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Will any high schools in Broward close? Superintendent discusses after latest meeting

After holding three community meetings with about 650 people to discuss schools closing or repurposing, Broward Public Schools Superintendent Peter Licata said he doesn’t expect to close any high schools.

“I don’t see closure as an option for high schools right now,” he said in an interview Friday morning. “But I do see some reprogramming.”

Last year, the Broward School Board asked Licata to close or repurpose at least five of the total 239 schools because of a critical decline in student enrollment. The district has lost about 58,000 students in the last 20 years, falling from 259,130 in 2004 to 201,273 in 2024 — a trend that’s expected to continue.

Cadets line up to escort participants as Broward County Public Schools held the third of three town halls to discuss with the community the possibility of closing schools in 2025.
Cadets line up to escort participants as Broward County Public Schools held the third of three town halls to discuss with the community the possibility of closing schools in 2025.

Broward school district officials still haven’t released a preliminary list of schools they’re considering to close, combine or repurpose. The latter, “repurpose,” means they could use all or part of a school campus for another service, like affordable housing or technical classes.

But they’ve released a list of 67 schools they say are the most underenrolled schools, operating at 70% or less of their full capacity. The list includes 45 elementary schools, 16 middle schools, five high schools and one combined school. They make up nearly a third of all public schools in Broward.

The five high schools are Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Hallandale High in Hallandale Beach, Northeast High in Oakland Park, Plantation High in Plantation and Stranahan High in Fort Lauderdale. The most underenrolled among them is Northeast High; it’s missing about 1,250 students and operating at 56% of its capacity.

Broward County Schools Superintendent Peter Licata is interviewed inside his office at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Licata spoke on the record about his school district potentially repurposing schools with low student enrollment.
Broward County Schools Superintendent Peter Licata is interviewed inside his office at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Licata spoke on the record about his school district potentially repurposing schools with low student enrollment.

Still, Licata said he believes the district can bring back high schoolers with construction projects and new programs like ones that focus on technology.

“We want to fix the facilities and look at programming,” Licata said. “They will be impacted most likely for the positive.”

Licata said he hopes to present to the Broward School Board a narrowed-down list of schools they’re considering on March 20 during a board workshop. He will also share at that meeting the data conclusions from the three community events the district held this month in which parents, students, teachers and others shared which schools should change and how.

The board will hold another workshop on the topic May 14 and then make some decisions by June.

READ MORE: Broward superintendent discusses the options as district explores closing schools

‘Come into our little schools at risk of not existing anymore’

The school district held a forum at Fort Lauderdale High on Feb. 8, another at J.P. Taravella High in Coral Springs on Feb. 15 and the last at Charles W. Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines on Thursday. About 140 attended in person Thursday and got split into seven breakout rooms; about 45 joined online.

Similarly to the first two events, attendees Thursday used an artificial intelligence surveying program called ThoughtExchange to answer questions about what the school district should consider when closing school and how they can make it a positive experience. Then they discussed among themselves the answers and rated others’ answers on the platform that they liked or disliked.

Yashira Perez, a mother of a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old at Panther Run Elementary in Pembroke Pines, said she participated in Thursday’s event because as a Puerto Rican native married to a Colombian, she wanted to represent the Hispanic community.

READ MORE: Broward school district holds first event on school closures

Stakeholders and parents gather to voice their concerns at the third community meeting hosted by the Broward County Public Schools to discuss the possibility of closing schools in 2025 due to under-enrollment. This meeting took place at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Florida on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Stakeholders and parents gather to voice their concerns at the third community meeting hosted by the Broward County Public Schools to discuss the possibility of closing schools in 2025 due to under-enrollment. This meeting took place at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Florida on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

“I wanted to represent the voices that usually get lost,” she said. “And those are the voices from the Hispanic community and the Black community.”

She loves her children’s school, which she specifically picked with the district’s school choice program because she wanted a “tight-knit” one. Panther Run is currently operating at 47% of its capacity because it only has 372 but has the capacity for 778. But it’s historically been graded with an A by the state education officials.

“I don’t know why it’s so underenrolled because it’s a great school,” said Perez, who serves in the school’s Parent Teacher Association. “I see the quality every day. My daughter loves it. Teachers are always around to help if a student struggles. I’ve been to the classrooms myself.”

