Committees Formed to Study School Transitions, Closings
written by Lynn S. Ulsh, Bulletin ReporterWith the official decision to reconfigure the Bellingham Schools having been made at the June 24 meeting, the Bellingham School Committee held a meeting on July 8 to establish several sub-committees and begin the transition process.
This past school year the School Committee began exploring the possibility of closing three buildings based on building studies and future population estimates in order to better allocate the money budgeted for the school district. The oldest three buildings in the district are Clara Macy Elementary School, the Paul J. Primavera Center Alternative High School and the Keogh Administration Building.
After committees studied the building usage and educational impact, a public hearing was held on June 17 and the decision was made to close Clara Macy for the 2015–16 school year and redistrict grades K–3 to Stall Brook and South Elementary schools. Bellingham Memorial Middle School will house grades 4–7 instead of 5-8; grade 8 will be moved to Bellingham High School.
At the June 24 meeting, the School Committee voted to ease the transition by appointing two separate principals at BMMS instead of a principal and a vice principal. Former PJP Director Jeff Croteau will become the principal of the older two grades, and Eileen Tetrault will move from South Elementary School to become the principal for grades 5–6 this year, and eventually grades 4–5 starting in the fall of 2015. This will help maintain that grades 4-5 will remain separate after the transition and will be treated as elementary students although housed within the middle school.
Former BMMS Vice Principal Anthony Branco will take over as PJP Director since Superintendent Edward Fleury noted that Branco has the proper credentials. The district has posted the vacant position for South Elementary School principal, and a search committee has been established.
District parent Mark Flannery expressed his concerns with the transition of the eighth-grade to the high school and keeping the eighth-grade students separate from the students in grades nine through 12. He noted that his oldest child is 10 years old, going into fifth grade, and it is unfathomable to him that she will be at Bellingham High School in three short years.
He pointed out that there needs to be money spent at BHS to house the eighth-grade classrooms and add needed resources such as two extra science labs. Flannery pointed out that there needs to be research done now in order to determine the cost, request the money at October Town Meeting and complete the changes in time for the 2015-16 school year.
Fleury responded that transition implementation teams are being established, with the goal of “maintaining efforts to continue the best education for all students.” This twelve-member team includes administrators, teachers, parents, the maintenance director, special education director, curriculum director, superintendent and business manager.
Additional committees are being established to study the future of the PJP program, the Bellingham Early Childhood Program (BECP) and the Keogh Building. So as not to have too many transitions happening at once, Fleury noted that there will be no changes to PJP or BECP until at least 2016-17.
Committees will study whether the school administration could be moved to the town hall annex after the new police station is completed and the annex building vacated.
Fleury said that the PJP building, built in 1957, is“standing on its last leg.” A committee will study the need to retain the program in order to service the Independent Educational Plans (IEPs) of the Bellingham students who attend PJP and, if the program is deemed necessary to maintain, where it should be housed in order to eventually close the PJP building.
Another committee will be established to study whether the BECP preschool program should remain at Stall Brook Elementary School or be moved or split between the two remaining elementary schools.
School Resource Officer Len Gosselin reported that all teachers will receive professional development on Aug. 26 on school lock-down and active-shooter safety procedures. Gosselin noted that safety concerns have become a hot topic since the horrific mass shootings at Columbine or Sandy Hook, or individual shootings such as the teacher shot in Danvers. Teachers will be trained by participating in active-shooter drills and in minimizing the level of fear in younger grades and with special needs children.
Through a grant, Gosselin was able to attend the NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officer's) Conference in California in July. He noted that a presentation will be prepared for parents to view online. Topics will include parent notification and scenarios for the evacuation of multiple schools in the event of natural disasters. Gosselin emphasized his commitment to this effort, saying, “These are my kids; I want them to be the safest they can be.” (See related article on page 13.)
Finally, the School Committee agreed to extend the BASE before- and after-school daycare and enrichment program contract with the YMCA for an additional year. Another vendor expressed interest in bidding; however, with the impending school transition underway, the school administration will begin in January to assess the needs of the program within the new school configuration and put the three-year contract out to bid next spring.