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Central preschool at heart of new Manchester school redistricting plan

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 25. 2014 10:24PM

MANCHESTER — Superintendent Debra Livingston wants to convert Southside Middle School into a kindergarten through 8th grade school, while making the adjacent Jewett Street School the city's central preschool facility.

The plan, unveiled at Monday's Board of School Committee meeting, would not be implemented until fall 2015 at the earliest, to allow the community to weigh in.

A priority for Mayor Ted Gatsas since he took office four years ago, several redistricting plans have been proposed, only to fall by the wayside in the face of parental opposition and other complexities.

Livingston's plan would also entail a redrawing of assignment zones to more efficiently use district buildings, but the "linchpin" would be creating the central preschool facility at Jewett. The school would accommodate all of the district's approximately 400 pre-kindergartners, who now attend four separate schools. The students at Jewett school, currently a K-5 elementary school, would be shifted to the adjacent campus of Southside, which would become a K-8 school, the city's only combined elementary and middle school.

Dubbed an "innovation school," the new Southside would function as a kind of magnet school, offering specialized programs that would be open to students from around the district.

Ward 9 school board member Art Beaudry said he thought parents would respond as they did in 2010, when a redistricting plan proposed eliminating the city's middle schools in favor of K-8 schools.

"I went through the dog and pony show in this district, and I have to say it was overwhelming: people did not want K-8," he said. "The dynamics just don't seem to work. I know that a huge concern for parents is having 8th graders hanging out with 1st graders. We have enough problems with bullying and drugs."

Livingston said Southside would be laid out so that elementary and middle school students would be on separate floors. She said there are benefits to combining the grades. "All those middle school students were K-5 students at some time," she said. "To create that mentoring and peer assistance ... can be really wonderful."

Erika Connors, who represents Ward 8, where the schools are located, said the new Southside school would be an "innovation school, and we're not forcing students into a K-8 situation."

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