South Beaver Prepares for Possible Closure

Flagstaff, AZ – Flagstaff voters passed the school district override and they approved the one cent sales tax but public school officials say they still need more money to fill its budget gap. The board will vote next week on whether to close some of its schools to save money. South Beaver Elementary, a historical and community landmark, is one of the schools targeted for closure. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has this story.

Seventy five years ago South Beaver Elementary School was built to segregate children. The teachers walked into Emerson Elementary, called each Hispanic student by last name and marched them more than a mile through town to South Beaver Elementary where they would stay.

South Beaver remained a segregated school for several decades. But today children of all races and backgrounds attend school here.

GARCIA: We have students from every attendance area nice mix different socioeconomic background different ethnicity. And it's also grown to where right now we're at 131 percent capacity so we're packed to the gills.

That's Principal Frank Garcia who was a "Beaver kid," as he likes to say. He gives a tour of the school showing off the black and white class photos on the wall, the trophy case constructed from the old bleachers and of course the school's mascot.

GARCIA: The beaver -- the teeth are worn because the kids rub em for luck when they walk by.

He points out the new gym floor, the new playground turf and the new computers. (They recently spent about a quarter of a million dollars in renovations.) In the mid 90s Garcia and the other teachers revamped South Beaver and converted it into a magnet school that focuses on academics, character development and the use of technology.

But South Beaver is much more to a lot of people.

GARCIA: I stand my kids that are leaving the school up at the end of the year and tell em this is home. And if you ever need anything from us please come back and ask and if we can help you with anything we absolutely will.

Garcia isn't sure if he'll be able to say that this year. District enrollment has been dropping for several years and administrators still have a 4 million dollar budget gap to fill. So the most likely solution will be to close some of the schools. South Beaver is on both school closure scenarios for several reasons including its age, its small size, its proximity to other schools, its suitability for repurposing and its parking issues.

South Beaver students, parents and teachers are all struggling with this potential reality.

JEFFERS: It's a part of your heart. It's like losing a loved one.

Laurie Jeffers has taught at South Beaver for more than twenty years.

JEFFERS: Some of the parents I talk to and some of the kids I talk to they really don't know where to go from here. They feel kind of lost because they do live all over the city so they don't necessarily go together wherever they do end up and that's a struggle for some of our kids.

Jeffers and the other teachers may also struggle to move on as they look for new jobs in a district that's making severe cutbacks.

Kim Musselman's daughter is a sixth grader at South Beaver. She and more than a hundred other parents attend what will most likely be the last awards ceremony in the school gym.

MUSSELMAN: The respect and values the children are taught here is like no other. All of the teachers the principal everyone each of the children here are like they're children and you feel that all the time and every day.

Former long-time teacher Sarah Cromer addresses a packed gymnasium.

CROMER: It doesn't matter whether you're rich, you're poor, what color skin, what kind of religion you can be successful when you go thru this school this is the very best school in the whole world and you guys are the best kids don't ever give up (applause).

The School Board will decide next Tuesday whether or not to close South Beaver and other schools in the Flagstaff district. If South Beaver does close the board said it would consider moving the magnet program to another school. In the meantime South Beaver is planning its 75th year reunion June 26th for all "Beaver Kids" past and present.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.