The future of neighborhood schools | SierraSun.com

The future of neighborhood schools

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunStudents walk down the hallway at Kings Beach Elementary School at the end of the school day Tuesday afternoon. A meeting on school consolidation took place Monday with parents addressing concerns about both Kings Beach Elementary School and Tahoe Lake School.
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“Why is dual immersion a goal while it should be just a discussion item?” Dee Dee Driller wanted to know.

“As far as busing kids away from their neighborhood schools, I don’t think it’s safe,” asserted Dianne Austin.

“Why only focus on the lake-side schools?” asked Stacey Hurhusky. “There are some low-testing schools in Truckee.”

Those were some of the public comments Monday when the Restructuring and Reconfiguration Advisory Committee convened for the third in a series of community meetings to address declining enrollment in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

By law, the advisory committee could not respond to questions in the public comment portion of the meeting. That quirk of public-meeting law had some parents worried about the consolidation process.

“My concern is that it is a [district school] board-driven committee and the decisions are all [approved] by the board. There is not enough public input,” said Driller, a North Tahoe parent, after the meeting.

The advisory panel will meet at least twice more to solicit public concerns, committee Chairman John Neary said by phone afterward. Neary said the committee encourages the public to submit written questions so the panel members can address them at the next meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, committee members submitted their own questions to the principals of two district schools in the Tahoe Basin, Tahoe Lake and Kings Beach Elementary schools.

Principal Eileen Fahrner of Kings Beach and Principal Danny Hyde of Tahoe Lake gave 45-minute presentations that generally praised each school’s programs and accomplishments. The principals then responded to questions that were prepared based on the discussion at previous meetings.

Although several questions reflected public concerns raised previously, others went unanswered, something that made Driller, with a student enrolled in North Tahoe Middle School, uneasy.

“The people that are making the decisions are parents living in Truckee and Kings Beach,” she said.

Driller said her concerns were heightened when she learned Karen Roske, the only member of the consolidation committee with a child enrolled in the Tahoe Lake grade school, is leaving the committee because of time conflicts with work.

Although the Tahoe-Truckee Restructuring and Reconfiguration Advisory Committee has focused its research on the district’s lake-side schools, some parents wondered why the committee is not considering the Truckee schools as well.

Even though the district’s schools in Nevada County are not suffering from declining enrollment, the elementary school is in the second year of program improvement.

Declining enrollment may become a moot point at the lake-side elementary schools, too, as the Kings Beach school is near capacity and Tahoe Lake registered 26 more students this year, according to Hyde, the school’s principal.

That leaves the district’s middle school and high school on the North Shore as concerns, both with enrollments well below their design capacity.

The district recently completed a multi-million dollar renovation of the school site, leaving Driller and other parents to ask why the district did not invest more in academic programs to attract more students. She said since Donner Trail has an outdoor science program that draws students, and Kings Beach has the two-way immersion program, perhaps district could develop magnet programs for the high school and middle school.

One program the district is considering for North Tahoe High School is an integrated curriculum for ski racers, according to district officials.

Neary, the committee’s chairman, echoed parental concern that the advisory panel needs to learn a lot more before making a recommendation to the district’s board of trustees.

“My point is, if we don’t have a recommendation until July, we won’t give it to them until July,” Neary said after Monday’s meeting.