Back in January 2016, one of the School Committee members made it very clear that her vote in favor of grade reconfiguration was contingent upon it being 2 co-located schools each with grades 2-6. She specifically stated that she did not support the grouping of all students in a single grade. The superintendent at that time reassured her that the building would be divided into “2 schools” and got her vote.
But just weeks later, plans for complete unification into a single 750 student school were alive and well and embedded in the current plan.
Below is an excerpt from the Schematic Design, the document submitted to the MSBA (state funding authority) in August. This letter is a response by the District’s consultants to the MSBA’s comments on the previous submission (the Preferred Schematic Report). Note that it is dated April 11, 2016 – three months after the School Committee vote on reconfiguration – and indicates that the plans are specifically designed to accommodate the conversion of this school into a “single grade 2-6 elementary school“.
The above referenced document also contains schematics of how easy the design makes it to change from “co-located schools” to a single, grade-based school. The following images are from the April 2016 report that show these labels. Further down are images from the August 2016 Schematic Design with the final layout that maintains the 5-pod organization of the building.
The top 2 images are the first and second floor for the “co-located schools” and the bottom 2 images are for the single grade-based school.
Simply swap out the labels on the classrooms (“Grade 2” and “Grade 3” for “Grade 2/3” and “Grade 4” and “Grade 5” for “Grade 4/5”) and Voila! – 150 kids in each grade. No need to do anything for Grade 6 since they’re already all together there.
Below are the final floor plans from the Schematic Design that have some other differences from the April drawings but that still separate out the classrooms into the same 5 pods.
What about making it K-6?
In an attempt to allay concerns about the plan, supporters have alleged that the building could just as simply be converted to a K-6 school in the future should we learn the hard way that the proposed grade reconfiguration is not working. However, the architects themselves have said that it is not easy or inexpensive to turn 2nd-6th grade classrooms into PreK or Kindergarten rooms. MSBA standards call for larger classrooms (between 1100 and 1300 sq ft) and with their own self-contained bathrooms. In a twin K-6 building, there would need to be 7 or 8 such rooms for but the proposed building has only 4 rooms that are 1050 sq ft (as opposed to the 34 classrooms that are 950 sq ft) and none have their own bathrooms. The images below are from the Schematic Design.
No renovation plans or cost estimates have been presented to indicate how much work or money it would take to make the necessary changes. Plus, the chances of the Town being able to afford an expensive renovation on a brand new building with 3 other major capital projects on the table and a backlog of road repairs to deal with? Slim to none. It would also be very complicated and disruptive to un-do the grade reconfiguration that would have completely reorganized not only students, but families, staff, materials, and programs. Chances are, they would try to make the best of a bad situation which sounds depressingly familiar to what we have had to do with the open classroom design for the past several decades.
These same recommendations for room size and bathroom facilities will also make renovation of Crocker Farm into a PreK-1 only facility far more expensive than the vague “around $50,000” that the administration keeps saying it will cost. If all ~150 kindergarteners in town were at Crocker Farm, they would need to be in 8 separate classrooms. Trouble is, there aren’t enough classrooms of that size and with self-contained or even adjacent lavatories in that building – not even close. They would need to convert about 7 rooms that aren’t even 1000 sq ft and that have plumbing for sinks but not toilets. This isn’t a simple matter of having smaller fixtures. It also doesn’t address the many other changes that would be necessary to make this building appropriate for our youngest students. For example, outdoor play equipment that is great for older elementary kids but completely inaccessible to 5 and 6 year olds. There has been no itemized accounting of what it would take to do all this and these costs would be borne entirely by the Town (no state reimbursement).
This building design is far more amenable to the former superintendent’s original plan to maximize economies of scale by minimizing teachers and classes and getting rid of the duplicated school administrations (principals and office staff). In fact, there are 5 classroom “pods”, each with its own 500 sq ft teacher room – a set up that makes perfect sense in a single school with each grade cohort of 150 kids in its own area. If it goes forward, we are one School Committee vote and one financial downturn away from removing the veneer of “wings” and becoming a “single grade 2-6 elementary school” for these 750 students who would already be sharing a gym, a cafeteria, a library, an entry area, a nurse, and a fleet of buses.
Note: You can find all this on pages 17, 18, 415, 616 and 626-629 in the Schematic Design available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By0mz4P0v3bWaG9vUk54emJud2s/view