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Editorial: For Slater, a new lease on life

In stark contrast to the teary-eyed students wandering around the Slater playground in June 2006, the crowd at last week's school board meeting was decidedly upbeat as they got a good reception to their request to reopen Slater elementary school this fall.

According to Voice archives from 2006, the message was decidedly bleak for students who had to endure the closure of the only school they had ever known. This meant many of them would lose their friends who were assigned to one of the four schools that were accepting Slater's cast-off students.

The closure came after a months-long process that rubbed emotions raw among the parents of 364 Slater students whose lives were upended by the decision, which was driven by a shrinking enrollment and a lack of funding to support such a small school. To make it even more poignant, the school was closing down on its 50th anniversary, having opened at 1956 at the same location.

Last week, after eight years of requiring many parents in north Mountain View to shuttle their children to schools far away from their neighborhoods, a grassroots effort to reopen the Whisman or Slater met with a warm reception from board members and the administration.

Superintendent Craig Goldman was particularly upbeat. "From my perspective, the opening of a school in the Slater-Whisman neighborhood is a given. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," he said.

This was welcome news for the more than 50 parents and children who crowded into the board meeting room last week. The neighborhood has been organizing and lobbying to reopen the Slater site that, since it closed, has served as a Google daycare center, while local children within walking distance were driven to schools across town. It was a tremendous burden on families who had no choice in the matter.

We hope these steps ultimately will result in the reopening of Slater or Whisman. To get to that point, neighborhood families must commit to attend the school, so there will be enough students to justify its reopening.

Even though the district's demographers have found there are more than enough elementary-age students in the neighborhood 611 to be exact that is not enough to satisfy school board members, who need to know how many of potential students would actually enroll in a reopened Slater or Whisman school. The same study found the number of students would grow to 723 by 2017-18, easily enough to fill a 400-500-student school in the years ahead, if enough agree to attend.

"Of those 600 people, how many of them would choose to go to a neighborhood school?" board member Ellen Wheeler asked. "If it's 100 people, that's not a neighborhood school. If it's 400 people, that is a neighborhood school," she said.

If enough parents agree to skip the commute to an out-of-neighborhood school and enroll their children at Slater or Whisman, it will not only put an end to the time wasted in traffic, but it will add to the camaraderie among students who see each other at school and in the neighborhood.

For Soosh Gandhi, former president of the North Whisman Neighborhood Association, it will make a huge difference.

"We have a cul-de-sac in our neighborhood that literally has three families with children that don't know each other," he told the board. "They don't go to school together, they don't play together. It's really tough to build community."

Greg Coladonato, the president of the Slater Neighborhood Association, was proud of the many residents who turned out for the meeting and that board members seemed to show interest in the ideas presented for reopening the school.

"We really brought reality to the board, and showed we had support," he said.

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