Revisited configuration option eliminates need for trailers (6/4/09)

June 4, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The debate about a future school configuration took another twist last week when an option previously considered was put back on the table. And the revisited configuration could solve a variety of issues, including the need for temporary classrooms, school officials said.

During a School Board meeting on Thursday, the school administration presented the building configuration. The proposed configuration, called Option A, would place pre-kindergarten through second grade students at Allen Brook School and third grade through eighth grade students at Williston Central School.

District Principal Walter Nardelli said enrollment projections for the 2010-2011 school year would make the temporary classrooms obsolete.

“Not only does it fit at (Allen Brook), but it gets rid of the modular classrooms, and we don’t have to build,” Nardelli said.

The school’s permit for the modular classrooms expires in February.

The board was scheduled to vote on the configuration issue at this meeting, but put off a decision to allow for further public comment and provide more time for the administration to work out specifics.

“I think this makes so much sense,” said School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth.

Details of Option A

The proposed configuration keeps all classrooms in each grade under the same roof and continues multi-age classroom structures, Nardelli said. Two-year houses would be developed for first and second grade, and third and fourth grade. The upper houses could continue with the current four-year multi-age structure, change to two-year houses or feature a mix of both.

Approximately 20 teachers and community members — some of whom are on the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee — attended the board meeting. Many believed the proposed configuration was the best they had seen so far, even though they had questions on how it would be implemented.

The Frameworks Committee, which has spent the past year investigating configuration options in the district, briefly looked at Option A earlier this year. Frameworks Facilitator Mary Jane Shelley said while the group found some merits with the configuration, committee members did not like the impact it had on facilities at Williston Central.

Shelley said the group made its decisions based on enrollment numbers for the 2009-2010 school year. Due to a large number of eighth graders next year, Williston Central’s special services offices would have needed to be used as classroom space, she said. But the configuration would not be implemented until the 2010-2011 school year, which allowed the administration to revisit the option with the updated enrollment figures.

“I think if you can get rid of the modulars with Option A, that sounds really compelling,” said Wendy Goodrich, a St. George School Board and Frameworks Committee member.

Last month, the Frameworks Committee presented configuration recommendations during a public hearing. Two building configurations were presented, including several multi-age grade grouping options. The building configurations worked to keep similar grade levels under one roof, but most community members who spoke out urged the board to maintain the status quo.

Administrators spoke in support of Option A. Williston Central Principal Jackie Parks said she supported it since it dealt with the modular classrooms issue, and held true to the learning philosophies of the school.

Allen Brook Principal John Terko said it would bring his school back to the enrollment level it was designed for.

“It truly keeps (Allen Brook) at a primary level,” Terko said. “It would fit perfectly.”

Currently, 470 students are housed at Allen Brook, which holds pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and most first through fourth grade classrooms. The new proposal would place an estimated 385 students at Allen Brook, almost exactly the number the school can hold without the modular classrooms, Nardelli said.

A plan for temporary classrooms

If the School Board implements Option A, taxpayers could save a significant amount of money, argued Nardelli. The district is creating a master plan for the Allen Brook trailers that must be provided to the Development Review Board this summer.

The administration has looked at designs for a small addition to Allen Brook, as well as refurbishing the temporary classrooms to better adhere to the school’s design. Nardelli put the price tag for a proposed addition at more than $4 million.

“This plan has huge financial merit,” Nardelli said about Option A.

Development Review Board Chairman Kevin McDermott said he’d heard about the new configuration option, but made no comment on the specific proposal. He said he wanted to hear what the school was planning to do as soon as possible.

“At this point, my board would welcome any suggestion on what the permanent solution for Allen Brook School would be,” McDermott told the Observer.

Public comment

Those in attendance Thursday didn’t so much offer an opinion on the new configuration as urge the School Board to seek comments from teachers and parents. Some board members were ready to vote on the configuration at the meeting, but board Vice Chairwoman Holly Rouelle said she needed more time to gather information.

“I don’t feel comfortable making a decision right now,” Rouelle said.

The School Board is asking teachers and parents to comment on the proposed configuration. Community members are urged to e-mail board members and administrators their thoughts on Option A. (The “Speak Your Mind” section on page 6 of the Observer contains board e-mail addresses.)

The board is scheduled to meet again on Monday, June 15 at 4 p.m. at Williston Central School, where members will make a decision on building configuration and multi-age structure.