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Glendale Unified begins talks about eliminating Balboa Elementary School’s sixth-grade program

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The Glendale Unified school board is considering eventually closing down the Balboa Elementary School sixth-grade class and integrating those students into Toll Middle School.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

Overcrowding may lead to the end of the sixth-grade program at Balboa Elementary School.

Glendale Unified staff and board members discussed during a meeting last week the possible elimination of all three sixth-grade classes from the northwest Glendale campus and moving those students to nearby Toll Middle School, which district staff members say has room for growth.

The earliest a change would happen is in two years, according to Mary Mason, the district’s executive director of elementary education, and Supt. Vivian Ekchian stressed talks are in their infancy.

“We’re just having an open conversation,” Ekchian said.

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She added, “Our students and their needs have changed over time.”

Two issues are at the heart of the discussion: student overcrowding at Balboa and available space at Toll.

Balboa is one of the district’s largest elementary schools, with an enrollment of 850 students last year, according to statistics from the California Department of Education.

Balboa’s enrollment trails Keppel (1,042), R.D. White (950), Edison (907) and Muir (870) among the district’s 20 elementary schools, while Balboa’s sixth-grade enrollment of 127 is behind Muir (132) and Monte Vista (129) of the district’s 15 elementary schools that offer sixth-grade programs.

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Balboa’s enrollment growth has been steadily rising since bottoming out at 540 in 2010.

That year, the district secured grants to turn Edison, Franklin and Keppel elementaries into magnet schools and Foreign Language Academies of Glendale schools.

Students who didn’t transition to those schools enrolled in Balboa, which has added about 300 students since 2010.

Those gains came with consequences, said Mason, who called Balboa the “most impacted” school, in terms of space, in the district.

“Over the past few years, to accommodate this growth, they’ve had to move their preschool and [transitional kindergarten] programs to other sites,” she said.

“They’ve reduced their computer lab, and now they have Chromebook carts throughout the school because, again, they needed all that classroom space,” she added.

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The Glendale Unified School District board is considering eventually closing down the Balboa Elementary School sixth-grade class , like the one above, and integrating those students into Toll Middle School.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

Five years ago, Balboa was awarded an overcrowding relief grant from the state of California and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 12-room building in 2017 that replaced campus bungalows.

Even with the new facility, Balboa has consistently turned away students every year.

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“Our next steps are, really, we do need to look at Balboa’s enrollment growth to decrease the need for capping,” said Kelly King, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services.

King said 44 families were “capped” out at Balboa at the start of this school year, meaning they were told the school had no room. She said half of those students left for other district schools, while some eventually found openings at Balboa after other students left.

“Toll has the capacity for 175 to 200 students more,” Mason said. The school already instructs 225 sixth-graders.

Toll’s enrollment 10 years ago for the start of the 2008-09 school year was 1,361 students, according to state figures, which is 192 students more than the 2018-19 total of 1,169.

The potential transfer was part of a broader discussion about how to boost enrollment at Toll.

One suggestion was to follow the lead of Roosevelt Middle School, which next school year will convert into a science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, or STEAM, school to help increase enrollment.

“There’s great potential [at Toll] to expand [its visual-and-performing arts] programs, and there’s great potential there to expand [its career and technical education],” Mason said.

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“The Toll team is ready to put together their own little visioning committee to really talk about the next five to 10 years and what kinds of enhancements that they would like to make for their school,” Mason said. “In doing so, that might help some of the overcrowding issues at Balboa.”

Ekchian said a decision about Balboa will not be made until Toll is further along in its planning process.

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