Questions and Answers
November 22, 2016
Question: There have been many rumors going around about redistricting some of the children to other schools, my neighborhood being one of them. I would just like some clarification if this is indeed true.
Answer: No final decisions by the Board of Education have occurred regarding redistricting. A committee has just recently been formed to identify possible new school boundaries to bring equity between the schools. The committee will also investigate the pros and cons of redistricting our schools. A final recommendation will be brought back to the BOE for them to review/discuss/ and act on. Additionally, the committee will discuss communication strategies and how we ensure parents and our school communities are aware of what steps are being taken. No date has been set as of yet for the committee's first meeting, but it will most likely be during the beginning of December. Feel free to contact me at anytime if you have any further questions and thanks for taking the time to email.
December 5, 2017
Question: I attended the BOE meeting on Dec. 5th after receiving the letter that was sent out by Mr. Newton (which I appreciated). I wanted to learn more about what the board was discussing and if and how it would impact my family. I apologize that I haven't historically read the minutes from the various BOE meetings. Since the Dec. 5th meeting I have gone back and reviewed previous minutes and watched several of the video recordings. As a side note, has the BOE thought about adding a section to the digital backpack that all parents review (or should) with highlights and links to the relevant minutes from the various meetings? It would be a great way to for the Board to connect further with parents in the district. It would go a long way to keeping parents involved and aware of what the BOE is discussing.”
Answer: Thanks for taking the time to send this follow-up email and share additional thoughts and concerns. Let me first say that I like your idea of connecting BOE meeting information to the Digital Backpack and will look into this as a possibility.
Question: I appreciate the concerns of the BOE regarding student numbers and now have further understanding of the reasoning behind some of the decisions being made. I have reviewed the slides presented by Mr. Newton (a link to those slides in the letter he sent may have assisted those reading the letter that had questions) and the other details regarding student numbers, etc.. I also have been told the reasoning goes beyond student numbers and that the redistribution is also due to the fact that we will not get additional monies approved for school repairs unless we redistribute the students. The money aspect is not something I read in the minutes but was told by another parent so am unsure of the validity of that information. Regardless, I appreciate the situation the district is facing in regards to redistribution, but am concerned if we are moving and disrupting students now (when we have known for some time that the numbers are imbalanced) for money reasons without doing proper due diligence. That due diligence is being pushed now into only a few meetings (over the holidays) by a very large committee. (From experience this can be challenging.)
Answer: As you are well aware, there are many rumors going around and it’s my hope you had a chance to read both of the letters I sent out to parents regarding the Board of Education’s plan to redistrict. The rationale is not necessarily about money, but about balance, equity, and providing the best possible education to every K – 4 student. We have Flanders School currently at capacity with close to 350 students, and Haynes and Niantic Center have far less numbers with many open classrooms.
Question: I also now have a greater understanding why there is a lot of confusion around this issue after I have looked at the previous meeting minutes. The first thing I observed when looking at the minutes was the draft redistricting map in the minutes (it sticks out). This gives the appearance that the decisions have been already made and that the committee is more for "show". In fact, during the meetings, that is what comes across as well. I had a board member speak with me following the meeting stating that this wasn't the case, but when you review the videos and read the minutes, that is what comes across from my perspective. I also know from experience if the committee is given that sample map, that is what will be worked from. Therefore when I am told that there is no draft plan, and then see items labeled as “draft plan” it is disturbing to parents.
Answer: I understand parents might feel after looking at the created map with changed draft boundary lines that decisions have already been made. This is not the case. We needed to obtain an understanding of the feasibly of the bus runs with possible changes to neighborhoods in relation to the schools they attend. By looking at an example of modified bus runs we were able to ascertain that redistricting is definitely possible, and in fact shortens many runs.
