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Colrain families want school closure ‘off the table’

  • Colrain Central School Recorder file photo



Recorder Staff
Sunday, January 21, 2018

COLRAIN — Despite assurances that closing Colrain Central elementary school is “not on the table,” school families at a “Future of Colrain Central School” meeting urged school board members to send a clear message to the community that closing the school is no longer part of a long-term plan for economic sustainability of the school district.

At least 45 people attended Thursday’s meeting, weighing in on how they feel about Phase 2 of Mohawk’s BEST (Building Educational Sustainability and Trust) Plan — which is moving all sixth-grade students from the remaining elementary schools into Mohawk’s Middle School, where there are more opportunities for meeting more peers and participating in arts, music and sports programs.

But several present were more vocal about Phase 3, which is to consolidate the preschool through Grade 5 students into Buckland Shelburne Elementary (BSE) and Sanderson Academy in Ashfield. The closure of the 30-student Heath Elementary School in June was Phase 1. However, many school families said the talk for several years of closing Heath became a self-fulfilling prophecy — because parents didn’t want to enroll their children into a school that might be gone in two or three years.

Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said enrollment increases over the past two years, due to admission-free preschool, have been growing — especially at BSE and Sanderson. He said there may be no reason to close Colrain Central because the other two elementary schools are filling up. BSE’s enrollment increased by 50 students through the preschool. Sanderson’s preschool enrollment, staying on for elementary grades, means Sanderson has had to add a second kindergarten class and will have to add a second first-grade classroom by next year.

“I really feel very strongly about Colrain not closing its school,” said Peggy Davis of Colrain. “It’s central to the town. And, if (the town) gets broadband, we may be about to pull more young families in.” Davis said if the town can keep the school open, the school population may increase in a few years. “Keeping it open a few years would be easier than reopening a closed school,” she said.

Self-fulfilling prophesy?

“I know of two families that were not enrolling at Colrain this year because they heard Colrain was closing,” said another school parent.

“I think the Heath School closing was prompted by fears that the Heath School would close,” said former School Committee member Joe Kurland. “I think it would be good to take closure off the table now. If things get worse — if the population dropped — we could put it back on the table.”

Colrain School Committee member Nina Martin-Anzuoni said the BEST Plan just provided guidelines that are revisited each year, as data changes. Both she and Selectwomen Eileen Sauvageau said no one can close Colrain Central without a town meeting vote of approval from the town.

“Colrain’s closing is not on the table,” said Shelburne school board member Jason Cousimano.

“That’s not the message people are hearing, though,” one school parent replied.

Colrain school board member and parent Kate Barrows said, as a school parent, she doesn’t want to see the school closed. But, as a School Committee member, “I think there are some people in town who want it to be considered. I don’t think they want it to be dropped.”

Buoniconti remarked that discussions of closing the Heath School were happening when he first joined the district in 2005, but it could never have been closed unless Heath itself wanted to close the school. Martin-Anzuoni said the Heath Task Force looked into many of the side issues raised by Colrain residents, but ended up deciding closing the town’s school was in that town’s best interest.

Moving Grade 6 to Mohawk

Families seemed to be more open to the idea of moving the sixth grade to Mohawk, because children would have more social opportunities, more after-school opportunities and electives. But several reservations were also raised.

BSE/Colrain School Counselor Jana Standish said she asked elementary students to write what they thought of the move, and some expressed worries about being on the school buses with older students was a scary thing.

“They were worried about being targets for harassment and it was about kids wanting to be kids for a longer time,” she said. “They thought they weren’t mature enough to be in a high school.”

Some parents present said they liked the increased opportunities for their children, but wanted assurances there would still be a “strong sixth-grade culture” and ample staff support for the small number of students who had difficulties adjusting to and fitting into their new school.

Among materials presented by the School Committee were the results of a survey completed by 92 kindergarten through Grade 4 school families. When asked if they were planning to send their student to Mohawk, almost 45 percent answered “yes,” while 52 percent answered “maybe.”

“52 percent said ‘maybe,’” said Standish. “There’s some work right there.”

“I think what happens at Mohawk is undersold,” said one school parent.

The School Committee has agreed they need to bring more pre-high school families to Mohawk, so they can see Mohawk offers many of the programs families think they could only get from private or charter schools. Buoniconti said he had qualms about educating his son at Mohawk, but they quickly were abated.

“I felt the Mohawk community was very loving — the very opposite of what I was afraid of. The older kids took care of the younger kids. Fear of the unknown is part of the issue,” he said.