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A new home for school that serves Jeffco students with severe emotional needs

Students who need a break from class at the Sobesky Academy in Lakewood sit in "chill rooms" to refocus. On a recent morning, there were more students who wanted to use a chill room than the current campus allows, so one sat in the hall. School leaders hope a move to a larger facility will allow for more chill rooms.
Students who need a break from class at the Sobesky Academy in Lakewood sit in "chill rooms" to refocus. On a recent morning, there were more students who wanted to use a chill room than the current campus allows, so one sat in the hall. School leaders hope a move to a larger facility will allow for more chill rooms.
Nicholas Garcia

JEFFERSON COUNTY — Lurleen McCormick’s science classroom at the Sobesky Academy doesn’t have a fully functioning sink.

McCormick and her students have devised a makeshift solution that involves a sink with buckets and a hose they’ve rigged to the faucet. They lug buckets of water back and forth between the classroom and the janitor’s closet.

“We’re limited in how many experiments we can do in this classroom,” McCormick said. Sobesky Academy’s current building was constructed in the 1940s.

But by the end of the calendar year, McCormick and the rest of the Sobesky Academy, which serves students who live with severe emotional needs, will be moving across the county to a new more-up-to-date campus that currently houses Stevens Elementary School.

The move was confirmed by the Jefferson County school board, which unanimously approved a shuffle of schools and programs on Thursday. The vote means the district will move ahead with a bundle of changes in the hopes of boosting student achievement, especially at schools that serve mostly low-income and Latino students.

But McCormick almost didn’t get her new science classroom.

At a board meeting earlier this year, board member John Newkirk proposed a different set of changes for schools in Wheat Ridge and Golden that would have left Sobesky in its current building.

The proposed changes involved the high-performing Manning School, where every student who attends has to choose to go there, Maple Grove Elementary and Everitt Middle schools.

The proposal to move those schools was first suggested by a few members of an organization called the Wheat Ridge Education Alliance, which advocates for schools in Wheat Ridge.

Jeffco Public Schools officials vetted that proposal while developing a plan for the Jefferson neighborhood that included dissolving the Wheat Ridge 5-8 school. They determined the alliance’s plan was not feasible and told board members that.

Newkirk and board President Ken Witt still asked for community feedback.

And they got it: Parents, teachers, and students packed three community meetings earlier this week and said they weren’t interested in a move.

Newkirk told an audience at Manning on Wednesday evening that’d he’d withdraw his motion.

On Thursday night, he did. He maintained that he only put forth the motion in order to get feedback on the alliance’s proposal. He asked the parents and teachers of Manning, Maple Grove, and Everitt to move forward “with malice toward none.”

The surprise motion by Newkirk nevertheless brought to a boil what had been a simmering tension between the board’s conservative majority and a vocal group of parents and teachers. They saw the surprise proposal as another example of the school board not listening to the public and district employees.

“It’s a sinking ship,” said Jill McGranahan, referring to the divided school board. McGranahan is an Everitt Middle School parent. “And we’re being pulled down with you.”

Ultimately, with the alternative proposal off the table, Sobesky Academy will move to the current Stevens Elementary campus and Stevens will move to the empty Wheat Ridge 5-8 campus.

That means not just a new science room for McCormick, but a library, more quiet space for students to move to when class becomes too much for them to handle, and a playground that has more than just a small basketball court and four swings on a patch of grass.

“It will be a boost for our students. It will make them feel appreciated. It will show them that they matter,” McCormick said.

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