UPDATE: SUMMIT HILL SCHOOL BOARD REJECTS RESOLUTION TO RESCIND CLOSING TWO SCHOOLS

Arbury Hills School, pictured, and Frankfort Square School are scheduled to close unless residents can convince the District 161 Board to reverse its decision at a February 7 meeting. (Photo by Summit Hill School District)
Arbury Hills School, pictured, and Frankfort Square School are scheduled to close unless residents can convince the District 161 Board to reverse its decision at a February 7 meeting. (Photo by Summit Hill School District)

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Summit Hill D161: Parents Fighting Closure of Two Schools

By Nick Reiher

Parents in Frankfort-based Summit Hill School District 161 are gearing up for a February 7 meeting where they hope to change officials’ minds about closing two schools.

Since the board voted 4-3 December 20 to close Frankfort Square School and Arbury Hills School, opponents of the move have amassed more than 400 signatures they will present to the board at the meeting, set for 7 p.m. at the Mary Drew Administration Center, 20100 S. Spruce Drive, Frankfort.

Summit Hill Parents Katie Sues and Patrick Oliphant want to make sure the information gets out to district residents, regardless if they have children attending schools, in part, because they say finding information about the meeting has been difficult.

But they also say the board’s decision to close the two schools at the December 20 meeting was surprising, given special meetings on the options began only in early November.

These followed an October 4 Building and Grounds Committee meeting where officials saw comparisons of the seven district schools in terms of age, size, student population and building needs.

As a follow-up to that meeting, district officials released on its website a list of frequently asked questions, which was added to as more questions came up during public meetings in November. As for why the district was considering closing up to three schools:

“This conversation was started many years ago, prior to COVID, when the District continued to see declining student enrollment. What was once a 3,600+ student District, now rests at 2,433 students in 2023. With 322 8th grade graduates this year and 216 kindergarten students currently enrolled, the District total enrollment will again decline next year. For a specific school example, there is a predicted 22 student decrease at Frankfort Square Elementary School based on 4th grade students moving to Walker and Kindergarten students moving to FSS, bringing the total FSS school enrollment to 146 students. This brings forth the topic of equity, are all students in SHSD161 being provided the same and equal education? The process is to examine all available relevant data and determine if changes to the District are needed.”

The lengthy list of FAQs https://www.summithill.org/documents/1702567521REVFAQBandGCommittee121223.pdf includes comparisons to other nearby districts, most of which have similar student populations, but only two or three schools; not seven as in District 161.

If the schools are closed, district officials said in the FAQs they would sell the buildings or engineer an intergovernmental agreement with another public body; not keep and maintain them. They said several entities have expressed interest in the buildings.

Arbury Hills, built in 1960, and Frankfort Square, built in 1973, are the district’s two oldest buildings.

Sues said the district’s plan also includes moving Pre-K students from Julian Rogus School to Mary Drew School, which is 49 years old. As for the schools considered for closing, the FAQs say:

“The schools with the largest capacities, including Dr. Julian Rogus Elementary School, Walker Intermediate School, and Summit Hill Junior High School are not a part of the current discussions. The three remaining schools, Indian Trail Elementary School, Frankfort Square Elementary School, and Arbury Hills Elementary Schools are a part of the discussion regarding future usage. Depending on the model chosen, one or more schools may be considered for closing.”

Sues and Oliphant, an engineer, also dispute the costs of repairs at the schools to be closed, saying district officials inflated them.

Farmers Weekly Review called District 161 Superintendent Dr. Paul McDermott two times for comment. The person answering said he had received the message. As of deadline Thursday, he had not returned the call.

Those who would like to sign the petition can go to Sues’ home, 21125 S. River Road, Frankfort. But she asks that you call or text first at 815-999-2864.

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

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