Velarde Elementary Closing (Or Not)
ESPAÑOLA – The Española School Board will meet in Executive Session Monday, June 1, to deliberate over the fate of Velarde Elementary.
This meeting is possibly the final stage in teh decision process that begani in Februay of this year when the School Board voted to close the Velarde campus and sent a formal request to the State of New Mexico’s Public Education Department requesting approval on the district’s plan to permanently close Velarde Elementary and merge it’s student population with the students at the new Alcalde elementary.
Acting Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said in an interview with the Valley Daily Post that a response from PED was expected before the last school board meeting May 21. At that meeting an agenda item to discuss the fate of Velarde elementary was passed over leaving some members of the public and parents of Velarde students who attended the meeting frustrated. The letter was still not received by the close of business Friday, May 29.
As of press time, efforts by the Valley Daily Post to receive a status update from PED went unanswered by the department.
The possible closure of Velarde Elementary dates back to 2007 when the school district and the State’s Public Education Department began discussing consolidating the Alcalde and Velarde schools in a new campus.
In the 2008-09 school year Velarde Elementary became the only school in the Española district to date to be named a Blue Ribbon School by the Federal Department of Education. A Blue Ribbon designation is awarded to schools that are in the top 15 percent of all schools in the state for both reading and mathematics over five years, and which have achieved high levels of performance or made significant improvements in closing the achievement gap in schools where at least 40 percent of the student population is classified as disadvantaged.
With the Blue Ribbon designation the decision was made to not close the Velarde campus. The plans for a new campus in Alcalde were reduced in size and additional plans to renovate the Velarde campus were developed.
Initial steps in the renovation occurred including asbestos abatement, improvements to the water and waste water system, and the settlement of land disputes to clarify the actual property lines. It appears additional plans for renovation slowed down after that and the school remained largely unchanged.
In 2012 the issue resurfaced with both the State’s PED and the Española School District looking at consolidation of the campuses again. A new modern Alcalde elementary was completed and continual talk about the possible consolidation of the two schools continued.
At the beginning of the 2014-15 school year Velarde registered 105 students, but during the year 20 students were dis-enrolled or transferred with staff and parents citing parents concern over the uncertainty of the school’s fate as a driving factor in the decision to move to another school.
Citing the need to save money then Superintendent Daniel Trujillo brought before the school board a proposal to close Mountain View Elementary and consolidate it with Chimayo Elementary, and to close Velarde Elementary and consolidate it with Alcalde Elementary. The school board passed the resolution and the requests were forwarded on to the State’s PED for final approval. The Mountain View approval was quickly approved and that campus has been shuttered and consolidated with Chimayo, but as explained above, no letter has yet been received regarding a decision for the Velarde campus.
The unusual delay is deciding whether the Velarde campus will say open or close is causing stress amongst students and staff. Parents and teachers have complained that the stress of not knowing what is happening with their school is affecting their children with some children experiencing severe anxiety and attending counseling sessions. The district has provided Velarde teachers with letters confirming they will have a job next year, but not telling them what campus.
Parents, students, staff and the community of Velarde as a whole now await a final decision. In the meantime some parents are making plans for their children if Velarde Elementary is closed, including transferring their students to schools outside the Espanola district.
About Velarde Elementary
Velarde Elementary was built in 1936 by WPA (Works Project Administration) labor, part of the New Deal program during the Great Depression. The school was built of traditional materials including adobe, vigas, and oak floors. Over the years additions have been made modernizing the school including a gymnasium, library and additional classrooms.