Education

Local leaders seek to reopen Washington Elementary in midtown Sacramento

Washington Elementary School student Zackery Turkins concentrates on painting a mural in 2013 just before the campus closed. Half of the mural went to WIlliam Land Elementary and the other half went to Theodore Judah Elementary, the two schools to which Washington students were reassigned. Two local leaders are proposing to reopen the campus.
Washington Elementary School student Zackery Turkins concentrates on painting a mural in 2013 just before the campus closed. Half of the mural went to WIlliam Land Elementary and the other half went to Theodore Judah Elementary, the two schools to which Washington students were reassigned. Two local leaders are proposing to reopen the campus. Sacramento Bee file

Two local leaders want to reopen Washington Elementary School in midtown Sacramento, one of several city campuses that closed barely 18 months ago due to falling enrollment.

Trustee Jay Hansen of the Sacramento City Unified School District and Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen plan to meet with community members Thursday to explore transforming the closed campus into a “destination school.”

The school at 18th and E streets would serve the neighborhood, but also create a focus such as Spanish-language immersion, the arts or science-based education that could draw students from outside the area and district.

“We want to hear from the folks in the neighborhood,” Jay Hansen said. “What kind of program would you want to see to put your kids in Washington?”

The reopening proposal has been in the works for months and has backing from the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said the group’s president, Nikki Milevsky.

Supporters say midtown needs a school to accommodate families expected to move into new housing developments in the central city. And the idea dovetails with a Midtown Business Association goal to revitalize the neighborhood, said Emily Baime Michaels, the association’s executive director.

Simply reopening the school won’t guarantee success. Washington Elementary’s less-than-stellar academic scores on state tests in recent years dogged the campus and prompted some neighborhood families to send their children to schools with stronger academic reputations. When Washington closed, only 220 students attended.

“That was probably part of the reason for the underenrollment along with just a lack of elementary-age students who live in the area of the school,” Jay Hansen said. “I think that’s something we have to be realistic about in addressing. That’s why we have to make this a destination school ... with a top-notch academic program.”

One priority, he said, will be to enlist parent involvement.

“The No. 1 predictor of great schools and great academic programs are engaged parents,” he said. “That’s shown in every study I’ve seen. I think we’ve seen evidence of that ourselves.”

That means selecting a principal and teaching staff that welcomes and encourages participation, he said.

Steve Hansen, who is not related to Jay, said he’s pushing to reopen the campus as soon as this fall.

William Land and Theodore Judah elementary schools, nearby campuses that received many Washington students after the school’s 2013 closure, already are at or near capacity, he said.

“We’ve been working on this behind the scenes basically since it has been closed,” he said.

The City Council last year approved a development led by former state treasurer Phil Angelides that will make way for a 336-home project and a 4,200-square-foot recreation center on acreage bounded by Capital City Freeway and elevated Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

Superintendent José Banda, who arrived at the Sacramento City Unified School District after the campus closures vote, said he sees promise in a reopening. Washington was one of seven schools that a slim majority of trustees, including Jay Hansen, voted in early 2013 to close.

“Opening up a school is just like closing a school,” Banda said.

“It’s not an easy proposition. So we have to think it through in terms of the potential impact on surrounding schools, do our due diligence and take our time.”

He said any change is likely to have a ripple effect on William Land and Theodore Judah schools. But, he said, “I do like the idea of looking at Washington. It would be nice to reopen a school in that part of town.”

Judah is planning to increase its space by adding modular two-story classroom wings. William Land is nearing capacity due to the growth of its popular Mandarin immersion program, the district reported.

Banda said a healthy enrollment for any new school could be around 500. But that might take time at Washington, since a focused education program designed to bolster enrollment can take years to grow.

Jay Hansen said his own 2013 closure vote was difficult but that the conditions that prompted the decision have not changed. There still are too few students in the immediate neighborhood around Washington to support an elementary school, so the focused education program to draw students from outside the area and the district will be critical, he said.

While Steve Hansen wants to open the school this fall, Jay Hansen said the district likely needs another year to find the right principal, recruit the best teachers and ensure there are enough students committed to justify the reopening.

After the district closed its seven schools, the district created a committee of community members to suggest new uses for the campuses. The panel recommended that Washington Elementary house the Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory.

Clara Litman, the conservatory’s community coordinator, said the organization works with about 1,000 music students from a half-dozen area school districts, including the Sacramento City district, and also serves members of the Junior Philharmonic Orchestra.

“We’ve been waiting for over a year now for a decision on whether or not we’re able to use the site,” she said. “We were hoping that things would work out, because we desperately need the space.”

District spokesman Gabe Ross said it’s too soon to write off the arts conservatory as a contender for the site. “There could be a partnership down the road,” he said.

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.

Washington Elementary School meeting

The community meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the school, 520 18th St. in Sacramento.

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