By Dyana Strahely of the Press Enterprise
Hyatt Elementary School, with the lowest enrollment among Riversideâ€™s regular schools, has been proposed as the new home for Riverside Unified School Districtâ€™s STEM Academy.
The school board nodded in agreement with a staff proposal presented Tuesday. The next step is to meet with Hyatt staff and send letters to parents today. The actual board decision wonâ€™t be made until March 5, and a parent meeting is to be called for Feb. 29, according to the proposal. Hyatt Elementary students would go to surrounding elementary schools, which all have extra room, staff said.
Hyatt was proposed initially as the site of the STEM Academy last year, but the school board balked at the site and even hinted the district might have to close the campus because of safety concerns about an adjacent railroad track. The academy opened in August with about 180 fifth- through seventh-graders in a wing of Central Middle School. Eighth-grade is to be added next year, and staff said the STEM Academy would expand to high school in the future.
The longtime, little-used freight track above Hyattâ€™s playground is to be upgraded to run Metrolink commuter trains on the Perris Valley Line. A year ago, board members were concerned about a possible derailment with more trains using the track. The district and Riverside County Transportation Commission resolved the concerns with an agreement for a safety wall that would stop freight from tumbling onto the school playground in the event of a derailment.
Hyattâ€™s advantage as the site of the academy focused on science, technology, engineer and math, or STEM, is its proximity to UCR, where professors in those fields are excited about working with Riverside students, said Bill Ermert, assistant superintendent for instructional services at the middle and high school levels. Hyatt is also close to nature preserves on Box Springs Mountain.
Enrollment at Hyatt has fallen from 411 in 1995 to 278 now. Small schools create more of a need for classes that combine two grade levels with one teacher, which accounts for three of the 10 classrooms there now, said Judi Paredes, assistant superintendent for instructional services at elementary levels. Combination classes require teachers to design lessons with grade-level requirements for each grade.
Deputy Superintendent Mike Fine said closing Hyatt would save $395,712, including $105,000 additional cost for more busing. The cost to convert it would be $901,151 the first year and $683,042 the second year and each year beyond. Those costs include a full-time principal, secretary and custodians, as well as other costs. Teachers would generally transfer with the students.