PAWTUCKET — Despite acknowledgments that it’s not an ideal situation, the Schools Superintendent intends to proceed with plans to move a majority of the incoming 6th graders to Goff or Slater junior high schools in September to deal with overcrowding.
At Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke reiterated her previous proposal to utilize empty classrooms at Goff and Slater to handle a projected shortage of space at six of the 10 elementary schools. Because the move is a management decision that is necessary to address a “housing crunch” in the coming school year, it does not need the School Committee’s approval.
Under this plan, three 6th grade classes from Baldwin Elementary and three from Cunningham Elementary would attend Slater Junior High. Also, one 6th grade class from Curtis Elementary, two 6th grade classes from Potter-Burns Elementary and 35 students from Fallon Elementary would attend Goff Junior High.
The 6th grade classes at Greene, Little, Varier and Winters elementary schools, where overcrowding is not a problem, would remain there.
Cylke said she held informational meetings at Slater and Goff for parents and incoming 6th grade students. She called the meetings “very productive” and said parents “had a lot of great questions,” some of which she answered and others which she promises to address in upcoming correspondence. She also said she plans to hold an “open house” at each school in May with a formal registration process and “welcome” activities.
Cylke said she considered some other options, including leasing portable classrooms or space at another location, holding double sessions, or looking at a year-round schedule. The best option right now, she said, is utilizing the extra space at Goff and Slater.
However, Cylke also noted that if the elementary school population continues to grow as expected, leasing space at another building, such as the empty St. Leo’s the Great School, might have to be seriously considered for the following school year.
Cylke said that the move will require adding two more bus runs, at a cost of approximately $120,000. However, noting that the price of leasing portable classrooms runs at around $75,000 per classroom, she said the use of the available junior high space is still the most cost-effective solution.
Cylke said measures will be taken to ease the transition for the 6th graders, such as keeping them in a separate wing, giving them their own lunch period and providing a supervised entrance. She said the goal is to have the younger students be integrated with the older students, but also not to overwhelm them.
Students who want to apply to Jenks Junior High School for the 7th or 8th grade (the feeder school for the JMW Arts High School), will be able to do so, and special education, ESL and other services will still be provided, she said.
Cylke also said the 6th graders would have access to the junior high schools’ extracurricular activities and sports (cross country, basketball and soccer), while their counterparts in the elementary schools would not. She agreed this was not a fair situation, but said this structuring is a temporary fix to address an immediate space problem. She added that she hopes to see the school district adopt a unified “middle school” concept for grades 6, 7 and 8 in the near future.
School Committee member Nicole Nordquist said that while she understood the space shortage, she reiterated her desire to see a district-wide middle school model. Committee member Sandra Cano also spoke about the importance of the school district being consistent in the type of educational opportunities it provides to the city’s students.
Cylke said she agreed with data showing success under a middle school model, and said the Facilities Committee is addressing this type of restructuring in its discussions about future school building improvements. She added that if a district-wide middle school concept is adopted, this would require School Committee approval because it would constitute a policy change.
Ronald Beaupre, president of the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance, said the teachers involved with the change for the coming year had been apprised of Cylke’s plan to move some of the 6th graders. He said that some had expressed concerns, and the overall hope is to have a district-wide middle school concept be instituted.
Beaupre added, however, that he was surprised to learn that evening that this move was just going to be a temporary one for the upcoming school year , and expressed concern about teachers “having to go back and forth” in various locations in the next few years .