The Sandwich School Committee on Wednesday, June 25, voted to divide the town’s elementary school grades between the Forestdale and Oak Ridge schools—sending students in pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade to Forestdale and grades 3 through to 6 to Oak Ridge—once the Henry T. Wing School is closed next June.
In the wake of the decision, Sandwich superintendent C. Richard Canfield sent an e-mail to parents June 26 informing them of the vote. In the e-mail he expressed hope that the community will work together to make the new configuration work.
“Following last evening's decision I am heartened by comments that we will come together, set aside any differences of opinion, and work together to provide the very best educational opportunities for all Sandwich public school students,” he wrote in the e-mail. “There is much work to be accomplished over the next 14 months, and I look forward to working with parents, staff and students as we create two excellent schools to serve our PreK-6 population.”
Board member Nancy A. Crossman, who would have preferred to keep both Oak Ridge and Forestdale as K-6 schools, said that now that a decision has been made district officials need to focus on making the transition a positive one for the students.
“There is a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that the students are always first in our thoughts, and that they will have a positive experience as they progress through the grades,” she said.
School board member Andrea M. Killion voted in favor of the approved format because she felt that keeping the K-6 model would be inefficient.
“A primary factor for me is the current triplication of services with the K-8 model and how inefficient the delivery of education has become and the lost opportunities due to this structure,” she said. “For example, a foreign language teacher may have to commute to all three schools to teach classes because we can't afford to hire one for each school.” Ms. Killion said she believes that these issues can be fixed by choosing the preK-2, 3-6 format.
During the public forum portion of Wednesday’s meeting, four parents spoke up once more to urge the committee to keep the K-6 format in the schools.
Erin Greenhalgh requested that the school board not rush into any decisions when there are already big changes happening in the district, such as the opening of the STEM Academy and the decision to close Wing.
“If we implement too quickly and if we don’t have the desired results, we won’t know which component was the problem,” she said. “Please don’t rush into these decisions.”
Gregg Richards, who has spoken during several previous meetings, said that since there was no strong evidence in support of either model there was no need to make a change at all.
“Why put a town that’s going through so much change through even more change?” he asked. “Why make kindergartners at Wing go through three schools in three years? I wouldn’t do it and we’re going to ask kids to do it.”
Tensions ran high in the Sandwich High School media center as the school committee took a role call vote on the issue.
Prior to the vote, board member Marie A. Kangas requested that the vote be taken as a role call and polled vote, meaning that each committee member would be asked individually which option they were voting for and given an opportunity to explain their reasoning. This motion was approved and the voting began.
James J. Dever voted for the preK-2, 3-6 format, saying that the K-8 system is what attracted him to the Sandwich district, but after doing some of his own research he felt that splitting up the grades would be in the best interest of the town. “Research tells me that this is the way to go,” he said. “I was originally against it, but the more I researched it, the more I’m for it.”
After board member Sean P. Rausch thanked the parents for their involvement, he voted to keep the K-6 format, citing his own experiences in the Barnstable school system for influencing his decision. “I look back at myself when I went to school,” Mr. Rausch said. “Having that continuity is really a good thing.”
Board member Lois A. Wack said that she fully believed that the administration was supporting the split for the right reasons. She also said that the parents who had spoken so passionately against the split were honest in their views as well.
“Parents are doing what they do best,” she said. “They advocate for their children.”
For Ms. Wack, it came down to what she believed was in the best interest of the children, which was in favor of the preK-2, 3-6 configuration.
Ms. Crossman said that while making her decision she spoke to many people who were passionate about the subject on both sides. “There are so many people I respect on both sides,” she said. “This was an all-consuming, difficult decision to make.” Her vote was to maintain the K-6 format.
With the STEM Academy opening up in the fall, Ms. Kangas felt that the timing was not right to be implementing yet another change within the district and voted for the K-6 configuration. “We don’t know how STEM is going to go,” she said. “I would like to give that a year or two to see how it does. I’d like to do one thing at a time.”
Ms. Killion cited declining enrollment rates as a key factor in her decision to vote for the preK-2, 3-6 plan.
“We have a documented decline in enrollment and we’re looking at another 16 percent decline in enrollment based on birth rates alone. And then you have students choosing where they want to go,” she said. “I feel a sense of responsibility to provide the best possible opportunities to current and future students.”
The enrollment projections Ms. Killion cited come from the New England School Development Council, which projected that the district will experience a 36 percent decline over the next 20 years.
“The preK-2, 3-6 model will be the best option to efficiently balance full-time employees to the declining enrollment and maintain a robust core curriculum and elective program of studies,” Ms. Killion said.
The vote came down to a tie-breaker by committee chairman Travis M. Andrade.
“This is the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my time on the committee and I do not take it lightly,” he said. “I was left with one question. What is the cost of doing nothing?”
For Mr. Andrade, it came down to data that demonstrated students not showing improvement in their MCAS scores until 6th grade, with no improvement at the lower levels. “Where’s the flaw?” he asked. “My belief is the system is flawed.”
Mr. Andrade cast the final vote on the subject, tipping the vote in favor of Dr. Canfield’s proposed preK-2, 3-6 format.
With the conclusion of the vote, several parents who had attended the meeting quickly left, some in tears after hearing the result. Mr. Richards, who had spoken earlier during public forum, shouted angrily at the board as he left the room.
According to Ms. Crossman, the vote could be revisited if it is requested by a school board member from the “winning” side.
“There is a whole procedure for this in Robert’s Rules,” she said, referring to the widely used rules of order for groups such as school committees.
While Ms. Crossman was not happy with the result of the vote, she expressed hope in the process moving forward.
“It is still raw for those who hoped for the K-6 model to prevail,” she said. “And it is imperative that the school committee and administration include them in future planning. Communication and inclusion will be key in this process.”