Maria Kopicki: Statement to School Building Committee 1/21/16

The overwhelming sentiment of people who have attended the community forums and committee meetings has been in favor of preserving our K-6 educational system and rejecting the proposed grade reconfiguration.   The survey, despite its bias toward the administration’s position, clearly corroborated this fact. Educators and parents/guardians understand the value of the current grade configuration and want to keep it.  Despite this, a handful of people have rendered a decision with which a resounding majority profoundly disagrees. The community does not believe that there is only one configuration and one building option that can address equity issues. Equity is a much larger, deeper, and more complicated issue and we should listen most intently to the people in whose name this dramatic change is being proposed.

 

This committee will now determine the course of this project and there are a few things I’d like you to think about as you proceed.

 

If you have not read the MSBA Feasibility Study Guidelines in a while, please review them again now, paying particular attention to Section 3.3.3 (p. 13). Here, you will note that despite the School Committee’s actions, renovation and/or addition to the existing building must still be included in the Final Evaluation of Alternatives. This means, among other things, that cost estimates must be provided for this option to at least Level 2 of the Uniformat II Elemental Classification format. I would urge you to request an even higher level of detail than the minimum (it is worth a little extra due diligence before it gets relegated to cursory treatment as untenable) and that you question the information you are being given as critically as you would a building proposal on your own home, in fact, even more as you represent an entire town in doing so.

 

If you choose not to challenge the wisdom of the School Committee and allow a 750 student, Grade 2-6 structure to be the Preferred Solution, I hope that you will at least consider the following possibilities.

  • What if over the next few decades the enrollment numbers do not continue to decline but rebound (as such demographics frequently do) and we find ourselves in the position of not having enough room to house all our students?
  • What if it turns out that we can’t effectively manage 750 elementary students using a single gymnasium, outdoor play space, and cafeteria?
  • What if all the promised benefits of this model turn out to be as ephemeral as those of the open classroom plan that the town bought into in the 1970s when it was convinced that it was the cutting edge of education and the right thing to do?
  • What if this or a future school administration comes to the realization that the K-6 system was in fact a better configuration and they want to return to that model?
  • What if we realize that a better way to achieve universal PreK and close the achievement gap is to provide PreK slots closer to families in the northern part of town (as has already been suggested to but declined to be studied further by the superintendent’s office)?

 

Wouldn’t it make sense to make sure that any building plans that emerge from this process show enough forethought to accommodate these possibilities? For example, if the new double-sized building is to be built, you can insist that it is kindergarten (or even PreK)-ready. Administrations and school committees some 5, 10, 20 years down the line might make a different choice about grade configuration. Building a flexible structure allows future generations to use the building differently as demographics change, more educational research emerges, and our own experience informs us.

 

The success or failure of this project now rests squarely on your shoulders. You have been appointed to submit to the town a Preferred Solution that will be not only structurally and educationally sound but that will also successfully navigate the remainder of this process. It is incumbent upon you to act with knowledge, a critical eye, and a wider lens on the town and its people.

 

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