BOE, parents discuss redistricting

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Windsor - posted Fri., Mar. 11, 2011
Elementary Task Force Chair Tim Curtis speaks before a group of about 40 parents. Photos by Jennifer Coe.
Elementary Task Force Chair Tim Curtis speaks before a group of about 40 parents. Photos by Jennifer Coe.

On March 9, at the second of three public information forums held in town, members of the Windsor Elementary School Task Force met with concerned parents to present the potential plan for redistricting Windsor schools beginning with the 2012 school year.

Tim Curtis, the chair of the task force, and Cristina Santos, a Board of Education member, walked the crowd of about 40 parents and administrators through the impetus behind the change.

According to Curtis, who once sat on the Board of Education, the “driving force” behind the change has been the ever-increasing decline in enrollment at the elementary level, which is also being seen nationwide. At the same time, the committee has seen this as an opportunity to make full-day kindergarten a reality in Windsor, fulfilling a desire many residents have expressed over the last 10 years. “It’s the number-one topic for many people in this town in the last six years,” said Board of Education President Milo Peck.

Over the last year, the task force has been examining both historical and projected demographic information related to the enrollment in Windsor, and has also been conducting a survey on the current school buildings and resources. The team found that with the projected number of students and the capacity of each school taken into consideration, it is possible to achieve a $50,000 savings by closing one school, Roger Wolcott, the smallest of the five schools. The proposal suggests that of the four remaining schools, one school will be pre- kindergarten to second grade (Ellsworth), one will be kindergarten to second (Poquonock) and the other two will be third grade to fifth grade (Clover and John F. Kennedy). Other cost savings will include the elimination of a mid-day bus route, amounting to $115,000.

The redistricting that occurred in Windsor some 20 years ago will be shifted in the plan, too. Peck said he recalled many times over the last two decades when parents would approach him to ask why their child, who lives in the south end of town, had to take a long bus ride all the way up to the north end of town to attend classes. At the forum, Santos said aloud what many parents had been thinking. “We don’t have neighborhood schools in Windsor,” she said. “That hasn’t existed in a while.”

Some parents came to support the plan, and others voiced their opposition.

During question and answer time, parents were eager to pose concerns regarding a decrease in services that might affect their children. While the plan details a staff savings of upwards of $375,000, Dr. Craig Cooke was quick to assuage fears that there might be layoffs. He conjectured that teacher assignments would be shifted, as there would be a greater need for full-day kindergarten teachers. But, at this juncture, no definite answers could be given to parents on that topic. “We feel lucky we have well over a year to work on that,” said Cooke.

Some verbalized worries that a transition in the middle of their children’s elementary education would be too difficult, or that building a community within the schools would fail to happen when sibling-students are attending two or three different schools. Other parents wanted confirmation that the arts and the Challenge program would not be discontinued.

Parents in support of the plan congratulated the board for finally finding a way to have a full-day kindergarten, which they said would be better for young families and may attract more families to purchase homes in town. Other parents saw this change as an improvement on the education programming available in Windsor, even if it means their own children’s schools will be changed.

The new plan, if approved at a special Board of Education meeting on March 30, will increase the utilization of Windsor’s school buildings from 74 percent to 92 percent.

Betsy Kenneson, task force contributor and former Board of Education member, called full-day kindergarten “a long time in coming – an opportunity not to be missed.” She also recalled the past controversy over the decision to educate all the kindergartners in one school. “It met with resistance, too,” she said. “But it turned out well.”

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