The overcrowding in Watertown’s elementary schools tops the list of School Committee concerns these days, and Monday night Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald warned modular classrooms – if that is the solution – won’t be in place for the beginning of school.
There are several options being explored, but Fitzgerald said the final plan won’t be made until all the factors are weighed, including enrollment, space at each school and new spaces, including potential rental spaces or installing modular classrooms.
The School District has hired an enrollment consultant – Decision Insite – to get a detailed enrollment projection, and it has began working with the town’s on-call architect on ways to reconfigure space and to find potential sites for modular classrooms.
The latest enrollment projection for the fall (which does not include information from the consultant) includes three classes of 24 in the third grade at Lowell Elementary School.
“That’s not OK with us,” Fitzgerald said.
One option which Fitzgerald said she thinks would be unpopular would be to change the schools from neighborhood ones to having all of one grade at one school. One would be Pre-K to 1, another grades 2-3 and fourth and fifth grade at the third school.
“That would make it easier to control class sizes,” Fitzgerald said.
Enrollment boundaries could be slightly adjusted to control how many students are going to a particular school, she added.
Modulars are an option, but Fitzgerald said they would not be ready to use by the start of school.
“There is no way we can get the modulars classrooms by September. Physically it can’t happen,” Fitzgerald said. “We need to configure it and look at the ground it will be sitting on.”
School officials are also looking at places in the schools to reconfigure rooms to use them better, as well considering potential rental spaces, Fitzgerald said.
Parents have been anxious to know how the space issue will be resolved for when students return to school in September. Parent David Stokes thanked the School Committee and school administrators for their work, but urged them to move forward “quickly and efficiently.”
Stokes said he would like the School Committee hold a meeting to discuss the enrollment projections, plus have one or two Building and Grounds subcommittee meetings and come up with a plan.
“I believe a plan should be approved before the end of June at the regular meeting or at a special meeting,” Stokes said.
A Building and Grounds subcommittee will be held on May 16 at the Watertown High School library where school officials will have more information.
Fitzgerald said the plan will be coming soon.
“I hope we’ll come up with a goal for the two classrooms we need. Whether we have the enrollment study or not,” Fitzgerald said. “We can’t wait for the enrollment study.”