HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM — On Feb. 15, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee hosted a community forum to allow the public to share their thoughts on the two remaining reconfiguration options for the district.

Discussions surrounding the district’s reconfiguration began more than a year ago with 136 options, according to the HWRSD School Committee. Over the following months, the committee worked with community input to narrow down the options by analyzing the number of students at each school, the cost of each option, the size of each school, the number of transitions between schools and the quality of students’ education, the committee stated. At the Feb. 1 meeting, the School Committee agreed that the final vote set for March 7 would be between recommending Option 1 or Option 2.

Option 1 moves all grade 8 classes to Minnechaug Regional High School, all grades 6-7 to Wilbraham Middle School and all pre-kindergarten classes to Green Meadows Elementary School. As a result, Green Meadows Elementary School would teach pre-kindergarten to grade 5, Mile Tree Elementary School would teach kindergarten and first grade, and Thornton W. Burgess School would close. Grades 2-3 would also remain at Stony Hill School and grades 4-5 at Soule Road School, according to Superintendent John Provost.

Option 2 would maintain most of Option 1’s changes. However, Stony Hill School would offer three classes each of grades 2-5 and Soule Road School would offer four classes each of the same grades, Provost stated.

During the Feb. 15 community forum, residents brought up several concerns about the impact that the reconfiguration changes would have on students, residents and teachers across both options.

One student impact raised was the concern over how Minnechaug Regional High School would expose grade 8 students to different experiences than a traditional middle school. Residents highlighted issues such as dating older students, challenges with MCAS testing, differences in schedules, the possibility of assault and students maturing too quickly. This issue affects both options.

When asked about the “downsides” of 8th grade moving to the high school, Provost stated that “the downside is the shadow of some of the benefits.” He explained that while some students may get a chance to participate in high school level sports or classes early, it may alter students’ growth.

“There is a lot of acceleration that is taking place in curriculum as I’m sure the teachers will agree with and a lot of things that were taught at older levels are being taught at younger levels and so 8th grade would create an opportunity to do even more of that but the question that you have to ask is ‘does that mean that adolescence doesn’t get a chance to do everything that adolescence is supposed to be?’” he said.

Another issue that was raised specifically concerned the dividing of grades 2-5 between Stony Hill School and Soule Road School that would occur in Option 2.

Teachers from Stony Hill stepped forward to highlight the value of communication between teachers of the same grade within a school while others expressed that the division would create inequity between schools and negatively impact teachers who travel.

“We want to give all the children in Wilbraham and Hampden the best education possible. That’s why we got into the job and we feel like we owe it to our students and we owe it to our students’ parents to do just that. We feel like by being all together as an entire grade, we have the resources that we need. We’re able to pool our intelligence, our creativity and … say we’re doing the best we can for our children,” Grade 2 Stony Hill Teacher Jessica Paris said.

Stony Hill Principal Monique Dangleis supported her teachers and agreed that the current model of placing an entire grade in one school has created “the teaching [that] is the most highly effective that we’ve seen.” She asked the committee to explain “what is the gigantic payoff that is equal to the gigantic sacrifice” of eliminating the current model.

During the forum, multiple residents also spoke out against previous decisions by the School Committee. Hampden resident Mary Ellen Glover stated that “the overcrowding at the middle school was caused by the School Committee” through allowing students to transfer from Thornton W. Burgess School to Wilbraham Middle School after the school had reached capacity.

Likewise, others argued that the three grade 8-12 high schools in Cape Cod that committee members visited to see the impacts on grade 8 were not enough to support HWRSD’s decision, emphasizing that these schools were too different from the Hampden-Wilbraham School District. This observation of Monomoy Regional High School, Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School and Barnstable High School occurred in November 2023, according to a timeline presented by Provost.

Ultimately, a collective agreement on whether the School Committee should choose Option 1 or Option 2 was not clear following the forum. In response, School Committee member Sean Kennedy stated that “I’ve heard you loud and clear.”

Similarly, Chair Michal Boudreau said the forum has “given us a lot to think about” and thanked residents for attending.

If an option is approved by the School Committee on March 7, the reconfiguration would be implemented in Fall 2025, Provost said.

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