This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Middle School Model Debated at Forum

Last night in the cafeteria of the 90-year-old Briscoe Middle School, the School Committee held a public forum to present the reasoning behind its proposal to make the eventual replacement to Briscoe a 5-8 school, rather than the current 6-8.

The audience of about 50 included most members of the City Council, who will have to vote later this month on a Statement of Interest to the State for funding a new building.  While the statement will not bind the city to any particular model, it will suggest that 5-8 is the city's preferred direction.

The meeting opened with a presentation by Committee Vice-President Maria Decker, who led the subcommittee that researched and recomended the 5-8 plan.  The presentation provided a thorough summary of the process and research that led them to this model, and the benefits of the plan, as well as discussing all the possible alternative approaches, and why they were rejected.

Today's Salem News has more on the meeting:
The project would cost about $40 million, according to School Committee member Maria Decker, but the price tag would go up 10 or 15 percent if the building were to include fifth-graders.

Decker, who chaired the subcommittee that has recommended the grade five-through-eight model, cited several advantages to moving fifth-graders out of the elementary schools and into the middle school. Fifth-graders would benefit from the technology that would be included in a new building and would have access to more courses and extracurricular activities, she said.

The move would also free up space at the elementary schools, which are so crowded that science rooms are being used for non-science instruction. The change would also create more room for preschool and full-day kindergarten classes and allow some special education students to stay in Beverly rather than being sent to more costly out-of-district programs.

The new middle school would be divided into a lower school for grades five and six and an upper school for grades seven and eight.
After the presentation, members of the audience questioned the committee on various aspects of the plan. The format was less formal, and seemingly more effective, than the usual budget forums where audience members speak at a podium, and the committee listens, but does not respond from the stage.

The committee members sat with the audience and listened to near universal support for a new middle school, but a mix of support and concern for adding 5th graders to the model, and responded to their questions.

Most of the concern centered around mixing 10-year-olds with 14-year-olds.  Even though the plan calls for physical separation of the 5th and 6th graders from the 7th and 8th graders, some still were worried about times when the grades would mix, such as on the bus, and in the cafeteria.

Briscoe Middle School Principal Matthew Poska, who also served on the subcommittee, acknowledged many of the audiences concerns, but suggested that the long window before the school would come online, gives the district plenty of time to work out these types of details.

One audience member spoke strongly against spending additional money for a larger middle school building to alleviate overcrowding at the elementary schools, when a nearly new elementary school (McKeown) a block away sits idle due to budget constraints. The school is currently being leased to the Northshore Education Consortium as an alternative secondary school, and the district now counts on its rental income, as well as seeing it as a way to keep Beverly students that need such services closer to home.

The full committee plans to vote on the proposal at its meeting next Wednesday, and seem likely they will support it. The City Council plans to vote on December 19th.

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