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School’s Out?

Westhaven Elementary makes school closure list because of problems with its building.

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The kids of Westhaven Elementary have likely learned the words to "One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others)" from Sesame Street. And they could apply those famed lyrics to the reason their school is one of 13 being considered for closure by Shelby County Schools (SCS).

At a meeting earlier this month, SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said most of the schools on the list had low enrollment and poor academic achievement. But Westhaven made the list for a different reason.

"The issue with Westhaven is that the building is coming up on not being safe for these babies to be in," Hopson told the room.

With 489 students enrolled for the 2013-2014 school year, Westhaven has the highest enrollment of the 13 schools on the list. The others, a mix of elementary, middle, and one high school, hover between 99 and 399 students.

Although Hopson blamed poor academic performance for the decision to include most of the schools on the closure list, Westhaven isn't one of SCS' "priority schools." In those schools, academic achievement falls in the bottom five percent.

"They haven't maintained the building at all. We asked for new windows in 1991, and we still have yet to get those," said Bridget Baker, Westhaven parent-teacher organization president. "We need some flooring things done. We also need ceiling repair, and we need a new roof. They don't want to spend the money to fix our school, but we've met all the criteria they've asked us to meet for enrollment and academics."

A 2010 facilities assessment of Westhaven estimates the school needs about $4.6 million in repairs and upgrades, but some work listed doesn't contribute to the sound structure of the building. For example, the assessment lists things such as a new intercom system alongside more crucial repairs such as replacing rotted ceiling tiles and asbestos-containing floor tiles.

Westhaven was built in 1956, and it would cost the district $55,000 to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Replacing aging boilers, ventilators, and hall radiators would cost $3.24 million.

If the school were closed, SCS would bus Westhaven students to Fairley and Raineshaven Elementary Schools. But Baker and other parents are demanding that SCS fix their building or build a new one. She said Westhaven has one of the largest special education programs in the school system, and "to uproot our special-ed students would be devastating for them."

At the meeting on school closures, Westhaven third-grader Jade Jordan called on the board to save her school.

"We want our school to remain open. Repair it. Restore it. Or renovate it. Don't close Westhaven. Just fix it," Jordan said.

Hopson told attendees at that meeting that the proposed closures were not set in stone and, if parents and alumni developed plans for saving their schools, the SCS board would consider other options.

On Saturday, February 1st, at 10 a.m., parents and alumni are invited to a citywide meeting on all of the school closures at the Memphis Education Association (126 Flicker).

"We'll be making plans so that we're part of the process and our community voice is heard by the county school board," said Claudette Boyd, an alumni who helped organize the meeting.

SCS is also hosting a meeting specifically for Westhaven parents and alumni on Tuesday, February 4th, at 5:30 p.m. at the school.

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