Proposed school closures raise questions for students and staff at Northwood Elementary

Friday's headlines from Alaska's News Source.
Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 4:55 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - At just over 300 students, the Anchorage school district considers Northwood elementary enrollment to be at 69% capacity. But Northwood principal Elizabeth Hornbuckle said her school is growing, which is why she never expected it to make the list of potential school closures.

“I was shocked,” Hornbuckle said. “I have a five year plan of what we are going to do to increase our student enrollment, get our numbers up, and what we could do to build our school community culture. Just in shock.”

Hornbuckle is a longtime ASD principal but new this year to Northwood, one of six schools the district has proposed closing as part of a plan to fill a $68 million budget gap. Even in her short time there, she said, she has come to realize the school is a special place and important to the families who attend. Hornbuckle said many students have parents, even grandparents who attended Northwood.

Physical Education Teacher Mark Heysell said the news that Northwood might close has stressed the tight knit community, including students who have questions he can’t answer.

“Everything from ‘Mr. Heysell, where are you going to be teaching next year?’ Or what’s going to happen to us or our family, how are we going to get to school? This is a neighborhood school a lot of kids walk,” he said.

The proposal would send students to Lake Hood Elementary, a school less than two miles from Northwood. But Heysell said many Northwood students would need to take a bus and he worries about that too.

“As an educator, attendance is one of the biggest things,” he said. “And that’s one of my biggest concerns is getting these kids to school every day. And a longer distance — even with busing and transportation — it might make it really hard.”

Principal Hornbuckle said the hardest part for her if Northwood closes will be letting her students go.

“We know these kids, we know their families, we know their needs, and that’s always hard. That’s our whole job,” she said. “To make sure these kids are taken care of, and it worries me.”

The district is conducting a series of town hall meetings to answer questions for school communities on the proposed closure list that includes Abbot Loop, Birchwood, Klatt, Nunaka Valley, Northwood and Wonder Park Elementaries. The Anchorage School Board will make the final decision about school closures in mid-December.