Question: Moreover, when reviewing the past minutes, it was never indicated that there was actually a vote by the BOE for the redistricting. It was discussed to form a committee (which is a good thing), but no definitive vote or decision. At the meeting on Dec. 5th a board member commented that the issue had been voted on, and therefore the redistricting is going to happen for this school year no matter what-- then the board member/s proceeded to laugh about it-- which in my opinion was very insensitive to those in the audience that night. I have reviewed the various meetings from the website (video and minutes) and in the Nov. 21st meeting, while there was a great deal of discussion concerning this topic, it was decided that there would be a vote on Dec. 5th. There was no vote that I am aware of that occurred on Dec. 5th. I understand that a vote per se isn't necessary but I am bothered by the inconsistencies within the board, the minutes and the statements being made, not to mention the lack of sensitivity that occurred at the meeting regarding the topic. While some are "laughing" on the board, as a parent this has implications to my family and I want to understand what is going on and it is very confusing and has required a lot of my time to understand things that should be spelled out for the community. I will have to explain any changes to my child and while, as a board member told me, "the kids will be fine", it isn't that easy (I wish it was). I have moved previously (moving my child mid school year to a new school) and I know the consequences of doing it. Yes my child is ok, but it took years for him to adjust to the new school- it wasn't as easy as many implied. Each child is different, yes some adapt very easily, others don't. Kids are very smart (more so than many adults give them credit) and I know at least my child will want to understand why he is being moved. In addition many of the kids have just started to develop trust of classmates and teachers and this will be a difficult transition if and when it occurs. Hence I am concerned that "aggressive timelines" (per a statement of the board) have been established.
Answer: Regarding the Board of Education vote, they have not done so yet as that will be done after we present the final committee plan to them in February. They have charged the Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee in developing the plan and then presenting a final product back to the board.
Question: It was also discussed in several meetings that the elementary schools function right now as three separate schools. This is another reason parents are very concerned about which school their child goes to. Many have moved to specific neighborhoods for a specific school and this is really a "tough blow". Again, while the Board states no plan has been drafted there is a plan in the board minutes that has "draft plan" written in the title, making that a tough pill to swallow. People are seeing they are impacted; hence strong emotions are also coming out. Has the board thought about aligning the schools better and then doing a phased redistricting? Allowing alignment and the redistricting to occur?
Answer: Regarding the three schools functioning very differently, you are correct and we see this as an issue for many reasons. The biggest reason being we have differing curriculum at the three schools which impacts fifth grade at the Middle School. The elementary principals and all staff are working diligently to bring more consistent practices to the schools. Let me mention that we do not want to take away the individual school cultures that have been formed. Each is distinct and needs to be preserved.
Question: I appreciate that the board has to make tough decisions that will impact people and that this is challenging (I don't envy that aspect of your job). I am asking these questions out of general concern for my child and the community as a whole. I have had good experiences thus far with the teachers and administration (I work hard to fund raise for programs and help out the district in many ways). I know the redistricting committee will be meeting several times, but as usual, I am unable to attend due to work. I have asked that my husband take time out of his work schedule to attend some of the committee meetings; but will we be able to contribute alternative ideas or participate, or is it simply a "we are allowed to listen" like at the board meeting? I can think of several "phased" plans and alternative ideas that may be advantageous that I would be happy and willing to contribute if permitted. Thank you both for your time. I will continue to sift through the minutes and do my best to try and separate fact from rumor/gossip, but I hope that you and the board also have compassion and understanding that this is challenging and I would appreciate that the board do their best to keep the community informed and not rush into decisions to "meet timelines". I agree it has to be done, but can we do it "smartly" vs. rushing into quick decisions and potentially regretting the impact that it ultimately has on our kids and community.
Answer: The Ad Hoc Committee meetings are a designation of the Board of Education and there will be no public comment. Parent forums are being planned for informational purposes and dialogue.
December 7, 2016
Question: A plan for redistricting is in the works and it seems like it is going to be determined with three meetings. A 23 member panel was established with no asking of volunteers (parents) from Flanders, except one. So out of 23 members, one of those members is affected. We purposely sent our son to pre-school @ Flanders so he would meet his friends that he would spend his time @ Flanders with until the 4th grade.
