Greenfield residents weigh in on reconfiguration conversation

Greenfield residents Sarah and Chaz Babb consider choices for reconfiguration when asked to rank potential options from one to four.

Greenfield residents Sarah and Chaz Babb consider choices for reconfiguration when asked to rank potential options from one to four. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Residents read responses to open-ended questions about the value of local schools.

Residents read responses to open-ended questions about the value of local schools. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 09-22-2023 3:07 PM

During a ConVal Regional School District forum at Greenfield Elementary School Wednesday to receive public feedback from residents on options to restructure the district, attendees participated in four exercises, including one where they ranked possible options for the future of the district.

One of the stations offered a selection of choices for the future of the district, with residents asked to rank the choices from one through four, with one being the most desirable. The options were to “combine as many schools as possible (including perhaps the middle schools) in order to provide students with better academic/enrichment options and save money,” “keep ConVal just like it is now, even if it is more expensive than other options and likely means reduced options for middle school and high school students,” “combine only some of the elementary schools in order to provide students with better academic/enrichment options and save some money” and “keep all the elementary schools, but move grades 5 and 6 back to them to help fill them up. This could save money, but would likely reduce academic and enrichment options for students in grades 5 and 6.”

In another exercise, residents were given a ticket representing $1 million, and asked to spend it on one of five options, three of which were related to the school district: “retain our small-town elementary school,” “expand student academic options at the middle or high schools, such as starting a world languages program, enhancing advanced coursework options, etc.” and “improve student options at the middle or high schools, such as adding more sports, expanding music/theater activities, etc.” The other options were town-related -- lowering property taxes by not spending the funds, and improvements to the town through purchases such as new firetrucks or improving roads.

The Greenfield forum was the second of nine in the district’s towns, and are part of a process led by consultant Prismatic Services to develop strategies, including possible reconfiguration of schools, to address chronic under-enrollment in the district. Tatia Prieto, president of Prismatic Services, said she’s aware this is not the first time the district has tackled the subject of reconfiguration, and that residents have rejected previous consolidation proposals. She said there are not any firm proposals for the direction the district is going with the current conversation.

“People are definitely not indifferent here,” Prieto said. “We’re still in the data-collection phase, and we will be from now until the end of October.”

Several residents who attended the forum said they were concerned about the rising cost of living in town, as it related to taxes. Some said they were not opposed to the concept of closing schools, even their own.

Sarah and Chaz Babb of Greenfield have a child who graduated Greenfield Elementary School after attending for a year, and have a daughter who will be ready for school in the next few years. Sarah Babb said she was “not for or opposed,” to any of the options presented at the ranking board, but also wouldn’t be opposed to sending her elementary-schooler to a neighboring town such as Peterborough, noting that is already the case for middle-school students.

“It’s something you expect in a regional school district. I don’t think we need eight elementary schools,” she said.

Greenfield resident Chris Borden said the town needs options that are more “fiscally feasible,” and was in favor of combining multiple schools, particularly if it allowed those students to have more academic options.

“I see my taxes go up and up and up,” Borden said.

There were also three free-form response questions, asking what the best part about having a school located in town is, what a great school needs to have and what town service or facility is currently lacking. Residents wrote their answers on Post-it notes to add to a board, and responses to the question about the best part of having a school located in town included the close commute, convenience and community connection.

“As a parent with a special needs child, the small classes with access to shared resources has been incredibly important,” one respondent wrote. “The staff/faculty are able to really invest and get to know the kids. Having a small school is part of living in a small town and a draw for families not wanting to expose kids to larger town/city issues.”

“Having school located in town not only allows convenience to parents, but provides connection,” wrote another. “I have personally been able to meet and interact with many neighbors.”

“It is our community. It’s our pride. It’s our future,” wrote another.

Sentiments about what makes a good school included small class sizes, Individualized Education Plan support, music, art, field trips, connection to the community, paraprofessionals and additional help for struggling students.

On the board for missing town amenities, residents noted a lack of a swimming pool, lifeguards for the beach and Department of Public Works facilities, and multiple people wanted more access to after-school care for their children.

In addition to writing their thoughts, residents could also record a short video, or submit a response to the district’s ongoing survey. Access to the survey is available at research.net/r/convalcomsep.

Upcoming meetings

Antrim Elementary School, Thursday, Sept. 21.

Peterborough Elementary School, Tuesday, Sept. 26.

Francestown Elementary School, Wednesday, Sept. 27.

Temple Elementary School,  Thursday, Sept. 28.

Bennington, Monday, Oct. 2, Pierce School.

Dublin Consolidated School, Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Hancock Elementary School, Thursday, Oct. 5.

All meetings are at 7 p.m. For information about the ConVal consolidation and reconfiguration study, visit schoolboard.convalsd.net