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Parents express concern over potential elementary school boundary changes

The year Kelly and Justin Hendrickson’s son, Evan, started kindergarten at Roosevelt Elementary was a rough one.

“We really didn’t know what was going on with him,” Kelly Hendrickson said. “And the school didn’t really know how to handle him.”

Later that year, Evan was finally diagnosed with ADHD, and was enrolled in the special education program at Roosevelt.

Now, 8-year-old Evan Hendrickson is doing well in third grade. He’s found a routine, he knows the building, knows all the staff, teachers and students.

Over the years, Roosevelt has become home for them all — Justin and Kelly Hendrickson and their three children, Evan and his twin sister Abby, and their kindergartner Anna, who all attend the school on the city’s northwest side.

“It’s been a journey, but we’re at a point where he’s doing well,” Kelly Hendrickson, who also serves as Roosevelt PTA president, said. “(Roosevelt is) like a family — I couldn’t imagine a better group of teachers and staff and administrators. Everyone there is so there for our kids and helping them develop socially, emotionally, mentally ... They’re really trying to create well-rounded kids.”

But now, as the Eau Claire school district considers potentially shuttering Roosevelt Elementary and re-purposing it into a center for 4-year-old kindergarten programming, Kelly Hendrickson wonders what will happen to her son and all the progress he’s made, and the family they’ve found at Roosevelt.

“We never wanted our kids to have to switch schools,” she said, noting she and her husband moved back to Eau Claire, their hometown, before their kids started school to avoid that situation entirely. “So this is pretty upsetting that they’d be switching based on nothing of our own doing.”

The Hendricksons were among nearly 100 concerned parents who attended a district listening session Wednesday evening at DeLong Middle School that focused on how potential boundary changes would impact Roosevelt Elementary.

The Wednesday meeting started with an informational presentation given by Kim Koller, the district’s executive director of administration who serves on the school board’s Demographic Trends and Facilities Committee.

In October, the committee recommended to the board that Roosevelt be re-purposed and north side elementary school boundaries be redrawn in order to accommodate high capacities in south side elementary schools and the district’s 4K program.

Koller presented three options the committee has been considering to be implemented in the 2020-21 academic year.

The first option is to re-purpose Roosevelt into a 4K center and realign boundaries affecting Sam Davey, Northwoods, Lakeshore, Longfellow, Locust Lane and Sherman elementaries to accommodate enrollment. That option is slated to cost from $17.5 to $21 million.

The second option is to retain Roosevelt as an elementary school and expand the facility to accommodate enrollment, while coming up with another plan to address 4K needs. That plan is projected to cost of $46 to $51.9 million.

The last option is to retain Roosevelt as an elementary school and redraw all boundaries to balance enrollment throughout the district at a cost of $31.5 to $35.5 million.

Once the committee lands on a solution for the north side, building a new school on the south side would be considered by the committee as a solution to capacity and enrollment, Koller said.

But there are other factors that could impact the options currently being considered.

The school board is also considering a proposal for adding a Spanish dual immersion program at Longfellow Elementary. If that program were to be approved by the board in the coming months, the option of closing Roosevelt would be “challenging,” Koller said.

“The long-term viability of this plan is uncertain,” Koller said. “Short term, we’re confident it’s a solution.”

Koller said the committee may explore other options based on the listening sessions, and will likely seek approval from the board within the next several months.

After the presentation, parents had the chance to ask questions and express frustrations in front of the larger group.

Megan Holmen, a Roosevelt parent, asked why all the plans involving shuttering Roosevelt involved separating all the students and sending them to different schools throughout the north side, referencing when Boyd Elementary closed and all the students were sent to Flynn Elementary together.

Other parents offered alternative solutions for the committee to consider. Some questioned why the district did not provide information to them sooner.

Kristyn Kersten, another Roosevelt parent, said the district has not shown transparency about the plans.

“It’s really saddening to know what’s happening and the fact that we’ve gotten such little notice and such little information,” Kersten said ahead of the meeting. “I feel like we’re being pushed to the side and overlooked in general.”

Others questioned the equality between the city’s north and south sides.

“I feel like we’re never going to be equal this way,” one parent said, referencing plans to close Roosevelt and potentially add a school to the south side later. “I feel like we’re never going to be equal. We’re trying, but we’re not.”

The district’s listening sessions will continue on the following dates:

• 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at North High School, 1801 Piedmont Rd. Focus topic: Proposed elementary boundaries.

• 5 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at DeLong Middle School. Focus topic: Spanish presentation.

• 4:30 to 6 p.m. March 5 at South Middle School, 2115 Mitscher Ave. Focus topic: Expansion of elementary schools.

• 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 6 at Memorial High School, 2225 Keith St. Focus topic: Supporting families through transition.

• 6:30 to 8 p.m. March 12 at Northstar Middle School, 2711 Abbe Hill Drive. Focus topic: Middle school boundaries.

• 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 14 at Northstar Middle School. Focus topic: Hmong presentation.

For more information about boundary changes and maps of proposed boundaries, visit ecasd.us/district/board-of-education/4k-elementary-enrollments.


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Furious snowfall, freeway crashes, clogged streets led to bad rush hour

Snow coming down faster than plows could handle, crashes closing sections of freeways and the worst of it happening during rush hour combined to create a bad commute Tuesday evening for drivers in the Chippewa Valley.

Eau Claire city snow plows continued cleaning up Wednesday and were bracing for more snow forecast for today.