Answer: Thanks for attending the Board of Education meeting this past Monday night and for sharing your thoughts. Volunteers for the committee were solicited through the PTA's at the schools. I charged the Principals with identifying two volunteer parents from each building. With the need for varied stakeholders working together on this process, and forming a committee that was of manageable size, we worked to identify participants in the best manner possible. We understand that many people would like to partake in the decision making, but to do effective committee work a group of this size (23) is optimal.
Question: Also it seems a little biased that 2 BOE members are on the redistricting committee. They are going to be voting for the final plans of the redistricting, so it seems the vote is already ahead by 2. My wife and I have written a letter voicing all of our concerns and we would like to know where to send this to.
Answer: This committee is what you call an 'Ad Hoc' Board Committee. It is designated by the Board of Education and, whenever done, there are board members that take part. This is the same as the other sub-committees of the board that meet regularly. Feel free to send your letter addressed to myself or the Board Chair, Tim Hagen. We will add it to others that we have received.
Question: It has been brought to my attention that there are a number of children that go to the three different elementary schools that do not live in those specific areas, where the parents provide transportation. I think that should be the first action taken before any redistricting. I do not think it is fair that a child has to switch schools because someone from another district is coming into their school. If that is not going to change than we would be able to provide our own transportation and pick which school our child will go to.
Answer: There are a handful of parents that do request intra-district transfers between schools. Any approved transfers usually occur over the summer after we have done final review of class sections at each school. If an intra-district transfer is granted, parents are fully responsible for their child's transportation to and from school as you mentioned. I can assure you that after redistricting any requested transfers would most likely be minimal as we make sure the numbers (approximately 300 students) remain balanced across the three schools.
Question: I am hoping the committee meetings will be more of an open forum where we can voice our concerns. After all we are taxpayers and our children need to be heard.
Answer: The three committee meetings are not an open forum. They are posted committee meetings of the Board of Education and do not allow for any public comment. There will be the opportunity for parent forums in the near future to allow for discourse with the community. I agree that this is not an easy task, and balancing our three elementary schools is in the best interest of all children to provide every K-4 student in East Lyme with fairness and equity in their educational experience.
December 15, 2016
Question: First, we are disappointed to learn this second hand, and as a family that is within the draft affected region of the district, we feel we should have been notified by the BOE directly. We understand the communication has been improved via the website and thank you for that, but there still a lot rumors circulating throughout the district (we suggest adding an FAQ page which would be helpful to parents to understand rationale and ongoing discussion). We question why this was discussed months ago and was only recently announced? In addition, can you clarify how the committee was selected? As interested parents, we would have definitely been eager to participate, but it seems we were not afforded the opportunity. We wonder how varied are the opinions on the committee? Is everyone in support of the initiative? As you know, it is important to have a diversity of ideas for a committee to develop the best plan possible.
Answer: It’s my hope you had a chance to read both of the letters I have previously sent out to parents regarding the Board of Education’s plan to redistrict. If not, I would encourage you to go to the main page of our district website and access the link that is present. You will find information that may be helpful with additional questions that you have. Redistricting has been discussed previously by the Board of Education, but was never acted upon over recent years, as the district worked to decide whether a school should be closed or not due to enrollment. Now that three elementary schools will remain, the Board of Education is moving forward with redistricting. You asked about the committee that was formed. The Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee is a group of over 20 members consisting of teachers, para-professionals, administrators, board members, impacted parents, and the Transportation Director. For parent participation I asked the schools to reach out to the PTA’s and identify participants.
