With the budget season continuing to push forward, the Derry School Board recently continued discussions over whether or not an elementary school will be shut down as a a part of the board’s efforts to transition fifth grade classes into Derry’s two middle schools.
To give a sense of how urgent the fifth grade transition is to the district, Superintendent Dr. Maryann Connors began the session by citing a report by the New Hampshire School Administration Association projecting what the student population for grades Kindergarten through fifth would be each year for the next ten years.
Three methods were used to come to these results, with one using one years’ worth of data, one using three, and one using five. However, the association felt that one particular method created what they felt was the most accurate tabulation, as it gave weight to the most recent school year.
“It’s their belief that the enrollments projected by the three year weighted model are the most reliable,” Connors noted.
According to the report, the district is expected to see an increase of forty students in the K-5 level within five years, and close to seventy within ten, bringing the total populations to approximately 2,100, 2,500, and 2,150, respectively.
Continuing this trend was a second report done by the district administration that projected an even higher number, with 1,860 students in grades K-4 by the 2022-2023 school year, rising to 2,201 students if fifth-graders were included.
It should be noted that this report was only on its first draft.
Going back to the question of removing a school from the system, Chairman Dan McKenna questioned whether or not this would cause Derry to lose any money from the Department of Education’s Title 1 program, to which Interim Assistant Superintendent Austin Garofalo noted that this would not be the case.
McKenna felt that the transition seemed completely feasible by the 2020-2021 school year, helping to spread out students in a more efficient manner across the district, while in theory saving the district more funds in the long run.
However, not all members of board were completely on board with the idea. Member Paul Lutz showed concern over what kind of demand the process of moving students into one less school would have on the school buildings, while Member Erika Cohen wondered what impact this would have on the district’s Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program.
The most vocal opponent was Vice Chair Brenda Willis, who felt that it was far too early to come to any decision on the matter, and that they needed to understand specifically what this transition would entail and what the impact would be across the entire district.
“I need way more information in order to make that decision,” Willis stated.
McKenna agreed, noting that they needed to answer as many questions as possible to give the public a good sense of what would happen if the choice to undertake the transition is confirmed. As such, Connors and her team will be in the process of putting together this information for the board can analyze in a future meeting.