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The district’s Future Forecast Committee is poised to present its final recommendation for further consideration — closing Newtown Middle School and reconfiguring the district due to projected continued declining enrollment — to the Board of Education at its next meeting on Tuesday, October 18.
The Future Forecast Committee met both on Tuesday, October 11, and on Wednesday, October 12, this week. At the second meeting the committee finalized its plans for the presentation.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, noted a scheduled Wednesday, October 26, Community Forum in the Newtown High School’s Lecture Hall, 12 Berkshire Road, at 7 pm. Dr Erardi said the forum will offer an opportunity for residents to add their voice to the discussion, which he said may be the biggest topic in the district’s next decade.
The school board is expected to discuss the topic at both of its November meetings, and — as Dr Erardi said at the board’s Tuesday, October 4, meeting — make a final decision at its November 15 meeting.
With members of the Future Forecast Committee seated before him on Wednesday, Dr Erardi said part of the presentation will explain how once the school board decided not to close an elementary school, the committee narrowed down its further inspection of options from its July report, which detailed nine options for closing either NMS or an elementary school. The report also offered a look at not closing any school in the district and the potential use for space. The school board’s September 6 decision not to close an elementary school eliminated some of the original options from the discussion.
The Future Forecast Committee was, from the start, comprised of board members, district administrators, and community members.
Board of Education member Rebekah Harriman-Stites later noted that two options for reconfiguring the district if NMS were closed — Option E and Option F — were eliminated from the discussion for having too short of a practical term.
Eyeing Option I
Option G, Option H, and Option I were then focused on by the committee.
“I think when our committee had those three options,” said Hawley Elementary School Principal Christopher Moretti, “[Option I] was really all we could move forward with in a reasonable amount of time.”
When the committee focused on optimal capacity and optimal educational capacity, Mr Moretti said Option G and Option H could not begin “comfortably” until 2020 or 2021.
Option I, according to the July report, is potentially feasible in the 2019-20 school year for both Reed Intermediate School and Newtown High School. It would have kindergarten through fourth grade in Newtown’s four elementary schools, fifth through seventh grade at Reed, and eighth though twelfth grade at NHS.
Opportunities listed in the report for the configuration are fewer transitions within the district, limited redistricting, possible enhanced opportunities for eighth grade students, a high space sustainability across all levels, and maintaining an advantageous assembly of the grade-level cohort at grade 5.
Challenges for the option, as listed in the report, are concerns regarding grade eight in the high school setting; the impact of splitting seventh and eighth graders on team or group activities; logistical considerations at NHS for parking, potential building modifications, and traffic; compromises for the state-funded school-based health center; requiring a “rethinking” of the intermediate school model; and, “immediate space constraints on Reed and NHS,” as the 2019-20 school year is projected in the report to have 830 students at Reed and 1,773 students at NHS with the configuration.
“This is not an endorsement by the committee, but it is the best opportunity to be further discussed,” Dr Erardi said.
NHS Principal Lorrie Rodrigue said a further look at the educational models for both the fifth to seventh grade group and for the eighth to twelfth grade group is still needed. How the groups will be scheduled at the two schools will also impact space needs, according to Dr Rodrigue.
“Once we do that, I think everyone can make an informed decision,” said Dr Rodrigue.
With the seventh grade at Reed, NMS Principal Thomas Einhorn said a look at what can continue to be offered for students should be looked at further. The Family and Consumer Science curriculum, for instance, uses a kitchen, which Reed does not have. Checking to make sure “it all works,” Mr Einhorn said, will be the next “Herculean adventure” for the group.
In all her research on other districts where lower grade levels were introduced to a high school environment, Dr Rodrigue noted high school students often take on roles with the younger students.
“I forget what comment was made about how the high schoolers will be with eighth graders, but they would be wonderful. We have great kids in Newtown. That should not be a worry,” said Dr Rodrigue.