New boundaries for Watertown’s elementary school attendance areas have been approved, and include buffer zones that would allow families to choose between two schools.
The School Committee approved the option recommended by Superintendent Dede Galdston on Monday night. The new areas will only impact students new to the district, not those already attending Cunniff, Lowell, or Hosmer elementary schools.
“I do think this is the best for our students with the construction projects moving forward,” Galdston said.
New Attendance Areas
While the new boundaries put the Cunniff near capacity, if the lines had remained the same, the Hosmer would have been close to capacity, Galdston said.
“We will keep encouraging people living in the buffer zone to move into the other school,” Galdston said. “Doing this provides more capacity at Hosmer.”
The major changes to the attendance areas include:
- Moving neighborhoods south of Main Street between Watertown Square and Rosedale Avenue into the Lowell area. The eastern two-thirds of this area had been in the Hosmer area, and the western third went to Cunniff.
- The new boundaries move some areas west of Lexington Street from the Lowell area into the buffer zone with Cunniff, and now are part of the Cunniff’s attendance area.
- An area between Mt. Auburn Street and Church Street (south of Common Street), goes into the buffer zone between Lowell and Hosmer. It had been part of the Hosmer area, but now falls into the Lowell zone.
- The area between Belmont Street and the Oakley Country Club (east of Common Street) moves from the Hosmer area to the Lowell attendance area.
Realigning the attendance areas is key because Watertown’s elementary school enrollment is growing, Galdston told the School Committee during the enrollment report.
“I think that our numbers are rapidly approaching 1,300 at the elementary level, which is a bounce back from low 1,2o0s when we were in COVID,” Galdston said. “We are above where we normally are, which is about 1,250.”
Some grades are larger than in recent years. Galdston said it may be due to the brand new school buildings at Hosmer and Cunniff.
“I don’t know if it is already happening, ‘If you build it they will come,'” Galdston said. “We are definitely seeing a pretty large kindergarten and a tremendously large first grade class.”
If enrollment grows much more, the district may add more teachers. An English as a second language (ESL) teacher may be added at Hosmer because the number of ESL students has doubled over the past five years but the number of teachers has not kept pace, Galdston said. Classroom teachers also may be added.
“We will look at our numbers in our elementary classes to make sure we maintain our low class sizes,” Galdston said. “Right now it is in flux but we are watching every day.”
The funding for the teachers would likely be paid for using savings from staff retirements and turnover, Galdston said.
I am confused. We are rebuilding/remodeling our schools and are now finding out that there could be capacity problems with them. What type of planning is done to anticipate such growth? Wouldn’t we be better off erring on the high side of capacity vs. the low end? Will the new high school be able to accommodate the increased attendance of the lower grades? With all the various new housing developments, how many more children will be there? We were told at many of the development meetings that there wouldn’t be many families with children moving into these units when we questioned this issue. That seems to be untrue. I hope the people in charge take a good look at their predictions and make the necessary adjustments now so we don’t run into critical situations of overcrowding our schools. This will only lead to more learning problems for our students. They’ve already been through enough with the COVID shutdowns.
Right now there isn’t an overall crowding, but Hosmer used to be much bigger than the other two. Cunniff has more capacity but had a small attendance area so it the attendance areas were changed. It is yet to be seen if the enrollment keeps growing. There are very few children in the big new projects, like under 100 last I heard.