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Gill Montague School: Info Pieces

Oct 10, 2006

The One School or "Full Consolidation" Model: (Total score +0.32)

Under this scenario, Gill Elementary, Montague Center and the Hillcrest School would be closed (unless a Sheffield/Hillcrest elementary campus was established).  The elementary school population would then be consolidated at the Sheffield School.

Cost Effectiveness (score +0.91)

This alternative would result in significant capital costs as it requires either:

  • Renovations and expansions to Hillcrest & Sheffield for the establishment of an elementary campus or;
  • Renovation and expansion of the Sheffield School (Sheffield would be chosen from the 4 district elementary schools because of its central location, unique resources and greater size) to the tune of 7 or 8 classrooms and a number of auxiliary rooms (SPED, intervention, Speech/Language, etc.) or;
  • An all-new building project at a new site (yeah, right&).

On the other hand, a one school or one campus plan would result in savings to the operating budget in the neighborhood of 3-3.5% (2-3% if using the campus model):

  • This alternative would likely reduce the district staff by 3 Classroom Teachers; 2 Nurses; 3 Principals (though a Dean of Students or Assistant Principal would certainly need to be added); and between ½ and 2/3 of the SPED, clerical, paraprofessional, custodial and food service staffs from each elementary site closed.

  • Utilities costs associated with the operation of the closed sites would be greatly reduced (though not completely eliminated due to additional demand at the remaining site(s) corresponding to increased population there);
  • The corresponding building and boiler insurances would be reduced or eliminated, depending on the disposition of the Districts lease(s) with the Town.
  • Travel costs for shared staff would be eliminated as would the need for shared staff.
  • In general, program costs would be positively impacted as the need for redundancies in staff and materials would be eliminated. (All of these savings would be proportionally smaller under the campus concept.)
  • Never again would there be questions of equity in spending between our elementary schools (except that, under the campus concept, equity would be hard to measure as the two buildings would not have equivalent populations- in number or demography).
  • Student transportation costs would likely be roughly equivalent to the current costs.

School Climate and School Quality (score -0.69)

Based on our understanding of the available research on "educational best practices" and our understanding of our communitys values, this plan would have a negative impact on school climate and school quality.

Assuming no changes in student population, a one-school plan serving grades K-5 would have an enrollment of +/-530 students; K-6  +/-610; PreK-5  +-570; PreK-6  +/-650 so the resulting institution would be much too large- despite the ameliorating effects of the larger grade span.  (Note that a campus approach would essentially result in two schools that the research indicates would each, in effect, be even larger than a single school of the combined population.)  

The resulting institution would almost certainly have larger class sizes than those we have now- and those that the community desires- because of the significant cost of building in excess capacity to an already large capital project.  For the same reason,

The consolidated elementary school would likely be at or near capacity from its inception, limiting flexibility to accommodate any future increase in enrollment or changes in curricula and programming.  Decreases in enrollment might well result in even larger class sizes.  

While the increased grade span would reduce the number of institutional transitions for students and their families (though, it is by no means certain that a two-building campus would have the same effect) and a consolidated school or campus would effectively eliminate any diversity or equity issues while providing expanded opportunities for before and after school programs, research and public opinion indicate that a single large school (or campus) would be unacceptably impersonal for parents and students alike, resulting in decreased sense of institutional community; decreased involvement of parents and the community at large; and a decreased perception of safety among the staff and student body.  

Although an increased grade span is perceived to have an ameliorating effect on overall, institutional largeness, surveys and research indicate that a school or campus of 500-600 students would not be attractive to the choice market, in or out, and would almost certainly have a significant negative impact on enrollment which would severely challenge the districts sustainability by rippling (immediate impact) and flowing (long term impact) upward to the Middle School and High School.  (Some of us might be tempted to suggest that any reduction in enrollment resulting from the factors described above would, in effect, resolve some of the concerns raised about the flexibility and capacity-among other things- of a one school model.)  

Quality of Education (score +0.67)

A consolidated school or campus would result in a considerable improvement over the current configuration in the provision of many special services and educational programs (Art, Music, PE, SPED, ESL, Reading, etc.).  It would also allow us to work with strands in the elementary grades (similar in some ways to the work with teams in the Middle School); expand student activities; implement curriculum innovations; and, most important, achieve absolute continuity of educational philosophy, programming and practice throughout the district!

