Community Conversations: Bethany Craig – Start again, but pledge to keep elementary schools

Pierce Elementary School in Bennington.

Pierce Elementary School in Bennington. —FILE PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN


For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 04-02-2024 8:31 AM

Modified: 04-02-2024 8:38 AM

Where do we go from here? We go back to the drawing board, but honor the original Articles of Agreement.

Instead of repeatedly attempting to change the rules, we work within those rules to find solutions and make a reconfiguration plan. The Articles of Agreement require eight elementary schools, so let’s take closing elementary schools completely out of the conversation. Had Prismatic been given that same directive, we would have a very different recommendation from them.

Time and time again, the ConVal district has considered closing elementary schools and it has been voted down. Some would say the Articles of Agreement are restricting the district from moving forward. I would argue that they are preventing the district from moving away from the original intent. When the nine towns came together to create the Contoocook Valley Regional School District, the designers had the forethought to protect the smaller towns both through the requirement of elementary schools and the requirement of a two-thirds majority to change the agreement.

The failure of ConVal Article 10 on March 12 and the approval of a feasibility study to leave the ConVal School District in both Dublin and Francestown on March 16 were, in a word, predictable. Had Antrim, Greenfield, Hancock or Peterborough been on the chopping block, we would have seen similar opposition numbers in those towns, as well. Perhaps we should leave the closing of an elementary school solely in the hands of the voters from that town. If a member town truly wants to close a school to save money or consolidate resources, let them recommend closing their own school.

One of the flaws in the reconfiguration plan that failed on March 12 was that the entirety of the 2019 warrant article that acted as the catalyst for the plan was not addressed. Submitted by petition, that warrant article read, “Require that the School Board submit to the ConVal School District voters for their approval a comprehensive analysis and implementation plan detailing the financial, educational and social impacts that any school closure might have on both students and towns prior to proposing to the voters any plan for any school closure in the ConVal School District.”

A comprehensive analysis of the social impacts to both students and towns was not addressed. In the absence of this analysis, the voters filled in the blanks. We knew that the lack of a physical school building in our towns would be a detriment to the community. As a resident in one of the small towns, I can attest first-hand to what the closing of a building does to the community.

As an elementary student at Pierce School, I recall participating in a protest against the closing of our post office, which was located on Main Street. At that time, we didn’t have home delivery. Everyone in Bennington had a post office box, which naturally led to congregating at the post office. We have since consolidated with Antrim. However, in the absence of an in-town building, folks naturally frequent whichever local location is closest to their house, on their commute to work, etc. The community created at the Bennington Post Office was lost.

As a young adult, I recall when St. Patrick’s Catholic Church closed and was consolidated with Peterborough and Harrisville to form Divine Mercy Parish. Now the Catholics of Bennington are somewhat scattered, attending in Hillsborough, Henniker, Peterborough, Jaffrey and even the Bennington Congregational Church. Once there wasn’t a Bennington option tying us together, people moved on in different directions. Again, the community created by a common physical building to congregate in was lost.

So how do we unite a now-divided school district? We need a clear statement from the school board that moving forward, the Articles of Agreement will be honored. As we see the feasibility studies for Dublin and Francestown unfold, I am hopeful not only we will see both towns stay with the ConVal School District, but that the district as a whole will see the value all nine members towns bring to the ConVal community. The eight elementary schools continue to be as important to the member towns now, as they were nearly 60 years ago and should continue to be preserved.

Bethany Craig is a Bennington resident and a member of the Pierce School Class of 1991. She will be a speaker during the “Where Does the ConVal School District Go From Here?” Community Conversation April 10 at 7 p.m. in Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture in Peterborough. The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript and Monadnock Center are sponsoring the event.