The North East Independent School District is closing one of its elementary schools at the end of the school year and turning it into a preschool.
Trustees voted Monday night to close West Avenue Elementary and replace it with the district’s first all-day pre-k center.
At a parent meeting last week, NEISD Superintendent Brian Gottardy told community members that only 60 percent of the school is being used, increasing the operating costs of the district.
According to district records, enrollment at West Avenue Elementary has dropped 18 percent over the past five years, from 360 students to 295.
Gottardy said none of the school’s employees will lose their jobs.
Niema Maes, a fifth-grader at the school, said she and her friends are sad to see it close.
“Our school is gone. It’s the last year here,” she said with a quiver in her voice. “We’re the last fifth-graders here. It’s hard.”
Her mom, Amanda Marie Espinosa, said she wishes the school community had been able to have a say in the decision.
“I really felt like the public, the community, should have had a vote in it. We would’ve at least felt that our voices were heard,” Espinosa said.
Families were told about the proposal to close the school around two weeks ago.
Espinosa wanted North East to add a dual language program to West Avenue Elementary so that English-language learners zoned to West Avenue could return to the school instead of attending another school that offers dual language.
Other parents asked why the district didn’t add a pre-k program to the existing school to make use of the empty classrooms.
District officials said they need all of the space in the school to offer all-day preschool to everyone in North East ISD.
“Parents tell us they want full day (pre-k),” Gottardy said. “Because the district has been growing for 50 years we didn’t have room.”
District officials told board members that half of the 420 seats at the West Avenue pre-k academy will be reserved for students living in the footprint of four elementary schools nearby: Olmos, Dellview, Jackson Keller and West Avenue. The remaining seats will be split between North East families that qualify for free preschool and North East families that don’t qualify.
Under Texas law, 4-year-olds are eligible for free preschool if they are English-language learners, low income, homeless, in foster care, or if they have a parent in the military. Families that don’t qualify will pay tuition on a sliding scale.
The district plans to offer after-school care at the pre-k academy until 6:30 p.m.
Starting next school year, students living west of West Avenue will go to Dellview Elementary and Jackson Middle School. Students living east of West Avenue will to go to Olmos Elementary and Nimitz Middle School. All students will continue to be zoned to LEE High School.
Current fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders living west of West Avenue will be able to continue to attend Nimitz, and students currently at the dual language program at Jackson Keller Elementary will also be able to stay in that program.
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille