Menwith Hill school to close within two years
By ADAM L. MATHIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 16, 2013
RAF MENWITH HILL, England — When the Defense Department schools in Mannheim and Heidelberg, Germany, closed, parents and students were prepared — the military communities there were closing and families were moving on. But news that the only DODDS school at RAF Menwith Hill could close as soon as this spring has left parents wondering how they will educate their children.
Parents were briefed of plans to close the school at a series of town hall meetings Aug. 12-13.
Harvey Gerry, chief of staff for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe, said the meetings gave officials a chance to hear when the community would prefer the school close — at the end of the coming academic year or in 2015.
“In all those town hall meetings, they were urging that the school closure be in 2015,” Gerry said in a phone interview.
No date has been set for a final decision, which Gerry said will be based on what is best for the students.
Enrollment at the school, which houses kindergarten through 12th grade, has been on a downward trend for the past five years, according to Department of Defense Education Activity data. Gerry said there were 169 students as of Aug. 12, a 15 percent decrease from about the same time last year.
Gerry said base officials estimated that school enrollment could drop by nearly half — to about 80 students total — by the end of this coming school year.
The base, which houses about 1,500 U.S. personnel from the Air Force and National Security Agency, is situated in York county, about 150 miles from the nearest U.S. bases at RAFs Alconbury and Molesworth.
Squadron Leader Geoff Dickson, the Royal Air Force commander of the base, said declining school enrollment did not mean any change to staffing at the base.
“The mission at Menwith Hill is not changing,” Dickson said.
This is not the first time that a DODDS school in Europe has been closed because of low enrollment. Livorno High School in Italy closed in 2007. It had only 26 students in 2005.
Low enrollment can force officials to combine classes and can limit the availability of high school extra-curricular activities such as sports, Gerry said.
“When you have a small student enrollment at any grade level, it means that you have to make adjustments to the manner that you deliver instruction,” he said. “It’s really important for us to ask the community what they think about that.”
Menwith Hill’s new principal, Kevin Brewer, came from Heidleberg High School, Germany, which closed in the spring as part of the closure of the military community there.
The Menwith Hill community can expect the 2013-2014 school year to start like the last one, he said.
“The activities and programs we’re going to have here at Menwith Hill as we start the ’13-’14 school year are going to be no different than what they had in ’12-’13,” Brewer said.
The community, however, did express concerns about the closure. Citing privacy concerns, officials did not allow Stars and Stripes to attend any of the three town hall meetings. Parents who talked with a reporter after the meetings said concerns were raised in particular about the prospects for juniors and seniors completing their education.
“The British schools don’t have the equivalent education. It’s just not the same, not that it’s better or worse,” said Holly, the parent of a junior, who asked that her last name not be used.
Gerry said at locations with no DODDS schools, parents are provided a number of subsidized options. He said there is funding available to pay for homeschooling materials and enrollment in private schools in addition to virtual classes provided by DODDS.
Construction of a new school was scheduled to start this year, but was held up by budget cuts. Gerry said the decision to close the school was not based on the facility’s condition.
Closing Menwith Hill Elementary and High School in England could save the government millions in construction costs. According to a military construction document, the current building has a number of issues, including some hallways that are too narrow and pose a fire hazard.
ADAM L. MATHIS/STARS AND STRIPES