DRACUT — Four years ago, more than 800 children in the Dracut Public Schools system were moved to new schools as part of a major reorganization and redistricting. It’s happening again, but on a much smaller scale this time.
The School Committee on Monday voted 4-1 to change attendance zones in an elementary restricting that would move 22 children out of Greenmont Avenue Elementary School. School Committee member Sabrina Heisey was the dissenting vote.
“The Greenmont is hamstrung by a large degree by the size of the school,” Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone, who recommended the redistricting, said of the school located at 37 Greenmont Ave. “It’s simply a small building and it can only host so many classrooms.”
Starting in the next school year, 21 children are expected to be moved to the George H. Englesby Elementary School and one child will be moved to the Joseph A. Campbell Elementary School.
Stone said he understands what it means to individual children and families to move from a school that they know and stressed that the district doesn’t look at individual children when there are plans for a redistricting.
“We look at the streets, we look at geography, and look at numbers as a whole,” he said. “To do otherwise would be to potentially be inequitable in our application — that we’re not looking to move more girls than boys, or students of color, or students who have special education needs. We simply look at geography.”
Parents voiced their concerns over how the redistricting could impact students’ social and emotional health. Jennifer Knowlton said two of her boys are currently at Greenmont.
“When we decided to move because of our growing family, we picked a house in the Greenmont district so that our kids would stay at Greenmont,” she said. “I want them to stay at Greenmont because I like Greenmont. I like their philosophy.”
Stone didn’t rule out another possible redistricting in a few years, citing the increase in building throughout Dracut.
Vice Chair Betsy Murphy asked Stone how the district would help transition the moved children to their new schools.
“That’s tough. How are we going to manage that?” she asked. “How are we going to help these kids?”
Stone said the district would offer the children the opportunity to see their new schools during the day. School adjustment counselors would also be available.
Before the vote, School Committee Chair Joe Wilkie reassured parents that there’s great leadership within Dracut Public Schools. On an individual level, he listed a few words that came to mind, such as the support that would await those children in transition.
“The confidence,” Wilkie said. “The confidence that we hope you have in the event that this passes, and it’s likely that it will, that the staff is there.”
Heisey took issue with his comment.
“So first I want to say it’s pretty unfair to say that this is likely going to pass when we have not yet voted on it, nor has everybody had their say –” Heisey said.
“I, if you could… your opinions are great,” Wilkie told Heisey. “I think that the overall sentiment from the superintendent, from members of this committee that have talked about it, I think the chair is safe to make a statement like that without any indication to anybody here in the audience, so I take exception to your comment.”
Heisey said she’d like to comment, adding that a lot of parents came to the meeting to express their concerns, and want to know that they’re being heard.
On Wednesday, Stone stressed again that the district is very sensitive to the needs of students. He said it’s never an easy situation to move students.
“We do so only when absolutely necessary,” the superintendent said.