Charter school moves into Bell Hill
Despite protests from Bell Hill School parents, Grass Valley Charter School will be moving into the Bell Hill campus next year under a plan approved Tuesday by trustees of the Grass Valley School District.
The decision was based in part on a committee recommendation reached before two recent public hearings, where Bell Hill parents argued to keep the county’s oldest school in its K-2 format.
The plan, one of nearly 20 considered under a reconfiguration study commissioned by the district in the fall, was approved 4-1.
Many parents said moving the 200 students from Bell Hill to the district’s two other elementary schools would end a long tradition of giving parents the option to educate their youngest students at Bell Hill, a K-2 school smaller than Hennessy or Scotten schools.
The dissenting board vote came from Russell “Pat” Ingram, who said future housing developments in Grass Valley could force the board to make another decision to reconfigure the schools sooner than later.
A committee of 19 parents, teachers and school administrators whittled the list of configurations to three over the course of several months.
The decision to re-configure the schools comes as the Grass Valley School District faces declining enrollment and the impending retirement of Bell Hill Principal Carol Judd, who is stepping down in June after 19 years as principal and 28 years with the district, said Superintendent Jon Byerrum. Parents in the district have also expressed a desire to have their children attend one school for a longer period of time, he said.
While supporters of Bell Hill pleaded again with trustees to keep the school as is, a number of teachers from within the district explained that a change in Bell Hill’s status won’t be significant, in part because the teachers will be the same.
“Change is never easy, and this comes from a girl that loves tradition,” said Nancy Beahm, a second-grade teacher at Hennessy. “But this has never been about the building, but about the people and the commitment they bring to this calling.”
Deborah Pinto, a teacher at Grass Valley Charter, agreed.
“The environment that you create depends on the teachers,” she said, in advocating for the creation of two K-5 schools at the district. “A K-5 environment, where the older kids work with younger ones, is a wonderful opportunity.”
Bell Hill supporters pointed to the school’s smaller size as an advantage for those new to school.
“I would fear that if we have two K-5 schools it would lessen the opportunities for our children,” said John Baggett, a Grass Valley parent. “Having more options could allow our district to bring more people in from other districts.”
Board members reassured parents that while the district’s schools may be changing, the teachers and the feel of Bell Hill will remain.
“Whatever configuration we come up with, we will have the same nurturing environment that the teachers have created,” said board President Tom Pettit.
“I think it’s an opportunity to spread the culture and grow,” said board member Paula Roediger. “Sometimes we need to change.”
The board then acted upon Byerrum’s recommendation to bring Grass Valley Charter to Bell Hill and make Scotten and Hennessy K-5 schools.
The superintendent’s recommendation was based on reports from the committee, which Byerrum said unanimously agreed to choose the option making Bell Hill the location for the charter school.
Though the district could save as much as $160,000 in 2005-06, Byerrum said saving money wasn’t the deciding factor in making the change.
“We are not in a position where we have to make a decision that is not good for children just to save $160,000,” he said prior to the vote.
The committee made its recommendation to the board Jan. 31, one day before the first public hearing on the Bell Hill issue.
“I’m kind of shocked that there was so much support for Bell Hill, despite the committee’s decision,” Bell Hill parent Inger Avery said after the board’s vote.
The timing of the announcement puzzled some parents who said they would have liked some advance notice on the committee’s recommendation.
Byerrum said it would have not been appropriate to do that before the board had a chance to comment.
“This was looked at thoroughly from every angle,” he said Wednesday.
As parents filed out of the Hennessy gym following the vote Tuesday, Bell Hill parent Amy Villwock wondered what would happen to 151 years of tradition at Nevada County’s oldest school.
“It’s the closing of a chapter, like our world is closing,” she said. “We have to respect the process, though.”
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