By Kim Becker
Residents voted to approve funding for the proposed school reconfiguration in 2016 at the Dec. 16 town meeting. Although many residents expressed concern about the speed of the project, which will occur over the summer break, far more agreed with the Board of Education that delay would only increase anxiousness among students, staff, and parents, and increase constructions costs at Kelly Lane School.
This decision has multiple implications across the district: managing the transition to the middle school for both the fifth and sixth grades; helping younger students and staff shift smoothly from Kelly Lane to Wells Road School and from Kearns to Kelly Lane; creating the 2016-17 school calendar; and appointing the principals for Kelly Lane and Wells Road Schools to name a few.
Bob Gilbert, Director of Teaching and Talent Development, briefed the board on the administration’s efforts to manage this major reorganization. Working in conjunction with Aimee Martin, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, he is meeting with stakeholders to evaluate concerns and develop transition plans. Administrators are very cognizant of making the year special for both the fifth and sixth graders, but in ways that are appropriate to their ages and development. For example, the sixth grade will go to Nature’s Classroom and have the sixth grade picnic. The fifth grade will likely go to Winding Trails for teambuilding training and have a similar picnic. In addition, they are considering joint Field Days at Wells Road School for the third and fourth grades and fifth and sixth grades with tours for tchildren transitioning to a new school.
Students with special needs present a challenge for the administration. Gilbert pledged that administrators would work closely with parents to ease the transition for these children.
Gilbert announced that he and Martin will give presentations about the transition to parents on Jan. and 27 at Kelly Lane School. He also plans to update the board monthly and post updates on the district website and keep parents apprised via email.
The school calendar represents another logistical challenge for the district, both this year and next. In order to give teachers time to pack up their classrooms, Alan Addley, superintendent of schools, proposed several changes to this year’s calendar. First, the May 31 professional development day would be a classroom organization and pack-up day instead. Second, the number of early release days at the end of the year would increase from three to five. Third, April vacation days may be used to offset snow days if the district goes beyond the five scheduled.
The Board also wrestled with when to start school next year. Although the Building Committee has set Aug. 18 to complete renovations at Kelly Lane School, the administration wanted to provide contingency time to finish the project by delaying opening school until Sept. 12 across the District. Lynn Guelzow pointed out that this plan could hurt AP students as the exam date is set for May and cannot be shifted to accommodate the late start. She also stated that many districts which have already approved their calendars are starting before Labor Day in 2016, meaning that Granby students would lose 2 weeks of instruction before AP exams.
Addley countered that he wants to be conservative about next year’s start date so as not to disrupt primary-level students’ learning with construction. He expressed concern that having the middle and high schools start earlier than the elementary schools would be confusing to families and staff as well as cost an additional $20,000-$30,000 in busing. Mark Fiorentino, a board member who serves on the building committee, emphasized that penalties for missing the August deadline would be built into the contract and that the late start served as a buffer. In the end, the Board chose the middle ground starting the year on Sept. 6 across the District.
Addley, aware of community concerns, announced that the principals for the two elementary schools would be chosen by the end of February. The main factors that will go into the decision are the students’ well-being, the professional choices of the current administrators, and contract considerations.
The district is exploring how to better implement STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) in K-12. According to Director of Curriculum and Professional Development Patricia Law, Granby currently has pieces of a STEAM program such as the partnership with Asnuntuck Community College, the very successful robotics club, the art in chemistry class at the high school, and the DECCA leadership club. A committee primarily of district teachers has developed a STEAM goal to guide Granby’s development in this area.
Jenny Emery stated that STEAM could be “a stepping stone for Granby” to differentiate itself from other towns, encouraging families to move here. She encouraged Law to think broadly about the topic and increase budget requests over time to create a solid program throughout the district, not just bits and pieces.
The District is also working on implementing the recommendations of the math review and aligning the writing curricula for grades four to six and seven to nine. Additionally, several new courses are proposed at the high school, including robotics, contemporary art, AP music theory, introduction to guitar, and modern art history which is a social studies course.