Frameworks Committee tackles classroom configuration challenge10/09/08

Oct. 9, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Last Thursday, the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee dove into a topic that could take months to discuss — classroom configuration in the town’s school district.

Configuration became a point of contention between some community members and school officials in the spring.

On Oct. 2, Frameworks facilitator Mary Jane Shelley of TriFocal Consulting presented four different building configurations to discuss, along with options of how to group grade levels. She came up with the building configurations after working with school officials to determine space constraints at Williston Central and Allen Brook schools. Shelley hoped the committee could have thoughtful discussions on all options.

“If it didn’t violate something fundamental in the givens and expectations, I wanted this group to weigh in on it,” Shelley said.

The Frameworks Committee formed over the summer, charged with reaching consensus on the future of Williston schools. The group is responsible for developing configuration recommendations for the School Board. The committee is also coming up with recommendations to improve communication — ideas were also discussed on Thursday — and house equity.

Shelley said she hoped the committee would have recommendations on communication and configuration by December, in time for a January School Board meeting. Recommendations on house equity would have to wait until later, she said.

“We can’t do it all by December,” Shelley said. “The issues that have budgetary complications are configuration and (communication), not house equity.”

Configuration options

Currently, Allen Brook School holds pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and some one through fourth grade classes. Williston Central School has two one through fourth grade lower houses, and all students in grades five through eight.

The first option, Option A, would put students in pre-kindergarten through second grade at Allen Brook, with grades three through eight at Williston Central. A language math lab, special project room or special education space would be eliminated at Williston Central to fit the first configuration option.

Option B would place kindergarten through third grade at Allen Brook, with pre-kindergarten and grades four through eight at Williston Central.

Option C would house grades one through four at Allen Brook and pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and grades five through eight at Williston Central. Allen Brook would lose two rooms, either a computer lab, art room, music room or support staff office.

Option D would keep the current building setup, but with different grade span configurations and age groupings.

Another option would keep the existing structure, but focus on improving house equity.

“We’re going to talk about change, but one of the options is not to change at all,” Shelley said.

With the different configuration models as a starting point, the committee will discuss grade-span options, such as single— two—three or four-year spans. The committee will also discuss grade-grouping options, including single- or multi-grade options, and a single grade option with two-year looping with teachers, or a single-grade option with three-year looping.

Communication

Before the committee learned of its configuration tasks, it reviewed five possible areas of recommendations to improve communication between the schools and community.

The problem areas determined by the group include inconsistent communication between school and community, timely responses to parent concerns, limited communication to community in general, lack of a clear role for Families as Partners and Web site issues.

The committee split into small groups to finalize possible recommendations, with each group then presenting to the committee.

For inconsistent communication, recommendations included finding a “point person” to handle public communications, and developing protocols for staff to use and the community to understand. A similar recommendation for a point person was also included for responses to parent concerns.

To increase the limited communication between school and community, the group suggested more e-mail communications and notices in the Observer.

One possible recommendation for improving FAP was to discuss how the organization can have more of a say with the School Board. Also mentioned was to look into meetings where more parents can attend.

As for the Web site, the group recommended a complete, more user-friendly redesign and the appointment of a person to be wholly in charge. Allowing the site to act as a “help desk” for parent questions and concerns was another suggestion.

The recommendations are in draft form and will be developed further at future meetings.

Next week, the committee may also discuss the possibility of creating a community survey about configuration. Some committee members hoped the survey could have more specific configuration questions than a survey put together by the administration last December.

The Conceptual Frameworks Committee is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Williston Central School.