By Meg O’Neil
After six weeks of deliberation, the Pell Enrollment Options Subcommittee presented their recommendation to the Newport School Committee on Tuesday, Dec. 11 on how to handle the possibility of over-enrollment at the new Pell Elementary School when it opens in September 2013.
The subcommittee, which is made up of eight parents, two school committee members, two teachers, and two school principals, examined 10 possible options in the event that the number of students who enroll at Pell is higher than the school’s capacity. The most recent district enrollment figures show 45 elementary classrooms in current use, but the new Pell School will only have 39.
Of the ten options examined by the subcommittee, only two met the criteria that the school committee desired: moving all kindergartners to an alternate location such as Triplett School; or leasing modular classrooms to be used at Pell School grounds.
When they voted at their final meeting on Dec. 6, seven people wanted to move all kindergartners to an alternate location such as Triplett School; three votes were for leasing modular classrooms on Pell School grounds; two approved creating a mixed grade level; and one vote was for moving two pre-kindergarten and two kindergarten classes to an alternate site.
Rather than accept the subcommittee’s first recommendation to move all kindergarten classes to an alternate site, the committee voted to pursue modular classrooms at the Pell School as the first priority, with the condition that if the modular rooms are not feasible, all kindergartners would be moved to an alternate location. The vote passed 4 – 3, with committee members Jo Eva Gaines, Sandra Flowers, and Charles Shoemaker opposed.
Those who voted against the action wanted to wait a few months to learn the cost of the options, as well as examine early enrollment figures before making a final decision.
Subcommittee members Aida Neary and Melissa Turner presented the group’s recommendation to the school committee.
Neary said the group thoroughly examined current data in case the need for classrooms became a reality, even though it is possible that no extra classrooms may be needed. “Enrollment has been trending up since 2008, but predicted forecasts were showing a decrease,” she said. “This is why we found ourselves in this situation.” Neary said school enrollment in Newport could be influenced by several things: Navy families moving into and out of the area; a “new school effect” which lures families to attend a new school; an expansion of the district’s pre-kindergarten; and the Newport Heights Phase 5 Project adding 82 houses in the city’s north end in the next few years.
The subcommittee also recommended that the school district begin the enrollment process earlier in the year than it usually does. “Why not start it in January and see what those numbers are going to be earlier rather than later,” Neary asked.
One member of the committee suggested that the issue of over-enrollment is an embarrassment: “It’s a shame that people do not like to admit that we made a huge mistake,” committee member Robert Leary said. “We started building this school for 800 kids, then we had to spend an extra $500,000 for two more classrooms [for 50 more students], and now we still don’t have enough room.”
Neary stressed the importance of acting in a timely manner. “I would rather be on the front page of the newspaper on Aug. 15 and say we did all this work and we do not need these additional classrooms instead of being in the newspaper on Aug. 15, saying we have 100 extra students and we don’t know where to put them.”