Woodstock School District 200 officials: Dean Street Elementary to stay open

Board agrees to drop closure proposal

Matthew Apgar - Attendees applaud as Dean Street School fifth grade student Annalise Wickersheim (left), 11, smiles at her best friend, Madeline Scaman (right), 10, after Scaman gave public comment in favor of keeping the school open despite recent discussions considering the school's closure during a District 200 Board of Education meeting at Woodstock High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 in Woodstock. After hearing comments from members of the public, the board agreed to keep Dean Street School open.[]

WOODSTOCK – Woodstock School District 200’s Board put to bed an ongoing debate about closing Dean Street Elementary School on Tuesday night after months of back and forth discussion.

Students, District 200 staff, Woodstock residents and families who lived within the Dean Street Elementary School boundaries voiced concerns about a proposal, the details of which hadn’t been solidified. Public comment participants Tuesday asked questions about the benefit of closing the school and spoke about the effect such a decision would have on the neighborhood where the school is located.

“Whose life is this really going to improve?” Jessica Campbell said. “I have yet to hear an answer to that question. … Our neighborhood schools are what make a neighborhood more than a place to park the car or watch your TV. I don’t think schools are a burden. I think they’re an asset.”

The idea to close the school, which has an enrollment of about 330 and is one of District 200’s six elementary schools, surfaced in 2016 as a Facilities Review Committee formed with the purpose of cutting costs and better utilizing empty space in the district.

The committee’s final recommendations included ending a lease, vacating and selling the Judd Street administrative building and closing Dean Street Elementary. The recommendation on the school was at first twofold – to close it and create mono- and dual-language schools. People were largely against the idea of creating mono- and dual-language schools and the plan faded, but talk to close the school continued.

An ongoing side discussion existed to close the Clay Academy building instead and move the students into the Dean Street facility. Under that proposal, Dean’s existing students would be dispersed throughout the other elementary schools in the district.

Residents within the school’s boundaries said they liked that students could walk to school, because it made it easier for kids to participate in after-school activities, increased exercise and fresh air opportunities and cut down on busing.

Jason Moody, a parent in the school boundaries, said that the reason his family chose the house they live in was because it was in close proximity to Dean Street Elementary.

“I have a 1-year-old, and I’d like to see her walk to school,” he said. “It’s important. We could have moved anywhere we wanted in town, but this is why we chose there.”

The board voted unanimously to keep Dean Street Elementary open and closed the issue, prompting cheers from the audience.

“Dean Street school isn’t being closed,” Board President Carl Gilmore said. “For those that came here, it was very important that we heard you all. This is important for us to hear. … At this point the Facilities Review process is closed and we have to move forward with other business.”