Facilities Report Findings Ready for School Board

“The kids are all right.”

That’s the motivation of John Moody and the Derry Cooperative School District Facilities Study Committee as they wrap up their review of the district’s facilities and prepare to pass on their findings to the School Board.

A meeting Wednesday, Feb. 17, after Nutfield News press time, was expected to be the final meeting of the Study Committee, which was formed as a follow-up to a Facilities Report commissioned last year and completed by the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.

After completing its preliminary work this past summer, the original committee morphed into another facilities study committee and a curriculum committee, both of which are advisory.

The two committees were charged with providing up-to-date data on the district’s facilities and its options in the face of a shrinking enrollment.

Moody said options include keeping the status quo, reconfiguring districts, reconfiguring schools, or closing one of the district’s seven schools.

He said he would present the data to the School Board before the end of the month, and he and Superintendent Laura Nelson would communicate by Internet on mining the final data. A final report to the School Board will be presented in May.

“We collapsed six committees to two,” Moody said of the current structure. “We looked at the raw data, how many students are expected over the next five years. We decided a five-year projection is the most accurate.”

The enrollment is stable right now, Moody said, with no population influx expected.

The committee looked at the capacity of each school and the condition of each school, he said, including its strengths and weaknesses.

The current configuration is five Kindergarten-Grade 5 “neighborhood” elementary schools and two Grades 5-8 middle schools, with high school students tuitioned to Pinkerton Academy, he said. Other configurations are possible, Moody said, but it’s the School Board’s decision.

The report will give the School Board the information it needs to make decisions, Moody said. “As a former Superintendent, I can tell you we never had this kind of data,” he observed.

But he has had to make decisions. As Derry Superintendent in 2001, he was involved in the redistricting that resulted in the building of Ernest P. Barka Elementary School and the elimination of dozens of portable classrooms. In redistricting, he said, “It’s as emotional an issue as you can ever get.” Parents and other community members had strong opinions.

But most of the emotion was from the adults, Moody added. “The students were the least affected – they got into a new school and made new friends,” he said, adding, “Kids are amazing.”

 The committee will list some options for the board, Moody said. “For example, we would say, ‘You might be able to close a school in 2019 or 2020.’”

But the committee is a research committee only and will not recommend, he added. “We will provide all the information needed for them to make their decisions,” he said.

There were no surprises for Moody in the original Facilities report, he said, noting “It was pretty standard.”

Whatever the options, the conversation should include technology, according to Moody. “The ability to accommodate technology is critical,” he said. From a facilities standpoint, it should include a discussion of whether the schools should have stand-alone computer labs or move to a model where every student has their own device.

And with the exception of Barka, none of the current school buildings was built with technology in mind, he said, adding, “So the infrastructure is inadequate.”

While the committee is not charged with making recommendations, it will advise the board that it needs to do a comprehensive study of the role of technology in the schools, he said.

Moody said whatever the board decides, it should include community involvement. “We need to engage people in conversation about what’s in the best interest for our kids,” he said. “We need to strike a balance between the desire of the community to have a stable tax base, and what’s best for the children.”