DERRY — The discussion continues on what's best for Derry's school children and whether the district should close one of its elementary schools as part of a major restructuring plan.
The school board heard more comments and updates at a meeting Dec. 18, views from the public and each other about how to move forward with a potential school closing and/or school district reconfiguration of staff, facilities and grades.
Last month, nearly 250 attended a regular board meeting to speak out about a possible school closure. The most recent meeting also had a good showing of residents wanting to give opinions. More financial impacts on possible options were also presented.
An extensive study process on the district’s facilities began about three years ago with residents, teachers, board members and other stakeholders forming intense committees to analyze every spot utilized in schools and administrative areas.
That study led to several presentations to the board on what might be viable options moving forward.
Early recommendations from that study included a model that could join grades 5 to 8 in one school atmosphere, redistricting, or an eventual school closure due to enrollment declines in certain age groups.
The board presented several possible scenarios at past meetings. Although no decisions have been made, the Grinnell or South Range Elementary school could be closed.
Retired school superintendent Dr. John Moody led those earlier facilities studies and told the board the final report, available on the district website, has volumes of valuable information about the district's facilities. Every building from corner to corner was studied, he said.
"You should know how every space is occupied," Moody told the board. "Everything you have been discussing is in the report, it just needs updating."
Board members noted that many factors will be taken into consideration before any decision to close a school, including the condition of the facility, operating cost of the facility, specific considerations of programs, environmental factors, neighborhood, transportation, and other aesthetic features.
In addition to the public input, school officials will consider input from a public survey that was distributed.
Some board members already have their minds made up.
"I'm not in favor of closing a school," said board member Brenda Willis. "I've listened to idea after idea, scenario after scenario. If something was great and rose to the top, we would have made that decision."
Willis continued on that until she sees something showing any educational benefit to closing a school, she wouldn't agree with that plan
Board member Michelle McKinnon agreed.
"I'm also against closing a school," she said. "There are still way too many 'what ifs.'"
Others said it's best to wait until the survey is analyzed and then move forward.
The next regular meeting of the Derry School Board is Jan. 15. Proposed budget information will also be presented to the public at that meeting.