After more than two hours of walking and talking at a special meeting Monday night, the Milton School Board is closer to a solution for siting both pre-kindergarten classrooms at Milton Elementary and Middle School next year.
The meeting was part-discussion, part-tour, as Milton Elementary K-2 principal Mary Fitzgerald laid out three options for the pre-K classrooms, then led board members and interested parties around the halls to see the spaces in question.
In the end, school board members came up with a hybrid suggestion that they’ll formalize with a vote at their next meeting, Tuesday, May 29.
“I’d like to say thank you to the creative thought that has gone into looking at the community spaces of this building as learning spaces for all students,” early education coordinator Wendy Cunningham said. “[I] truly appreciate everybody’s flexibility to think about these spaces in a new way.”
The discussion marked a turning point in the pre-K talks that started with a firm preference from outgoing superintendent Ann Bradshaw to move the youngest students to the back wing of Milton High School.
Parents at a May 2 forum largely disliked that idea. Board members subsequently agreed to toss the option, albeit via electronic means and not at a public meeting, records requests by the Independent showed.
Monday night, board chairman Mike Joseph said the board wanted an open discussion and suggested a tour of the building. After an hourlong walkabout, the group came to consensus on an option they think will inconvenience the fewest people and save on construction costs.
First, the school will build two new offices outside the library. Business manager Don Johnson said this construction was already planned at the cramped school campus and won’t come at additional cost.
Those offices would house guidance counselors, who would be displaced from their current space, Room 448, by speech-language pathologists.
The classroom vacated by the SLPs will be the second pre-K classroom. The existing pre-K classroom is in the same hallway.
The group found more space with a little creativity. Facilities director Bruce Cheeseman, who brought his yellow calculator and a fancy laser measuring tool on the walk, OK’d a plan to enlarge Room 448 for the SLPs by knocking down an adjacent wall and moving it back a few feet.
Next door, Grade 4 and 5 special educators will have a small office space in what is currently a storage closet. They’ll need to use other rooms – the library, teacher resource center or district training room – for direct instruction, student services director Tim Dunn said.
“They’re the ones that are going to have to be accommodated,” Dunn said, noting he prefers the small space for staff desks rather than classrooms.
“Special ed has a long history of having kids stuffed in storage areas,” he said.
The special educators’ vacated space will allow Fitzgerald to reshuffle the classrooms and make room for the additional second grade – the factor that precipitated the pre-K discussion in the first place.
Cheeseman will have estimated costs prepared for the May 29 meeting, he said.
Throughout, meeting attendees emphasized the need to share space, just for a short time: If formally enacted, this plan would only be for next school year. The board will next discuss a longer-term strategy, possibly by commissioning a space study.
One option already on the table is the Bradley Street building voters approved buying on Town Meeting Day. Monday night, Cheeseman suggested the district demolish the former single-family home and build a 5,000-square-foot office building in its stead.
He said construction costs would be nearly $100 cheaper per square foot if used as office space instead of instructional space and suggested the district offices could move there.
“It permanently puts them in a place where they don’t have to think about moving every year. And it gives the school back 5,000 square feet,” he said. “Look what we’re doing right now trying to come up with 1,000 square feet.”
Any formal movement on that plan will probably be on hold until incoming superintendent Amy Rex arrives in July. She’s already expressed a preference to be located near district office staff and principals, Dunn told the board.
Tuesday morning, Fitzgerald said she’s glad the board came up with an option, even if it’s not perfect. The guidance counselors, for instance, will be downgraded to a much smaller space for a year, but their new offices will be adjacent to other counselors and the school social workers, she said.
With a plan in motion, Fitzgerald can start formalizing room assignments for next school year, which Cheeseman realized isn’t really that far away.
“We’ve gotta hustle,” he said.