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Community members react to the possibility of Great Brook School closing

  • Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

  • Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

  • Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

  • Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

  • Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Students at Great Brook Middle School see some benefits of combining with South Meadow School, but reaction is largely negative.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

ANTRIM — For residents of the ConVal School District’s northern towns — Antrim, Bennington, Francestown and Hancock — a petition warrant article calling for the closure of Great Brook Middle School would mean the loss of a considerable asset. Members of the Great Brook community interviewed Tuesday overwhelmingly said reasons to keep the school going far outweigh any savings that would come from closing.

To these members of the community, Great Brook is a necessity.

Francestown resident Stewart Brock, a ConVal School Board representative who serves on the District Model Study Committee, spoke independently as a resident and as a parent who has had two children go through Great Brook during an interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Tuesday.

Brock said he is not in favor of closing the school with the sole purpose to save money.

“Whether or not I supported this, I wouldn’t do it for financial reasons,” Brock said. “That’s a one-time benefit. Let’s say we closed it, we save $1.1 million. Next year, the budget doesn’t go down another million. It stays where it was and then keeps going. For that reason, I can’t support closing a school.”

George Kidd, who is the chair of the School Board’s District Model Study Committee and a Hancock resident, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the only benefit to closing the school is a financial one.

Great Brook is one of the largest workplaces in the district and has about 40 full-time employees, according to School Board member Mary Allen, who represents Antrim. A handful of Great Brook teachers and employees have been working there for more than 20 years.

Sixth grade teacher Holly Blanchette has been teaching at Great Brook for 26 years, and has developed relationships with students on a personal level, which for her brings a sense of pride, knowing she’s helped so many kids.

“For me, [closing the school] would be devastating,” Blanchette said in an interview in her sixth grade classroom on Tuesday. “This is my home. This is where I’ve been coming to and pouring my heart into it. I take great pride in what we’ve created here for the kids in the northern district. I worry that if we doubled in size, that we would lose some of the way that I’m able to be really a part of their lives, and know about them.”

Blanchette said that if the two schools came together, they would work things out and form a new community, but there’s more pride in the “homespun feel” they’ve created at Great Brook.

As far as after school activities go, the smaller group sizes make traveling easier, and the educational opportunities more intimate. For example, students interested in nature and conservation have the opportunity to work closely with experts from the Harris Center for Conservation Education in an after-school program.

Jennifer Sutton is a teacher-naturalist from the Harris Center, who used to teach at Antrim Elementary School and Hancock Elementary, and now manages an after-school program called the Environmental Leadership Club. She works with students she used to teach at the elementary schools, and relishes the opportunity to continue their education at an intimate level.

“It’s a soft spot for me to be able to be at Great Brook and see all the kids I’ve taught previously,” Sutton said in an interview at Great Brook on Tuesday. “I would love to see the kids stay here. The kids here, they’re pretty special to me, just because I have such a strong connection.”

Sutton added that she could have that connection at South Meadow School, but it would take time to develop those relationships. If the two middle schools were to combine, Sutton said she would wonder about how many children the Harris Center would have to limit in different programs, based on how many naturalists there are to work with them.

Athletics is another area of concern for folks in the Great Brook community. They say there would be added competition in trying out for sports teams, if the two schools do merge. Students who, for example, play soccer may not get the opportunity with a set roster size and double the kids trying out.

Great Brook seventh grader Lily Denehy plays soccer and basketball for the school, and said Tuesday in an interview at Great Brook that she would feel a little worried if the schools combined and competition was heightened.

“I’d probably feel kind of worried that I wouldn’t make it. And also if I made it and my friends didn’t, I would feel bad for them,” Denehy said. “I also kind of like having a little rivalry with South Meadow. It gives us something to focus on and want to win against.”

Some students at Great Brook, however, can see a few benefits of being over at South Meadow in Peterborough, even though the larger student population might be intimidating for some.

“Since it’s closer to ConVal [High School], I think we could have more learning opportunities if we could go to the high school for some classes to be more advanced,” said seventh grader Bailey Kirkpatrick in an interview at Great Brook on Tuesday.

The ConVal Selectmen’s Advisory Committee met on Jan. 10 to discuss the petition article to close Great Brook. All towns in the ConVal School District except for Bennington were represented. The committee voted unanimously to support the petition article, according to minutes of that meeting. Antrim was represented by selectman Erik Tenney, who could not be reached for comment by press time.

Allen said in an phone interview Monday that there is an economic side of things that should also be factored into the decision to close Great Brook. There are at least five local businesses on Main Street in Antrim alone, and the traffic the school brings from parents dropping off or picking up their children creates a positive financial impact on the community.

Victoria Burnham, a parent from Bennington who has lived in the district for nine years, echoed Allen’s sentiments about the sense of community Great Brook offers in a phone interview Tuesday.

“This area, this school district, this community prides itself on its small-town feel and its community centers. And I think if we have one big middle school, it’s not going to feel that way,” Burnham said.

I agree with Stewart Brock. Closing Great Brook doesnt make financial sense. The school budget won't decrease, it will only continue to increase (along with our taxes). I think money is well spent by keeping Great Brook open. It makes more sense than 4 million spent on a high school gym renovation. Who will REALLY benefit if the school closes? No one! Its a great school, with great teachers and staff. Kids are proud to be there. Dont ruin a good thing!

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