Question: We understand there are many competing interests within the district and that you must attempt to make the best decision for all. Above all, we feel that the well-being of the students both academically and emotionally is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, it seems the students’ well-being didn’t seem to be the top priority as we heard about bus routes, finances and infrastructure during the most recent BOE meeting, but not much mention about the well-being of the impacted students other than having equitable class sizes. There were some instances during the meeting that led me to believe the BOE is not taking this issue as seriously as it should as there was laughter when asked if the redistricting was negotiable. Obviously this type of reaction was disappointing to see as a parent. Secondly, friends of ours were told by a BOE member that the children will “deal with it just fine; the parents are the ones with the issues”. We found that completely insensitive to the concerns we have and whole-heartedly disagree with that position. We know all too well the stress that this change will have on our children. How do you plan to address the impact on the children? It will be important to have adequate communication to the children along with a well-designed support system to enable them to cope with the changes.
Answer: The rationale for redistricting is about balance, equity, and providing the best possible education to every K – 4 student. Student well-being is the top priority and having balanced schools and experiences is the groundwork for the full K-12 experience that our children receive here in East Lyme. You asked how we plan on addressing the impact on children, and that work is something that our committee is focused on. Additionally, you may or may not be aware, but we currently have Flanders School at capacity with close to 350 students, and Haynes and Niantic Center have far less numbers with many open classrooms.
Question: We have seen the draft map on the website as well as powerpoint slides indicating enrollment numbers across the schools. Those slides indicate up to 200 students would be moved to a new school. Compound that with friends left behind and that means almost every student in the district is impacted in one way or another. We also heard rumors that certain neighborhoods might be picked for redistricting (again ours was mentioned), which could lead to longer bus rides and is not an ideal way to distribute the population. We understand the population imbalance across schools, but is that really enough to warrant redistricting immediately? Are two or three more students in Flanders classes negatively impacting their education? We also ask you, what other options are you considering? We feel the best option if redistricting is truly necessary is a phased approach, where students already enrolled would remain, but any new students starting would then be put into the redistricted school? That would minimize the impact to existing students and teachers. Additionally, does East Lyme really need three elementary schools? If BOE goal is to balance students and curriculum, it would be easier to accomplish in two instead of three schools while saving money (reduced footprint) at the same time. Have you considered eliminating enrollment of out of district students or putting them all at the underpopulated schools? Have you considered preventing students in current NCS region from attending Flanders or vice versa?
Answer: Regarding rumors that certain neighborhoods might be picked for redistricting, the committee will study changed route options while working with the bus company to identify the most prudent boundary lines that balance our schools and ensure bus routes are not extended in duration. In fact, many runs should be shorter in duration with newly adjusted boundaries. We are not simply picking certain neighborhoods as you mentioned.
Question: We have already been negatively affected by the BOE policies when in 2015 we were denied enrollment into Flanders because of a BOE policy that stipulated residence within 90 days of enrollment, even though we were actively building our home and willing to self-transport our child. Our first grader was forced to not only change schools but had to do so mid-year, putting unnecessary hardships and stress on her. We saw this firsthand. The proposed redistricting will undoubtedly do the same, potentially worse, as her newly made best friend is on the opposite side of the line. She is becoming aware of the potential new school for next year and is already showing and expressing signs of angst. Both of these situations are similar in that the outcome is not in the student’s best interest. We are not saying the BOE has no regard for the well-being of students, but we think it needs to move to the top of the priority list and be the main consideration during any discussion of redistricting. Of course as parents, we want what is best for our children, but this by no means infers we are opposed to any change, we just ask you really consider the pros and cons of any proposed change. As you know, each school has its own personality and culture. We chose to live in East Lyme for the schools and specifically chose our neighborhood to attend Flanders as it has for the past 30+ years. Our girls our excited to part of Flanders and we can’t think of them attending anywhere else even only being here for a short time. They have made many friends and the teachers have been so welcoming. They truly are part of the school. The impact of redistricting and stripping my daughters of friendships and sending to another school (3rd school by grade 3) where we have no acquaintances and making them start at ground zero again, would have a profound impact on their emotional well-being and obviously affect their academic progress. We can barely handle the thought of telling them that we have to change schools again and they will have to leave their friends again. There will be many tears shed.
Answer: The Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee is considering all aspects of this most important and emotional venture. Their work will be diligent and we will propose a plan to the Board of Education by February 28th, 2017.