Low enrollment signals end for Livorno High in Italy
CAMP DARBY, Italy — Chelsea Denkins will get to finish high school while living in Tuscany. Alessio Buccellato will not. And Elizabeth Patterson will never even get a chance to start.
The Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe has decided to close Livorno High School, its smallest high school, when the current school year ends.
The school, founded in 1954, has a student body of 26 and “just doesn’t have the enrollment to sustain a high school program,” said Sam Menetti, assistant superintendent for the Mediterranean District.
In an era of tight budgets, the district can’t afford to spend almost $3 million annually to educate that few students, he said.
The decision was supposed to be announced at a community meeting, but leaked out early. Not surprisingly, there were more than a few unhappy parents. And students. And teachers.
“It’s tough when it has such a devastating impact on you as a community and you as an individual,” said Lt. Col. Craig Patterson, the community’s dentist and chairman of the School Advisory Committee.
“We understand it had to be made. You’ve got to put the resources where the numbers are. But it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Alessio Buccellato, whose Italian father works in the base medical clinic, is attending the school for his second year after getting most of his education in the Italian system.
Alessio’s English has improved dramatically and he likes the American system enough that he’ll spend his senior year at DODDS-operated London Central instead of returning to an Italian school.
Livorno’s small enrollment is nothing new. This year’s senior class has only three members, but within the last decade, there was a graduating class of one. Menetti said DODDS has been monitoring the situation for years. There was always the possibility that additional troops would be sent to the community, boosting enrollment numbers and saving the school.
“The rumors were always there,” he said. But the troops haven’t arrived. So the decision was made to keep the elementary school open, but close the high school.
“Every year, you would hear rumors about the school closing or the base closing,” said Chelsea Denkins, who is to graduate at the end of the school year. “But it never happened.”
She said she has enjoyed her three years at the school and feels fortunate she’ll get a chance to finish up before going on to college in Florida.
“If I’d have to spend my senior year somewhere else, I’d be very upset,” she said.
Younger brother Jacob, a freshman, will likely spend his sophomore year at London Central. Menetti said parents have four options: London Central — a boarding school where students from around the globe attend school and live in dormitories — home schooling, correspondence courses or the International School of Florence.
Patterson said his family is exploring the Florence school — which would require daughter Elizabeth’s first getting accepted, then making a long daily commute — or home schooling. London Central is not a consideration.
“I know they get a good education,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but positives about London. But I feel that’s like a deployment for my kid. We came here as a family, to be stationed as a family.”
With the way the military works — three-year stints overseas are common for those with families — Patterson said the notice of only a year in advance has several parents upset.
Some, including himself, chose to extend before they knew of the situation. Others, he said, would have never agreed to go to Livorno in the first place if they knew their kids would be going to school elsewhere.
Menetti said he’s sympathetic. He said DODDS officials didn’t make a quick decision and didn’t make it lightly. And he said he’s concerned not only for the students and parents, but also the employees. About 15 slots for teachers and educators will likely be eliminated. Personnel will have priority when spots open elsewhere in the system.
Kathleen Hall has been at the school since 1994, when she was among a group that left Bitburg High School in Germany under a drawdown. She hopes to stay on and teach middle school students.
Like most of the school’s teachers, Hall wears a lot of hats. Currently, she’s teaching four subjects and is the sponsor for student council.
“I think we’re all kind of on the same rock,” she said of the teachers and their futures. She has two years left before she plans to retire and would like to spend them at Darby.
Principal Cathy Magni is on the same rock. There’s a possibility that she might become principal of the middle school, or she may move elsewhere.
She said she knows that the school can’t provide all the options for students that a larger school can. But she said the school’s size has some benefits.
“I’ve seen a lot of students bloom that came to us from a larger school,” she said. Activities such as sports need all the participants they can get and students respond. “I think they tend to do things they might not have otherwise considered.”
Chelsea said students hope to make their final year at Darby a special one.
“We’re just really trying to make it a good year,” she said. “We’re trying to get the whole community involved in everything we do.”