UPDATE: Palm Beach County School Board members voted unanimously Wednesday to close Odyssey Middle School at the end of the upcoming school year.
Palm Beach County School Board members are expected to vote Wednesday to shut down Odyssey Middle School next year, officially pulling the plug on the half-empty school just 16 years after opening it.
Superintendent Robert Avossa told board members in May that he wanted to close the school at the end of the upcoming school year and lease the campus to South Tech Academy, a charter school. The school’s enrollment has fallen by nearly half in little more than a decade.
Board members indicated support for the decision but did not take a formal vote at the time.
If approved Wednesday, it would be the county’s first closing of a traditional public school in more than a quarter-century.
Students attending the school this year would be reassigned to nearby middle schools in August 2018. The district is also proposing to build a new middle school further west, next to Sunset Palms Elementary on Boynton Beach Boulevard west of Florida’s Turnpike.
In their May meeting, board members spoke regretfully about the proposal to close Odyssey Middle, but Avossa called it a necessary step after years of families abandoning the campus.
“Clearly the community is sending us a message about that school,” Avossa said in May. “With all the choice options that are available, they’re not picking Odyssey.”
The school did not always struggle to fill seats. In its first few years, its enrollment was nearly double what it was last year, when 730 attended.
Built for $21 million, Odyssey Middle opened in 2001 west of Boynton Beach to alleviate crowding at nearby middle schools. In its early years it became, for a time, one of the state’s first public middle schools to separate students by gender.
But by the beginning of this decade, white middle-class families had begun leaving the school, which pulls students from neighborhoods all the way from the coast to gated communities west of Florida’s Turnpike.
The trend picked up with the opening in 2013 of a nearby charter school, Somerset Canyons Academy.
Today, district officials say 600 students zoned for Odyssey Middle choose instead to go to charters, with most of those students attending Somerset Canyons.
In just 13 years, Odyssey Middle’s student enrollment has fallen by nearly half, from 1,360 students in 2003 to 730 last year. With room for 1,490 students, the school is less than half-full.
“The reasons I hear for not sending them in the past years is the school is focused on the lower 25 percent, but they don’t have programs for the higher (performing) children,” School Board member Karen Brill, whose district includes the school, said in May.
Over the years, some parents in the western suburbs have raised another reason for dissatisfaction with the school: They don’t want their children attending school with students from coastal Boynton Beach, which includes many poor and predominantly black neighborhoods.
“We want a school that reflects our neighborhood, that reflects where we all live and not some of the more crime-ridden neighborhoods to the east,” a parent told The Palm Beach Post in 2011. “Where we live west of the Turnpike there isn’t typically that violence.”
Allowing South Tech, a longtime district-operated technical school that converted into a charter school in 2004, will let the district use the school’s current campus – which it leases from the school board – to expand a school bus compound.