As many of you know a task force has been convened to make recommendations on the future of the Underwood and Ward elementary schools.
Below is a note from the Ward PTO outlining a meeting they had regarding the proposed options and a timeline. To quote a parent in attendance, “I was blindsided by what they are proposing, and the timeline for how fast this could all happen.”
A similar meeting will be held at Underwood on June 6th at 7pm and we encourage ALL families with children under 11 to attend (including those of you with kids not yet in school.) THE MEETING WILL TAKE PLACE FROM 7-8 in the Underwood Gym and is open ALL COMMUNITY MEMBERS.
Proposed changes could take place as early as the Fall of 2024 – impacting all children who are currently in the 3rd grade or younger.
We do not have any info that isn’t in the email below, but we love the Underwood community, and are wary of changes that could lead to Underwood being closed and absorbed by Ward or redistricted entirely – both of which are options on the table to happen as soon as Fall of 2024.
Dear Ward Families,
Thank you to all who joined for the PTO meeting last week. All official Ward/Underwood task force information can be found on the city website:
Underwood Ward Task Force
We wanted to share with you the important points that we learned during the meeting as well as the questions and answers from the meeting. For updates, consider signing up for email updates from the task force.
As PTO leaders, we do not receive any news before the general community, nor are we told any more than what has been publicly presented. However, we are more than happy to help families find answers to any questions they may have. We are always available at email@example.com
Rashi, Caitlin, and Susan.
May 18, 2023 Spring PTO meeting.
– Becca Brogadir, principal
– Stephanie Gilman, NPS Director of Planning, Project Management and Sustainability
– Sean Mannion, NPS Director of Finance
– Ayesha Farag, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education
– Perkins Eastman (Peter, and Joe – sorry I missed last names)
– Task force members: Rachel Ritchie (teacher), Bob Altschuler (parent), Kathy Shields (School Committee), Emily Prenner (School Committee)
Highlights from the presentation.
– NPS believes schools should aim to have 3 classrooms per grade level. This is reflected in the building design of the new schools that all have at least 18 classrooms. (Stephanie Gilman)
– The decline in enrollment in the Ward area is due to (Sean Mannion):
– Decline in births (not specific to Ward)
– Lack of development in this area to bring in new families
– Increase in private school enrollment from historical average of about 30% to the current ~45%. It’s always been higher in the Ward area vs other parts of Newton, but began to increase in about 2016/2017 and increased further with Covid.
– 1-2 classes per grade has a variety of disadvantages (Becca Brogadir).
– Even with 2 classrooms per grade, there often aren’t enough students to have groups for each learning style etc.
– Limited social opportunities, especially in 1 classroom grades
– Staff teaming by grade level – less of a collaborative environment for teachers
– Specialist teachers having to split between schools – leads to scheduling issues and is harder to hire for these partial roles
– Smaller staff means smaller committees and harder to cover everything.
– Attracting staff (especially the part time staff) is difficult.
– Perkins Eastman are gathering data over the Spring and Summer. In the Fall, options will be presented to the community for feedback and then to the school committee for a vote. This will happen by December of 2023. That is designed to allow families to be aware of any changes prior to kindergarten registration for Fall 2024. (Note – this does not necessarily mean there will be changes for Fall 2024, but there may be.)
Questions asked by attendees:
Q: Looking at the five options presented, only one of these options (#5) addresses any shorter term changes. So, are we to assume that is the short term plan?
(for reference, these are the options the task force has indicated they are considering)
– Renovation of both Schools.
– New construction for both Schools.
– Renovation of one school and new construction of the other.
– New construction for the Ward or Underwood Elementary School to be the new home for both schools, resulting in consolidation of the two schools.
– Redistricting Ward and Underwood Elementary School students into other elementary schools in the district.
A: We are looking at all options and are not limited to the options on this list
Q: Are you planning to study the effect on property values in the surrounding neighborhoods if Ward or Underwood were to close? This information should be made public. Property values not only affect property owners but also affect the amount of property tax the city will collect.
A: No, we hadn’t considered that. Will look into it.
Q: Are you studying why the private school enrollment in the Ward area is so high? And are you trying to reverse it?
A: We are looking into it. Covid played a role.
Q: Isn’t it true that redistricting Ward students is hard because any of the other surrounding schools (e.g. Mason Rice, Bowen) are feeders to Newton South? This will throw off the middle school enrollment as well.
A: Yes, we pay close attention to feeder patterns when we consider redistricting.
Q: Would you consider modular classrooms as a short term option if the schools were combined?
A: That is an option we are aware of and yes, considering all options.
Q: Do you consider the potential community uses of Ward and Underwood if not used as a school?
A: No the school committee does not think about that in our decision-making. If a school is closed, the decision on what happens to the building is a city decision and not part of our criteria.
Q: For Perkins Eastman, any initial impressions you’d like to share? Are you leaning one way or the other?
A: Not yet, still gathering evidence. There is a lot to consider.