Wright, W-J slated for closure in summer

The Altoona Area school board plans to close Wright and Washington-Jefferson elementary schools at the end of this school year.

“We didn’t want to do one this year and another one next year,” Sharon Bream said. “We wanted to get it all done at the same time.”

The board is pursuing the option to close both schools after having deliberated 16 building closing options proposed by architect Vern McKissick, who evaluatied of all of the district’s buildings.

Closing the schools is supposed to result in more efficient use of excess building capacity and balance class sizes districtwide.

During a public meeting on Wednesday, attended by about 16 district employees, the board scheduled public hearings on the closing of both schools on March 11 beginning at 5:30 p.m in the Altoona Area Junior High School. Following the March 11 hearings, the board must wait 90 days before voting on the closures.

McKissick said current elementary class size will be maintained and, in fact, improved districtwide if the schools are closed. His target size is to have 26 students in a class, and up to 30 students in intermediate grade classes. Currently, there are classes greater than 30, he said.

Overall, the district would save more than $1 million annually on utility and personnel costs, he said.

The closings will mean up to 10 teachers from any of the district’s schools could lose their jobs, he said. In addition, he said about eight secretarial, custodial and other noninstructional positions could be cut.

While many questions need to be answered, board members and school administrators said they believe the change is in the best interests of students and the district.

All schools will be affected positively in the long-run because of the closings and consequent realignment of school attendance areas, Rich Adams, Juniata Gap Elementary School principal, said.

“Essentially, it will stabilize class sizes,” said Adams, whose student population will decrease with the change. “I think we will be able to better provide education for students.”

McKissick could not say how many students might be reassigned to a different school as part of a realignment of attendance areas.

Students from Wright will attend Juniata Gap and Ebner elementary schools. Some Juniata Gap students who live near Irving School will be reassigned to Juniata Elementary, some students who attend Baker Elementary and live in Lakemont will go to Pleasant Valley Elementary and students who attend Washington-Jefferson will transfer to Logan and Penn Lincoln Elementary schools, McKissick said.

Wright Elementary School Principal Jill Daloisio is concerned for her staff’s jobs.

“I want to know how seniority will come into play,” she said. She also has concerns about breaking up the close-knit staff at Wright.

“They will be dispersed. I am concerned for them,” she said.

Acting Superintendent Mary Lou Ray said there is a “slew of work to be done” prior to the March 11 hearings, including redefining attendance areas and transportation.

“You can’t deny it will save district costs, especially in the long run,” Ray said. “And as an educator, I’m hoping it will spark and cultivate and create new friendships. Change can be stimulating.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435