Williams Elementary may close

    About 70 parents and staff members packed the gym at Williams Elementary School Wednesday night to express concerns over the Three Rivers School District's announcement that their school was on the chopping block because of declining enrollment.

    The school currently stands at 64 students, down from 79 students in 2010.

    "My daughter is in love with this school. She will be heartbroken," said audience member Christy Miller, as she began to cry. Miller planned to have her two youngest children attend Williams in the future with their sister, a plan she fears will never happen.

    If the school were to close, students would be bused to Applegate School about 12 miles away. Parents said it would be an hour bus ride one way for students living farther outside Williams, an unincorporated community about 20 miles south of Grants Pass.

    Woodland Charter School, which has about 170 students, is interested in relocating to the Williams building from its current site off Murphy Creek Road near Hidden Valley High School.

    Three Rivers Interim Superintendent Dave Valenzuela and Director of Special Education Stephanie Allen-Hart headed the meeting. Parents started right away with their questions and concerns.

    Allison Nevotti, whose children attend Williams, said, "Two hours a day on a bus for my kindergartner who's in class for eight hours is hard. Our family time is going to decrease."

    Wednesday's meeting was the first step of the process, which will include the formation of a committee made up of parents, staff and community members.

    The committee will make a recommendation to the Three Rivers School Board in March with evidence in support or against closure of the school, including the condition of the building, transportation costs, employee payroll and emotional value to its members.

    The meeting lasted nearly two hours, with concerns from parents and Williams staff over the children's transition to a school with middle schoolers — Applegate School has kindergarten through eighth grade — the loss of a community-oriented school, the loss of a more individualized education experience and, as many stated, the loss of a "family."

    Williams staff members were also concerned over their livelihoods. District officials say all teachers and other staff will be relocated to similar positions in the district.

    "Who knows how that's going to unfold," said Sheila Hanger, who has worked as an assistant classified staff member at Williams for three years.

    Ideas were thrown around by supporters for keeping the school open, such as the ability for parents to make financial contributions to support the school or closing Applegate School and transferring those students to Ruch Community School in the Medford School District.

    Audience members also expressed their concerns about the district's financial interest in the situation, as the district could earn a higher reimbursement rate for Applegate School if Williams were to close.

    Valenzuela said the members of the School Board are considering what it best for all schools. District officials also were adamant about examining Williams on its own before even considering the involvement of Woodland Charter School.

    This is not the first time the district has looked at the possibility of closing Williams Elementary. Records indicate that discussion about the closure have surfaced on the district level dating back to at least 2000. More recently, the Three Rivers School Board discussed the possibility of combining Williams and Applegate into a single school in 2007.

    Because funding for schools in Oregon is based on a formula tied primarily to enrollment, shrinking numbers have led to declining budgets and the closure of four Three Rivers schools in the past: Selma Elementary, Wolf Creek Elementary, Merlin Primary and, in 2013, Jerome Prairie Elementary.

    The next step will be the School Board meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 13, now scheduled to take place at Williams Elementary, 20691 Williams Highway.

    At that meeting, a public forum will be held and the application process for the committee will begin.

    Reach reporter Alex Madison at 541-474-3718 or amadison@thedailycourier.com.

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