Countryside Space Task Force Recommendations sign now

May 23, 2011

Newton School Committee
100 Walnut Street
Newton, MA 02460

Re: Countryside Space Task Force Recommendations

Dear Members of the School Committee:

We are here today as representatives of our whole community to express our concerns related to the ongoing space crisis at Countryside, to support the recommendations of the Space Task Force, and to urge you to act swiftly and decisively to address this situation.

As you are aware, Countryside is the largest and most diverse elementary school in the district a school of many neighborhoods in a district that has long championed the concept of neighborhood elementary schools. The children in Countryside classes can easily live 2.5 miles away from each other, as opposed to 2.5 blocks. But geographic diversity, as measured by zip codes, is only a small part of the story. Higher percentages of our families qualify for social services such as free or reduced school lunch than in other Newton schools and, even more importantly, approximately 40\% of children at Countryside require English language instruction and special education services. Taken together, the impact of this diversity with respect to the teaching and learning needs of all our children is profound. From challenge work to intervention to attain benchmarks, from gaining English language proficiency to achieving fluency, from encouraging reluctant readers to encouraging emerging math whizzes, ensuring that individualized educational outcomes are optimized is an immense task for our talented teachers.

In addition to our size and diversity, administrative staff, teachers and students must also negotiate a revolving door of incoming and outgoing students throughout the school year. As a case in point, in 2010-2011, we began with 499 students and now have 513, presumably a net increase of 14 families. However, this actually masks a much greater volatility in overall enrollment, and with each new registration, our staff and teachers had to commit time and resources to assess and acclimate the new children.

At 513 students today, we are struggling to function within our physical plant and more growth is anticipated over the next several years. Structurally, we have run out of the physical space necessary for this many children to receive the quality education that is the hallmark of the Newton Public Schools. Today, overcrowding is affecting educational outcomes for our children, pushing up class sizes, creating safety and health concerns, straining the ability of our dedicated and talented faculty to do their best work, severely burdening our administrative staffs management of the day to day demands of a school of this size, and posing significant challenges to community building efforts in all of our neighborhoods.

In the past few years, as enrollment has steadily crept towards 499, we responded with innovation and creativity. Our principal and teachers piloted innovative programs to address our needs for differentiated instruction and our parent community worked together to find ways to create social connections amongst the children. With the 500 mark now breached, we have reached our physical limits and our social structure is overtaxed. We have grave concerns about what tomorrow will bring.

We will leave the enumeration of the discrete problems associated with our increasing enrollment to both the Task Force report and to members of our community who are present tonight. We will also leave the precise details of the steps to be taken to reduce the enrollment and overcrowding burdens on Countryside to you, since we realize that the recommendations put forth by the Space Task Force are just that recommendations. However, we would like to underscore that all are feasible and palatable to varying degrees; logistically, financially and politically. Very few are simple, black and white options. None are silver bullets. None are without down sides or costs. Nonetheless, the impact of burgeoning enrollment on Countryside must be addressed, and solutions found that provide our children as fine an education as any in our city.

We are aware that Countryside is not the only school in the district, state or nation to be facing similar pressures in an era of a shrinking budgetary pie, however, in the context of Newton elementary schools, Countryside has historically been larger and more diverse than her sister schools and relatively under-resourced with respect to the character and needs for differentiation within our enrollment. We ask that you consider our unique demographics in your deliberations and urge you to act on the recommendations put forth by the Space Task Force in a decisive manner to address the challenges facing our school, in both the short and long term, to ensure that Countryside receives resources commensurate to the needs of all our children.


Countryside School Council Members
Christina Kulich-Vamvakas, Ph.D.

Parent Representatives
Cynthia Gonzalez
David Kalis
Jonathan Zaff

PTO Parent Board Members:

Yun Saksena, President
Theresa S. Denery, Treasurer
Abigail Schwartz, Ph.D.,Secretary; Co-President Elect
Deborah J. Hahn, Ph.D., Room Parent Coordinator; Co-President Elect
Julie T. Irish, Ph.D., Co-President Elect
Melissa Dietrich, MBA, Treasurer Elect
Leslie Gonzalez, Secretary Elect
Rachel Cohen, Co-Room Parent Coordinator Elect
Mary Beth Maneen, Co-Room Parent Coordinator Elect
Ann Canavan, Immediate Past Co-Chair
Beth Grandi, Immediate Past Co-Chair

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Sheri SimpsonBy:
City LifeIn:
Petition target:
Newton School Committee


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