Parents plead to keep Bell Hill as is
Parents and teachers with close ties to Nevada County’s oldest school showed up in droves at a public hearing Tuesday, pleading with the Grass Valley School District trustees to retain Bell Hill Elementary’s focus on educating some of the district’s youngest students.
After hearing more than one hour of testimony from more than a dozen residents – most of whom had ties to the 240-student, K-2 school – the board took no action.
It is expected to make a decision Feb. 8 on possibly reconfiguring four of the district’s five schools.
The district in November decided on possible reconfigurations for the 2005-06 school year based on a number of factors, including declining enrollment, the impending retirement of longtime Bell Hill Principal Carol Judd and the desire of some parents for clustering of more grades at each of the campuses.
The options presented to the district community Tuesday were:
• No changes, meaning Bell Hill would retain its K-2 format, Hennessy would keep a K-3 configuration and Scotten would remain a 3-5 school. Grass Valley Charter, a K-8 school, would remain next door to Hennessy.
• Making Hennessy and Scotten each K-5 schools, with Bell Hill and Hennessy unchanged.
• Locating Grass Valley Charter at Bell Hill and making Hennessy and Scotten each K-5 schools.
This last option drew the most emotional and impassioned responses from community members with close ties to Bell Hill, where Nevada County public education began 151 years ago.
Under the third option, the 16 teachers at Bell Hill School would move to the district’s three other campuses, allowing the charter school to move onto the Bell Hill campus.
Such a move would save the district $160,000 during the coming year, but the decision to make that change won’t be entirely based on money, said Superintendent Jon Byerrum.
“It’s based on education and the best way to deliver learning to the students,” he said.
“We’re not in such dire financial straits that we have to cut $160,000.”
While some in the audience discussed the psychological merits of keeping a school small, most talked about Bell Hill’s history and a sense of place it keeps for the children who attend it.
“I realize that money and the bottom line must be considered,” said Lois King, who is retiring after nearly 30 years at Bell Hill, “but I believe the loss of Bell Hill would be a great loss to the community. For many years, Bell Hill was the kindergarten for so many children,” and that sense of history would be lost, said King, who appeared before the board wearing a shirt signed by Bell Hill employees.
While those in attendance supported Grass Valley Charter and the desire for the school to have its own permanent set of buildings, most were fearful of losing the history and feel that Bell Hill provides.
Patrick Eagle, who teaches at Scotten and has children at Hennessy, pointed out that it’s the teachers and staff, and not necessarily the physical building, that makes Bell Hill special.
“All of those same people will be at the Grass Valley School District. They will be there to educate your children,” he said.
Bell Hill parent Susie Patterson said that the option of moving the charter to Bell Hill looks good on paper, but what would be lost would be hard to quantify in anyone’s ledger.
“Once you lose what Bell Hill has, it’s very hard to get that back,” she said.
Supporters pointed to Bell Hill’s schoolwide penchant for practicing the Golden Rule. Others wondered aloud if Bell Hill even had the properly sized toilets to accommodate older students should the charter school move there next year.
That sentiment prompted parent Kathy Griffiths, who called her four children “small in size and spirit,” to speak.
“It’s very difficult to see things change,” said Griffiths, who attended Bell Hill. One of her children attended Bell Hill for three years, and a second one is in the first grade there.
“I understand this is a business, but it’s also a huge family connection,” she said. “My concern is that the treasured memories will be gone with Bell Hill, should it change.”
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