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Whither Colrain’s 6th-graders?

  • The future of Colrain Central School will be the subject of community discussions starting Thursday. Recorder file photo



Recorder Staff
Friday, December 29, 2017

COLRAIN — Families and community members are invited to the Colrain Central School on Thursday to discuss the future of the school and the possibility of moving its sixth-graders to Mohawk Trail Regional High School’s building.

The community meeting comes in the context of ongoing conversations of how to best save the district money.

A little over a year ago, a recommendation to try to save the district at least $1.1 million per year, through a gradual phase-in of school consolidations and district changes, was proposed by Mohawk’s BEST (Building Education Sustainability and Trust) Committee.

One element of that proposal included closing Colrain Central — a potential $600,000 savings, as a part of an effort to consolidate Mohawk’s services amid years of declining enrollment.

Now this question will come before Colrain and other towns in the district through a series of community meetings in January.

In addition to the Thursday’s meeting at 5:30 p.m., other meetings will be held at the Sanderson Academy, Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School and Mohawk.

“The most important point I’d like to get across is for people in the community to get information, ask questions and voice their opinions in what they’d like to see,” Colrain representative on the Mohawk School Committee Kate Barrows said. She emphasized the need to focus on the more probable question: Should the sixth graders at Colrain Central move to the middle school?

Closing Colrain Central?

While the hot topic may be whether to close Colrain Central, Superintendent Michael Buoniconti and Barrows say that recent enrollment figures across the district suggest that it would be highly unlikely the school will be closed, at least in the near future.

“If I had to read the tea leaves, I’m not sure closing Colrain Central is entirely feasible,” Buoniconti said.

The reason why the BEST Committee’s recommendation may not be as relevant anymore is behind the numbers, the superintendent said, who will be presenting data at the meeting.

Enrollment at Colrain Central has not significantly bumped up, but those at Sanderson and Buckland-Shelburne have. This is important, Barrows noted, because now there is less room for Colrain Central students to be dispersed between the two elementary schools.

“At this point, it looks like any consideration of closing the school is further down the road, so that really isn’t imminent,” Barrows said.

Part of this increase in enrollment numbers comes from a bump in pre-K numbers, now that the district offers it for free, Barrows and Buoniconti cited.

“My general sense is because we’ve had an increase at the younger ages, especially since we added pre-K. If that trend continues, it’s going to be very hard to close Colrain Central,” Buoniconti said.

Moving sixth grade

Instead, school officials say the major play here is whether it makes sense to move the sixth-graders to the middle school.

“If there’s a headline, I hope it revolves more around the idea of getting community feedback about moving sixth grade to the middle school,” Barrows said, instead of the more unlikely closing of Colrain Central.

The middle school move would not happen until, at earliest, fall 2019, Barrows said.

Right now, she said, her sense from the community is it’s split on what to do on moving the middle schoolers.

Some families like the idea that their children will be a part of bigger classes, particularly the few classes that are made up of fewer than 10 students, Barrows said. Others say they like how their school is and don’t want to change it, she said.

From the School Committee side of things, Barrows said it’s conceivable that the move could help more than just the students in small classes.

“We just think it could be beneficial to the district as a whole, but what we really need to find out is if the communities are behind this,” Barrows said.

Moving forward

Following community input, the School Committee will have a chance to vote on these two possible ideas. A vote against either of them would likely kill its chances of moving forward.

But, if an idea like moving the sixth-graders to the middle school is agreed upon by the School Committee, then it would move forward to the annual town meeting in May. All the towns will have to vote in favor of either move.

“What I will reassure the Colrain people is your school closes only if you vote to close it,” Buoniconti said. “They have some assurance that they won’t be strong-armed by the other towns.”

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264