Twain and Peabody elementaries to close

Centennial schools to be folded into others nearby; consolidations reflect declining enrollment

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Twain and Peabody elementary schools in Centennial will close in coming years, marking another milestone in a series of consolidations in Littleton Public Schools in the face of declining enrollment.

The two schools sit just over a mile apart on opposite quadrants around the intersection of Arapahoe Road and University Boulevard. Each is anticipated to serve fewer than 250 students in the coming school year, district figures show.

Under a plan adopted unanimously by the school board at the April 8 meeting, the two student bodies will be absorbed by nearby schools starting in the fall of 2022.

Students from Peabody will consolidate with Lenski Elementary on Fairfax Way near Holly Street. Twain students will be absorbed into a new school in the works on the Franklin Elementary campus at Franklin Street and Euclid Avenue.

The move will be the latest in years of reshufflings of elementary school operations and boundaries in the district's eastern portion, starting with the closure of Ames and Whitman elementaries in 2010. An increase in families near Ames prompted the district to build the new Justina Ford Elementary on the Ames campus, scheduled to open this fall and funded by a 2018 bond.

The new school at Franklin is also slated to absorb nearby Highland Elementary beginning in 2022.

Once all is said and done, the district anticipates Franklin will serve just over 500 students by the fall of 2022, with Lenski serving just over 550, and Ford serving nearly 650.

Small schools are inefficient and cause limited staffing and educational resources to be spread too thin, district officials say.

Still, the move has prompted months of pushback from Twain and Peabody families, including two protests outside the district administration building during school board meetings.

At the April 8 meeting, a Peabody parent said small schools better serve students, who might feel lost in the crowd at a bigger school.

“I beg of you to consider what is best for the community, not the pocketbook,” she said, saying that district figures show Peabody's enrollment stayed steady for the better part of the last decade.

A second-grader from Peabody pleaded with the board to save her school.

“If the reason you're closing Peabody is because of money, I'll give you all my money,” she said. “I'm saving my money to buy a horse, but I'll give it to you to keep my school open.”

Superintendent Brian Ewert said while Peabody's enrollment numbers may stabilize at times, the overall trend over the past 20 years is down.

The bottom line is that the district has too many elementary schools clustered north of Arapahoe Road and “not enough kids to fill them,” he said.

District enrollment fell to 13,700 in the 2020-2021 school year, district figures show, down nearly 9% from the more than 15,000 students enrolled in 2012. The proportion of the drop is even greater at the elementary level, down 12.7% since 2012.

The decline sped up in 2020, with more than 750 students leaving the district, driven in part by a statewide wave of students lost to homeschooling or to private schools that stayed fully open to in-person learning through the pandemic.

District officials say they expect about half of those 750 to return in the coming school year, though some have likely been lost for good as families have moved away or settled into other schooling arrangements.

The shrinking numbers are likely to continue or accelerate, said Kathleen Ambron, the district's director of elementary education. Incoming kindergarten classes continue to shrink, suggesting fewer students will matriculate going forward.

District officials have said the decline is likely due to both an overall declining birthrate, but also high housing prices. The price of a single-family home in Centennial hit $584,000 in February, up nearly 20% from a year earlier.

School board members defended closing smaller schools, saying school culture is defined more by class size and the quality of educators and staff than total enrollment.

“What do we want schools to be efficient at?” said board member Robert Reichardt. “We want them to be efficient at providing a well-rounded education, and making sure children have access to PE, art and music. Big schools make sense.”

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