Whenever a school district decides to change its grade configuration, it generates a lot of discussion in the community. The reasons for the proposed change vary by district but generally include some dialogue about the number of student transitions, effects on student achievement, enrollment growth or decline, social or economic factors, student transportation, parental involvement, opportunities for student interaction, and/or facilities. The most important question often gets lost in the debate: What grade configuration most benefits students?
With this question as its central focus, on February 28, 2002, the School Committee voted to support longer grade span neighborhood schools at the elementary level once space became available. Before making its decision, the School Committee weighed a report from a broad‐based study committee and engaged in healthy discussions with citizens about community traditions, school parity, competition, curriculum consistency, and effects on home values. As a measure of the community’s faith in the decision, at the May 2005 Annual Town Meeting voters approved $3 million for the architectural design of a new Early Childhood Center and grade 1‐5 neighborhood school at Fruit Street and for improvements to the Elmwood School.
In July of 2006, due to a temporary moratorium on state reimbursement for school building projects, the School Committee decided to defer its building and districting plans. In 2011, the opportunity to meet both goals is once again before us, and the benefits for students of longer grade span neighborhoods schools remain the same:
- Fewer educational transitions, which are difficult for all students and particularly for students with special needs;
- Improved staff ability to provide interventions for students needing support services given its familiarity with students over a longer period of time;
- Increased student familiarity with their classmates given the smaller number of students in each grade and more opportunities for cross‐grade mentoring;
- Stronger relationships between parents and the school since students will remain in a school for a longer period of time;
- Elementary‐aged siblings follow the same school schedule and ride the same bus, which reduces parents’ time before and after school;
- Increased accountability for Principals and staff since students will remain in one school for six years;
- Easier to schedule time for teacher training, planning, and vertical curriculum and assessment discussions across all schools; and
- Opportunity to revisit school start times at the Middle and High School.
For the past ten years, the School Committee has planned for neighborhood schools and the community supported this goal in the 2009 Strategic Plan. The School Committee has also tried to listen to and address constituents’ concerns and has made every decision with the best interests of students in mind. We now have an opportunity to move to neighborhood schools and to build a new school with state funding. Given the poor condition of Center School, doing nothing is not an option.
For further information, please see the Elementary School Building Project Page on the Hopkinton Public
Schools website: www.hopkinton.k12.ma.us.
[For much more detailed information please see the frequently updated Hopkinton Elementary School Building Project website: https://sites.google.com/a/hopkinton.k12.ma.us/hesbc/]