Katie Wagner: Emerson Elementary families deserve more transparency

(Sheila R. McCann | The Salt Lake Tribune) The entrance to Emerson Elementary School in Salt Lake City. The school is one of seven elementaries proposed for study for possible closure.

Two words to describe the impact of COVID-19 on our lives could be “enormously disruptive,” and SLCSD families were a highly impacted demographic.

Frankly, the only stability my family found during the pandemic was Emerson itself. The administrative helm — Principal April Reynolds and her stellar staff, incredible teachers, resilient students and persevering families — brought semblance of normal to otherwise complete chaos. Families understood that navigating our ‘new-normal’ would be challenging, but we were in it together and we never gave up on our Emerson Eagles!

Elementary-aged students are largely in a “recovery phase.” Educators have told me that, upon return to classrooms, many students tested below grade standard. The mission became to do everything possible to get kids caught up. Over this past year, some kids have rebounded while others continue to climb the achievement gap.

Then we got the sucker punch news that our beloved National Blue-Ribbon school, Emerson Elementary, might be reviewed for potential closure. Emerson Elementary is one of the oldest schools in SLCSD and has been a cornerstone institution for the Sugarhouse neighborhood since the 1890s.

The school district has not been transparent as to their reasons for selecting the seven out of 27 SLCSD schools. This lack of disclosure from the district forced families to investigate on their own and seek morsels of information provided via statements to the media.

Two online articles reported potential closures were based on a 30% district-wide drop in student enrollment in K-12 schools. Emerson’s drop in enrollment by attendance area is 16% from 2014/15 to 2021/22, well below the district-wide decrease.

One article states “a legislative audit revealed the district used 57% of the available space in its elementary schools.” The current student capacity at Emerson Elementary is 85%, the second highest of all SLCSD elementary schools.

Emerson Elementary hosts a Spanish immersion ELP program and a behavior and physical disability HUB program.

Emerson Elementary operates near district desired numbers — 468 out of 475 students — including 91 students that choose Emerson over their local school.

One article quotes District Superintendent Elizabeth Grant stating, “the district took a data-driven approach to assessing what schools could potentially be studied for closure.” Multiple families, including mine, have asked SLCSD to provide data used to assess short-listed schools. The district did post some information on their website following the August 1, 2023, school board meeting, but it is vague and inadequate for public understanding of why specific schools were selected.

What gives?

Local schools provide access to resources and community connection so closure of any school deserves a thorough and transparent review process.

As a superfan of Emerson Elementary, I want to know why Emerson is short-listed so I have a chance to investigate and respond to those reasons. Emerson Elementary has a 130-year-old legacy of providing academic excellence and community connection. Keep Emerson Open!

Katie Wagner

Katie Wagner is a community educator and proud parent of an Emerson Eagle student. She and her family reside in the Sugarhouse neighborhood and walk to Emerson Elementary each and every school day.