A handful of Mesa Unified School District campuses could be converted next school year — one to house special needs programs and one to test creative education methods — under a plan proposed this week.
Under Superintendent Mike Cowan’s proposal, Chandler’s Jordan Elementary School would close as a neighborhood campus and be “repurposed” to hold more preschool classrooms for special needs students and their “typical” peers, as well as a regional public day school for students with extreme needs.
There are currently seven preschool classrooms at the campus. Cowan’s plan would bring an additional eight preschool classrooms, with 24 to 30 students in each.
The other piece of the Jordan plan could open an option not available to the district now. Currently the district pays tuition to outside programs to educate about 60 students with “extreme special education needs, beyond what you would find in a regular or special education class in a public school,” Cowan said.
“We’re looking at partnering with a group that can come in and provide those services on one of our campuses for a significantly less amount of money. We would also partner with other districts to invite them to bring some of their students of like characteristics that they tuition out to other providers,” Cowan said.
Those districts would then pay Mesa, making it a generating-revenue program.
This is the second time in four years the district is considering Jordan Elementary School’s closure as a neighborhood campus. In April 2008, the district board voted against the district proposal that was fought by the community from the start.
The school, located at 3320 N. Carriage Lane in Chandler, then had 486 students. This year, there are 365 students in the school’s regular programs, and more in the preschool, Cowan said.
Board members asked Cowan to communicate the plan quickly to the Jordan community to make families aware of the potential closure. The district will also host community meetings.
Eisenhower Elementary School would become a “school of innovation and creatively” under Cowan’s plan.
“To some extent it would be a location where we can introduce students to new and innovative approaches to learning and a much greater integration of technology. We’re hoping to set Eisenhower apart as a model school to the district, as well as the whole nation,” he said.
The school would keep its current boundaries, with neighborhood students attending it. There are currently 463 students on a campus that could hold early 700.
“Eisenhower needs to make some changes to increase student achievement. It has a wonderfully diverse population and it is situated in an area of the district where we believe an innovative approach would benefit the educational choices for families,” he said.
Current teachers would have the option to stay and be part of the new philosophy or work elsewhere.
“We’re not closing the campus. We’re redesigning the instructional program to focus on innovation and creative approaches to teaching, integrating technology,” he said.
Earlier this month, Cowan outlined a proposal to transform education in the district using technology to bring more individualized learning to all students. The Eisenhower campus could be part of that.
The final program that could be impacted is the district’s East Valley Academy. That school now offers a “small school environment” for high school students. It was moved a few years ago from its base at the East Valley Institute of Technology to the Mesa Education Center, formerly Powell Junior High School.
Cowan wants to see East Valley Academy offer more flexible scheduling for students who may need it. Classes could run from early morning through the evening hours. More technology would be brought in, as well, to offer “blended” learning for students — education taught by a teacher with computer-based programs to enhance it.
The Mesa Education Center already has a preschool program on-site that could offer daycare for teen and young adult parents. Banner Health offers services on the campus as well, and the district is in discussions to bring mental health services to the site for students and the neighborhood.
In addition to the campus changes proposed, Cowan said the district will look at the use of portable classrooms on elementary school sites and remove the excess portable classrooms, much like the district did with junior high schools.
Cowan’s ideas are part of the district’s “Defining the Future” initiative to “right size” the district as it sees a drop in enrollment. The district has lost more than 10,000 in the last 10 years, as well as the funding that comes with those students.
Since the initiative started, the district has closed Powell Junior High School, Mesa Junior High School and Brimhall Junior High School as neighborhood schools. Alma Elementary School was transformed into a back-to-basics Franklin campus, as was Brimhall. The district also moved the East Valley Academy, allowing it to lease, and eventually sell, the property.
The district is creating a web page on its site to share the information about all the proposals with families, as well as gather community input, Cowan said.
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