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School board agrees to close Hilltop Elementary School (7/13/09)

After more than a decade of study and months of opportunity for public testimony, the Puyallup School Board has unanimously agreed to close Hilltop Elementary School.

Students in kindergarten through grade six who previously attended Hilltop Elementary will attend Northwood or Mt. View elementary schools beginning on the first day of class September 2.

The board unanimously agreed on July 13 to support a staff recommendation to close Hilltop Elementary, citing educational and financial reasons.

Board members reiterated that closing a school is not an easy decision, but added it is in the best interest of Hilltop Elementary students and staff. The North Hill school has the lowest enrollment of all of the district’s elementary schools.

“I am fully expecting that within a few months children will be totally engaged in their new school,” said President Greg Heath.

Superintendent Tony Apostle said the district will provide necessary staff support to assist in making a smooth transition. “We are going to have a very successful opening of our schools on North Hill,” he said.

Consolidating three schools into two will save the district nearly $350,000 annually and is included in $13.8 million worth of savings proposed in the 2009-10 recommended budget.

The school district, like others around the state, is undergoing historically unprecedented budget cuts due to severely reduced funding from the state of Washington.

Before making its decision, the school board spent three months hearing public testimony and reviewing a Hilltop Elementary analysis released in April. The report outlines enrollment patterns, financial considerations, facility planning, and projected growth over the next 12 years in the North Hill region.


Hilltop Elementary has experienced a continuous decline of students for more than a decade. In the past 13 years the school has dropped a third of its enrollment, serving 102 fewer students between October 1995 and October 2008.

The school, located adjacent to Edgemont Junior High, had the lowest enrollment of the 22 schools in the district with 211 students enrolled last October.

With the closure of Hilltop Elementary, enrollment at Northwood Elementary is projected to increase from 265 students this past school year to 381 this fall. Mt. View Elementary is expected to move from 294 last year to 369 this year.

Both Northwood and Mt. View elementary schools have room to serve the additional students, said Rudy Fyles, executive director of facilities. Hilltop Elementary staff members will be realigned throughout the school district.

While it is difficult to project future growth in the region because of the unstable economy, the Northwood Elementary master plan calls for adding portable classrooms if necessary by 2014 and building a new 550-student or 750-student elementary school to handle long-term enrollment growth.

Benefits of consolidation

When the school board voted in April to initiate a 90-day study period on the subject of closing Hilltop Elementary, it approved a resolution that outlined a series of benefits to students and teachers.

By consolidating the three schools into two and increasing enrollment at Northwood and Mt. View elementary schools, the resolution states that students will be served in an educational environment where they are surrounded by more of their peers. This, in turn, will allow for “enhanced student-to-student interaction among a broader group of peers in the classroom and during recess,” the resolution states.

The consolidation also supports a breadth of program and extracurricular offerings, such as the arts, clubs, special education, remediation, and interventions. More opportunities will also be available for teachers to team with colleagues and participate in professional development opportunities.

Closure idea spans more than a decade

Hilltop Elementary School opened in 1957 as part of a separate Edgemont School District and consolidated with the Puyallup School District in 1967.

Some of the earliest discussions for consideration of the eventual closure of the school can be found in the minutes of district board meetings dating to 1998. One of those meetings was a joint session with the Edgewood City Council to discuss the search for a site for a new Edgemont Junior High.

More than 300 people attended that meeting, and discussion included building the new Edgemont Junior High on the existing site with the possibility of consolidating Hilltop Elementary with Northwood Elementary within six to 12 years.

A year later, a committee of citizens commissioned to review district facility needs recommended to the school board that Hilltop Elementary be consolidated with Northwood Elementary at the 20-acre Northwood site within seven to 12 years.

“It is historically clear that the consolidation of Hilltop has been discussed and planned for in public venues for more than 10 years,” Fyles said.

Read more background about the Hilltop Elementary closure decision.