Board rejects Frameworks recommendation (4/9/09)

Committee asked to revisit previously considered option

April 9, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

It appears the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee’s configuration work is not finished after all. The School Board, in a unanimous vote, asked the committee to return to its work of researching optimal school building configuration options — by reconsidering a choice that had been discarded months ago.

After the committee presented recommendations on configuration, School Board and Frameworks Committee member Laura Gigliotti told the crowd of 60 parents and teachers she believed a better option existed.

The committee recommended placing grades one through four at Allen Brook School and putting pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and grades five through eight at Williston Central School. Gigliotti said a previously reviewed building configuration should be brought back into discussion. Speaking as a committee member, she said it wasn’t too late to look at the process again and find some middle ground.

“Our community is wounded and some people are very frustrated,” Gigliotti said.

She suggested a configuration that would place kindergarten through third grade at Allen Brook, with grades four through eight at Williston Central. She suggested creating two different house systems at Williston Central, with fourth and fifth graders grouped together and sixth, seventh and eighth graders in separate, three-year houses.

Gigliotti admitted the configuration would present a large change for the school district, but she said it would address problems of equity, multi-age learning and issues with fifth graders transitioning to a middle school setting.

She said she opposed the building configuration recommended by the Frameworks Committee because it placed kindergarten students in the same school with middle school students. Gigliotti, who has a daughter in kindergarten, said students of the same age groups should be kept under one roof.

There was loud applause from parents after Gigliotti’s proposal.

As a member of the Frameworks Committee, Gigliotti, along with fellow board and committee member Deb Baker-Moody, has participated in discussions and decisions since the group formed last summer. She had warned the committee through e-mail on Monday morning that she would speak in favor of extending the process. Gigliotti defended her last-minute change of heart on Monday night.

“Sometimes it’s not possible to make the very best decision until the end of a process,” Gigliotti told the Observer after the meeting. “We have to take a step back and see if this is the best that we can do.”

Parents react, fight back

Parent Tess Swett said after the meeting she liked the idea of keeping younger students at Allen Brook.

“It seems to satisfy a lot of the community’s needs,” Swett said.

“I’m a satisfied customer, but I’m willing to make a change,” parent Melanie Saia told the crowd after listening to Gigliotti’s speech.

Frameworks Committee member Mairead Harris spoke in favor of continuing the process.

“I don’t think we should rush a huge decision like this because it doesn’t fit into our process,” Harris said.

But committee member Kevin Mara said he opposed reconsidering a new building configuration, saying it would “open Pandora’s Box.”

“I’m broken up about this,” Mara said to Gigliotti. “I don’t think this was the appropriate time for you to bring this up.”

As talk revolved around Gigliotti’s proposal, some parents and teachers reminded the board that they opposed any changes. Lighthouse teacher Dave Bouchard said Williston Central was a special place because it had grades one through eight under one roof.

Parent Sherry Beatty agreed. When her son transitioned to fifth grade, his fourth grade teacher in the same building was able to assist with reading assignments.

“It was extremely helpful,” Beatty said. “We should still have the option of having (grades) one through eight.”

The School Board, however, felt differently. In asking the committee to return to its work, the board said not to consider the current configuration.

But the parents who support the status quo apparently won’t accept that decision quietly. By Tuesday, more than 100 parents and teachers had signed a petition favoring the current configuration, according to parent Dana Hark.

With the petition circulating, Hark said the issue would not go away. She said concerned parents are already planning to attend future board meetings to make their opinions known.

“We’ll continue to offer the people the petition to sign,” Hark said Tuesday afternoon.

Grouping the grades

The Frameworks Committee also presented recommendations on how the house system should be arranged if the School Board adopts a configuration with all lower houses at Allen Brook. The current four-year house system could stay the same, or there could be a mix of four-year houses and two-year looping classrooms, among several options. Those recommendations could change depending on the committee’s work with the new building configuration option.

The next Frameworks Committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Committee facilitator Mary Jane Shelley said there will be further opportunities for the community and teachers to weigh in on the process.

Monday night, some parents suggested holding combined teacher and parent forums instead of having separate forums for both parties, as has been done in the past.

Any configuration changes will take place in the 2010-2011 school year.