Our children deserve Donner Trail School | SierraSun.com

Our children deserve Donner Trail School

Hillary Humphreys

I am writing to you to address the superintendent of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District recommendation that Donner Trail School be closed, over and above the recommendation of the budget review committee.

What a loss and a travesty that would be for the school district and the Donner Summit community. Why close something that should be a model for education ” a proven multi-age educational philosophy that more clearly reflects the real world? How many jobs are there where people are segregated by age and not ability? How short-sighted to close the school, given the expectation for the district to have a revenue excess in the 2006-07 school year. It has been clearly stated that Truckee expects to have needs for yet another elementary school in the next 10 years. The Donner Summit communities are in a state of growth, being one of the few places where it is still affordable to buy a home.

In 1995, the principal was tasked with making the school support a larger community “or it would be closed.” The re-vamp of the school was so successful that there is a perpetual waiting list from non-Donner Summit residents to get into the school. Donner Trail students have the highest API scores in the district, 905 to be precise, so they are doing something right. This school has been a neighborhood school for 66 years, and is a very real focal point for the community.

The students at Donner Trail are not the “elite.” They are a diverse socioeconomic grouping with varied educational needs. Students who live on the summit automatically go to their neighborhood school, and the rest of the student population is filled by siblings of students already enrolled, and then by a truly random lottery. Donner Trail does not receive special education services. Not because we couldn’t use it, but because the proven educational philosophy allows for us to nurture those students in need and help them. Over the last nine years, approximately 10,000 students from Northern California and Nevada have benefited directly from Donner Trail winter survival programs. This could not be done at Glenshire or Kings Beach. Furthermore, none of the busing requirements will change with closure of Donner Trail.

The school is an emergency shelter for Donner Summit and therefore has to be heated, plowed and functioning at all times.

Donner Trail is not just a school with a proven multi-age educational philosophy, it is a neighborhood school. It has been an integral part of the community for 66 years. A community that can become so isolated from each other in the long winters, that the only connection they have to each other is this school. Donner Trail has held a community Thanksgiving dinner for 25 years. This dinner is attended by all members of the Donner Summit community, not just parents. This last year’s dinner included a brief memorial to a longtime summit local because the speaker knew that this would be the largest gathering of summit residents before the winter set in.

What is education, really? Is it the pursuit of the bottom line? A cost savings, amortized over a tipping scale? At Donner Trail the education goals are met and exceeded, according to their consistently high API scores, and no child is left behind. This is because the teachers, as well as their educational philosophy, are and continue to be successful role models for the students, the parents and the community as a whole. Everyone at Donner Trail has always done what the district has asked in order to keep our school. Why not give Donner Trail the chance to do it again? Why turn our district into a model of urban schools, with little opportunity for choice?

What is the purpose of having a budget review committee recommend reasonable cuts, if their requests are not regarded? The process of making such a huge decision is flawed. The BRC met on May 23, and did not recommend Donner Trail as a site closure. The principal was notified May 24 that the superintendent is choosing to recommend Donner Trail’s closure. On May 26, the superintendent came to the school to explain his rationale for his recommendation to the community.

The board of trustees is set to put it to a vote on Wednesday, June 1. This gives the community members effectively two business days to mount a defense to the board. A decision of this magnitude, affecting so many with so little time to prepare, just doesn’t make sense. Why would the superintendent go against the BRC, and give the Donner Summit community no time to respond?

After all, isn’t this what our children deserve?

Hillary Humphreys is a parent of two students at Donner Trail School.

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