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South Jordan Journal

Jordan Ridge ALPS program to move, boundaries will realign so South Jordan Elementary can move to traditional calendar

Jul 13, 2020 01:12PM ● By Julie Slama

Patron Kyle Anderson spoke to the Jordan Board of Education June 9 about an option of reducing overcrowding at South Jordan Elementary by moving about 200 students to Jordan Ridge Elementary in fall 2021. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was a room divided. 

South Jordan Elementary parents pointed out their school has eight portables because it’s overcrowded with 1,060 students. They were promised a traditional schedule as year-round conflicted with other children’s schools as well as day care and summer camp options. 

A proposal, amongst many, on the table was to move about 200 South Jordan Elementary students to Jordan Ridge. Jordan Ridge’s 180 ALPS (Advanced Learning Placement for Students, a gifted and talented magnet program that serves high-ability students) students then would be moved to a school within the Jordan School District that has space. The move would take place for the 2021-22 school year and allow South Jordan Elementary to switch to a traditional school calendar.

Jordan Ridge parents said that their ALPS children are woven into the very fabric of that school and helped to shape many of the extra-curriculum learning opportunities. Some pointed out they bought their homes in South Jordan to allow their children to attend the ALPS school.

On June 9, Jordan Board of Education voted 4-3 in favor of that proposal, which they hope will end this recent three-month divide.

“That made it tough,” said Board Vice President Tracy Miller, who voted in favor of the proposal. “It’s not what we wanted to do. My heart goes out to everybody who will be changing schools. We just had to look at it reasonably versus emotionally.”

South Jordan Elementary falls within Miller’s district. Jordan Ridge is under Board member Marilyn Richards, who voted against it.

“I can see the wisdom in moving ALPS; it is the most fiscally responsible option, but I liked the option of phasing out the Jordan Ridge ALPS program and transitioning to another school,” Richards said. “I hated the idea of dismantling a good program. It’s a hard decision all the way around.”

Third-grade ALPS teacher Kimberly Sanders said before the decision that it would be “heartbreaking” if the ALPS program moved.

“It’s such a big part of Jordan Ridge,” she said about the program that has been at the school for more than 20 years.  “ALPS is the pulse, the heartbeat of our school. It’s an emotional and tough decision for the Board and I hope the community can accept whatever decision is made.”

South Jordan parent Carlie Barrus believed the Board made the right decision.

“It’s better to rip the band-aid off quickly, than to remove it slowly,” she told the Board.

While the school that will host the new ALPS program has yet to be identified, many believe it could be Jordan Hills, approximately four miles west of Jordan Ridge.  Miller said the district administration will make recommendations, which then the Board will decide. A timeline for that was not established at the meeting.

Miller said that the Board also will realign boundaries to move the approximate 200 students and will be taking patron and community input.

During the meeting, many patrons said they were upset that the options the Board was reviewing weren’t the same as what was posted.

“We felt bad they felt blindsided. Those were just talking points for us and we were brainstorming different options besides moving ALPS,” Richards said.

Some other options included adding more portables to South Jordan Elementary, turning the school’s computer labs into classrooms and moving the students with special needs to another location.  Last month’s Board meeting even explored the possibility of constructing a new school in the east South Jordan boundaries, but Miller said that although all South Jordan elementary schools are full, at this time there were other areas of the district that needed the resources more.

Ultimately, those weren’t on the table. In addition to the two possible moves, the Board also proposed not moving ALPS at all, but revoking permits at South Jordan Elementary and changing boundaries for about 100 students. The final option was to have a phase-out of the ALPS program, but it would leave a cluster of the program behind for those students who live in the Jordan Ridge boundary.  

By putting South Jordan Elementary – the last elementary school in the state on a year-round calendar – to a traditional calendar, Miller said that it would give teachers more support on their curriculum and they would be able to attend trainings and professional development as well as collaborate with others that would be difficult as they otherwise would be teaching or off-track. It also would streamline bus and nutrition services and allow custodial staff more time to deep clean the school in the summer months.

However, not everyone was happy with the way it was decided.

“I feel like the whole situation could have been avoidable,” said Emily Evershed, who along with Robyn Wilson and Rachel Hardy, represented 46 Jordan Ridge families. “This greatly impacts dozens of families and about 200 students at each school. It has been a constant issue for the school board for years; they’ve been kicking the can and now, finally made a decision with a lack of vision. Families are looking to the future and there is no clarity, no plan. It seems like they are no longer wanted at a school where they have given so much. If there was a plan in place, this all could have been avoided.”

Evershed said she will wait to see where ALPS will be moved to before she decides if her two younger children will continue in the ALPS program. In addition to the new ALPS school, patrons have the option of having their children attend Riverton or Westland elementaries’ ALPS programs..

Revoking permits at both schools is still on the table, Miller said. She said that there are 23 permits at Jordan Ridge, all for ALPS siblings or children of employees. There are 39 at South Jordan Elementary.

Parent Lynel Miller pointed out that those ALPS students who live within the Jordan Ridge boundary weren’t surveyed if they would move to a new school for the accelerated program or remain in their boundary school and join the neighborhood classrooms. However, the Board vice president said that they made allowances for those 44 students in the Board’s decision.

Also on the table is introducing some sort of accelerated learning program in each school although Board members said they didn’t yet have a plan as to what it would look like or when that would happen.

Parent Miller isn’t sure that will give enough of a faster-paced and more challenging curriculum for her twin second-graders enrolled in the ALPS program at Jordan Ridge. 

“Many students test into it, but not all want the challenge,” she said. “I had an older daughter who wanted and did ALPS – to read two hours per week, work on math a grade ahead of her peers, spend time on science and history projects and book reports. I also have a son, who tested in, but he didn’t want that challenge. If the Board decides to water down ALPS and take it into all the schools, it will be the very first thing to be cut in the budget.”

Evershed is glad the Board plans to talk about accelerated learning in a future Board meeting.

“I’m grateful it’s not the end of the discussion about ALPS. It’s a big decision they made, and it opens a lot more questions than closing concerns. Now it’s time to move forward to address those around the program,” she said. “Every student deserves to grow, wherever they are and can get the push to learn farther.”

South Jordan Elementary Parent Heather Van Leeuwen also was glad the Board made a decision.

“We needed to move forward,” she said. “It will likely be my neighborhood that will move with a boundary change, and it will be sad to say good-bye to friends and teachers and start over, but the school is overcrowded. If there was somehow in an ideal world, a way to stay, we would. South Jordan Elementary is a great school and we love the school. I’ve only heard good things about Jordan Ridge so it will be a little easier going from one good school to another.”

Patron Miller also questioned the timing of this discussion over the past few months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board vice president said it was because of the school being year-round and the need to look at it to safely open on the year-round calendar that made it “more urgent.” The Board did decide to have the school open with the traditional school calendar date and shorten its off-track time by three weeks to meet the required days of school.

South Jordan Elementary parent Megan Stohl agreed that change for any student is hard.

“If we’ve learned anything these last few months, it is that our children are resilient,” she said.