Greenfield schools back redistricting plan to increase equity

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 07-19-2023 4:43 PM

GREENFIELD — A majority of Greenfield School Department staff surveyed this summer support redrawing the district map to allow for greater equity across elementary schools, while also moving fifth grade to the elementary level and eighth grade to the middle school.

Under this plan, the district map would be redrawn so that students who reside at Greenfield Gardens would be sent to Newton School, Leyden Woods to the Discovery School at Four Corners, and Oak Courts to Federal Street School, according to Superintendent Christine DeBarge.

However, the district will also have to decide how to handle intradistrict School Choice moving forward, DeBarge said. This could mean setting a hard deadline to end the practice — requiring students to return to their neighborhood school — or allowing students to age out of their chosen school while no longer allowing new participants, including siblings, to choice-in from within the district.

A hard stop for the September 2024 academic year, when the changes are slated to go into effect, would mitigate the potential need for shifting the special education programs between schools, she said.

“For the past two years, I’ve only allowed incoming kindergartners who would still have a sibling at their school of choice to go to a different school that’s not their neighborhood school,” DeBarge told members of the Re-envisioning Our School Facilities Subcommittee earlier this week. “If a student from Federal Street [School] wants to go to Four Corners, they’re only getting approval if their sibling will still be at Four Corners. … That has helped dramatically with enrollment numbers at Four Corners.”

The conversation with School Committee members followed the results of a study by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) in which four recommendations were provided for the “best use” of the buildings in the district. In recent months, the first option and a modified version of the second rose to the top as the two most likely paths forward.

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That first option, dubbed “Option 1,” entailed moving the fifth grade from the middle school to the elementary level, reconfiguring elementary schools to specific grade-span schools, and moving the eighth grade from the high school to the middle school. The most significant challenge with this option, DeBarge noted, would be the costs associated with transportation.

In light of some commentary from parents and teachers at a School Committee meeting earlier this year, DeBarge presented a modified version of the second option identified by the NESDEC study. In addition to redrawing the district map, this option, dubbed “Option 2B” due to some revisions to NESDEC’s proposed Option 2, also moves fifth grade to the elementary school level and eighth grade to the middle school level.

According to a district-wide study that received 140 responses, 83.6% preferred Option 2B, compared to 16.4% who preferred Option 1.

“We are at a point where transportation looks good for 2B,” DeBarge said. “We also literally took the maps of every school and … everybody had a spot on the map.”

At least one respondent asked whether the elementary schools could be renamed as part of this process in an effort to eliminate the perception that the Discovery School at Four Corners — the most popular school for intradistrict School Choice — is an innovation school. DeBarge said the current name may be connected to an innovation grant previously awarded to the school that’s no longer in use.

“Whether you folks rename them or not, I appreciate the concern that the community perspective is still going to be that Four Corners is the Discovery School,” DeBarge said. “[Four Corners] is doing exactly the same in terms of curriculum, instruction and programming at every elementary school in the district.”

DeBarge will present the results of the teacher survey at next month’s School Committee meeting, at which point members will also discuss the possibility of ending intradistrict School Choice if Option 2B remains the path forward.

The superintendent said she hopes to have a final decision by October.

“I’ll be curious what impact the reconfiguration of the city has on people’s thoughts,” DeBarge said. “We’re going to be making each elementary school pretty reflective of the community as a whole.”

Green River School

As part of the same conversation, School Committee member Elizabeth Deneeve asked DeBarge for an update on the Green River School on Meridian Street, which has been vacant since the end of the 2017 school year. Though reopening it was listed as one of the options in the NESDEC study, officials agreed that neither enrollment trends, nor the redistricting plan, would necessitate it.

“I have to do all the paperwork to officially close it,” DeBarge responded. “I had reached out to the mayor … because when I do the paperwork to close Green River, I need to give some idea on what it could get used for because the biggest piece is some money is going to have to get paid back for the roof and door loan.”

She said it was unclear at this point how much of the roughly $1 million loan the district would need to pay back.

“There’s language in there that’s a little fuzzy that gives me the thought [the state] might be willing to make some exceptions around what gets paid back,” DeBarge noted. “Basically what they said to me was: do all the paperwork, let us know what the plan is and then we’ll talk to you.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.

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