“We’re going to have staff working around the clock until we get through this next storm and get both of them cleaned up,” city street maintenance manager Steven Thompson said.

Today’s forecast includes up to 8 inches of new accumulation, mostly during the daytime, according to the National Weather Service. Precipitation may waver between snow and freezing drizzle during this morning, based on that forecast.

The new snowfall would come on the heels of Tuesday’s winter storm that was at its worst when schoolchildren and workers were heading home.

Plows began patrolling Eau Claire streets at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday — shortly after that day’s snowfall began — and encountered challenges throughout the afternoon.

City and Eau Claire County plows can keep up with an inch of snowfall per hour, Thompson said, but the pace was 2 inches an hour around 4 and 5 p.m.

“It was coming so hard you couldn’t get there fast enough,” Thompson said.

Drivers faced roads with snow on them and more coming down, resulting in some hazardous conditions.

Eau Claire ambulances responded to vehicle crashes between 3 and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday on Interstate 94 and U.S. 53. Traffic was routed off U.S. 53 from 3:50 until almost 6 p.m., according to notices sent by the state Department of Transportation.

That led motorists onto Business 53 — Hastings Way in Eau Claire — which became clogged with vehicles.

The resulting traffic jam on that thoroughfare prevented plows from clearing the mounting snow.

“The trucks couldn’t move because all that 53 traffic went onto Hastings,” Thompson said.

Several times throughout the day, police cars briefly blocked steep hills around downtown to give plows a chance to clear Madison Street, State Street and Harding Avenue and lay down salt.

After many had made a slower-than-usual journey home, the snow let up and plows were able to make more progress. By 10:30 p.m., all main arterial roads had been plowed, though there was still some snow on them, Thompson said.

The National Weather Service’s forecast for Eau Claire had anticipated up to 7 inches Tuesday, but that’s viewed as the low end of what actually fell.

“I’ve heard 7.5 but I think we’re north of that,” Thompson said.

He saw areas where the snow is 10 inches deep, and some of his workers reported a full foot in areas.

The National Weather Service’s official tally for Eau Claire was 7.7 inches of snow on Tuesday, but other gauges indicate more fell in the area. Two other weather spotters in Eau Claire reported 8 inches and 8.6 inches. Gauges in Chippewa Falls recorded 10 and 10½ inches of snow. Reports from Menomonie and Elk Mound had about 8 inches of snow.

Tuesday’s snowfall turned out to be a “perfect storm” — hitting hard at a time where traffic is heaviest, Thompson said.

The last situation he recalls a similar rush hour snowstorm was in 2013 when motorists encountered rain that turned into heavy snow.

To help plow drivers clear off roads, drivers are reminded to obey alternate-side parking through Friday. Homeowners also are warned against pushing snow from their driveways into streets, which can result in a citation.

Leader-Telegram reporter Christena T. O’Brien contributed to this report.


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Patterson waives preliminary hearing, bound over for trial

The Gordon man accused of kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents last October will enter a plea next month.

Jake T. Patterson, 21, 14166 S. Eau Claire Acres Circle, appeared in person Wednesday in Barron County Court dressed in an orange jumpsuit, where he waived his preliminary hearing. Patterson told Judge James Babler that he understood the charges against him.

Babler bound Patterson over for trial and set an arraignment for 1 p.m. March 27. No trial dates were set. The entire hearing lasted about four minutes.

Patterson is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the deaths of James M. Closs and Denise J. Closs. He also is charged with kidnapping and armed burglary. He remains in jail on a $5 million cash bond.

At this point, it appears unlikely that Patterson will face additional charges in Douglas County, where he reportedly held Jayme Closs for 88 days until she escaped Jan. 10.

Patterson was arrested shortly after Jayme Closs escaped from his isolated home east of Gordon.

When interviewed by authorities, Patterson admitted to both the homicides and the abduction, saying “he never would have been caught if he would have planned everything perfectly.” Patterson told authorities that he was driving on U.S. 8 when he saw Jayme Closs for the first time. The Barron girl was getting on a school bus at the time. He instantly decided he wanted to kidnap her, according to the criminal complaint. He had no ties to the Closses.

The Closses were killed Oct. 15, when Patterson drove to their house and killed them each with a single shot.

After killing Denise Closs, Patterson taped her hands and ankles together and dragged her out to his car, where he placed her in the trunk, and drove her to the rural Gordon cabin.

Jayme told police that she was ordered to stay under his bed, and he placed heavy totes and laundry bins containing weights around it to keep her captive. He would have friends over, but she was ordered to be quiet or “bad things would happen to her.” He also “would turn music on in his room so she couldn’t hear what was happening if there was anyone else in the house with him.”

Jayme stayed under the bed for up to 12 hours at a time, with no food, water or bathroom breaks. Patterson got angry at her once and “hit her really hard on her back.”

On the day of Jan. 10, Patterson told her he was going to be gone for five or six hours, and he left the house. Jayme “stated she was able to push the bins and weight away from the bed and crawl out.”

Jayme approached Jeanne Nutter, a Strum woman who owns a cabin near Gordon. Jayme was wearing Patterson’s shoes, with them on the wrong feet. Nutter brought Jayme to a neighbor’s house, and they called 911.

When officers arrived, they immediately placed Jayme in a squad car to get her out of the area and to safety. Officers found Patterson, driving in a car, looking for Jayme. He was quickly arrested.

“(The deputy) reports he instructed Patterson to step out of the vehicle, and, as he did, Patterson stated ‘I know what this is about. I did it.’”


Staff file photo 

Thompson