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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Severe Overcrowding" Cited in Middle School Pitch

Monday's Salem News reports that the city's revised Statement of Interest to the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority) for a new middle school cite's "severe overcrowding" as one reason for the need.  The original statement of interest, filed a year ago, listed only the deteriorating condition of Briscoe, which resulted in a priority 7 judgement from the state. Adding the overcrowding issue could bump up the city's ranking on the priority list to a number 2.

According to the News:
An influx of more than 200 students has prompted officials to cite “severe overcrowding” as a reason the city needs state funding to build a new middle school.

Total enrollment in all of the district’s public schools was up to 4,506 students as of October, an increase of 214 students, or 5 percent, over the previous school year, according to officials.
This year, the district has had to rent outside space for preschool classes, and total enrollment is expected to grow by another 100 or more next year.

School Committee President Maria Decker tells the News that the distict has seen an increase in students at all levels in recent years, a result of what she says is the improved reputatation of the city's schools, particularly the high school, and some innovative new programs:
"Our numbers are growing steadily at all levels,” Decker said.

Decker said Beverly has seen an increase in school choice students from other communities, in special education students from Beverly moving back from out-of-district placements, in Beverly students choosing the high school over private or parochial schools, and in preschool and kindergarten students. The high school enrollment is up 35 over last year.

Decker said the district is becoming more attractive due to its innovative programs, including laptops for all high school students and science specialists in the elementary schools, and the newly built high school. Beverly High was recently accorded Level 1 status, the top status granted by the state, for the first time since 2007.

“That reputation catches up with you,” Decker said. “You’re doing cutting-edge things. I love that people are choosing the Beverly schools, but at the same time we’re so in need for a new middle school in order to house all of our children up and down the spectrum.”
The district closed the nearly-new McKeown school in 2008 as a cost-cutting move only three years after closing the city's other middle school and combining all middle school students at Briscoe. Since that time, space has been at a premium across the district.

The city's improved reputation—much of which is based on the new high school building, as well as the innovative programs cited by Decker—has caused many students who may have choiced out, or attended private schools in the past, to remain in Beverly. It also has made the district attractive to students from other area cities as a school choice option.

While most community members we have spoken to acknowledge the improved reputation of the city's schools, large class sizes remain a frustration for many parents, and many also continue to wonder why the district seeks and accepts out-of-district students (who are mandated to remain in Beverly throughout their high-school years once they are accepted), when simultaneously claiming a space crunch.

2/13 UPDATE: Today's Salem News has details on yesterday's tour of Briscoe by State Treasurer Steve Grossman.