Brunswick petitioners want School Board to revisit plan to move 5th grade to junior high

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BRUNSWICK — More than 250 people have signed an online petition asking the School Board to reverse a decision to move fifth-graders to Brunswick Junior High School.

The change.org petition, started Dec. 23, had 265 signers by Tuesday afternoon. It supplements a petition activists circulated at the polls on Election Day that gained about 860 signatures. 

Chris Watkinson, a parent who set up the online petition, said in an email that as the public has realized the long-term consequences of the move, “the number of voices expressing a lack of confidence in the plan has grown.”

The board in May voted to transition the fifth grade to the junior high starting in the 2015-2016 school year, in an effort to limit overcrowding at Harriot Beecher Stowe Elementary School. 

At the time, board members and Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the plan could be revisited if too many issues developed.

Watkinson, who narrowly lost a bid for the School Board against incumbent Jim Grant in November, said petitioners are waiting for the 2015 board session to begin before bringing up the matter.

Petitioners contend moving the fifth-grade students will have serious academic, financial and social consequences.

“The decision to move the fifth grade to BJHS is neither financially prudent nor academically sound,” the online petition states. “It is borne not out of desire for best-possible developmental or educational environment for our students, but out of desperation to make our inadequate facilities ‘work’ at the sacrifice of our children’s well being.”

Petitioners claim the overcrowding at Stowe is not serious enough to justify shifting an entire grade, that the junior high school environment is inappropriate for younger students, and that the move will strain the aging BJHS building and require four portable units, at reported cost of $215,000.

Adding another grade could also hamper the academic performance of junior high students and place strain on faculty, said Heidi Boyd, who organized the November petition.

“It’s operating really well in that horrible building at the moment, but I don’t think it can handle that influx of student population,” Boyd said. 

She also believes the School Board voted before it understood the consequences.

“I think it was a very quick decision on what is a huge matter, and I don’t think it was fully considered or debated,” Boyd said. 

As citizens restart a debate over the plan’s merits, administrators, staff and parents who form the transition planning committee and its nine subcommittees are making progress toward putting it into practice. 

In an email, BJHS Principal Walter Wallace said thanks to the “amazing” work being done by the subcommittees, the group now understands the scope of what decisions that have to be made about scheduling, classroom locations, transportation and staffing, among others. 

The committee has given itself a mid-April 2015 deadline to make most of the decisions, Wallace said. 

Community outreach efforts have included a survey and a school visit by parents in early December. More visits and presentations are scheduled in February and March.

Results from the 320 parents who responded to the survey were mixed, Wallace said, with transportation, start and end times, and location of fifth graders in relationship to other students topping the list of concerns. 

“I realize that there are folks that would like to revisit the decision to move the fifth grade to Brunswick Junior High School and I certainly respect their views on this,” Wallace said. “The job of the transition committee is to put together an educationally and socially effective plan for moving fifth grade, so that has been our focus.”

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire.

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