Colden Elementary School, Declining Enrollment

As one of our BOE members so aptly put it at our BOE meeting in Colden on Tuesday night, declining enrollment at Colden Elementary has been the “elephant in the room” for years. In the four years I’ve been in Springville, I’ve had several people say to me “when are you going to close Colden?” It seems that everyone has an opinion about what we should do.

However, we can’t make decisions based on people’s opinions alone and definitely not when the topic is a polarizing one. If you don’t already know, Colden Elementary is a beloved part of the Colden community. It’s a great little school with wonderful educators, a new principal and many families who are committed to keeping their K-5 children there. The building itself is an asset, one that we’ve invested in over the years. It’s also a school with declining enrollment when our other K-5 building, Springville Elementary, has increased enrollment.

Here’s a quick view of the enrollment stats:

                2015-16      2016-17      2017-18      2018-19      2019-20

Colden Elementary                 189                   194               177                 160                131

Springville Elementary          539                  538                557                555                557

As I said in this blog post from over a year ago, it’s my responsibility as the superintendent to study all areas of our school operations. We are going to develop a plan moving forward for Colden Elementary School. I don’t know yet what that plan will be but it needs to be based on a deep study of our enrollment trends, what’s best for kids, financial considerations, and the impact on the district as a whole. I want to know that our BOE members can answer the question “why don’t you close Colden Elementary?” with solid reasons of why we decided to keep the building open OR have a clear plan for if and when we reach a tipping point in enrollment where it’s in the best interest of all of our students to attend SES. 

The BOE members developed a list of questions for further consideration and study throughout the rest of this school year.

  1. What would be the reason to close Colden? Is there actually a significant cost savings?
  2. What would be done with the building upon closure and what would be our options?
  3. Can we conduct a study to help answer questions and provide clear information on costs and benefits associated with maintaining things as they are, reconfiguration options, closure?
  4. Enrollment Number—is there an enrollment number in which it is financially irresponsible to maintain two K-5 elementary schools?
  5. Educational Experience—how does it differ for a student who’s in a small group at CES for 6 years? Is there a limit when a small school is just too small to offer enough diversity and opportunity for our students?
  1. School Choice—could we allow families to choose to send children to CES or SES, using parent transportation or central pick up point(s)?
  1. Boundary lines within district-if we adjusted the boundary line, could we more evenly distribute enrollment between the two elementary schools? Consideration given to families with students at both CES and SES during transitional period.
  2. Reconfiguration of grade levels-are there any possibilities that work for all families district-wide and are good for kids?
  3. What impact does a closure have on student travel times? Costs to transportation? Should we reconsider one bus run/start and end times for all buildings?
  1. If we make changes to district lines or configuration at our elementary schools, how is the rest of the district, in particular the SMS, impacted?

As we move forward with a study at the Board of Education level, we will share information publicly and welcome community input. I know that this is an emotional topic for many people–any time we have conversations about those topics that affect our children people respond passionately. I hope that our dialogue can be respectful and show consideration for everyone involved.

  1. What about keeping the CES students at Colden for an extra year. Sixth grade is actually an elementary grade. As a teacher it would make sense. The sixth graders at the middle school have a slightly different schedule because they still have a Reading class. I know that many parents of young children, currently three and under that live in the Colden part of the district are already excited for their little ones to go to Colden, a few of them are former Colden students themselves. I was a CES student myself and love the school dearly and feel like it is an asset for kids like i was. I was shy and introverted and the small size of the school at the time was still intimidating to me but I got used to it and am still friends with my best friend from my days at Colden. I would have never gotten used to being in a bigger school. I can’t imagine how alone and scared I would have felt not knowing all the other students in my grade.

  2. As a child of the Collins Center Elementary School who came to SES upon its closure, I understand the many benefits, consequences, and concerns at hand. One thing that I haven’t seen being mentioned is the fact that the closure of CCES did result in a loss of a closeness among us as a community. We suddenly adopted a new school culture, found new friends, and spent more time in Springville and less in Collins Center. Quite a few families chose to move closer, leaving houses and apartments dark, some of which never were filled with footsteps, laughter, or family dinners again. I’m not saying that Colden will have the same fate, but it can’t be ignored that a closure it would affect the climate of their community somehow. Not only that, the effect on the community will also be contingent upon the future use of building.

    And, yes, there are many questions that arise: can SES handle over 700 students? If not, will the MS need to become a 5-8 building and can it handle the extra students? How many people will lose their jobs and will they move if they find employment elsewhere? Amending the boundaries will shift enrollment numbers by building, but is that work (primarily the money invested to do so) really worth it if the district enrollment (and the related funds that come in) is unchanged?

    There is so much to discuss. I appreciate the opportunity to share these preliminary thoughts and I look forward to heading more from everyone.

  3. I commend the BOE for keeping an open mind and looking at all options. My initial reaction would be to keep CES open and amend the district boundary. I would guess that it would not take a major district revision to recapture the enrollment necessary to justify CES while reducing pressure on SES.

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