PEABODY— Redistricting plans for Peabody’s eight elementary schools are in the early stages of development with the next Redistricting Subcommittee meeting scheduled for Jan. 5.
Subcommittee chairman Jarrod Hochman says he and his eight colleagues are looking at the district as a whole in order to better determine the needs of a growing Peabody.
“We plan to look at each building, how each of the rooms are used (and) how many classrooms there are in each building to then be able to put forward multiple proposals to the School Committee,” he said.
In their last meeting on Dec. 15, the subcommittee resumed discussion of the issue that has troubled Peabody for decades. The last successful redistricting was done around 2002, said Hochman, with the most recent attempt made in 2015.
Mayor and School Committee Chairman Ted Bettencourt remains hesitant
“I’ve always been wary of redistricting,” he said. “I was at the South Memorial School when we went through redistricting and it’s very difficult for families, students and teachers.”
The updated redistricting plan, which builds on that of 2015, aims to provide the “best physical learning environment” for Peabody Public School students, with an emphasis on equitability. Determining how to best utilize space for specials such as music and art is a factor in creating this ideal environment, as is drawing new, logical boundaries, reexamining transportation efficiency with school buses and reducing class size.
“One of my major concerns is the number of students at certain schools.The enrollment of the Carroll School, for instance, versus the West School or the Burke School,” said Joanne Splaine Eagar, a second grade teacher at the Brown Elementary School and member of the subcommittee.
For reference, both the West and Burke Elementary schools had 2019 populations of 261 and 264, respectively, to Carroll’s 616 that same year, according to each school’s “report card” found on their websites.
Dr. Herbert Levine, the former Superintendent of Peabody and also a subcommittee member, agrees regarding the disproportionate distribution of students across the various schools.
“I’m going to be very concerned about ‘equitable’ including the ethnic background, language and cultural heritage in some of our schools and how we address the large numbers of kids in some schools that are [from] immigrant families and nearly none in other schools,” he said.
In 2019, the Carroll Elementary School had 18.8 percent English learners, compared to West’s 1.9 percent.
To Levine’s point, Superintendent Dr. Josh Vadala raised concern for the English Learners in the district. There are 18 “project principles,” and Vadala zeroed in on the penultimate one.
“In No. 17, we talk about mainstream and special education inclusion students. I think we should also consider English Learners in this group. That would also address some of the equity issues around the racial, cultural and language proficiency areas that we’d like to see addressed,” he said.
Center Elementary School falls somewhere in the middle, with some 384 students as of 2019, 13.3 percent of whom are English Learners. Principal Jackie Orphanos, another subcommittee member, emphasized the need to restructure space.
“I appreciate the term equitable in the mission statement,” she said. “I can speak for my school where our gym is our auditorium is our cafeteria is our instructional space.”
The current redistricting plan does not call for any new buildings or additions to existing ones, though there is an existing building plan in place at the Welch Elementary School.
“There’s an obvious need,” said Hochman of redistricting. “I don’t look at it like pro/con, but as something that’s healthy for the community.”
Alex Ross can be reached at email@example.com.