Napa Valley Unified School District will pause in its consideration of the potential closure of Harvest Middle School, Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti confirmed Friday, citing the existing distress of parents and community members amid the pandemic.
“In reflecting, maybe it is time to take a pause. This might not be the right time to ask for a sacrifice,” Mucetti wrote in a statement to the board of trustees. “We need this entire community to understand that if we don’t address this now, we are going to address it later. Our current situation is unmanageable ... but I also understand (the closure) is just too much right now for our community (amid) all we are going through.”
The district first disclosed the potential closure in a board meeting Oct. 11, citing financial pressure caused by falling enrollment exacerbated by the pandemic. NVUSD has seen a decline in enrollment of nearly 400 students, to 16,968, compared to September 2019, Mucetti told the Register in an earlier interview. District enrollment is expected to dip to 15,200 by the 2026-2027 school year, she said.
The school board was set to discuss the closure at Thursday night’s board meeting, but pulled the item from the agenda.
Sacrifices are needed to get where the school district needs to be financially, Mucetti wrote in her remarks from Thursday’s board meeting following the removal of the agenda item. But, she continued, “this is a really tough time to ask people to (make) sacrifice(s).”
The district must revisit “topics related to the middle school landscape in the city of Napa,” Mucetti said in an interview on Friday.
“We will not solely focus on the topic of closing Harvest. (Closing one of the middle schools) is one option. Will Harvest be discussed? Yes, potentially,” she continued. “But our goal is (for) the community to understand the data … and the financial issues, knowing we need to construct a solution that reduces operational costs.”
The district also wants to be sensitive to the fact that Harvest Middle School has a “high proportion” of socioeconomically disadvantaged students as well as the Latino community at the middle school level, Mucetti said.
News of the middle school’s potential closure prompted strong feelings from parents and community members, including Harvest Middle School’s Parent Faculty Club, which penned a letter expressing its opposition to the closure to Mucetti “almost immediately,” according to President Derek Moore.
“We fully appreciate that the school district is confronting a serious financial crisis, and that was (the case) even before the pandemic,” Moore, whose son is a seventh grader at the school, said in an interview early Friday. “But we strongly felt that this was not the opportune time to push forward with considerations of whether to shut our school.”
By Friday morning, a change.org petition calling for Harvest to remain open had almost 3,000 signatures, and the “Save Harvest Middle School” Facebook group the school’s PFC created had more than 200 members. In an op-ed, Moore criticized the district for what he described as a fast-tracking of the closure process, noting public discussions over the closures of Mt. George and Yountville elementary schools within the last year “spanned almost four months.”
“Mucetti says she wants to have a decision on the HMS closure made by early December, less than two months from start to finish,” Moore wrote.
Mucetti cited the pandemic as the reason for the district’s urgency, but said community members had made clear to her “the human side” of the decision.
“We’re going to slow it down and be sensitive to distress in the community, but that does not mean we won’t address and respond to this problem,” she said. “We need to continue to make sure the district is fiscally stable in order to maintain educational excellence and continue to develop inclusive, high quality educational programming for students across the district.”
In her written remarks, Mucetti emphasized tough decisions would lie ahead for the district, noting inaction would place student programs at risk. She invited invested community members to collaborate with the district on “sustainable solutions.”
Moore, of the Parent Faculty Club, acknowledged the plight of the district and said he looked forward to collaboration.
“That’s what we would have hoped from the outset – (to have) the district reach out to us with that message from the beginning, because we are more than happy to engage in that conversation,” he said.
Watch Now: A Napa first day of school like no other
Photos: Faces and Places, October 11
You can reach Sarah Klearman at (707) 256-2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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