Kurt Wise : Reconsider your plan to vote for reconfiguration

To the Members of the School Committee,

I am writing to urge you to reconsider your all-but-finalized decision to approve the Superintendent’s recommendations regarding our town’s elementary school system. As you know, this plan would result in a radical change to that system, reconfiguring our grades and consolidating two of our schools.

This is not a plan that will best serve our students, our families, our school staff, or our town as a whole.

As importantly, it is not a plan that our families or school staff support – indeed, it is the very structure that roughly two-thirds of our community and half of school staff specifically has identified as a plan they oppose.

With a preponderance of the academic research demonstrating the benefits of small schools with long grade-spans – a configuration that the literature supports as best for ALL students, and particularly for students of color, for low-income students and for students with special needs – coupled with the community and staff’s clear preference for retaining a K-6 structure (though split on how this K-6 configuration is achieved), it is astounding that the School Committee appears poised, nevertheless, to endorse the Superintendent’s plan. Still more shocking is the fact that the School Committee would do this, given the specific and overwhelming rejection of options C and D (the grade reconfigured models) by parents/guardians and staff alike. It is not merely that people strongly prefer a K-6 structure; they still more strongly oppose grade reconfiguration. There is no way to finesse the survey’s results: people do not want and will not accept the model you plan to force on them.

It is important also, I think, to remind some of you (and the Superintendent), that despite claiming to speak and act “on behalf of equity in the name of those who do not have a voice”, you in fact do no such thing. I can’t (and don’t pretend to) speak on behalf of members of socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, communities of color or other disadvantaged communities, and neither should you.

Parents who pushed for a survey of community and staff also pushed for a survey design (and outreach plan) that would have permitted members of these communities to speak for themselves. These requests were rejected. Given this history, it would seem deeply (and obviously) problematic to claim now to speak on behalf of “the voiceless”. I would caution you to resist doing so and indeed encourage you to recognize – consciously and as part of your decision-making process – that you do NOT do so. As yet, and largely of the District’s and Committee’s own doing, we do not know where members of these communities stand on the issues of grade reconfiguration or small vs. large schools. It is quite possible that many members of these communities – even a majority – share a similar (or stronger) preference for the K-6 structure and for smaller schools, and similarly reject grade reconfiguration. There are ways to solicit that input should the District and School Committee care to hear and respond to it.

Again, I urge you all to listen to your constituents and to school staff, to respect their clearly voiced opposition to grade reconfiguration, and to back away from an ill-advised decision to radically rework our town’s elementary school system. The town has overwhelmingly rejected grade-reconfiguration.

You should heed that call and vote accordingly.

Sincerely,

Kurt Wise

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