Committee extends deadline for configuration recommendations (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Major configuration changes to the Williston schools may have to wait another year.

The Conceptual Frameworks Committee, originally scheduled to make its recommendations for configuration changes to the School Board in January, is now set to work into the spring before reaching a decision. The extended timeframe will push back any implementation of changes from the 2009-2010 school year to the following year.

The School Board approved the time extension last month, and the Frameworks Committee talked at its Oct. 16 meeting about its schedule moving ahead. The committee will meet through the spring to discuss issues of school configuration and house equity.

Special teacher and community forums are also planned. The first community-wide forum is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 24. from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the cafeteria. The second community forum is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Explaining the reason for the schedule change, Frameworks facilitator Mary Jane Shelley said the amount of work was too much to sort through before the January deadline, which had been established because the School Board wanted to hear configuration recommendations before putting together next school year’s budget.

The Frameworks Committee is now scheduled to come up with a final configuration recommendation in March, which will then take a full school year to be implemented. The 2009-2010 school budget will reflect plans to work on a future configuration, while the 2010-2011 school budget will likely see the full impact of any new configurations, Shelley said.

Discussions on house equity will likely occur around the end of March and beginning of April, Shelley said.

Shelley said she’s “extremely pleased” the board agreed to give the committee more time to work, which will create a less rushed atmosphere.

“It’s a realistic time frame,” Shelley said. “It will give the committee more voice.”

The Frameworks Committee, which grew out of last spring’s public debate about the best configuration options, is charged with making recommendations on how to improve configuration, house equity and communication between the school and the community.

Recommendations for improved communication were to be presented to the School Board at its Wednesday evening meeting, after the Observer went to press. According to the minutes from the committee’s October meeting, the board would hear suggestions to create more consistent communication with the community, better respond to parent concerns, increase communication, improve the functioning of Families as Partners and enhance the district’s Web site.

Shelley said it was important for the committee to hear from a number of sources in determining configuration recommendations. To do so, the committee will be hearing more from teachers and the community. Two voluntary teacher forums and two community forums are in the works to give as many people as possible a say on what they’d like to see in a new configuration.

The community forums would be more workshop-based, with attendees joining small groups to work on specific ideas dealing with configuration. The small groups will be facilitated by a member of the Frameworks Committee, who will have to remain impartial during discussions. Shelley said this process would allow for better and more pointed debate on key issues.

The first teacher forum is scheduled for Nov. 18, with the second forum happening in December. The first community forum is scheduled for Nov. 24 at the Williston Central School. The second will occur in January. If necessary, there may be a community-wide survey in January or February, Shelley said.

In the meantime, the committee brainstormed what was working and what wasn’t working with the current configuration at its Nov. 6 meeting. Several topics were discussed, including opportunities for students to mingle with others in their grades, teachers teaching to their subject strengths, opportunities for older and younger students to interact, and a configuration that supports safe and respectful behavior throughout the school.

The committee will decide which issues are seen as “critical” and “important” at its Nov. 20 meeting at Williston Central School, starting at 6 p.m. The time and exact location for the Nov. 24 community forum is forthcoming.