Why three classrooms per grade has been the Wellesley standard for new or renovated elementary facilities for more than 20 years.
In the 1990s, when K-5 enrollment was on the rise, Wellesley town officials considered many different ways to address the need for additional classrooms.
There was talk about rebuilding Sprague and expanding Bates to 24 classrooms. There was talk about opening two new schools - Sprague, and a new Perrin - at 12 classrooms each. But after much discussion and debate, the town firmly settled on three classrooms per grade as ideal for both the students and the town, allowing for expanded educational opportunities but retaining the "small, neighborhood school" feel that the residents valued.
Again, when it came time to upgrade Fiske and Schofield five years ago, both schools were renovated to include 18 classrooms.
And as it works to meet the needs of the students at the remaining three elementary schools, the Wellesley School Committee is solidly in favor of building schools that are no smaller than three classrooms per grade.
The benefits of a 18/19 classroom schools are clear:
Three classrooms per grade offers a greater opportunity for teacher collaboration
Three classrooms per grade offers flexibility for placing students and mixing them up from year to year
Three classrooms per grade allows for greater stability when there are fluctuations in enrollment
And three classrooms per grade also allows for a small school where the principal can know every child and his or her family
When the Hardy, Hunnewell and Upham Master Plan Committee was considering the appropriate school size to recommend, all of Wellesley's elementary principals spoke compellingly in support of a three classrooms per grade minimum at the January 26, 2017 meeting. [Click link to watch the video - discussion of school size begins at the 22:30 mark.]
Currently, other than very rare examples in rural or isolated areas, all new schools being built across the Commonwealth are a minimum of three classrooms per grade, with many elementary schools being built much larger.
Why not build even smaller?
The "Yes" proponents appear to be advocating for building three new schools of either 12 or 15 classrooms. But such a decision would perpetuate - for 50 years or more - the inflexibility that currently exists at the Hardy, Hunnewell, and Upham schools.
12 classrooms, or two classrooms per grade, can easily result in one grade having a single section at the same time that other grades have two full sections, as has happened at Upham in recent years. This situation cannot be resolved by redistricting.
15 classrooms, or 2.5 classrooms per grade, is also inflexible. It is impossible to build an attendance zone that always results in two classrooms of new students one year, and three classrooms of new students the next year, and so on. And even if that were possible, teachers would be shifting every year as different sized student cohorts moved through. Years ago, 15-classrooms schools could be workable when multi-grade classrooms (K/1, 2/3, etc.) were common. The district has phased out multi-grade classrooms, making the concept of a true 15-classroom school obsolete.
A NO vote on March 17 supports building two schools of three classrooms per grade now, and a third school when enrollment rises to a level that can support it.
A NO vote keeps very small schools from getting even smaller as enrollment continues to decline.
Please vote NO to Put Wellesley Students First, and support building flexible, appropriately sized - and still small - elementary schools that will serve generations of our youngest learners.