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District 13 sees school closing options

At Coginchaug Regional High School on Feb. 19, well over 100 community members from Durham and Middlefield heard a presentation on declining enrollment followed by multiple options for school reconfiguration.

As they have in past workshops, representatives from the architectural and education planning firm Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc. presented what they characterized as two extremes — doing nothing on one end and re-building all the schools on the other —and then focused on options in the middle of that range.

The three main options presented had one thing in common. They each made space to close an elementary school by changing Strong Middle School from a 7-8 grade school to a 6-8 grade school.

The option called “C1” closed Korn Elementary School and changed Lyman Elementary School and Brewster Elementary School to K-3 schools and changed Memorial Middle School from a 5-6 to a 4-5 school.

The option called “C3” (“C2” was never presented) closed Lyman and Korn and created two K-5 elementary schools at Brewster and Memorial. Jim Barrett of DRA characterized this plan as “not practical” because it would require building almost the equivalent of a new school at Brewster.

The last plan, “C4” was presented two different ways. C4 again housed 6-8 at Strong. It created two elementary schools with grades 1-5 at Brewster and Memorial. C4 dedicated a building to early childhood education with kindergarten and pre-K grades. In C4, that early childhood school was Korn, with Lyman closing. In “C4.1,” it was the reverse — Korn closed and Lyman converted to an early childhood school.

The DRA representatives did not address District 13’s dual Contemporary and Integrated Day programs. The subject of program choice dominated the discussions at the previous two community workshops and came up again during the question and answer period.

During her introduction and in later remarks, Board of Education Chair Kerrie Flanagan separated the role of DRA from the role of the BOE.

DRA, Flanagan said, would address how the community can use the buildings, not how the community educates its students.

“What we have seen thus far is that physical space needed to accommodate the Integrated Day program and the Contemporary program is the same,” Flanagan said.

“The board recognizes that’s really the most important and most challenging aspect of what the board is dealing with here,” Flanagan said of the dual programs. “As much as I respect [DRA’s] expertise, they cannot solve that problem for us.”

Unlike previous presentations, the accompanying slides contained no references to the logistics of Integrated Day or Contemporary programs or Lyman’s status as a Higher Order Thinking school.

Barrett referred to the programs in discussing the early childhood centers of the C4 options, assuming the program choice would occur after kindergarten.

Referring to the conclusions of an earlier study, Barrett said, “It may be beneficial for parents to have the opportunity to have their students in the system before making that decision as to which program would best suit their student.”

When asked about the programs at the middle school level, DRA’s education planner Paul Moore said Strong was the “least flexible” building for programs, although “there is enough capacity to do it.”

For the sample enrollment numbers, DRA used 2016 as a reference point both for when lower enrollment might impact the schools and the earliest significant changes could occur.

Potential costs and savings, including busing, were not part of the presentation. DRA presented a matrix that scored different options on multiple considerations, including cost factors, on a 1-5 scale. Options were rated with total scores.

Several speakers during the question and answer period reacted negatively to the matrix. The considerations were not weighted, each being worth a maximum of five points regardless of the importance of each particular consideration.

Also, the data behind the numbers was not provided. Barrett characterized the matrix as a tool for discussion rather than a recommendation.

Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Veronesi gave closing remarks to the presentation which ran longer than planned, partially because of community questions.

Veronesi said that she has heard the “tremendous concern and fear” of losing program choice. Moving forward with the reconfiguration, Veronesi said, “We start by talking. I need to hear from you.”

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