Wayland is once again looking at the configuration of its elementary schools, but this time, the process is designed around public input and a thoughtful, calculated discussion.
Superintendent Paul Stein organized the Elementary Building Use Task Force to "identify options and priorities regarding the utilization of elementary space, and conduct a cost/benefit analysis for each option to ensure an equitable, high quality educational program for all students."
The task force, Stein explained, was formed after an independent assessment found utilization issues at Wayland's three elementary schools: Happy Hollow, Claypit Hill and Loker School. Additionally, enrollment projections for Wayland have proved under estimated. There are 190 kindergartners this year when only 160 were projected.
Wednesday night, Stein and the task force, which includes parents, teachers, administrators and community members, invited members of the public to a hearing where they could learn the status of the project to this point and share their own ideas.
"We wanted from the get-go to ensure that this process, as it unfolds, includes public input,” Stein told the crowd gathered in the lecture hall at Wayland High School. "Right now … it is very much where we are now. It may not be where we’re at tomorrow. It is certainly not where we were two days ago.”
Stein emphasized that the six options the task force has identified are simply options -- no decisions have been made at this point and much research remains to be done before the task force will make a recommendation.
In coming up with the options, the task force kept a number of variables in mind, including impact on the whole child, class size, transportation issues, staffing needs, costs and more.
- Grade level schools. Each of the three buildings houses two grade levels: kingergarten and first, second and third, fourth and fifth.
- Neighborhood schools. Kindergarten to fifth grade offered at all three schools, which would be enrolled by districts.
- Current Configuration. All kindergarten classes housed at Loker and first through fifth grade taught at both Happy Hollow and Claypit for students zoned for those schools.
- Current plus a split grade 1. Loker houses all kindergarten classes plus first grade classes for students zoned for Happy Hollow. Claypit Hill remains a grades 1-5 school, while Happy Hollow houses grades 2-5.
- Current plus entire grade 1. Loker houses kindergarten and first grade. Happy Hollow and Claypit Hill house grades 2-5.
- Upper elementary. One school houses grades 4 and 5, while the remaining two buildings house kindergarten through third grade.
“We want to emphasize that we’re still listening and hoping that there are other ideas out there,” Stein said after presenting the options, stressing that there is no rush to make a change. "The current inclination of the task force is to hold off any permanent change – so that it can be chosen carefully and executed judiciously – until September 2014 at the earliest.”
Stein said that space problems at Happy Hollow in particular may require an interim plan, but it's unlikely a permanent change will be made before the start of the 2014-15 school year.
“I’m glad to hear that you’ll be giving us some time to know what the decision is and settle into it," said Stephanie Leong. "I think there are some kids who like to know what’s going to happen."
Throughout the room, attendees seemed to prefer the idea of grade-level schools, pointing out that Wayland schools aren't "neighborhood schools" anyway, especially when it comes to Claypit Hill.
Grade-level schools allow teachers to share resources and experiences in a unique way, which has been a positive outcome of all kindergarten classes being housed at Loker.
Still, Stein pointed out, "When you do grade-level schools, you’re evenly dividing the kids, but we don’t have equal size schools.”
Several attendees said that whatever decision is ultimately made, as long as it's thoughtfully planned, children will likely adjust.
“In my experience, children bloom where they are planted," said Heather Foust-Cummings.
Whatever the decision, attendees asked that an emphasis be placed on Wayland's overall vision for its children.
"In a process like this, there’s sometimes a tendency for people to look at situations like this and say, ‘What’s best for me,’” said Dex Chadsey, a longtime teacher at Claypit Hill. "I would hope that the community would look and say, ‘What’s best for this community and how can we come together as a community?’”
Stein said he expects future public hearings to take place.