‘We’re just kind of stuck out here’: early reaction to Valley Springs Elementary closing its doors earlier than planned

Valley Springs Elementary closing its doors earlier than planned
Published: Oct. 5, 2023 at 10:45 PM CDT
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VALLEY SPRINGS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The Brandon Valley School District announced that Valley Springs Elementary School would be closing down after the school year. The plan was always to close the school, but not until the new East-side Elementary opened in 2025.

The decision to close Valley Springs Elementary was a result of the school district not meeting the projected growth of its enrollment numbers, causing constraints on the district’s budget. The Sioux Falls metro area has seen plenty of growth in the last few years, so it’s reasonable to expect growth in a district adjacent to Sioux Falls.

The district did see growth, but the number of enrolled students was 130 short of the total they budgeted for. The end result is the 65 students relocating to Brandon Elementary next year, over five miles away. They would stay there for two years and then, the zone in the district will go to the new East-side Elementary.

Trisha Schumacher, a parent of two current VSE students and a member of the school’s PTA, said that while they understood the decision, it was tough.

“I mean, it’s a bummer, but with the fact that there aren’t as many kids as there were last year, the new schools coming up on the far East side of Sioux Falls and the new one hopefully being built soon, I mean, we’re just kind of stuck out here,” Schumacher said. "

Winds of change have reached Valley Springs sooner than anticipated. Moving up the closure has been a cause for concern for parents, forcing a decision of where to send their child to school much sooner. Some parents already moved their children from the soon-to-be-closed school before the Fall semester began.

“My daughter’s in fourth grade,” said Schumacher. “She’s in a class of eight [students]. There were a couple of families that actually went elsewhere when they found out that they were going to have to share special classes, music, gym and art class with the third graders, so they went elsewhere. They went to Hills, Minnesota. They went to Ben Reifel. They went to Brandon.”

Schumacher saw value in the smaller classes with more opportunities for one-on-one with the teacher. Some parents, including Schumacher, believe moving away from the smaller class size could be difficult for their children.

“It goes from a class of eight to a class of like twenty,” explained Schumacher. “My daughter’s not going to know anyone.”

Distance from the rest of the district presents another challenge.

“Brandon is more than five miles from Valley Springs, so what are they going to do for bussing?” Schumacher asked. “The Valley bus goes to Brandon and to Sioux Falls and then back to Valley. Some of those kids are on the bus for like two hours before they get dropped off in Valley again.”

There are many things hanging in the balance other than bussing, too. One of the biggest questions now is what will be done with the old school building.

“The first thing we’re going to do is turn the thermostat down,” Brandon Valley School District superintendent, Jarod Larson jokingly said. “You let the dust settle. We will not be demoing that building in the next year, but I would tell you that we have long-range plans once our high school reaches capacity that we will create a specialized high school academy out there.”

It was a difficult decision and the school district has been working to “right the ship” while making sure that they keep giving students a good education and taking care of their staff.

“The very first thing we did once we organized and outlined the plan and looked at the impacts for the next fiscal year, we met with the Valley Springs staff and reassured them, that every single individual has a job,” Larson said. “We will utilize every single staff member from that respective facility and they all have a job.”

The Brandon Valley School District has tried its best to be transparent throughout this process. They are holding their own amidst the changes to get around their budget deficit.

“I’m a person that believes when you’re faced with a challenge and an issue you face it head on and you have those hard conversations and those difficult discussions,” said Larson. “Ultimately, it is a necessity for the Brandon Valley School District to do this. Incredibly hard, incredibly challenging, incredibly emotional, but absolutely necessary and most certainly in the best interest of the Brandon Valley School District.”

When asked what he thought contributed to the lower-than-expected enrollment numbers, Larson said that they can’t point to any one specific reason.

“It’s absolutely a great question,” Larson said with a laugh. “If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that in the last three months, I think I’d probably retire today. What I do know is there are a lot of factors playing into the situation.”

Interest rates, economy, market and outflow of students who had come to South Dakota schools during the early parts of the pandemic are some of the factors that Larson pointed out that may have had an effect on who is coming to Brandon and Valley Springs and who is coming to their schools.