Heath students to attend Colrain Central School next year

  • Talia Miller, service learning coordinator at Colrain Central School, reads a book to first-graders. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • First-graders at Colrain Central School work on an assignment in their classroom. CONTIRBUTED PHOTO

  • First-graders at Colrain Central School watch as a representative from Trout Unlimited places fish eggs in the classroom tank. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For the Recorder
Published: 1/12/2022 5:03:15 PM
Modified: 1/12/2022 5:02:23 PM

HEATH — Heath’s schoolchildren will attend Colrain Central School when the town’s agreement with the Hawlemont Regional School District ends in June.

“I’m excited to be having the students from Heath join our school community,” commented Colrain Central School Principal Amy Looman. “We recognize that this was a very difficult decision for the town of Heath to make, and we hope to do all we can to make the students and families feel welcome and like they belong here.”

The arrangement between Heath and Hawlemont had been in place since the former Heath Elementary School closed in 2017. Budge Litchfield, the Heath representative to the Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee, said the possibility of Hawlemont leaving its shared superintendency arrangement with Mohawk Trail, issues about how voting would work and financial issues ultimately led to Heath’s decision to “pull the plug.”

The decision then became geographical, involving choosing between Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School and Colrain Central School, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District elementary schools that are closest to Heath. The Mohawk Trail district is composed of Buckland’s Mohawk Trail Regional School for students in grades seven through 12, plus Buckland-Shelburne Elementary in Shelburne, Colrain Central in Colrain and Sanderson Academy in Ashfield for primary grades.

“Colrain and Heath share a long land border and Colrain Central is a wonderful school,” Litchfield explained. “I’ve known Amy Looman for a long, long time. Our kids will be really happy there. It’s sad that things turned out as they did at Hawlemont, but logic, common sense and being responsible ... we couldn’t say this is the thing for us to do.”

For Hawlemont School Committee Chair Hussain Hamdan, lack of a detailed financial study by Heath and subsequent issues regarding how a three-town district consisting of Heath, Charlemont and Hawley would be governed were at the heart of the break.

“I feel very badly that it couldn’t happen,” he said. “I think across the board everybody is frustrated that we put so much time and effort into this process and it didn’t happen. But it didn’t and we’ll be welcoming any Heath student who wants to stay and we’ll figure things out from here.”

Heath’s decision to stop negotiating to become the third member town of the Hawlemont school district was decided in the summer.

Heath remained a member of the Mohawk Trail district while sending students — whose tuition therefore was paid for by the district — to Hawlemont. The agreement that allowed Heath students to attend Hawlemont also allowed for another Mohawk Trail elementary school to be selected if regionalization with Hawlemont didn’t pan out.

“Mohawk Trail and Colrain are very happy to have Heath students attend Colrain Central,” commented Mohawk Trail School Committee Chair Martha Thurber.

The Mohawk Trail district will pay the $5,000 per student tuition for any student who wishes to remain at Hawlemont Regional School, as it does and will do for any Heath student choosing to attend Rowe Elementary School.

Costs to bus Heath students to Colrain will be paid for by the district, but it does not provide or pay for transportation for School Choice students. The district did offer busing for Heath students to Hawlemont under the tuition agreement because Heath was and is a district member town, but Heath students who choose to attend Hawlemont next year will need to have their own transportation.

Advantages to keeping Heath in the Mohawk Trail school district, said Thurber, include saving $384,000 in tuition payment to Hawlemont — offset by the $5,000 per student for any School Choice students. Another advantage is that Heath won’t have to pay outstanding obligations of more than $1 million to the Mohawk Trail Regional School District in other post-employment benefits (OPEB), which it would have had to do if Heath left the district. OPEB is retirement and future retirement costs for staff.

Additionally, with more students, Colrain Central “becomes more efficient to operate,” Thurber said.

“The district will not have to add any staff to accommodate Heath students, so cost per pupil goes down,” she explained.

Colrain Central has a student-to-teacher ratio of 14:1. Students often enjoy outdoor projects such as the pollinator garden planted last spring. A variety of in-school and after-school sports, clubs and activities are staffed primarily by parent and community volunteers. The school’s service-learning program helps students connect classroom concepts to concrete, real-world, community-based problems.

“We also think Colrain is a good fit for Heath students,” Thurber added, “as both towns are quite rural and share similar demographics.”


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