The superintendent of Sandwich Public Schools has called for a delay on the vote of how to best reconfigure the schools.
His recommendation to delay the April 30 vote came after hearing from a dozen parents at Wednesday’s school committee meeting. Several major themes recurred at this meeting as parents bared their comments and concerns about the two proposed reconfiguration options.
After the town’s 7th and 8th graders are moved into the new STEM Academy at the high school and the Henry T. Wing School is closed, superintendent of schools C. Richard Canfield is in favor of turning Oak Ridge into a middle school and Forestdale into an elementary school. The other option would be to divide the town’s K-6 grade students evenly between the two schools.
Wednesday night, the parents who spoke were equally divided between the two options.
Douglas S. Hayward of Great Hill Road spoke to the school committee but first apologized to them for his emotionally charged comments at the Forestdale PTA meeting last week. He promised he would not raise his voice this time.
Mr. Hayward told the committee that he had contacted his state representative to find out what parents can and cannot do about the reconfiguration process.
“I was advised by my representative [Randy Hunt] that parents have the power to delay the vote and if the process is broken, we also have the power to fix it [by voting],” Mr. Hayward said. He also made an impassioned plea to send this decision to a community vote as the only way for parents’ voices to be heard.
Having parents’ opinions heard was a familiar theme during the meeting.
President of the Forestdale PTA, Beth Cummings-Oman, expressed her disappointment that school committee members had not attended their PTA meeting when Dr. Canfield gave his presentation last week.
“Not one of the committee members came,” she said. “You did not extend the courtesy of letting us know that you would not be represented. Had we known, we would have re-scheduled. We thought that the whole point was for you to hear our comments and concerns before you vote on the matter. Not having you there defeated the primary purpose of having the meeting and having the committee hear from parents.”
Andrea M. Killion, chairman of the school committee, told the audience that even though they cannot physically go to every meeting they are kept well informed by the school administration.
“We are getting and reading your e-mails. I don’t want you to think that we are not listening. It is unfortunate that none of us could make it to the meetings but we are being well informed,” Ms. Killion said. She then added “You have elected us to hire an educational professional to run our school system. No, we are not out there polling everybody for their opinion before every decision. We hired a professional and we listen to what he recommends. If we hire him to make these recommendations and then we don’t take them, what does that say?” Ms. Killion asked.
Another theme brought forward by the PTA officials and parents was surprise that the decision so imminent. Some parents thought that the conversation was just getting started.
Ms. Killion countered that the school committee has been discussing this for quite a while.
“This may be new to some of you but we have been having this conversation since 2010,” Ms. Killion said.
“We knew that enrollment was declining and that the Wing School building was physically failing,” she added. “We don’t want people to think that we are just becoming aware of all that is involved in this process because we have been talking about it for a long time.”
Dr. Canfield said that he came to his recommendation based on research and the educational needs of the K-6 population.
Sandra B. Murray of Pheasant Lane was just one parent who got up in support of Dr. Canfield and his recommendation.
She let the committee know that she had done some research as well and that out of 300 school districts in the commonwealth, Sandwich Public Schools was not even in the top 100.
“To realize that our system isn’t even ranked in the top 100 really bothers me. Maybe this change will help that and my husband and I support that and thank Dr. Canfield for his leadership,” Ms. Murray said.
Ms. Killion informed the audience that Susan L. Sundermeyer and Robert P. Catalini will not be on the ballot in May, intimating that there would be two open seats on the committee.
“Thank you all for coming and for sharing your thoughts. Every committee member takes their role seriously and we will not undertake this vote lightly. We have done our due diligence and we want you to understand that we do hear you, we are listening,” Ms. Killion said and the meeting was adjourned.
Yesterday, Dr. Canfield sent an e-mail to parents saying that the vote on the reconfiguration will be delayed until May.
“While I stand by my statement that a [preK through grade 2] school, and a [grade 3 through 6] school configuration would provide a stronger service delivery model, I also recognize there are intangibles that are important to all of us,” he wrote on the e-mail. “I believe that most of those intangibles can be addressed through careful planning, regardless of which model is chosen. I do want to have more time to look at transportation through the lens of a professional planner. Additionally, I feel it would be unwise to make assumptions about an FY16 budget as we await the outcome of the town meeting vote on next year’s FY15 budget. School Committee members have been notified and will support my recommendation to postpone the decision until later in May. Please know that I appreciate the varied opinions and concerns that continue to come to my attention. Our collective ability to engage in civil discourse also strengthens us as a community.”