MARLBORO — Money and opportunity have the Marlboro School community weighing whether to retain the present configuration of pre-K through grade 8 or to send the 13 seventh- and eighth-graders at the school to classes elsewhere.
Currently, 85 students attend the school, which is part of the Windham Central Supervisory Union. High- school-age students have been attending various schools through school choice and, if it's decided to eliminate the seventh and eighth grades, those students will as well.
The next community meeting is Thursday, Dec. 1, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the school. Dinner and child care will be provided.
A final meeting will be Thursday, Jan. 5, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., at the school. Zoom links are provided on the school website, and Principal Wayne Kermenski says the school board wants as many folks as possible to participate in person.
At the first meeting on Nov. 10, approximately 65 turned out in person and 10 via Zoom.
Kermenski says the conversation was “really focused on the vision of the school: what is it, what we value about small schools, and a general discussion about what the Marlboro School means to the town.”
Renovation needs pressure decision
There are three reasons, Kermenski says, that the issue of eliminating grades 7 and 8 has come up. Prime is the need for a building renovation, something Kermenski says has been put off since Act 46 redistricting about five years ago.
“The school needs a renovation, and that's the main reason we're here right now,” he said. “We just want to make sure everybody is fully committed to seventh and eighth grade before we spend that much more for a pre-K- to-grade-8 school.”
Architects are working on estimates for two scenarios of school configurations, and school officials hope the numbers will be in hand by the end of December, Kermenski said.
Equally important, he said, is that with just 13 students in grades 7 and 8, school officials are concerned that those students receive all the enhancements they deserve.
“Because of Covid and Marlboro College closing, we've seen declining enrollment this year - about 17% - which has made our 7th and 8th grade class, which is combined, 13 students,” the principal said. “And we're wondering if that is enough students to offer the programming that middle school students look for.”
Kermenski said the issue is “really around access and equity” - and that it's also financial.
“Because there is an option, another middle school with more students and opportunities such as sports and after-school programming - that's what we're looking at,” he said.
After the January meeting, the school board will decide whether to put a question on a Town Meeting ballot asking voters to make the ultimate decision whether to eliminate the two grades.
Small or large?
“As principal, I see pros and cons to both sides,” Kermenski said. “For some students, I think probably it would be better to be at a larger school, and for others, it would be better to be at a smaller school where everyone knows your name.”
He said that “The Grammar School, Hilltop Montessori, and Compass, which are private schools, are all on the smaller side, and have similar philosophies to ours and are relatively close.”
However, if tuition to a middle school of choice is higher than the roughly $17,000 per student per year that the state provides, families would have to pay the difference.
“The school board is having these meetings and taking this information because they want to make the best decision for the town, and they want to hear from everyone,” Kermenski said.
The principal commended the board for its desire to seek community opinion, “so that if a vote comes to be, Marlboro residents are informed enough to make an informed decision.”
“They tried to set up a situation so voices who want to share information can be heard,” he said.