‘Blindsided’: Parents, staff dismayed at APS plan to close Sable Elementary School

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Sable Elementary 5th grader Catherine Rodriguez listens to public comment at the Dec. 14 APS board of education meeting. Photo by Carina Julig/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Aurora Public Schools has announced plans to close Sable Elementary School as part of its Blueprint APS project, causing frustration among community members and families who say the decision came as a shock.

Blueprint APS is the district’s multi-year plan for managing its school buildings in response to changing enrollment trends. As part of the plan, some schools with low enrollment will be closed and seven campuses will be turned into specialized magnet schools that students located anywhere in the district can apply to attend.

The plan has multiple phases and has been underway for several years. It divides the district into seven geographic regions, and in October the district said it would soon be making building recommendations for regions one and five. An initial document released in 2019 identified Crawford Elementary, Paris Elementary, Park Lane Elementary and North Middle School as region one schools that were under consideration for being closed or repurposed.

Last week however, the district announced that it would be recommending Paris and Sable Elementary for closures, taking Sable community members by surprise. At a school board meeting Tuesday night, dozens of Sable families and employees arrived to protest the change, wearing the school’s purple colors and holding signs. 

The subject was not on the agenda for the meeting, but the board heard over an hour of public comment from parents, teachers and students who urged the district to reconsider.

Several teachers the Sentinel spoke to said they felt like the district had not been transparent when making the decision.

“The only way to describe it is that we were blindsided,” said Leslie Burton, a Sable employee.

Parents of Sable students expressed frustration that the district would close a school their children loved.

“It’s a good school,” said Berenice Suastegui. “I don’t know why they want to close it.”

Suastegui has several children who currently attend Sable as well as a 6th grader who graduated last year. She said she’s concerned about how they would adjust if moved to a different school.

Several speakers made note of the school’s afterschool program in partnership with the city of Aurora and its newly created classroom for students with autism. Alex Majalca, a Sable paraprofessional who works in the new classroom, said the students have improved significantly since being placed in the new class and worries about their continued educational development if it goes away.

A letter from Superintendent Rico Munn to Sable families announcing the decision said that Sable would need significant building upgrades to continue to serve students, and that neighboring Altura and Park Lane elementaries have enough capacity to serve the surrounding area due to declining enrollment.

The decision will go before the board of education for a vote at its February meeting. If approved, Sable and Paris will close in June 2023, allowing current 4th and 5th grade students to complete their elementary education at those schools. Decisions about where younger current Sable students will be rezoned will take place after the February vote and be announced in the fall of 2022.

“Our current structure of operating low-enrollment buildings and underutilizing buildings does not allow APS to maximize its resources to serve students and families,” Munn said in the letter. “Please know that these recommendations are extremely difficult to make. However, our priority remains on how to best serve our community while planning for the future.”

Region one is where the district’s health specialization is located. APS plans to build a magnet school focusing on health on the campus of North Middle School that includes space for a technical high school program. That will also go to a vote in February.

At the meeting, board president Debbie Gerkin thanked attendees for sharing their concerns.

“These are hard, emotional, gut-wrenching choices that are ahead of all of us,” she said. Chants of “save Sable” broke out after she spoke.

Munn told the Sentinel that the initial list of schools under consideration should only have been considered a draft, and not a guarantee that certain buildings were safe from closure. 

“The language of it we thought made that clear, but we’re certainly hearing from staff and families that that’s not how they read it,” he said.

Now that the district has recommended Sable for closure, it will start the process of determining how the building will be used in the future. He acknowledged that school closures are always difficult, but that they are necessary for APS’ future.

“Any decision is going to be painful and it’s going to cause impact to our families,” he said. “Part of this recommendation when you look at the entire regional plan is, how do we minimize those impacts?”

The district will have a series of virtual information sessions in January to further discuss the planned closures.

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Cpk
Cpk
1 month ago

Why are enrollments decining?

Grinch
Grinch
1 month ago

This is why aps will continue to be an inferior school system. They should be building schools instead of closing them. Closing libraries a few years ago was of the same mentality. I volunteered in a neighborhood elementary school all-day kindergarten class that had 31 5-year olds in it. That’s twice as many as what would be needed to create a positive learning environment for young children.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

Sable school has been a school starting from a elementary small four room structure 60 plus years ago. Early on it was on the plains of eastern Aurora as a rural style country school. Over the years the school has grown to accommodate more and more housing that has been jammed into every nook and cranny from Smith Road to Colfax and eastward and west. The high-density Aurora has rezoned from farmland has been high on housing priority.
The school to bail out this growth has reacted most recently in adding portable large modular buildings brought in to help fill the population increase. These trailers have managed to be a temporary stop-gap problem solver for overcrowded rooms. Currently the building of high-density apartments up and down Sable Blvd are still breaking ground, and folks filling the buildings, the traffic has dramatical increased akin to watching an anthill. Businesses close to the school stores supplying basic groceries have seen the increase as well. But now for some odd reason the professionals that hold themselves as experts hired to manage the schooling system tell us something different. These people are saying the local community of students has disappeared. The proposed basis of correction through major realignment due student population dip is problematic. The city would not be issuing permits at the high rate they are without demand. Sable school has better access from several directions than Altura ever could create, that’s because of how much area Sable sits on. Different roads access the property. Altura one road that blocks traffic when schools starts and stops. Meantime Sable has no problem to handle the traffic. Why not shut down Altura? Sable has room to handle it, not the other way around.
This is total nonsense for APS to have this concept, and call it visionary. There is another underlying reason driving this, but the public regrettably does not know it. This is calculated manipulation of public property that only a few know, very few. That is what needs further investigation, from the Feds, absolutely, positively. This is how taxpayers need to protect against unethical and potential illegal management of public property.

doug
doug
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob

You sound knowledgeable. Have you addressed this with the Aps board?