School Board to vote on fate of Bancroft School
After more than three hours of listening and discussion, the fate of Bancroft School remains undetermined.
The Almond-Bancroft School Board unanimously agreed Monday, April 11, to take action on three options for the Bancroft School at its next regular meeting, 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 20.
At one point, board members moved to table the issue indefinitely, but Board President Debbie Bradley said she promised those in attendance that they would know when the vote would take place.
“My concern is that with no date the impression will be that we could slip it in at another meeting and vote when no one is there,” she said.
Three options will face the School Board next week: Maintain the status quo, close Bancroft School, or table the issue until another date.
The issue of whether to close Bancroft School, which currently houses about 45 students in 4-year-old kindergarten and kindergarten, has been ongoing for a couple of months. A listening session held at the school last month resulted in about 50 people in attendance, voicing concerns about losing the school. Some of those in attendance Monday had attended that session.
“I’m not understanding why they want to close it,” parent Corrinne Pratt said. “I understand the educational minutes, but I don’t understand why they can’t rework it … they do so much for the community and the community does so much for them. It’s weird they’re trying to take that away from our community.”
District administration presented a Power Point outlining why the issue came up, what is happening at Bancroft School now, how the two grade levels could be incorporated into Almond-Bancroft School, pros and cons to the move, enrollment issues and financial impact.
Despite the information before them, board members’ comments indicated many had not made up their minds whether the school should be closed, a move that would save the district about $60,000 and, according to administration, provide more instructional time and better access to educational services which currently are housed at Almond-Bancroft School.
“My kids went to Bancroft School – when it was third and fourth grade – and they loved it, and I have grandchildren going there now, and they love it,” Bradley said. “I don’t mean to sound on the fence, but … I am on the fence.”
Enrollment has steadily been decreasing, Principal Jeff Rykal said. It has dropped from a peak of 550 in 1998-99 to 423 this school year. The district lost a net of about 45 students through open enrollment.
Of the seven board members, five shared their thoughts when an attendee asked where each stood at this time. Though none directly said to close or to stay open, many voiced reluctance.
“This school district never would have been formed if it weren’t for Bancroft,” board member Jerry Dernbach said. “This school will probably be closed in 10 to 15 years but I’d like to see it stay open as long as possible.”
Others said they were weighing the loss of instructional time with students being bussed between the schools four times in a day, a function that results in about 16 days of instructional time lost. The state requires districts to meet minimum instructional hours at all grade levels from kindergarten through 12th grades. For the kindergartners, the minimum is 1,050 hours. Currently, Bancroft students have 1,065 instructional hours while elementary students in Almond-Bancroft reach 1,170.
“I think that makes a big difference,” board member Cathy Guth said.
About 45 people turned out for the second listening session Monday, and the majority who spoke said closing the school would be detrimental, not just to the students, but for the community as well.
Former Bancroft teacher Christine Thompson spoke about “the incidentals you can’t put on paper,” like the number of volunteers who donate time to work one-on-one with the students and reap benefits when after weeks of working with an English Language Learner student to write his name the boy looked at the volunteer last week and said “I do it,” and proceeded to write a “J.”
“The big thing with the instructional hours, you can’t guarantee they’re going to get more time and they’re going to learn more,” said Thompson, who continues to substitute in the school. “We’re pushing their little minds already. They need more time to be little kids.”
To accommodate the students, 17 classrooms would have to shift in the Almond-Bancroft building, and while there are preliminary plans for that, ideas still are being worked out.
“I’m not going to vote on a school without a plan in place,” board member Roy Danforth said. “I’m not giving any administration a blank check we’ll close the school and make a plan later. I’m not voting on a plan until I know how things are going to work …. I just can’t do that.
“This is a very emotional decision,” he said. “I just don’t know that right now it makes sense … I think there were a lot of good things that have come out, there’s been a lot of input … I don’t know that we as a board or as a community are ready to make that decision.”
Whether there are different options in terms of different bus routes or service changes that could work to keep the school open and still capture more instructional time has not been looked at as part of this, Rykal said.
Board member Bonnie Warzynski suggested the move be looked at more comprehensively as part of examining how the district can best deliver education, including potential grade re-alignment and curriculum at the high school level: “Look at our school as a whole,” she said.
Bancroft School building was first built on its current site as an elementary school in 1904, but schooling had been conducted in Bancroft for at least 50 years prior to that. In 1916, the towns of Pine Grove, Bancroft and Almond – each in separate districts – consolidated to form one district, which held an accredited high school until 1948, when the State Superintendent of Schools withdrew the certificate to operate the high school saying it was too costly. Students then had the option of attending Plainfield or Almond for high school.
In 1958 during a hearing in which Bancroft was asked to join Almond, one of the benefits listed was that the Bancroft School would continue to run and Bancroft would have representation on the School Board. Four years, many petitions and some court decisions later, Bancroft joined Almond and became the Almond-Bancroft School District.
Bancroft School has had two additions to it in past years.