“Right-sized schools”: Salt Lake board hears recommendations for school closures

Jul 11, 2023, 6:24 PM | Updated: Jul 27, 2023, 1:41 pm

salt lake city board of education office file photo school closures...

The Salt Lake City School District's office building is pictured in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The lengthy process to consider elementary school closures in Salt Lake City continued Tuesday night, with the school board hearing a report recommending which schools should close — and why “right-sized schools” should be the rule for the district. 

A district official recommended that the board study seven schools for possible closure in the future: Emerson, Hawthorne, Bennion, Jackson, Newman, Riley, and Wasatch Elementary Schools. 

Recommended school closures come after lengthy study

Brian Conley, the director of boundaries and planning for the Salt Lake City School District, presented the results of a study on school sizes and boundaries to the board Tuesday night. That study came largely from the work of a 13-member boundary options committee, appointed by Martin Bates, the man who served as interim superintendent until this summer. 


Much of Conley’s presentation centered on the idea of “right-sized schools.” The idea focuses on finding the optimal distribution of students per teacher. According to Conley, a school with three teachers per grade level can help improve choices and access to special programs, such as arts and music, as well as collaboration among teachers within a school. 

“This is all about being more efficient and effective with the funds and what we receive at our schools,” Conley told school board members. 

By contrast, Conley said, a school that is too small may struggle to provide the same services to students. 

Assessing schools for closure 

Conley said the committee ranked every elementary school in the district according to a variety of criteria, including safety, enrollment trends, accessibility, feeder schools and proximity to other schools, and the cost to operate (things like the condition of the building and utilities). 

Under that metric, Conley said they identified a “notable break” between the seven schools that scored the lowest and the remaining 20 in the district. The seven schools: Emerson, Hawthorne, Bennion, Jackson, Newman, Riley, and Wasatch. 

The district would also need to study the boundaries at the remaining 20 elementary schools in the district and adjust to create the “right-sized schools” Conley referenced. 

Final decisions may be months away

The recommendations presented Tuesday do not mean those specific schools will automatically be closed. Members of the Salt Lake City School Board will consider the findings and make a decision, a process that could take months. 

The district’s newsletter from February said a final call could come in December or January. Prior to that, the district will likely provide other opportunities to offer comments, according to that newsletter. 

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“Right-sized schools”: Salt Lake board hears recommendations for school closures