Frameworks Committee returns to configuration work (4/23/09)

Some parents push to keep current configuration

April 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee reconvened last Thursday to continue devising options for what could become a drastically revised school district.

Specifically, the committee discussed reconfiguring the district by putting kindergarten through third grade at Allen Brook School, and fourth through eighth grades at Williston Central School.

At the same time, parents and teachers of students in the lower houses of Williston Central are asking the School Board and Frameworks Committee not to make major changes to the current system. They have advocated that Williston is a much stronger school district with first through eighth graders under one roof, a setup that now exists at Williston Central.

The committee’s new work came at the behest of the School Board, which asked the group to continue discussions after listening to its recommendations for a different configuration. School Board and Frameworks Committee member Laura Gigliotti proposed investigating a different configuration than what was proposed at an April 6 School Board meeting.

On April 6, the committee recommended putting all first through fourth grade students at Allen Brook, and housing pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and fifth through eighth grade at Williston Central. This option will continue to be considered by the committee as it develops a variety of grade span configurations within the newer option.

In its future meetings, per the School Board’s direction, the committee will not discuss the current school configuration. This will effectively ensure a building configuration change if the School Board adopts the Frameworks Committee’s final recommendations.

Parents and teachers of Williston Central’s Pinnacle House and Lighthouse are hoping the School Board will reconsider; a petition with more than 100 signatures from parents opposes change.

“We’re not against change, but give us the list of educational benefits for this change,” parent Dana Hark said at the School Board’s April 15 meeting.

The committee recommended against splitting up grades — putting some first grade classrooms at Allen Brook and some at Williston Central, for instance — so the School Board told the committee not to reconsider the current configuration.

“As community representatives, we have to consider it’s not just the people here saying, ‘Don’t change,’” board member Holly Rouelle said.

Parent Phil Swett said he believed major configuration changes had been in the works with the School Board for several years, well before the Frameworks Committee formed. He suggested the board make a decision now, foregoing any further Frameworks meetings.

“The more you bring to the public, the more opinions you’re going to get on this very opinionated discussion,” Swett said. “To allow more time is to allow a wound to fester in the community.”

Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said the School Board was not going to make any final decisions until the Frameworks Committee presented again in late May or early June.

“The committee needs to finish its work,” Worth said.

At the Frameworks Committee’s April 16 meeting, members discussed 10 different grade span options within the new building configuration for Allen Brook and Williston Central schools. These options originally came from the committee during its Jan. 22 meeting, when the group considered all possible building configurations.

“We have a lot to do in a very short amount of time,” committee facilitator Mary Jane Shelley said.

The group looked at creating new kinds of lower houses. Options included a kindergarten through third grade structure, and another that keeps kindergarten separate while putting first through third graders together in one house.

For the upper houses, the committee discussed another variety of options. Fourth and fifth grade houses were considered, along with three-year houses consisting of sixth through eighth grade students. Several other grade groupings were also considered. When the committee broke into small groups, conversations revolved around whether some grade span options were even possible with the layout of classrooms and teacher licensure issues.

As promised at the April 6 School Board meeting, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the configuration changes. Sometime next month, a joint public and teacher forum will be held. The forum’s format will most likely differ than what has happened in the past, Worth said. An exact date is forthcoming.