Monday, January 30, 2023

Voices of Franklin: former Davis Thayer neighborhood parents raise concerns for School Committee

We are here today to present concerns about redistricting that are unique to families living in formerly Davis Thayer neighborhoods.

To give needed background: The interest among some town stakeholders to close Davis Thayer started to come to a point of action just as the COVID pandemic hit. A number of us consistently dialed in to full School Committee meetings as well as those for the Space and Facilities subcommittee. We spoke during meetings, sent emails, and engaged in information sharing. We raised questions around space and crowding at Keller; about the transitions and adjustments students were already experiencing due to COVID; and about our fears regarding moving students when an imminent town redistricting was already on the horizon. 

Former superintendent Sara Ahern stated, in her January 2021 letter to the subcommittee: “The question remains as to whether or not redistricting is something that should be considered as part of closing Davis Thayer Elementary School or planned for in the future. It would be prudent to avoid any situation where Davis Thayer students are attending school at Keller and then redistricted at a later point in time.”

Ultimately, the committee voted to close DT, and so, in Sept of 2021, Davis Thayer children entered Keller while the pandemic raged on. They did their best to acclimate themselves to new staff and classmates while wearing masks and being cautioned not to go close to others. They learned the policies, expectations, values, and even physical layout of their new surroundings without having had the chance to first return to the comfort of their former school to adapt back to a regular, full-time school week.

Our kids have weathered this change with all the grit, grace, and resilience one could imagine. Their former school building sits unoccupied. It houses books, desks, and supplies. We have seen little on how the school closure has actually financially benefited the town. The kids’ sacrifice for their community often feels all for naught.

And now here we are at the redistricting effort. As new scenarios are discussed and new school zone lines are drawn, we wonder, what will happen to our kids? We fear how another school switch will negatively affect their academic progress and mental wellness. 

We will send a longer email to your committee that outlines some important research about the detrimental effects of frequent school-switching. We would also like to draw your attention to the potentialities of a phase-out approach or a grandfathering of former DT students. Our longer email contains more details on these potential solutions.

We ask you to value the DT kids’ courage, and prioritize their vulnerability and mental health. We hope you will honor the commitment of Sara Ahern. Uprooting young children twice from their school is not only detrimental to community educational progress, but also for their social-emotional wellness. 

We also ask you to consider in detail the facilities projections that came out of the Kaestle Boos report and that have been studied by other town bodies. For instance, that report conveyed a need to close Parmenter and Kennedy schools at some point. 

How terrible it would be to move students to one of those schools only to close it a short time later. We implore town committees including yours to create a master plan that takes into account short and long term needs of all students before making this decision.

Thank you for your time and attention, and for all the work you do.

Gretchen Donohue

On behalf of former Davis Thayer parents
A version of a Citizen Comment to the School Committee meeting 1/24/23

Voices of Franklin: former Davis Thayer neighborhood parents raise concerns for School Committee
Voices of Franklin: former Davis Thayer neighborhood parents raise concerns for School Committee

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