Charter school eyes Whittier/Bijou site

       The original Whittier school site may not stay empty long.
       After the Board of Education's Feb. 6 vote that includes relocating the Bijou School when the school year ends in May, District 11 was approached by the founders of a new, state-chartered school that would like to buy or lease the old Whittier property, 2904 W. Kiowa St. The school is named Mountain Song.
       Neah Douglas, the group's leader, said this week that the plan is to open in August with grades K-6 and possibly pre-K. Students would be taught in the “Waldorf” style, which developed after World War I as a non-traditional approach that puts a high priority on nurturing children's imaginations and love of learning. In modern times, the Waldorf approach has come to include doing without computers in the younger grades.
       “This is a grassroots effort by a group of parents who have been working on it for the past 20 months,” Douglas said. The application to District 11 was accompanied by 170 letters of support, and if the school opened now it would have close to 80 percent of the desired numbers for each grade, she said.
       According to D-11 statistics, the Whittier building, which housed an elementary school from 1901 to 2009, could hold a maximum of 225 students.
       D-11 moved the Bijou School there in fall 2009 after closing Whittier Elementary.
       Douglas said the Mountain Song founding group has been looking for a site for months and only chose 2904 W. Kiowa after the school board's February vote.
       What attracted the group was the Whittier building's history, its “aesthetics,” its size and its location in an older Westside neighborhood, which would provide a “good cultural fit with the community,” she said. Plus, many of the advance sign-ups live on the Westside, she noted.
       The group's interest was revealed to the public through comments by several school-supporting speakers during the citizen discussion portion at the board meeting Feb. 27.
       Negotiations with the district are ongoing and have been amenable, she said. “By the end of this month, we should know for sure.”
       School founders had initially sought to be chartered by D-11, she added, but had to go through the state because district officials told them they could not afford the cost of setting up more charter schools at this time.
       Starting in fall 2013, the Bijou School will be part of a new alternative-program smorgasboard at what is now Wasson High.

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