Perez said she’s open to solutions for the enrollment crisis, but she wants the district to communicate constantly before implementing anything.

Yashira Perez attends the third community meeting hosted by Broward County Public Schools to discuss school closures. “I wanted to represent the voices that usually get lost,” she said. “And those are the voices from the Hispanic community and the Black community.”
Yashira Perez attends the third community meeting hosted by Broward County Public Schools to discuss school closures. “I wanted to represent the voices that usually get lost,” she said. “And those are the voices from the Hispanic community and the Black community.”

On Thursday, Perez asked Zoie Saunders, the district’s chief strategy and innovation officer, if the school district would hold another round of meetings before they close, combine or repurpose any schools. Saunders nodded.

“Let’s do it, but let’s do it the right way. This was good but let’s keep it going,” Perez said after. “We want to be involved in every step of the way. And I want them to come into our little schools at risk of not existing anymore; walk in our shoes; walk in the teachers’ shoes. Don’t make these big meetings at these big schools and stop there.”

Why are children leaving public schools?

Perez pointed to COVID as a reason for the decline in enrollment, as families switched permanently to virtual learning then.

She also said it could be because Hispanics who immigrated from Latin America tend to avoid public schools because those get a bad rep at home, so when they hear charter schools, they think those are better.

“There’s a misunderstanding because people try to avoid public schools. I always try to educate others,” Perez said.

Licata has said he thinks students have left because of a rise in home-schooling, switches to charter or private schools, moves out of the county or state, and declines in birth rates. Other students could have dropped out because they were seeking a specific magnet program at another school, because they disliked the staff or because the state-granted grade fell for that school.

Asked why she thought enrollment is plummeting, Alicia Widmaier, the mother of a 7-year-old at Coconut Creek Elementary School, said the district’s to blame.

READ MORE: Community weighs in on potential Broward school closures for the second time

“I went to Broward public schools, I have kids now in their twenties who went to Broward public schools, and I now have a 7-year-old in Broward public schools, and nothing has changed,” she said. “I swear my older kids used the same old textbooks I did. We still have the same problems. They don’t put money into the schools. They need to do better.”

Earlier this school year, she moved her daughter to a charter school, Renaissance Charter School in Coral Springs, because it’s a K-8 center, and she wanted to smooth out her daughter’s transition to middle school eventually. But she only lasted a few weeks at Renaissance because Widmaier didn’t like that it didn’t feel like a small community.

“I took her back to the public school because everybody knows her name there,” she said. “But I do worry a lot that they’ll close it. I can’t afford private school, not even with a voucher.”

Fracine Baugh assists in the conversation with stakeholders and parents as they gathered to discuss Broward County Public School’s possibile plans of closing schools in 2025 due to under-enrollment.
Fracine Baugh assists in the conversation with stakeholders and parents as they gathered to discuss Broward County Public School’s possibile plans of closing schools in 2025 due to under-enrollment.

Preliminary data the school district got from the forums

The lack of trust in the school district was one of the most-talked about topics in the three community events this month, Saunders, the district’s chief strategy and innovation officer, told the Herald on Friday morning.

She said that the final conclusion won’t be ready until they process the information from ThoughtExchange and present it in the report March 20.

However, some common themes she knows now that attendees mentioned included the strengthening trust in the school system, protecting mental health and family legacy, prioritizing equity in decision-making, taking into account that low income students depend on school services and avoiding busing kids for extended periods of time.

Stakeholders and parents answer questions and write ideas about school closures in a program called ThoughtExchange during the third community meeting the Broward school district hosted to get input.
Stakeholders and parents answer questions and write ideas about school closures in a program called ThoughtExchange during the third community meeting the Broward school district hosted to get input.

They also mentioned some successful programs that could be replicated or that they’d like to see like early learning and in the trades, Saunders said.

“Overall I think there was recognition that this is a complicated and challenging process, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work,” she said.

Moving forward, she said the school district will organize or participate in meetings to let people chime in.

“We’ve met with different stakeholder groups, including our cities, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and business organizations, and we’ve asked them that when we’re clearer on which schools we’re looking to impact, we want to partner with them because we want to meet people where they are,” she said. “So that’s where we’re headed.”