Committee backs return to K-5 schools

Milford elementary school students sing at an event earlier this year. An upcoming school board meeting will focus on the organization of elementary schools in Milford.

Milford elementary school students sing at an event earlier this year. A Long Range Planning Committee is recommending the return to K-5 and PreK-5 elementary schools. Now the elementary schools are split between K-2 and 3-5.

Milford elementary schools will return to a K-5 format if recommendations of the school board’s Long Range Planning Committee are adopted.

In the short term, the Long Range Planning Committee wants to return city schools to the neighborhood school format that a number of residents have been asking for.

The committee presented several alternatives for short term and long term changes to the city’s schools at a Board of Education meeting Monday night at Milford City Hall.

Short term preference

The committee’s short term preference calls for eliminating the K-2/3-5 elementary school configuration and returning to a pre-K to 5 configuration. However, the board isn’t recommending the change take place next school year, but rather the one after — no sooner than the 2015-16 school year.

On Monday night, committee members said they wanted the board to spend a year reviewing and thinking about the recommendations.

The Long Range Planning Committee has been meeting since June to look at different ways of managing declining enrollment within the school system as well as suggesting the most efficient use and allocation of resources “given forecasted demographics, declining enrollment, capacity of existing schools and other relevant variables,” according to its charge.

The panel, which includes educators, parents and city leaders guided by a company experienced in school planning, has reviewed enrollment figures, facility information, educational programs and more to come up with short and long-term recommendations that they presented to the Board of Education.

The committee’s preferred short term alternative would put Pre-K to grade five in seven elementary schools. That means one school may close, but the proposal does not recommend which one.

Some of the planning committee’s options had two elementary schools closing, leaving six elementary schools. That might work, the committee said, but the schools would be less crowded and there would be room for expansion if seven elementary schools remained open.

Also, about 500 students would have to be redistricted if two schools closed, and only 200 to 250 students would have to be redistricted if one school closed, committee members said.

It will be up to the Board of Education to decide which if any schools will close, and when.

Under the preferred short term plan, three middle schools would remain: East Shore, Harborside and West Shore, serving grades 6 to 8. And there would be two high schools, Foran and Jonathan Law, serving grades 9 to 12.

Redistricting

The short term recommendation will require some redistricting, with an aim toward keeping direct feeders into the middle schools, if possible, and balancing elementary school enrollment and class size across the district, school officials said. Phasing in redistricting or grandfathering some students will be considered.

Redistricting will also focus on “adhering to natural boundaries and retaining neighborhood and school identities to the greatest extent possible,” according to a Power Point presentation summarizing the committee’s goals.

The committee also wants to keep student travel time to a minimum.

Long term options

There are two key recommendations for long term changes: The committee’s preference would keep two high schools, Foran and Law, for grades 9 to 12. East Shore and West Shore middle schools would serve grades 6 to 8, and Harborside would be a specialty school serving students in grades K-8. There could be six elementary schools under this scenario, serving K-5 or Pre-K to 5.

A second alternative is similar, but minus the specialty K-8 school at Harborside. In this scenario, there would be two high schools for grades 9 to 12 (Foran and Law); the three current middle schools for grades 6 to 8, and six elementary schools for grades K-5 or Pre-K to 5.

Both plans call for creating a “school within a school” at the high school level, meaning there would be some kind of specialty program within the schools.

Board of Education Chairman Susan Glennon thanked the committee for all its work. “As we move forward there is sure to be emotionally charged debate,” Glennon said.

She urged residents with questions to “go to the source” and not be swayed by gossip or third-hand comments about the plan.

Former Mayor Alberta Jagoe, who chaired the Long Range Planning Committee, said the committee members will be available to help the board if needed.

“Your work now begins,” Jagoe said.

 

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