April 2, 2009
By Tim Simard
The Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee voted last Thursday to recommend a new type of school building configuration. If implemented by the School Board, the configuration would place grades one through four at Allen Brook School, with pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and grades five through eight at Williston Central School.
Any configuration changes would not take effect until the 2010-2011 school year.
Currently, Williston Central has two lower house classrooms for students in grades one through four, while Allen Brook has pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes as well as the remaining first through fourth grades.
The Frameworks Committee spent the past 4.5 months developing different building and grade grouping configuration recommendations. Other tasks included improving communication and ensuring equity between houses. Communication recommendations were presented to the School Board in November. Equity issues will be tackled later this month.
In developing its configuration recommendations, the committee heard from teachers, parents and community members at several forums.
Before the vote was taken, committee members expressed a wide variety of opinions for and against a building configuration change. MaryBeth Morrissey, a committee member and Williston Central lower house teacher, said she knew of many parents that preferred the current building configuration and liked that younger students mixed with older students. She said some of the older kids tend to behave better when their younger peers are present at Williston Central.
Committee member Abby Klein pointed out that Williston Central would still have younger students with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms. Klein also reminded the committee that 78 percent of community respondents from a December 2007 survey preferred a change in the building configuration.
“Let’s not forget the majority surveyed wanted all grades under one roof,” Klein said.
Upper house teacher and committee member Debra McConnell said she initially resisted an alteration to the current building configuration, but changed her mind after hearing discussions and community input.
“I think having all the grades under one roof is the right move,” McConnell said.
But committee member Marsha Drake wasn’t eager to see a change occur within Williston Central, fearing the school might lose part of its identity with no more classrooms spanning grades one through four.
“I’m sad about the thought of the loss of it,” Drake said.
Originally, the new building configuration recommendation would have meant the sacrifice of staff and music room space at Allen Brook. Recently, administration officials said that would not be the case.
The committee also discussed potential recommendations for grade grouping and grade looping configurations. In meetings last month, the current grade configuration — the four-year, multi-age house system — garnered the most support within the committee.
Those in favor of the current system, however, indicated they would stand behind a configuration that would represent a wide spectrum of parent viewpoints. For instance, a configuration that allows both four-year and two-year houses piqued some interest.
The committee will develop its final grade structure recommendation this Thursday, April 2. Facilitator Mary Jane Shelley hopes for a decision agreeable to all committee members.
“Something polarizing isn’t something anybody can live with,” Shelley said.
The Frameworks Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for April 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The final configuration recommendations will be presented to the School Board on Monday, April 6 at 6:30 p.m.