Board chooses new classroom configuration (6/18/09)

Option A eliminates need for temporary classrooms

June 18, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

More than a year after a number of parents called for changes in the Williston School District’s configuration, the School Board unanimously voted for major restructuring.

Starting in the 2010-2011 school year, a new district configuration will form at Allen Brook and Williston Central schools. All pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first and second grade students will be housed at Allen Brook. Students in third through eighth grade will be housed at Williston Central.

Currently, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and some first through fourth grade students attend Allen Brook. Other first through fourth grade students are at Williston Central, which also holds all fifth through eighth grade classrooms.

A small number of parents and staff turned out to hear the final configuration decision, made Monday afternoon at Williston Central. One parent raised concerns over equity with the new configuration, while another supported the change and urged administrators to take time while determining the final details.

“It has the ability to solve a lot of problems,” parent Nicki Layman said.

The school administration developed the configuration late last year for consideration by the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee, a group formed to find the ideal classroom structure for the district. The building configuration, known as Option A, originally failed to garner support due to a lack of available space in both schools. Last month, however, the administration released enrollment projections for 2010-2011, which indicated that space would be available.

The numbers also showed that temporary classrooms at Allen Brook would no longer be required. A temporary building permit for the trailers expires with the town in February. The board indicated that Option A would positively impact the town, since taxpayers will not need to foot the bill for a possible addition or classroom refurbishments. Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said comments from the public in the last few weeks centered on the trailer situation.

“The community was very supportive of getting rid of the modulars this way instead of refurbishing them,” Worth said.

New classroom structure

Under Option A, lower house teams of first through fourth grade will be split into first and second grade houses at Allen Brook and third and fourth grade houses at Williston Central. Allen Brook Principal John Terko said four new lower houses would be created, though the exact structure has yet to be determined.

Terko said with the new configuration, Allen Brook would hold 385 students. The building is designed for 400, he said, and the school currently has 470 students with the temporary classrooms.

For Williston Central School’s upper houses, the board decided to allow two structures. Some houses will maintain the current four-year, multi-age classroom configuration, and new two-year houses could be created for families that don’t like the four-year system. Williston Central Principal Jackie Parks said the school would survey parents, and use that input to determine how the new houses will be set up.

Parks said Williston Central will hold roughly 740 students. Three new houses for third and fourth grade will be created. Six upper house teams will also form, with four four-year houses and two two-year houses. Parks said that formation could change.

Parks also told the board that space would be limited at Williston Central, with language and math labs, along with four offices, needing relocation. There would be just enough available classroom space, she added.

“Overall, I’d say it’s tight, but doable,” Parks said.

While the Frameworks Committee did not spend much time discussing Option A during its months of configuration research, the board was quick to acknowledge the group’s hard work. Discussions on multi-age structures and communication were invaluable, the board said.

“Look at the conversation that came up within the community,” Worth said.

Parent Kevin Mara, a Frameworks Committee member, said the group likely would have recommended Option A had it seen updated enrollment projections and known the temporary classrooms would become obsolete.

But parent Ann Smith warned there might be problems with the new configuration.

“To me, it has inequity written all over it,” Smith said.

Worth said the Frameworks Committee will discuss equity in the next school year. The equity issue was the third charge the School Board asked the committee to research, in addition to communication and configuration. Facilitator Mary Jane Shelley hopes the committee can reconvene over the summer to get started on the final piece.