What’s Broward’s new superintendent’s plan for school closures? For now, hold meetings

Howard Hepburn, former deputy superintendent for teaching and learning for Broward County Public Schools, unexpectedly became the new superintendent of the school district on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, after former Superintendent Peter Licata announced his plans to step down.

Broward County Public Schools’ new Superintendent Howard Hepburn announced Tuesday he will hold at least five more town hall meetings to discuss school closures, but School Board members questioned his idea, citing a lack of rationale and detailed plan.

“I can’t clearly tell anybody what the plan is, because I still haven’t heard a clear plan,” said Daniel Foganholi, a board member. “It’s almost like a mystery game. I don’t know what’s going on.”

“I want to hear a clear plan. And I believe our community wants to hear the same,” he added.

The brief discussion took place this week during a School Board meeting in which Lori Alhadeff, the board’s chair, asked Hepburn to update the board on the district’s initiative to “redefine” schools, a term used to describe the process to innovate, change and close some schools to catch up with a critical decline in student enrollment.

Hepburn, who just took over the helm of the nation’s sixth school district last week after his predecessor retired unexpectedly, said the district’s next step in the process will be to hold five town halls.

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The school district already held three community meetings in February to introduce the idea of closing some schools to community members. But Hepburn said these five will be different because they will be targeted for specific “innovation zones,” a district term to describe groups of elementary, middle and high schools in the same geographic areas that can collaborate to better serve the same students as they grow. They name each zone after the high school located there.

These are the five meetings the school district scheduled:

  • South Broward, Hollywood Hills, Hallandale Zones — at 6 p.m. Monday, April 29 in Hollywood Hills High School, 5400 Stirling Rd., Hollywood, FL 33021

  • Dillard and South Plantation Zones — at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 1 in Dillard High School, 2501 NW 11th St., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311

  • Stranahan and Fort Lauderdale Zones — at 6 p.m. Monday, May 6 in Fort Lauderdale High School, 1600 NE 4th Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33305

  • Everglades, Flanagan and West Broward Zones — at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 7 in Flanagan High School, 12800 Taft St., Pembroke Pines, FL 33028

  • Monarch and Deerfield Beach Zones — at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 9 in Deerfield Beach High School, 910 Buck Pride Way, Deerfield Beach, FL 33441

Last week, Hepburn and Alan Strauss, the school district’s task-assigned chief strategy and innovation officer, said in a board meeting that the district had picked 12 of the district’s 28 innovation zones for ‘redefining.’

Then they grouped those 12 zones into five clusters, and listed options for schools in each cluster, including changing schools’ grade levels, change school boundaries and closing schools.

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Now they want to take that list of options for each cluster and hear feedback from community members in each area.

Last week, school board members pushed back on that grouping, asking how the school district came to those conclusions. School district staff couldn’t explain the reasoning then.

This week, some board members brought that up again.

Jeff Holness said on Tuesday that he wants the district to make the process “equitable and fair,” which means staffers can’t pick some zones for changes and leave others out “without any real rationale for doing so.”

Torey Alston also pushed that sentiment.

The data has not really shown why those are the five color coded areas that the district is proposing. I want to be very clear about that,” Alston said.

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Alston said that because the under-enrollment issue is affecting schools across all areas in Broward, then people across all areas in Broward should be involved in the conversation.

Allen Zeman, another board member, also said he wants everyone to participate, because everyone’s school will “very likely” be affected. Even if somebody’s school won’t close, it may merge with another or change its programming, he said.

Zeman then specifically asked Hepburn to add two more town hall meetings so that each of the seven districts in the county has one. Hepburn said he would try.

“Your feedback is noted and definitely appreciated,” the superintendent told board members.