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Claremont proposal would shift to grade-specific elementary schools

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 10/19/2021 7:52:17 AM
Modified: 10/19/2021 7:52:21 AM

CLAREMONT — A proposal to restructure the city’s three elementary schools into grade-specific schools would have several benefits including increasing early literacy for pre-school pupils, Superintendent Mike Tempesta said.

“By shifting staff, we could potentially get a whole other year of early literacy for students. That is our goal,” Tempesta said last week.

Tempesta’s plan appears to have strong support from the School Board, though it has not voted on it. The board is in the process of discussing the proposal with residents and trying to resolve a main obstacle to the plan: busing.

On Monday, Oct. 25, the board will hold the second of two public forums on the proposal from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Stevens High School to discuss and listen to residents’ opinions of the plan. The proposal can be viewed on the homepage of the SAU 6 website, www.sau6.org, where residents also can find a survey school officials are urging them to fill out.

The plan would eliminate the current alignment of three, pre-K-to-fifth-grade schools at the Bluff, Disnard and Maple Avenue schools. The new structure would place pre-K through grade 1 at Maple Avenue, grades 2 and 3 at Bluff and grades 4 and 5 at Disnard.

School officials first presented the plan in early 2020. Residents raised concerns, particularly with transportation as some families that drive to school would have to get children to two or three different schools in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon when the start and release times are the same.

“We started modeling what that might look like,” Tempesta said when asked about solutions to transportation. “That is why we are polling parents and doing this work. We know we have to have all those answers in the next couple of months.”

At Monadnock Park Saturday morning, several parents watching their elementary-age children play soccer said they had only heard about it but did not know enough to comment.

But Sam and Jaimie Torres said they were very knowledgeable about the proposed restructuring and are strongly opposed to it.

“It is the worst idea I have ever heard,” said Sam, a pre-school educator.

“Kids don’t need ‘cohorts’ of kids the same age to be successful in school. That was one of the (administration’s) talking points. They don’t need other kids to keep them safe, happy and healthy. They need trusted adults.”

Sam Torres said she sees daily the needs of children in the community when it comes to things like food insecurity and other traumas, and moving children to three different schools could cause a breakdown in identifying those issues and only adds more transitions in their lives

“If you are bouncing them from school to school, they are not going to make those secure, lasting attachments with a teacher that kids need to be successful,” Sam Torres said. “This (restructuring) will cut down on access to safe adults who know these kids.”

Transportation was mentioned as the primary concern among parents, even those who were not aware of the restructuring plan

“I think it will be really hard for families with a few kids,” said Sara Town, as she walked with her husband, Bryan, and their children back to their car after their son’s game.

Gary and Robin Graser, seated by the edge of one soccer field watching their son, said the transportation question is the only obstacle they see in the restructuring.

“Otherwise, it seems like it would be beneficial,” Gary said.

Parent Nick Ford thought the idea has some merit, but he prefers that the elementary schools remain as they are for a few reasons.

“My kids are a year apart and seeing the youngest follow along with the bigger kids has helped him grow,” Ford said. “In my opinion, the structure now has been working fine. They should figure out how to improve the schools as they are.”

School Board Chairman Frank Sprague said at the first public forum in September that the board did not hear any new concerns other than what they knew they had to address, most notably transportation.

“There are complications around busing that need to be resolved,” Sprague said. “Instructionally, there is no downside to this at all. As far as giving kids what they need, it is a real winner. There are a lot of upsides to this around efficiencies for instruction, interventions and teacher collaboration.”

Sprague said when the idea was first proposed in early 2020, the board and administration took the wrong approach. This time, he said, they have focused on getting input from parents and other community members.

“He (Tempesta) had a lot of support from the board because there are a lot of good reasons for doing this,” Sprague said. “But we tried to roll it out prematurely as a done deal and that caused quite a public outcry.

“So what we decided to do was solicit public input and give people a chance to come in and express their support or their concerns for the plan.

“I think we are going about it the right way and giving people as much information as we can and listening to their concerns.”

Sprague said there is no timeline on when the board will vote on the plan but did say that with budget season approaching, the board needs to make a decision soon because there could be staffing and other budgetary implications with the plan.

Tempesta also emphasized that the restructuring won’t raise spending.

“We agreed it has to be a saving. It couldn’t cost any more,” he said.

The advantages of the restructuring cited by the administration include stability and control of class size and staffing assignments; stronger, consistent, targeted curriculum, assessment and interventions at each grade level; and universal, all-day, pre-K for 4-year-olds.

The administration also listed some of the concerns. In addition to busing, five transitions to different schools from K-12 and loss of the “neighborhood school” model were among them.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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