Parents split over whether to change school configuration3/12/09

Teachers tend to favor status quo

March 12, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

It was a busy and productive evening at the Williston Central School cafeteria on Monday. More than 100 parents and community members turned out to aid the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee in creating recommendations for a future school configuration.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Parent Kristen Littlefield dictates her thoughts to Frameworks Committee member Wendy Bliss at Monday night’s community forum. Littlefield was pondering a possible lower house school configuration.  

Eleven different configuration options were open for discussion, with some offering drastic change in grade grouping structures and others keeping things close to the status quo.

Parents displayed mixed reactions to some of the proposals, with a few stating they did not want the system altered. Parent Linda Poirier, who said she had five children attend Williston schools, believes the current configuration is best. She likes the way the house system is set up with the four-year groupings and hopes things won’t change.

“But I think there are going to be changes,” Poirier said. “Everybody keeps screaming, ‘Change, change, change.’ (The committee) isn’t going to ignore that.”

Many parents were on hand to advocate for change. Parent Ann Smith, a vocal advocate for reconfiguring the school system, wants to see change and approves of some of the options. Specifically, she liked the option that had single-grade classrooms for fifth and eighth grades, while keeping multi-age classrooms for sixth and seventh graders.

Smith said she also wanted to see grades one through four housed under one roof, which is a building configuration option under consideration.

“If you don’t, you’ll never have equity,” Smith said.

Currently, grades one through four are split between Allen Brook and Williston Central schools.

Parent Marcy Kass said she sees both sides of the argument in regards to the current configuration. She said there should be some improvements, but not at the cost of losing what Williston already has.

“Talking to parents with young kids, maybe the multi-age (house system) is scary for them,” Kass said. “But I talk to my sister in New Jersey and she’s jealous of what we have here. She thinks it’s like a private school.”

Committee Facilitator Mary Jane Shelley spent about 40 minutes at the beginning of the meeting presenting the 11 configuration options — six options for the lower houses and five for the upper houses — as well as two building configuration options.

“We’re looking for different impressions from you,” Shelley told the crowd.

She said all opinions and statements would be typed up and evaluated by the committee in three meetings this month. The committee plans to present a configuration recommendation to the School Board on April 2.

Throughout the community forum, parents discussed the different options at cafeteria tables, and in front of flipcharts where committee members recorded opinions.

Parent Ann Schmidt said she was impressed by the hard work the Frameworks Committee accomplished. She said she prefers the current system, but wants to see a different building configuration.

“I’m a firm believer that (grades) one through four should be in one place, and (grades) five through eight should be in one place,” Schmidt said. “It just makes sense.”

Parent John Hemmelgarn found some of the options weren’t too different from the current system and hoped they could be adapted to help a wider range of parent concerns.

“I’d like to see something more flexible so we don’t need to keep having these conversations,” Hemmelgarn said.

Parent John Colt said he’s been “very happy” with the current system, especially the lower houses. He said teachers put in a lot of effort in maintaining a good teacher-student relationship. He was unsure about some of the configuration options.

“I think it’s very hard to make any judgments without looking at the research,” Colt said.

Earlier in the day, teachers turned out for their own forum. Committee member Kevin Mara said most came prepared with notes and suggestions.

“A lot of comments were well thought out,” Mara said.

Many of the flipcharts were full of positive and negative comments, with some skewed in one direction or the other. The current upper house system had mostly positive comments from teachers, while some of the options with changes in grade grouping and looping had mostly negative comments.

Also addressed during the forums was the situation regarding the Allen Brook temporary classrooms. A temporary building permit for the trailers expires February 2010, though school officials are working on a master plan for the rooms to present to the Development Review Board.

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said the classrooms’ permit would not affect the Frameworks Committee’s effort. She said the school is looking at all options for the trailers, including applying for another temporary building permit, and hopes to go before the Development Review Board with a master plan before the summer.