Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mast Way K Again

Mast Way K

The superintendent will hold a question and answer forum on elementary school reconfiguration on Monday, November 18th, 7 pm in the ORHS auditorium.  The board is encouraging anyone with a proposal on how to deal with the imbalance to email it ahead of time to  The superintendent (who was absent last night) will be prepared at the forum to list pros and cons of the proposed alternatives.
Parents queue up to make public comments about
elementary school reconfiguration at yesterday's
school board meeting

The elementary school reconfiguration issue continues to incite division in the community.  We're getting reports of friction between friends in Madbury.  The approximately one dozen parents who commented at last night's board meeting  (video 11/6/2013) seemed about equally split into three camps: against option 1 (redrawing the bus dividing line), against option 2 (K-2/3-4) and against both options.  The latest silver bullet is Mast Way K, in which all the kindergarten students in the district attend Mast Way.

In the Mast Way K plan, students attend grades 1 - 4 in their neighborhood elementary schools.  In other words, more than half of the K students at Mast Way transition to Moharimet for first grade.  A motion by board member Tom Newkirk was passed that directs the superintendent to present Mast Way K and possibly other options at the next board meeting, 11/20.

If the Mast Way K plan sounds familiar, it's because variations on the plan have been considered before and already rejected.  Full Day Mast Way K was first proposed in May.  That plan was rejected mostly because of the "full day" part -- the proposed tuition was thought to be too high, but there didn't seem to be much appetite for free (i.e. taxpayer-funded) all day K either.  In July, Mast Way K was proposed again, this time keeping our current half-day model.  That proposal was rejected due to a massive outpouring of sentiment against it by district parents at the August board meeting.  The main concern with that proposal was that it was to be implemented immediately, in a week, in time for the new school year.  That turned out to be too soon for the affected families to accept.

Will waiting until next fall (14/15 school year) make the Mast Way K plan more palatable?  I'm skeptical but I guess we'll find out at the forum.

When To Decide?

This issue of when to decide has also divided the community.   Some commenters made the point that as long as the issue remains open the community is under needless stress, so the decision should be made as planned at the 11/20 board meeting.  Others argued that the board and superintendent need to study the alternatives more deeply, gathering relevant educational research and investigating how similar proposals have fared in nearby towns.

I'm mostly in the "decide now" camp -- I don't think delaying will be that much more likely to result in a better decision, and the stress in the community over this is real and needs to end.  But it's the nature of boards to delay, so I think it's unlikely that the decision will be made at the next board meeting.  The 11/20 meeting is also supposed to decide what if any warrant article about tuitioning will be on the March ballot.

There seems to be some delusion that there's a great solution out there if we can only think of it.  The truth is more likely that there is no perfect solution that is pedagogically sound, quickly fixes the imbalance, minimizes transitions and keeps siblings at the same school.  Or one that has some other obviously positive trait that overwhelms its negatives.  The board will have to weigh the pros and cons of each alternative and choose the least bad one.   It's inevitable that some people are not going to like whatever option they choose.

The parents don't want transitions, don't want overcrowding, don't want their kids in different buildings, don't want 2-decade old "temporary" classrooms, don't want their kids used as guinea pigs in a district-wide educational research experiment and don't want to send their kids to that other school.  Most of them can have most of what they want but all of them can't have it all.  It's the board's job to decide who gets what they want and who doesn't.   Their basic choice is to make a lot of people feel a little disruption or a few people feel moderate disruption.   If it was me (and I'm glad it's not) I'd probably go with a solution that balances the two.  Which leads us to grandfathering.


I'm resisting the urge to do a detailed analysis of a multi-year simulation of all the different plans, measuring balance, transitions per student and number of times students transition two years in a row (i.e. how many times will a student spend only a single year in one of the schools).  The purpose of the forum a week from Monday is for the superintendent to answer all those questions.

But the tradeoff is illustrated in the underdiscussed topic of grandfathering.  In the past, the district has redrawn the line to correct the imbalance between schools, but it allowed families with a child in one school to finish out all their children at that school.  As David Taylor pointed out last night, this generous grandfathering allowed the decision to be taken without any of the rancor in the community we have today.  Full Grandfathering keeps siblings together and does not impose any additional transitions on any student.

So why not just grandfather today?  Full Grandfathering is great for gradually correcting a moderate imbalance without much community turmoil.  In the first year of implementation, hardly any students are sent to a different school.  Only a few new kindergartners and newly entering first graders with no older siblings in the building would go to a different school than expected.  In our current case where about 60 students need to be shifted to Mast Way for balance, only around 10 or 15 would be shifted the first year.  Since this probably wouldn't even decrease the number of K sections at Moharimet, it would have minimal effect on the overcrowding.  The modulars would remain.  The next year a similar number would shift, and now we might feel a little relief, though we'd still be about as unbalanced as when we seriously realized the imbalance was a big problem.  We'd probably retain the modulars.

After 4 or 5 years we'd be close to balanced, though the cross-district effects of full grandfathering can linger for years beyond this.  It's possible (though unlikely) that we still have a family grandfathered from the last time the line was redrawn around 13 years ago.

So full grandfathering minimizes transitions, but it doesn't really seriously address the imbalance problem for around three years.  Maybe that's fine.  If affected parents prefer overcrowding to more transitions, so be it.

There are less generous grandfathering plans that change the tradeoff.  If we grandfather only the families of current third graders, they and their siblings would stay at Moh next year.  Let's call this 3rd Grade Grandfathering.  Those in the newly drawn Mast Way district who are newly entering or currently in K-2 would go to Mast Way.  This would probably be around 30-40 students, so the overcrowding would be largely alleviated immediately, and fully alleviated the following year.  Under this plan, some kindergartners would be compelled to transition two years in a row.  Most of the burden falls on the current K-2 families which end up on the other side of the line.

Let's say you think it's more important to disrupt fewer families than alleviate the overcrowding quickly.  How about we grandfather those kindergartners who would otherwise spend only one year at Moharimet (K & 3rd Grade Grandfathering)?  Or we grandfather current second and third graders (2nd and 3rd Grade Grandfathering)?  These options take an extra year or two before the overcrowding is correct, but disrupt fewer families.  Some have fewer transitions.

In all the grandfathering plans, you would of course give the families eligible for grandfathering the option to transfer some or all of their children.  You might consider ways to cap the length of time a family can be grandfathered.  You might invite Moharimet families near the dividing line to transfer -- maybe some of them want their children in a less crowded school.

If a line-redrawing is the chosen solution, we should add a policy that assures the imbalance is checked frequently so that future adjustments to the line can be done will full grandfathering.

I've been advocating "Redraw the Line" since last spring, assuming grandfathering would be done. Since the imbalance is so acute and full grandfathering affects it so slowly, I'm in favor of one of the faster grandfathering options, say 3rd Grade Grandfathering.   But it looks like my family (my son's in 3rd grade at Mast Way) will be largely unaffected by most of the plans proposed, so I'd prefer to let the families more likely to be affected have the loudest voice.

Other News

In other news, the district launched its new website at  Thanks to IT Director Josh Olstad for the great update.  The deliberative session has been moved back one day to Wednesday 2/5/2013.   The public hearing is moved one week to 1/14/2013.  Assistant Superintendent (and Acting Superintendent this week) Carolyn Eastman gave a presentation and led a discussion on standards including the Common Core.   She also mentioned she was in charge of End 68 Hours of Hunger for the district.  This is a great local program that relies on donation to try to make sure that students qualifying for free or reduced price meals during the school week don't go hungry during the weekends.

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