Elementary School Closure Ideas Off the Table For Now in JSD117

By Benjamin Cox on September 6, 2022 at 8:42am

File photo of Murrayville-Woodson Elementary School. Talks of closing the school circulated heavily last year as Jacksonville School District looked at declining enrollments.

The closure of a Jacksonville School District 117 elementary school is off the table for the time being.

Early enrollment numbers at the district are up after two years of declining enrollment in grades K-5 are back up. Middle School and High School numbers are down by comparison. Overall, the district collectively saw an increase of 6 students.

District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says it now pushes out any talks of closing a school: “Our elementary numbers increased. I said last year that based upon the trend analysis that if our trends were to continue that through September 2023, next year, that year 2023-2024; we would start talking about and analyzing based upon budget and other factors – do we need to go to a 9 class per grade level model versus our current 10 class per grade level model. If we did that, it would be closing a school. Well, with the numbers increasing this year (not dramatically but still not following that reduction trend and it was coming out of 2 years of Covid) – I don’t think coming out of Covid we could actively predict what our numbers were going to be like for the next 2-3 years. Therefore, when I originally said we would really sit in September 2023 and look at those numbers, I told the board that I don’t think I could come back to them to look at those numbers in that way, whether or not we should close a school, unless we had 3 consecutive years of declining enrollment.”

Ptacek says it now pushes that re-evaluation of enrollment to September 2025 only if enrollment has a significant decline. Ptacek says the conversations internally have now shifted to the lowered enrollment at the high school. He says that the high school started with an enrollment of 824 after Day 6 this year. He says if trends hold true, the high school could see a population in the 700s for the first time in the modern era.

Ptacek says that with the shift in elementary numbers, it’s showing a population shift in the city that’s calling for a conversation on boundaries for the elementary schools once again: “We last did the boundary process when we moved the 6th Grade students to the middle school. That was put in place in August 2019 because we finished the middle school in January 2018. We based that off the population numbers we had from 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. While we wanted Washington’s enrollment numbers to be slightly lower than the other boundaries based upon lower numbers with the demographics of the school helping with the academics, the current numbers have dramatically dropped in Washington compared to say, South Elementary and even Lincoln Elementary. I do find it ironic that those are two new schools, and Washington is an older school. Maybe that’s been attracting people to move into those newer schools. That’s only a soft data analysis. Washington is going to have a new school next year, and Washington is a very popular area historically for this community.”

Ptacek says the boundaries may have to be modified slightly to include more students in the Washington boundary and relieve the potential overcrowding in class sizes at South. Ptacek says those modifications could be possibly implemented by as early as next year.