Middlefield and Durham will reconfigure grade levels starting next year, a move the school board members said is a stop gap measure until they come up with a longer term plan to address needed upgrades.
The move divided parents, some of whom raised concerns that it would be disruptive for students and households.
Superintendent Doug Schuch said he and other administrators have plenty of time to sort out plans before next school year starts.
“It is doable, it is practical,” he said.
The Region 13 School District school board approved the change by an 8-1 vote on Sept. 13. Robert Moore opposed the plan, while Mariah Roy abstained.
The change means that, starting in September, the grade levels at the two elementary schools and Middlefield Memorial School will be reshuffled.
Brewster Elementary School will house preschool through first grade, second- and third-graders will go to John Lyman Elementary School, and fourth- and fifth-graders will attend Middlefield Memorial.
Regional School District 13 school board members said they continue to sort out options for a long-term plan to address several issues, including a drop in enrollment, inequities in programming, and needed upgrades and renovations.
The reconfiguration of grades is meant to be a short-term solution, particularly to make sure all students have access to the same programs and resources.
Chairwoman Lindsay Dahlheimer said state law dictates “that we have a duty to not only the curriculum, but to the educational experiences” each student receives.
Some parents said the plan was rushed, especially without a long-term strategy in place. They also questioned whether the plan will cost more than the school board has estimated.
“How can we make informed decisions about the future of our education system without a clear understanding about where we are headed?” Mark Simmons said.
Opponents also said the plan will be disruptive to students, forcing them to change schools more often.
“If any of these moving pieces go awry, we’ll be stuck with this interim plan moving our kids between schools every other year,” Sam Eddinger said.
Others pushed back, saying parents were evenly divided but opponents have simply been more vocal during board discussions over the summer.
“We are all here because we want what’s best for our children and it is OK if we disagree on what that looks like,” Russ Quick said.
He also stated that some parents have blocked other attempts to streamline the district and address inequities, including a failed referendum to close Lyman school. Janina Eddinger said she was initially opposed, but credited the school district with answering her questions.
“I know there’s a lot of questions and I know there’s a lot of unrest, because I was one of those parents five years ago, eight years ago, 10 years ago going, ‘What is going on?’” she said.
Board member Linda Darcy responded to some of the research each side circulated. Some parents shared studies indicating school changes were disruptive, while others pointed to reports stating the board’s plan is beneficial.
“There’s no research that is applicable to our situation,” she said.
Part of the problem, she said, was that most of the studies either looked at students moving from elementary to middle and then middle to high school, or individual children who regularly move.
Moore, meanwhile, said his opposition was a response to the tension around the plan and a desire by opponents for a long-term plan. He wanted the board to take more time to build consensus.
“We’re not in a situation, I think, as a board to move forward on something that gets the community angry and at the same time say ‘let’s come back and support this long-term plan,’” he said.
While some parents complained about a lack of details for the configuration, Schuch said he wanted to wait for board approval first. Now that the board’s stance is clear, he said he’ll work with teachers and administrators on a plan. He was confident the timing gives the district plenty of time.
“The sooner we can be told, especially ahead of the budget season, the better,” he said.
Dahlheimer suggested Schuch have regular engagement with the community, including monthly updates for the school board.