DRACUT -- Starting in September, Dracut's sixth-graders will join seventh- and eighth-graders in attending Lakeview Junior High School as part of a district-wide reorganization plan being formulated by Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone, the School Committee announced at its meeting.
The district will also have to find a new principal to take the reins at Lakeview, following the notice given by junior-high Principal Bob Fitzgerald that he is not returning next year, Stone said.
The absence of public comment on the budget, and the dual announcement of Fitzgerald's imminent departure, coupled with Campbell Elementary School Principal Deb Koniowka's plan to retire in June, headlined a newsy, but non-controversial School Committee meeting.
While no resident addressed the board during Monday night's public hearing on Stone's preliminary $31.8 million school budget for next year, several School Committee members predicted many parents will turn out and ask questions about Stone's proposed reorganization of the school district in the coming weeks. Once the plan is solidified, public hearings are held on the subject.
"You can't reorganize unless we redistrict," Stone said after the meeting. "To do one thing (such as adding sixth grade to Lakeview Junior High) requires a whole bunch of other things to be done. But I don't want to bring forth a final redistricting plan until we have finalized all the details. We are very well aware that that is the most concerning part for parents. It's potentially changing neighborhoods and changing schools. We want to make sure we do it right before we present it to the community."
Once Stone presents the board with his redistricting plan, the School Committee plans to host one or more public hearings on the subject, Chairman Michael McNamara told the audience. Member Joe Wilkie requested Stone post his proposed reorganization plan on the district's website to make it easy for parents to download and digest in advance of the public hearings.
"We've been working for months on ironing out the hundreds of different details, and we're very close (to publishing the plan)," Stone said.
Reorganization and redistricting is intended to accomplish two main goals, according to Stone.
"It's effectiveness of program. To me, that's the most important thing. Is it going to enhance the academic environment of the school kids in Dracut?" asked Stone. "Secondarily, it's to bring about budget efficiencies; we have limited resources, so whenever we can be more efficient with them, we will do that."
Lakeview Junior High School can easily accommodate the estimated combined total of 930 students in next year's grades six, seven and eight, as the school has a capacity of 980 students, Stone said.
Regarding his proposed budget, which maintains level services with the addition of several "critical-needs" personnel, he is "happy there doesn't seem to be as much public angst over the budget as there may have been last year," Stone said. "We're hopeful it continues to be viewed as a realistic budget for next year."
Stone's parents, Karen and Madeline Stone of Billerica, attended the session at Harmony Hall along with relatives visiting from Ireland to celebrate the couple's 50th anniversary celebration (married Feb. 16, 1964). One relative, Stone's second cousin, Sean Burke, a retired high-school principal from Tuam, Galway, accepted an invitation to address the board, making favorable comments about the Dracut School Committee's significantly greater level of "transparency" compared to school-board meetings held in his native Ireland.
Wilkie thanked the community for the outpouring of "support and kindness" his family received upon the death of his father, Joe Wilkie Sr., earlier this month.
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