The way that the elementary and middle school districts are set up in Billerica has always puzzled me. For many students their school is miles away from where they live and I’ve always thought that there was a better way to redistrict than the system that’s been used in the past. Instead of dividing the town into six clear-cut districts along Boston Road, more complicated lines of demarcation have been created that really don’t make sense.
For example, I attended the Parker School and then attended the Locke Middle School. There were only 20 students, including myself, that had come from Parker School. Compare this to 250 total students in my sixth grade class and you can see that the majority of students that I was in class with I had never met before. You also have the Kennedy School being divided up unequally by way that most students from the Kennedy go to the Locke but you have a small number who go to the Marshall. This was a daunting experience for a 12 year old and in a lot of ways it felt like I had moved to a new town. We should work to ensure that an equal amount of students from each of the elementary schools attend their respective middle schools so that no group of students have any social advantages or less issues with adjusting to middle school than other groups.
Therefore, I don’t see why the town can’t be divided up more equally. Everyone north of the Town Common should go to the Marshall School and everyone south should go to the Locke School. The Parker, Dutile, and Haijar Schools should go to the Marshall and the Kennedy, Vining, and Ditson should all go to the Locke. Some might argue that things aren’t that simple because of the population differences in different sections of town. When the Ditson School first opened back in 2001, it was meant to hold 800 students. The new Parker School is set to hold approximately 500 students. I know that the discussions have already been had and that things are basically etched in stone, but I never quite understood why we lowered our capacity for the new school when 10 years ago the new school was being built to hold 300 more students. Opponents can’t claim that the Parker is in a district with a smaller population mainly because of the many apartment complexes on Concord Road that house hundreds of students and more new apartments are always being constructed. This is the perfect opportunity for us to act to make things the way that they really should be and rather than redistricting like we did for the new Ditson we should focus on making things more suitable. Rather than seeing how many students we can fit into the new building, why not leave things close to the way that they are so that there will be room for growth in future years? That way, there will be room for expansion in that area of town and we can move students in from other schools when other schools become as overcrowded as the current Parker is.
I realize that in the situation with the Parker the need is to build a new school as quickly as possible that is a safer and ultimately a better learning environment for students. In the future, however, we really should focus on building bigger schools so that we don’t run into problems like the predicaments that we’re in now. I also realize this idea can only be achieved with the “show me the money” approach, but it’s something to keep in mind when more new schools have to be built.
The School Committee is also looking into turning the Vining School into a charter school that would be focused on science and math related subjects, which I think is a great idea that would save the town a lot of money in the long run and keep more students in the district. My only issue is the proposal to have the new charter school operate out of the Vining School. Science and math involves innovative technology and I’m not sure if the current state of the Vining School could support this kind of technology, considering that it was designated by the MSBA as needing major repairs or possible reconstruction. I’m sure the thought process is that since the Vining is one of the district’s smallest schools that moving a couple hundred students around won’t be as great of an issue compared to moving students from larger schools, but perhaps we should make this charter school a long term goal so that we can build a newer school that would be better suitable to support the needs of a STEM charter school
This column was origninally written for publication in the Billerica Minuteman, the local newspaper for Billerica, MA. Please visit the Minuteman’s web site at www.wickedlocalbillerica.com