Elementary school in Dodge City to close doors, plans for a future Therapeutic Education Center

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DODGE CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – A southwest Kansas elementary school is shutting down, but it’s not the end of the road for the school’s future. The district has plans to transition the school as a learning center for students in need. 

Wilroads Gardens is a small community southeast of Dodge City. In a 5 to 2 decision the Dodge City School District Board of Education voted in favor of repurposing the community’s elementary school. The decision will move more than 100 K-5 students to nearby Sunnyside Elementary, 5 and ½ miles away. Teachers will be relocated there as well.

“We’ve tried to make the pieces fit the best way we can and we’re trying to provide the best education we can for all students,” said Fred Dierksen, Superintendent of Schools for USD 443.

The school will transition to a K-12 Therapeutic Education Center (TEC) for the USD 613 Special Education Cooperative to serve at-risk and high-needs students. The cooperative serves 14 school districts across southwest Kansas.

“We know that the needs of these students are increasing at every school district and we feel like this is a decision that looks well into the future,” said Dierksen. 

The district says the change will provide more space for current TEC students as well as the Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Center, and create more opportunities for alternative programs and hands-on learning.

“We care about all students in our district and the students that need these special services are every bit as important as the kids that go to every other grade school that we have,” he said.

For those that have called the school home for many years, although they want the best for all students, the move is not easy.

Berenice Ochoa has had ties to the area for nearly two decades. She as well as her sister attended the school and now her children are enrolled. “It’s hard. That’s how we as parents take it and the kids too. That’s not their school anymore. they’re not the wildcats anymore,” said Berenice Ochoa, parent of Wilroads Garden Elementary students.

She says she was surprised by the announcement. “We try not to talk about it at home so the kids won’t be so worried about it and ask questions all the time,” said Ochoa.

Although she wishes her next child would get the chance to attend the school, she says she does want what’s best for the TEC students, she just wishes Wilroads Gardens Elementary School would still be Wilroads Gardens Elementary School.

“I hope it will still be, not the same, but at least close to the same,” she said. “It’s the best for the kids, if that’s what they think is for the best for the kids, we will just move on from there.”

The school district says if a parent does not want their child to attend Sunnyside Elementary, they will be able to choose another school to attend through the district’s transfer portal. To do so, a parent should contact First Stop at the district office and make an appointment to request a transfer.

“As a superintendent of any school district, the responsibility of that position is to look at the needs of the district and try to provide for all students and in doing so, sometimes it does cause change to have to occur,” Dierksen said.

For more information on the school’s transition, click here.

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