After announcing plans to close three schools earlier this year, the Chester Upland School District is preparing to shutter Columbus Elementary School and move students to new locations by Jan. 3.

The district's recovery officer, Joe Watkins, said in a statement Friday that students from Columbus, 320 W. 10th St., could expect to move to either Chester Upland School of the Arts or Toby Farms Elementary School after winter break.

Classes across the district start Jan. 2, but Columbus students will start a day later so teachers can set up their new classrooms. Students will remain with their classes and teachers, Watkins said.

After some parents expressed concerns about the transition, Watkins said, he has been trying to move younger students to schools closer to their homes.

"I recognize that change is often difficult. I know some challenging days lie ahead," he said.

The move is the first major step in a state plan for the troubled district that includes closing several buildings, moving administrators to a new site, and revamping the academic approach.

If district students are still underperforming by the end of the 2014-15 school year, the state report calls for Chester Upland schools to be run by charters or education management companies.

Watkins said in his statement that "much work lies ahead" - the district is still searching for a permanent superintendent - and that he was working on setting up a 501(c)3 foundation to help fund arts and after-school programs.

"I truly believe this is the dawn of a new and better day for the Chester Upland School District," he said.

Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112, at awhelan@philly.com or on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.