CUSD discusses plans for 9 struggling schools

CUSD officials provided a timeline for decisions on schools with low enrollment. (CUSD)

The Chandler Unified School District previewed its plans during the April 12 Governing Board meeting for what it plans to do with nine schools that are struggling to attract students.

For now, none of the schools will be closed.

However, Superintendent Frank Narducci warned that if enrollment falls below 300 students at any of the schools, those would be unlikely to remain open.

For now, schools with low enrollment will be getting some sort of upgrade that the district hopes will attract new students even though the district is anticipating that it is entering a period of declining overall numbers.

Originally, the list included Bologna, Hull, Frye, Galveston, Navarrete, San Marcos and Sanborn elementary schools and Shumway Leadership Academy. Galveston was removed because CUSD officials decided to rebuild that school entirely.

Conley Elementary was added to the list.

One oft-discussed idea for the struggling schools is change them to project-based learning campuses.

That’s where students learn by doing a real-world project that forces them to overcome challenges instead of reading how to do something in a book or being told how to do it by a teacher.

“What really came out that principals and teachers really want more time with team activities and those collaborative spaces,” said Heather Anguiano, executive director of elementary schools in the east region.

Here are the initial ideas on how to reimagine each of the schools remaining on the list:

• Bologna: Project-based learning focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and strengthening its dual-language immersion (Spanish) program.

• Hull: An increase in collaborating spaces that foster technology, coding and cybersecurity in partnership with Basha High.

• Frye: Project-based learning and a partnership with the ASU Innovation Center.

• Conley: Selected electives in STEM and robotics and more collaborated spaces.

• Navarrete: Increased collaborated spaces fostering dual-language immersion and a community hub space.

• Sanborn: Selected electives in fine arts and fitness track with indoor and outdoor integrated spaces.

• Shumway: Increased indoor and outdoor integrated spaces and a continued focus on student leadership.

The San Marcos plan is behind the others because district officials originally considered closing the school. However, opposition from the community convinced them to keep it open. So far, they are looking at a two-way dual-language immersion (Spanish and English).

After years of growth, CUSD forecasts it is entering a period where enrollments will decline.

There are a number of reasons. Chandler is at 95% buildout, so there is little space for new subdivisions.

The price of homes in the city is driving out younger families. The city’s birth rate is falling, and its average age is rising.

The district hopes to ease that decline by increasing its marketing and convincing more families to send their children to public schools, instead of private or charter.

All the original schools on list had enrollments that were about half or more of their capacity.

Hull had the highest enrollment at 538, while San Marcos the lowest at 357. To help draw families to public education, the district held two events at each school asking the community what it wanted.

CUSD has been working with Orcutt | Winslow, an architecture, planning and interior design company on reimagining the schools.

Company representatives have attended all the meetings and engaged with the members of the community, getting ideas on how buildings and spaces can be improved.

“Where we’re headed with this is a report that will capture this entire process like we’ve done in the past,” said Saravanan Bala, the principal architect at Orcutt | Winslow.

“And the process will involve thinking about the various data collection exercises in terms of what is really needed for the transformation. What are some of those that become district wide priorities?

“What patterns are you seeing across the district, like flexible furniture spaces was a theme that emerged across the board.”

Bala said the goal is “to give the district a high-level overview of what could what could it take to implement some of this work.”

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