On the other hand, as indicated by research and public opinion, student achievement is likely to suffer in a large institution- especially amongst rural and poor populations.  

Where individualized instruction is concerned, it seems likely that a larger school, with its additional resources, would be better able to provide individualized instruction.  Our concern is that, because of the larger population, there will be an increased inclination toward tracking (segregating students by perceived ability) which has not been shown to promote achievement, generally, and which is known to undermine the overall student learning community.

Professional Development and Teacher Excellence (score +1.75)

It is hard to imagine a more conducive model for professional development and teacher excellence than the consolidation of all elementary students (and, therefore, faculty) into a single institution.  This model would allow ample opportunity for mentoring, professional development, staff coverage, leadership development and adequate staffing.

The Two School or "Consolidation by Town" Model: (Total Score -0.129)

Under this scenario, the Gill School would remain open and unchanged.  The elementary school population in Montague would be consolidated at the Sheffield School.  

Cost Effectiveness (score -0.071)

This alternative would result in significant capital costs as it would require the expansion of the Sheffield School (4 or five classrooms plus auxiliary rooms) to accommodate the increase of population there.  

On the other hand, the two school plan could result in a 2-2.5% savings in the Districts operating budget by:

Eliminating two Principals (but adding back a Dean or Assistant Principal);

Reducing 1.5 FTE Teachers, 1 Nurse, and between ½ and 2/3 of the SPED, clerical, paraprofessional, custodial and food service staffs from each elementary site closed.  

Utilities costs equal to the typical use at the closed sites would be reduced (though not completely eliminated due to additional demand at the remaining site(s) corresponding to increased population there);

The corresponding building and boiler insurances would be reduced or eliminated, depending on the disposition of the Districts lease(s) with the Town;

Travel costs of shared Specialists and Staff would be reduced and;

In general, program costs would be positively impacted at one site as the need for redundancies in staff and materials would be reduced (which could make more resources available for the other site, but that is by no means certain);

While student transportation costs would likely be the same as with the current configuration, it will continue to be difficult to evaluate the equity of spending between the two elementary schools as the economy of scale questions will become much more complicated than they are now, as there will be one very small school and one that is fairly large.

School Climate and School Quality (score -0.92)

Because of the inherent institutional inequality between the New Sheffield School and the essentially unchanged Gill School that would be the likely product of this alternative, the impact on School Climate and School Quality at Sheffield (+-80% of the districts elementary population under this model) would likely be greater (which is to say, worse) than the impact of the One School Model, above.   

Quality of Education (score +0.2)    

Because of the inherent institutional inequality between the New Sheffield School and the essentially unchanged Gill School that would be the likely product of this alternative,

The Gill School would enjoy none of the advantages that the Sheffield School would experience as a result of the economy of scale (see the One School Model, above) that this model would create.  Unfortunately, any advantage of scale that the Sheffield School might enjoy in this modified consolidation configuration would be offset by the disadvantages of scale described in the One School Model, above.

Professional Development and Teacher Excellence (score +0.875)

Clearly, the theme of this configuration alternative is Inequity.  While one of the Districts schools would enjoy substantial improvements in opportunities for professional development, leadership development, staffing adequacy, mentoring and the overall working conditions, the other school would experience no improvement at all.  And, while it might seem that the Gill School comes would experience a neutral outcome from the adoption of this modified consolidation strategy, the impact would likely be negative as Gills larger sibling absorbed a larger share of the available resources and exerted a greater influence on policy and practice.

The Three School or "Optimal Equity" Model: (Total Score +1.4)

Under this scenario, there would be three elementary schools, one each in the population centers of the district: Gill, Turners Falls and Montague Center.  Ideally- at least in the context of equity- all three schools would have a comparable enrollment capacity but, because the decision making is not fully centralized, we have examined a "three schools of equal size" scenario (hereafter 3a) with +/- 175, K-5 at each school and a "two schools of equal size in Montague and the Gill school remains the same" scenario (hereafter "3b") with +-200, K-5 at Montague Center; +/-235, K-5 at Sheffield; and +/-90 in Gill.

Cost Effectiveness (score 0.0)

Both scenarios under this plan would result in significant capital costs.

