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Joyce Endee

Multi-age classroom decision overturned

January 06, 2010
TILTON — Based on parents' complaints and concerns, the Winnisquam School Board has rescinded its decision to create a multi-age classroom at Sanbornton Central School.

As the board meeting got underway Monday evening, Chairman Mike Gagne opened the floor for comments on the proposal one last time. The issue was discussed at length at a meeting two weeks ago.

Jennifer Holt of Sanbornton was the only one to address the board, making a last minute plea for the members to reconsider their previous decision to remove one teaching position and combine first and second grade students in one class.

"I still maintain that I'm not sure this is in the best interest of the children at Sanbornton Central School," Holt said.

She and other parents had "crunched some numbers" and determined that it would be an additional $20 a month to keep the school as it is. Other minor cuts could be made to save money, she said, such as eliminating field trips and asking parents to contribute more in school supplies.

"This isn't going to bring people into our community," she said.

Gagne said the multi-age class was considered for two reasons. First was financial, to remove one teaching position and save money in the budget in that manner. Secondly, the board was striving to bring equality to Sanbornton, which has smaller class sizes, and Union Sanborn School where the first and second grade classes are larger.

"I want to get that right out there - it was a financial decision," he said.

He then listed options for the board, as he saw them. They could vote to proceed with the multi-age class or vote to reinstate the Sanbornton Central teacher and continue with the way things are. If that were to occur, however, he said he would still be concerned with the equity issue between Sanbornton and Union Central schools.

SAU Board Chairman Sean Goodwin said he did not think this was the "time to experiment."

"I don't think we can afford to see the progress of getting the test scores up being set back again. We should be looking at achieving equity at a financial level, not an educational one," he said.

Board member Jason Stock asked if perhaps a team approach to multi-age classes, much as Beaver Meadow School in Concord had with two classes and teachers working together, might be considered.

Dr. Tammy Davis, district superintendent, was consulted and said that that approach would have to be phased in to be effective and successful.

"We've had quite a few meetings just for this one class so the answer would be 'no'- we wouldn't jump right into that," Davis said.

She stressed that multi-age classrooms do work. They depend on a strong teaching staff, good professional development and equally strong planning and implementation, however.

Gagne stated he was certain the administration, teacher Renee Bartley and the school would succeed at whatever decision was made by the board, but he also recognized a "strong outpouring" from the public.

"I don't think we made a mistake (in a previous decision to institute a multi-age class at the school) but we represent our constituents who are all sitting here. Tonight's about what the voters want and what's in the best interest of the children," he said.

When asked if changes are generally made when progress is being shown in a school, Davis said no. The school, she reported, was doing better and better in the current methods being applied and said the board needed to be cautious in making a change.

Goodwin made a motion to rescind the move to a multi-age classroom at Sanbornton Central School. After lengthy discussions on the equity matter, the motion was amended somewhat. As reworded, it included the reinstatement of the Sanbornton Central School teacher and the addition of a teacher for Union Sanborn School. The motion allowed USS principal Timothy Neville the opportunity to decide to hire either a first or a second grade teacher as he saw necessary.

A unanimous vote brought smiles to the faces of Sanbornton parents. The move will add $30,390 back into the budget for the Central School teacher and an additional $61,954 for the new teacher at Union Sanborn. Somma explained the higher number for Union Sanborn included benefit costs. Benefits for the Sanbornton teacher had not been removed from the budget yet so they did not have to be included in the reinstatement costs. According to the tax rate formula, this translates into 12 cents per $1,000 for Northfield residents, and six cents for Tilton and Sanbornton.

Following the vote, Holt was extremely happy, saying a good elementary education was an important foundation for the future of all students.

"Even if you don't have a student in the school the extra money should be worth paying so that those who take care of you in your old age are well-educated. It's important to a community," she said.

She also hoped that residents will rally around the School Board in general and support their efforts to provide the quality of education children deserve.

Kristie Hennessy was very pleased with the decision as well. A volunteer at Sanbornton Central and a substitute for the district, Hennessy said she chose to send her five children to SCS and was pleased to see the smaller classroom size for first and second grade along with the progress in test scores for the school continue into next year.

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