Next phase of Manchester school districting plan would send 5th-graders to middle schoolBy PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader
February 12. 2018 10:59PM
MANCHESTER — Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas presented a draft proposal detailing his recommendations for the next phase of redistricting city schools, which include changing middle schools to include students in grades 5-8 and the possible creation of a preschool center serving special needs students.
Monday night marked the first time Vargas discussed details of his proposal publicly. The first of several public forums on the plan is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 21, at a time and location to be determined. The proposal is slated to be sent to the school board in April.
“Over the next two months, the board and the public will have sufficient time to ask questions, explore the opportunities, and provide feedback,” said Vargas. “After 10 years I am hopeful we can bring this discussion to a conclusion. You don’t have to adopt this plan — if there’s a better one out there, go for it. But for God’s sake, let’s put an end to the debate about redistricting.”
Last April, school board members voted to approve a new school feeder plan, referred to at the time as “phase one” of a school redistricting effort. According to Vargas, it did not achieve all of the desired goals, including freeing up space in the city’s elementary schools, reducing elementary class sizes, and using buildings within the district more efficiently and effectively.
The school board contracted with CMK Architects to perform a district-wide facilities study to determine the maximum capacity of each building. While the study has yet to be finalized, according to information provided by Fred Matuszewski of CMK Architects:
• Manchester High School Central is at 66 percent capacity; Memorial is at 75 percent capacity, West is at 50 percent capacity now, but is projected to be at 75 percent capacity after the district offices move there.
In addition, all 14 of the city’s elementary schools are near 100 percent capacity, according to Matuszewski.
The draft redistricting proposal unveiled Monday night by Vargas points out several options and recommendations including:
• Grades 5-8 would attend middle schools, similar to models employed by neighboring districts including Goffstown.
The presentation can be viewed below:
Vargas said such a model would provide students with the opportunity to earn one to four high school credits by the end of 8th grade in math, science, foreign language and computer coding. He said it would also position the city’s middle schools to offer learning opportunities similar to those available in surrounding districts like Londonderry, Bedford and Goffstown.
Under the new Vargas proposal, elementary schools would include students in grades K-4. According to Vargas, eliminating a grade in elementary school buildings frees up space and achieves the goal to reduce class sizes at the elementary level.
According to Vargas, the plan would reduce class sizes similar to those in surrounding districts:
• 20 students in kindergarten
• 20-22 in grades 1-2
• 22-25 in grades 3-5
• 25-27 in grades 6-8
The new proposal would also adjust the current school feeder pattern to send Beech Street and Wilson elementary students to McLaughlin Middle School, then on to Manchester High School Central.
According to Vargas, this change reunites all of Beech Street students at one middle school.
“It’s a reasonable request, that all students end up at McLaughlin with their cohorts,” said Vargas.
Vargas’ proposal also calls for creating a preschool center at Memorial High School to serve students with developmental needs, at an estimated cost of between $1.8 and $2.2 million. According to Vargas, the new center would better focus efforts on meeting the needs of preschool students in just two locations in the city, instead of six. Under the plan, the Bishop O’Neil Center would remain open.
Vargas said the plan would be to implement the proposal — if approved by the full board later this spring — in two parts. Part one, including the grades 5-8 middle school model and K-4 elementary schools, could be in place by September 2018 at a cost of $1.5 million.
The total cost of Part 2 of the proposal, including a new preschool center, won’t be determined until later this spring, said Vargas.