If there were to be three schools of equal size, the Gill and Montague Center schools would require renovation and expansion (6 additional classrooms plus specialty rooms) and the Sheffield School would require some renovation to accommodate the younger students.  It should be noted that the 3a plan implies an open enrollment or intra-district choice policy that would result in students from Montague attending the Gill School and, very possibly, vice versa.  (Note that how, exactly, this would impact the financing of the accompanying capital projects is a very interesting question.  One must assume that, in one way or another, the cost for expanding the Gill School to a capacity well above that towns elementary population would be spread throughout the district and across municipal boundaries.)

Under scenario "3b", the Montague Center School would require renovation and expansion (to the same extent as under 3a, above) and the Sheffield School would require some renovation to accommodate the younger students (Sheffield is already large enough to accommodate the greater projected population of "3b").

The impact on the operating budget is also different for the two scenarios included in this alternative.

The common elements are the elimination of salaries for 1 Principal and 1 Nurse; a portion of one buildings worth of associated utilities, insurance, maintenance and other upkeep costs; and a portion of one buildings worth of clerical, paraprofessional, custodial and food service staff.  (As with all of the models weve evaluated, savings from reduced staff and closed buildings is not directly equal to the costs incurred at the closed school as there will always be some cost transference to the remaining schools due to shifting of populations and resource demands, especially where building expansions are involved, as our recent experience has shown us).

Based on the reductions above and the need to add up to 3 FTE teaching positions, we anticipate that the impact of scenario 3a would range from no change, to an increase of 1%, overall.

On the other hand, we anticipate that the total operating budget impact of scenario 3b would be about a 1% saving- based on the reductions described above and the additional savings associated and the elimination of  a 0.75 FTE teaching position.

Furthermore, while the schools may not be fully large enough for dedicated specialists and special programs, there will be a reduced need for inter-scholastic travel and program-related redundancies as compared to the current configuration.

School Climate and School Quality (score +2.15)

Based on our understanding of the available research on educational best practices and our understanding of our communitys values, either scenario under this plan would result in significant positive impact on school climate and school quality.  The resulting institutions would be within what is considered to be the optimum size range for elementary schools. (Note that if the Gill School remains as it is, it could be regarded as slightly undersized by some schools of thought but, because of its long history of successful operation, we are completely confident that it will continue to be a highly successful elementary school).

Because of the relative equality of size of the resulting schools, (even in 3b, these schools would not be regarded as dramatically different in institutional size by prevailing schools of thought) this model presents no obstacle to the achievement of spending, educational and programmatic equity.

These schools would have good class sizes (16-20 students per class); equal wide grade span (which is important to effective institutional size); and excellent institutional size, which promotes and encourages a strong school culture, parent involvement, community involvement and an overall healthy school environment.

Assuming no changes in current student population, none of these schools would be operating immediately at their full capacities (even a physically unchanged Gill School under 3b, assuming the 6th grade moves to the middle school).  As such, these schools would have considerable flexibility to accommodate fluctuations in enrollment and changes in curriculum and programming.  (It should be noted that the equalization of size between schools might impact the after school programming at Sheffield, the funding for which is dependant on the number of participants.  However, it would improve the chances for after school programming at Montague Center which currently has none.)

Because of this flexibility and capacity and size optimization, these schools would be very well positioned in the school choice market- and that includes loss prevention and loss recovery.

Quality of Education (score +1.4)

Because of the optimal size and the expansion of the grade span, the Equity model would result in the same considerable improvements in the quality of education discussed in the Consolidation models, above (though there may still be a need for some district-wide specialists and services) without the negative impacts associated with large size.  And, as noted in the paragraph above, this model poses no particular obstacles to the achievement of spending, educational and programmatic equity.  (In fairness, it should be pointed out that these equities will not be automatic as with the consolidation model but, of course, the automatic equity of the consolidation model is purely semantic in nature and doesnt necessarily reflect any functional improvement or quality.)

Professional Development and Teacher Excellence (score +1.75)

The institutional environments created by the equity model would be very nearly as conducive to the implementation of mentoring, leadership development, professional development, collaboration and peer support programs as the consolidation model, above.  While the staff at each school would certainly not be as large as that of a consolidated elementary school, they would easily be sufficient to allow adequate staffing and coverage (with the possible exception of the unchanged Gill School).   On the other hand, the optimal effective institutional size should provide for significantly improved working conditions at the equalized schools (as compared to a consolidated elementary school or to the current configuration).

Posted by MikeL - October 04, 2006