Thursday November 26, 2015
National and international education planner Frank Locker, who served as a consultant to the City/School Master Planning and Visioning Task Force, was present at the November 18 school board meeting to offer insight into the task force’s decision making process as well as his thoughts on school configuration.
Locker explained that during eight months of study, the task force considered demographics, airport noise, City Center development, quality of life in the city, equity, and affordability on the city side. On the school side, equity and affordability were considered in addition to educator values, beliefs, and experiences. Long-term operational costs of the district’s existing facilities, which are aging, also came up time and again.
At the conclusion of their work last summer, the task force presented the school board with two recommendations. Option Q proposed one newly constructed, consolidated, K-4 elementary school, with grades 5-8 in the existing middle school, and 9-12 in the current high school. This option would involve the existing elementary schools either being sold or being re-purposed for city use.
Option O suggested two district elementary schools, K-2 and 3-5, with one newly built school and one existing (Orchard), grades 6-8 in the current middle school, and 9-12 in the current high school. In this option, Chamberlin would be sold or re-purposed by the city.
Rick Marcotte Central School was not considered for future use in any of the options.
A minority opinion was also presented by two members of the task force.
In October Superintendent David Young presented his recommendation to the board for one consolidated district elementary school.
The school board has yet to express an official opinion. They are examining the alternatives, and have have hired a real estate investment adviser to evaluate the cost of several configuration options, including the status quo.
Locker said, “There is more work to do . . . you could not simply receive the task force’s report, then make a decision. You shouldn’t take the recommendation at face value. This situation is very nuanced.”
Locker touched on the importance of 21st Century Learning, and pointed to several examples of consolidated elementary schools around the country that are facilitating this practice. Locker looked at several scenarios, PreK-4 schools, PreK-2 followed by 3-5 schools, and larger consolidated elementary schools that have small learning communities within them so that they feel small. In all of these situations, Locker noted educational advantages such as greater flexibility for teachers, more collaboration, and efficiency in meeting student needs.
Locker stressed that the school board should create a strategic plan and he outlined concrete steps to move forward. First, he recommended visiting some of the schools cited in his presentation; a school in Maine that has been in operation for twenty years would offer the board a long-term perspective. Costs also need to be nailed down, whether the district keeps its current buildings or builds new. Locker said a community forum could be a good idea, but the board would need to decide whether they want to load people with data or not. “Get specific,” Locker said, “people default to what they know so they need breathing room to digest new information.”
After the presentation, the floor was opened to questions and comments from the public. Dan Albrecht, a parent of two children in the district said, “I don’t see a crisis here. We have a robust economy and good schools . . . moving from three schools to one seems dramatic.” Albrecht also said that more community input is needed.
Tim Barritt concurred and added that a new school will bring capital costs out of control, especially as the city considers a three percent tax increase this year.
The comments and Locker’s recommendations were taken under advisement by the board and regular updates will be provided at board meetings and on the district website.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent