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Voices: Goodbye, Wasson High School

 Jason Gaulden, a member of  Roy J. Wasson High School’s class of 1996, pays tribute to his alma mater days after the District 11 school board voted to close it.

From the moment the board of education in Colorado Springs District 11 voted 6-1 to close an historic high school, Facebook lit up with activity paying respect and tribute to a place that significantly shaped the lives of many.


Roy J. Wasson High School, home of the mighty Thunderbirds, will be closed, leaving many former students in a state of mourning.

“Gone but not forgotten. We will always be the T-Birds.” –  Toni Matlasz.

“Sad to see Wasson is closed. So many great memories.” – Jason Davis

“T-Birds for life.”  – Cristina Portillos

This is the resounding sentiment of those who feel the closing of Wasson is a great loss. And in many ways, it is. The nostalgia is strong for good reason – the character and culture of the school makes for a very special, universal bond among T-Birds. In my biased opinion, the mid-90s was the golden age for Wasson. What an incredible era, and what good fortune my peers and I had to live through it.

Some of the most profound moments and memories of my life occurred during my years as a student at Wasson, many in that building. Some of my best friends to this day are a result of crossing paths there. So many priceless lessons that govern my life were molded by my high school experience.

I am the seventh Gaulden, after my six older siblings, to go through Wasson while transitioning from teen to adult. So I understand and share the grief of my fellow T-Birds:

“Goodbye Wasson, what a sad day.” – Ever Hopper

“Closing of another great school. Sad day in Colorado Springs. The silver lining is that we will always have each other, and Facebook!” – Freeman Thompson

“Woke up thinking about the demise of my beloved high school. Sad that a new generation won’t live the Thunderbird experience, but proud to be able to call myself a T-BIRD!”  – Marisa Murphy

Like all those expressing discontent, I too have deep and unwavering passion in my heart for Wasson. It definitely feels like something bad has happened here.

However, there is another side to this issue that must also be acknowledged. In fairness, as much as so many of us benefitted from our experience at Wasson, we also have to remember the school’s primary charge –  to provide an excellent education to all its students. Every student deserves that, and it is up to our schools to deliver it.

On its core mission and top priority, Wasson has struggled for many years. Today, its graduation rate is 65 percent. And of those who do graduate and go on to college, 56 percent of them require remedial classes to prepare them for the rigor of college-level work. That means they are paying college tuition for courses that do not count toward graduation in order to learn basic things that should have been mastered by the time they received their high school diploma.

Adding to the pressure is the unfortunate fact that the building is terribly underutilized. Families have exercised their right and responsibility of school choice, and have migrated to other schools. Not by force, but by choice.

When I graduated in 1996, the building bustled with 1,500 students. Enrollment today is 900, and, according to the district, the building is only utilized to 49 percent of its capacity. It is expected of those who manage our precious tax dollars be prudent, so it is reasonable to change course rather than continue the upside down financially situation.

These facts do little to ease the angst we feel about the closing of our beloved alma mater, but it does speak to a very important factor. Every child has a right to a high quality public education, and in honoring that commitment, sometimes we have to make tough decisions. Sometimes that means closing poor-performing schools and replacing them with better options.

That is what remains to be seen. What will District 11 do to create something even better – either in that building or elsewhere? Let’s all keep an eye on that.

I always try to find the silver lining in sad situations, and I think there is one here. The closure of Wasson doesn’t diminish any of our experiences or memories. Despite this end of an era, we should be filled with hope and determination to ensure this closure ultimately brings about something positive. Let’s direct our passion and engagement toward making sure the current and future generations get to create their own lasting memories of a great experience, both socially and academically.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.