at the traditional school model.
“I made a stupid decision when I was at Elizabeth High,” said Frontier student Azariah VanNortwick, a senior who will likely be in the last graduating class. “I came here and my grades went up and my mood about school completely changed. Now I'm going to college to become a veterinarian, and I wouldn't have been able to achieve that if it wasn't for Frontier.”
According to the staff recommendations, if Frontier is closed, “Frontier staff would personally meet with each student not graduating in May, and their parents if they wish, and assist each student in determining the best path forward in their education.
“If students decide to enroll (or re-enroll) at Elizabeth High School, teachers, counselors and administration will make every effort to support them in achieving their academic and post-secondary goals, whether it's further education or entering the workforce.”
The Elizabeth High School principal would also be allowed to review and approve the transfer of credits earned at Frontier High, and apply them toward EHS graduation requirements.
The fate of Frontier teachers and staff members was addressed as well, with the recommendation being that they be placed in “similar or substantially similar positions within the district for the 2020-2021 school year.” The human resources office will provide support for employees who wish to remain with the district, and priority will be given to Frontier employees to be interviewed and considered for a vacant positions prior to consideration being given to other applicants. If a suitable position vacancy does not occur, the district will explore other employment options for current Frontier employees.
The presentation to the board is the first step toward the final decision of whether or not to close Frontier. Board members will take the Feb. 24 information into consideration, and hear from parents and students at the March 9 board meeting, which will include a public comment section.
Tracy Aaron, whose daughter Amelia graduated from Frontier, is one of many parents who have signed a petition started by students to keep the school open. Students will present the petition to board members at the March 9 meeting.
“Frontier was Amelia's final option,” said Aaron. “They made such a difference in not only her life, but a lot of other kids I know. If it weren't for this very special school, Amelia would never have gotten her diploma, and she wouldn't have met some of the people she did and forged bonds that remain strong today. I can't imagine where a lot of kids would be today without Frontier.”
The March 9 meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Elizabeth Middle School, 34427 County Road 13. For a complete copy of the recommendation for closure, visit www.elizabethschooldistrict.org/domain/124, go to Board Meeting Documents for Feb. 24, and click on the link labeled "Frontier High School Recommendation."
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