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School closings

May 1, 2008
By Amanda Clegg, aclegg@altoonamirror.com
Altoona Area School District officials are discussing closing elementary schools and reconfiguring the grades in the newly built junior high school in the face of declining enrollment.

Superintendent Dennis Murray said within one to 10 years, closings could occur. Since the 1999-2000 school year, the district has lost 974 students, an 11 percent drop in enrollment.

‘‘That’s a lot of kids,’’ Murray said Tuesday.

The current districtwide enrollment is 8,084.

In 1968, the district educated 13,100 students, said Frank Meloy, elementary education assistant superintendent.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has projected enrollment to drop an additional 376 students by the 2013-14 school year, Murray said.

Wright Elementary School has lost almost half of its enrollment in about 10 years. In 1996-97, Wright had 647 students enrolled. Today, there are 345.

Meloy said the school had four teachers at each grade level but is now down to two.

Wright is not the only school facing dwindling numbers.

In 1996-97, Washington-Jefferson Elementary School enrolled 470 students but today has 361.

Penn-Lincoln Elementary School is down from 565 students in 1996-97 to 426 this school year.

‘‘Take those three [elementary schools] and add up the numbers, and you’ve got one elementary school right there,’’ Murray said. ‘‘That’s the picture we’re looking at right now.’’

Murray said a grade configuration change in the junior high also could occur. The district could change the new junior high to a middle school for sixth, seventh and eighth grades and move ninth-graders to the high school.

Murray said building the junior high was necessary ‘‘in terms of the declining enrollment’’ and ‘‘will facilitate the closing of elementary schools.’’

If a school would close and the junior high became a middle school, the district might move programs such as the tax and administrative offices into a vacated building, Murray said, adding that the William P. Kimmel Alternative School also could move.

Meloy said the district will look at restructuring boundary lines to distribute students better.

He said fewer kids are living in the city and more are living in the outlying areas.

‘‘We need to look at all of our boundaries and make some corrections,’’ Meloy said.

Murray said the district would not close multiple schools in a single sweep, but one at a time with years between each closing.

Meloy said although Wright has the most significant drop in enrollment, the school could take on a major program in the district and remain open and another school could close.

‘‘We’re going to be doing some planning over the next year,’’ Murray said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Clegg is at 949-7030.

Article Photos

(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec)
Wright Elementary School has lost almost half its students in about 10 years. Enrollment also is down at Washington-Jefferson and Penn-Lincoln elementary schools.

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