Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 14, 2014

182 students facing redistricting

Plan aims for minimal impact at elementary level

By Dustin Luca
dluca@andovertownsman.com

---- — A total of 182 elementary students living on 60 streets in town stand to be transferred to new schools under a redistricting proposal in fall 2015.

Those students are in addition to the youngsters who will be relocated with the eventual closure of Shawsheen School.

However, school officials announced last week that Shawsheen will remain a choice school for preschoolers through second-graders for an additional year. See related story, page 5.

The School Committee’s subcommittee on redistricting presented its latest plan to the full committee last Thursday.

It reflects the shuffling of students between elementary school zones as part of the upcoming opening of the new, expanded Bancroft Elementary School, which will have capacity for 680 students.

Under the redistricting plan, 113 students from West Elementary School and another 36 students from South Elementary would move to the new Bancroft.

In addition, 29 High Plain students would be transferred to Sanborn, while four would move from West to High Plain.

The School Committee is now taking public comment before a scheduled Feb. 6 vote on the proposal.

School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue said the redistricting was accomplished by breaking the town into zones and adjusting those zones in an effort to have all five primary elementary schools at 93 percent capacity in the end.

The delicate process was aimed at moving “the fewest kids possible, to keep neighborhoods whole, meeting the 93 percent target and being mindful of the middle school assignments as well,” committee member Annie Gilbert said.

Mary Lu Walsh, district transportation coordinator, said the biggest change involved the relocation of West Elementary students to Bancroft.

“We moved very few pockets,” Walsh said. “I think I’m over by two in High Plain as of now, and there is room in South School and West Elementary. But you also want to keep neighborhoods together, too.”

The presentation capped months of work over the course of many meetings and work sessions attended by parents whose children stood to be affected.

Susan McCready, co-president of the Sanborn Elementary School PTO, thanked school officials and staff for the work that went into the proposal.

“This has not been an easy process, but I just truly appreciate all the time Annie and Dennis and Mary Lu have put into this,” she said. “Taking all of the comments, and repetitive comments, I just want to say thank you very much.”

Gilbert said one of her biggest takeaways from the process was how passionate Andover parents are about their schools.

“I’m glad that everybody wanted to stay in their schools because we have six really wonderful school communities,” she said. “As hard as the transitions are wherever you’re going, there’s another great school waiting.”

Even then, there was some question of the plan coming to a vote in less than a month.

Laura Putnam, a Newport Circle resident whose daughter is the only one on her street affected by the changes, also questioned some of the decisions. She said in her zone, three students were moving from High Plain to Sanborn, while another four children elsewhere would be relocated from West Elementary to High Plain.

“(It) doesn’t make much sense to me because the numbers are still there,” Putnam said.

As news of the plan spread, Gould Road resident Heather Belson expressed her frustration with the delay in implementing the plan.

She said her family bought their home in 2011, with the South Elementary School community being a leading factor in their decision. Now, her household is among those moving from South to Bancroft. She said she would have preferred to have the plan in place this fall, rather than seeing it delayed until 2015.

“I personally would have preferred for the Band-Aid to be ripped off quicker,” Belson said. “It’s going to happen anyway, might as well be sooner rather than later.”

But Belson was not critical of the redistricting process employed by school officials.

“I thought they did an excellent job explaining the process and the rationale behind the decisions that are going to be ultimately made,” she said. “ As soon as I heard about the redistricting and I attended the first meeting, it was pretty clear.”

To provide comment on the redistricting plan, email redistricting@aps1.net. For more information, including documents and maps, visit www.aps1.net and hit the “Elementary Redistricting Public Comment Now Open” link on the front page.