SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 22, 2014

City seeks input on middle school

Beverly: Public forums scheduled on where to place fifth-graders

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — The city is planning a series of five forums to allow residents to weigh in on whether the proposed new middle school should include fifth-graders.

The forums will be held at each of the city’s five elementary schools starting next week. Mayor Mike Cahill said the meetings will allow people to express their opinions before the School Committee votes on the school’s configuration on Feb. 26.

“My goal is that we have the public as involved in the process as we can on this over the coming four weeks,” Cahill said.

The city is planning to build a new middle school at the site of the former Memorial Middle School at 502 Cabot St. One of the major considerations is whether to move fifth-graders from the elementary schools into a grade 5-8 middle school, or whether to keep the current grade 6-8 configuration.

Cahill said the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the state agency that is working with the city on the school’s design and funding, has urged the city to decide soon in order to help meet the goal of a September 2017 opening.

“The MSBA staff believes that is a very challenging date for us to maintain, but it’s not a timetable I want to retreat from,” Cahill said. “Our ability to open that school as soon as possible is important.”

The forums will be conducted by Interim Superintendent Albert Argenziano, Briscoe Middle School Principal Matt Poska, Cahill, School Committee task force co-chairs Annemarie Cesa and Kris Silverstein, Special Education Administrator Stacy Bucyk, and the principal and adjustment counselor of the host elementary school.

School Committee task force members Cesa, Silverstein and David Manzi are scheduled to visit middle schools in Lynnfield, Swampscott and Wakefield, all of which have the 5-8 model that would be new to Beverly.

The target audience for the forums are parents of current prekindergarten and kindergarten students, who will be the first students in the new middle school. All members of the public are welcome.

In 2011, a subcommittee of former Superintendent Marie Galinski’s strategic planning committee recommended the grade 5-8 middle school model.

The four grades would be housed in the same building but separated into a lower middle school for fifth- and sixth-graders and an upper middle school for seventh- and eighth-graders.

The committee said the grade 5-8 model allows for better “social/emotional growth and curriculum growth” for students.

“It enables them to be in daily contact with adults who know the preteen/teenaged student well, take an interest in them, and provide them with both academic and emotional support,” the committee said in its report.

Advocates of the 5-8 model have also said moving fifth-graders would free up space in the crowded elementary schools.

Residents who spoke against the 5-8 plan at a public meeting in 2011 expressed concern about paying more for a larger building to accommodate fifth-graders. Others said fifth-graders should not be on the same bus as eighth-graders.

The city has been seeking a new school to replace Briscoe Middle School, a 1923 building that is in poor condition and overcrowded. It has about 920 students.

Officials have estimated the cost of a new school at $73 million, with the city paying $33 million and the state paying $40 million.

The City Council has authorized the borrowing of $1.5 million for a conceptual design and feasibility study. The study will consider whether to knock down the former Memorial Middle School and build a new building, or whether to update and expand Memorial.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

Middle school meetings Jan. 30, 7-9 p.m. -- Hannah Elementary School Feb. 6, 7-9 p.m. -- Ayers Ryal Side Elementary School Feb. 7, 9-11 a.m. -- Centerville Elementary School Feb. 11, 6-8 p.m. -- North Beverly Elementary School Feb. 13, 6:30-8:30 p.m. -- Cove Elementary School