Wednesday, August 26, 2009
AMHERST - About a third of all elementary school placements will change in the fall of 2010 as the closing of Mark's Meadow School causes the district lines to be redrawn.
The Amherst School Committee is scheduled to vote on a new map, showing which areas go to which schools, at its Oct. 27 meeting. There was much public comment on the redistricting last spring, and the committee hopes to provide affected parents with another chance to react.
"We went through a lot of emotion and energy, but that doesn't mean it's over," said Chairman Andy Churchill at Tuesday's meeting. "It doesn't mean we've reached the easy part. We've reached the hard part."
All students attending Mark's Meadow this year will be assigned to a new school next year. In addition, the administration will try to even out the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches. Crocker Farm School has had higher percentages than the other schools.
Administrators are trying to keep single-family neighborhoods and apartment complexes together so that friends can still attend the same schools. The other factor is the number of available rooms in each building.
Two maps have been proposed. In one, students living in North Amherst would attend Fort River School, while in the other map those living west of Leverett Road and Henry Street in North Amherst would go to Wildwood. One map has the Amherst Woods neighborhood attending Crocker Farm, the other Fort River.
Committee member Catherine Sanderson said it's important to give the community an opportunity to comment before the new map comes up for a vote, perhaps in forums at each school. "We owe it to the community to make sure we're doing that," she said.
Member Irv Rhodes agreed. "I'd hate to see a plan hit us for a vote without the community having an opportunity to have input into it," he said.
The School Committee is due to review the issue at its Sept. 22 meeting. Sanderson said she'd like to hear specific concerns - such as time on a bus and neighborhoods staying together - rather than just complaints that parents don't want their children to change schools.
The committee organizing the redistricting is facilitated by administrator Kathryn Mazur and includes School Committee members Rhodes and Steve Rivkin, Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez and administrator Maria Geryk. Parents can address comments to Mazur at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parent Brett McDowell said he hoped the committee's deliberations could be public. Rhodes agreed, but Rivkin said it would be unfair to give an advantage to people who could come to the meetings.
The redistricting is a separate issue from whether sixth-graders will attend the Regional Middle School in the future, Rodriguez said.
The administrators need to show the proposed map to the community and get comments and then "tweak" the plan, he said. But the School Committee's vote should be final, he said.
"I don't want it to be drawn out," Rodriguez said. "If one community protests, and you move a line here, another will protest. That could take forever."