MANCHESTER — Superintendent Debra Livingston has signaled she’s willing, following an outcry from parents, to reconsider a proposal to convert Jewett Street School into a central preschool facility. Livingston had put forward a plan last month that would make Jewett, currently an elementary school, the home for all of the district’s preschool classes.
The adjacent Southside Middle School would in turn be converted into an “innovation school” for kindergarten through eighth grade, the only of its kind in the city. Removing preschool from the other schools would then free up room to reassign students in a more sensible and efficient way.
Since then Jewett parents have mobilized against the plan. Nearly a dozen spoke out at Monday’s school board meeting, some bringing their children to speak alongside them.
Mary Scimemi told the board that the district seemed oblivious to the fact that Jewett was home to a specialized autism program, in which her child participated. “Nobody has talked to the moms,” she said. “This is one of best programs Manchester has... You can’t improve Manchester schools by disrupting one of its best schools. That’s not how you build community.”
The school board also expressed dissatisfaction with how the proposal was being handled. Only a narrow majority voted (8-6) at Monday’s meeting to table a motion, from Ward 9 board member Art Beaudry, that would have called for Jewett Street School to be kept open. Livingston said she had met with a committee she had formed, composed of parents and at least one school board member, on Friday and was carefully weighing the concerns that had been raised.
“I shared the concerns of this community. We’ve talked about other possibilities,” she said. “The plan is, as we’re developing this, to bring this to communities and listen to what they have to say. I thought the Jewett parents and the committee brought up things we haven’t thought about.”
The board has given the superintendent the authority to pursue a redistricting plan and not seek a vote until one is ready to be presented. Redistricting has proven one of the more vexing issues facing the district, with other proposals made over the past several years floundering in the face of intense opposition from some parents.
Ward 10 board member John Avard said Livingston’s proposal may be too ambitious at this stage, especially as the district grapples with new academic standards, the college credit program at West High, and other initiatives. “I’m very concerned that we’re losing the definition of redistricting. The concept brought up was to clean up the lines, not a complete restructuring of the buildings. If you want have a conversation about creating a new innovation school — OK, but that’s not about redistricting.”
Ward 6 board member Robyn Dunphy said the she had received numerous calls and emails from concerned parents. “Information shouldn’t come out until it’s ready to be disseminated. It really is upsetting to a lot of people; there’s this anxiety and there’s not a plan yet,” she said.
Livingston stressed redistricting was “extremely complex.”
“We’re exploring possibilities. We’ve asked the board to give us time to do that,” she said.