What’s next for Heath school kids? Community talks planned

Recorder Staff
Published: 1/23/2017 9:48:38 PM

HEATH — If the 22-year-old Heath Elementary School closes next fall, what do residents see as the best options for their children’s public education? How does the community feel about the possible school closure, and how can the community shape its future?

The Heath Education Task Force and the Heath School Local Education Council will be hosting four community conversations, where residents can give their opinions and learn more about the education decisions they may face at annual town meeting time.

The first of these conversations takes place Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Heath School. Child care will be available.

Other gatherings will be held as follows: Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Heath Union Church, Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. at the Town Library (Sawyer Hall) and on Feb. 15 at the Heath School at 6:30 p.m.

“We want everybody involved in the conversation,” said Task Force Chairwoman Deb Porter. “It feels like the only way we will have an informed decision made.”

“Nobody wants to close the school, but if we have to close the school, we need to consider the best interests of our students,” Porter said. “I hope these conversations will allow us to face the facts and look at all the facts and options for education.”

The Heath Elementary School now has 31 students (two more Heath children enrolled this winter), and closing the sparsely populated school would save the Mohawk Trail Regional School District about $500,000.

Closing the Heath School is listed as Phase 1 of the Mohawk BEST Committee’s budgetary recommendations, but it also requires annual town meeting approval by Mohawk’s eight member towns, including Heath’s.

Porter said Heath voters need to know why “it’s not just a simple switch. We cannot guarantee this will be completed by fall. In order for (residents) to vote on this, we need to have these conversations. We need Rowe and Hawlemont to make presentations, to invite parents to visit the schools. We have to bring the town with us, and we haven’t really had a chance to present these options and have people discuss them in depth.”

Currently, the Task Force is considering tuitioning its elementary students to either Rowe Elementary School or to the Hawlemont Regional School, which are not part of the Mohawk district to which Heath.

Porter said the reason why the Task Force didn’t select Buckland Shelburne Regional School or Colrain Central is because preschool children are not to be put on school buses, and their parents would have long daily drives taking and picking them up. Also, some children would spend nearly an hour on bus rides.

The state has never dealt with a town belonging to one regional school district that wants to tuition its students to another district, and this step will require state approval.

“We want to make sure that people appreciate what our little school has done. We’ve led in many ways,” said Porter, pointing out Heath’s innovative drama program, its stringed instrument program for children and project-based learning.

“Our intent is to really talk about the kids and their education,” Porter said.

For many years before the school was built, Heath schoolchildren were tuitioned to Rowe. However, the number of Heath students was almost double the number of Rowe students in the early 1990s. Rowe capped Heath’s enrollment, and at the time, Hawlemont and the Mohawk elementary schools were full enough that they couldn’t guarantee they would have places for all the Heath students, according to Porter.

She said building a school in this town of 700 residents wasn’t Heath’s first choice, but it was the only way to ensure all of its children had access to public education.


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