July 23, 2014

School surveys community for future plans

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Deadline is Dec. 11

By Kim Howard
Observer correspondent

Should Williston public schools institute all-day kindergarten? Should fifth graders share classrooms with eighth graders? Should all pre-school through fourth graders be housed together in one school?

These are some of the questions for which Williston School District is seeking feedback from graduates, parents, current students and community members at large. The District earlier this week unveiled a 22-question online survey that takes roughly 10 minutes to complete. The results will help guide planning for next year’s school budget.

“We’re trying to collect a lot of information of things we’ve heard discussed informally,” District Principal Walter Nardelli said on Monday. “It’s hard to move in a direction unless you have some facts.”

The District does have some feedback from recent years, but a comprehensive survey was needed, Nardelli said.

The survey deadline is Tuesday, Dec. 11. The Williston School Board is likely to hear a statistical overview of the results at next Wednesday’s meeting, Nardelli said. A full report will not be available for some time, he added, as the survey includes space for extensive comments.

Some school changes could be seen as early as next year; other changes could be more long-term.

“If 65 percent to 80 percent of people absolutely agree with all-day kindergarten, we would try really hard to do that (next year),” Nardelli said.

Nardelli said it may be possible, for example, to modify class sizes and reallocate classroom space to make room for full-day kindergarten. If that works, it would not necessarily require a larger school budget, he said. Until recently, space constraints precluded such an idea.

District enrollment peaked five year ago at 1,218 students, forcing the construction of temporary trailers at Allen Brook School. Enrollment remained steady until the 2005-2006 school year. Since then, enrollment has dropped nearly 5 percent.

Nardelli concedes space is still tight at Allen Brook School. Increasing need for one-on-one space for students with developmental and speech delays, for example, could not have been predicted when the school was built a decade ago.

Last year a committee started discussing school facilities needs, including the future of the Allen Brook trailers. Committee work was canceled with the failure of the school budget in March. Questions of school configuration had bogged down the last committee meeting; Nardelli said the survey results will be helpful when the committee reconvenes.

School officials are willing to make changes, Nardelli said, if “it makes sense educationally” and there is community support.

“Everything is a matter of pluses and minuses,” he said. “If there were a correct answer about configuration, every school in the United States would look the same. What we’re looking for is the darkest shade of grey we can find in Williston on these questions.”

The survey is available at the “School Configuration Survey” link in the center of the school’s Web page at www.williston.k12.vt.us.

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