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Task Force discusses regionalizing elementary school students

Date: 5/28/2015

WILBRAHAM – The Middle School Task Force (MSTF) recently discussed the possibility of regionalizing elementary school students in addition to middle school age youth.

MSTF Chair Marc Ducey told Reminder Publications the idea was submitted to him by a resident via an email with a suggestion that grade 4 and 5 students be regionalized as well. There has yet to be an endorsement of any options at this point.

“The suggestion was something along the lines of, ‘Bring them together at the fourth and fifth grade level, place them Thornton W. Burgess Middle School (TWB) and then move them to Wilbraham Middle School (WMS), at the middle school level,” he explained.  

Ducey said the MSTF has to be careful about going beyond the “notion of regionalizing the middle school” and the MSTF would need to receive official approval from the School Committee in order to investigate the matter further.

“I don’t think that’s something we want to promote just yet,” he added. “We need to do a lot of work around it. We’d probably need modular [space] at both schools right now to accommodate that. So, we’re very early into that.”

The main goal of the MSTF is to create a plan that’s “educationally sound” and “financially responsible” while balancing what residents want in both communities, Ducey said.

“The key is that we’re trying to find a plan that meets the needs of the residents in the towns and the kids in the foreseeable future,” he added.

Ducey said a proposal to change the regional agreement between Hampden and Wilbraham would likely be put to a vote by residents of both communities sometime this fall; however, nothing is official at this point.

“The reason we’re looking at that is because it all backs up around budget season,” he added. “We need to budget for this and if we’re going to budget for this we need to have a direction prior to the budget season.

The district’s budget season typically kicks off around late January, he noted.

“The sooner we do it, the better it will be educationally for the children and the better it will be for the taxpayers,” Ducey said.

Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea said the district hopes to obtain additional community input via a survey.

“I think it’s a matter of gathering public input, determining community priorities, finding out what they value educationally, and also getting some feedback on how they view the concept of a single middle school,” he added.

O’Shea said conceptually he thinks residents of both communities understand the goal to address the district’s decline in enrollment.

“It’s a complex issue that requires a lot of planning [and] a lot of input to do that,” he added. “We’re taking it one step at a time.”

 A bid has also been awarded to JLS Architecture to complete a feasibility study of TWB and WMS, Ducey said. The School Committee approved up to $10,000 and the bid came in under that amount.  

The results would likely be presented to the committee sometime within a month.