Webster parents interested in sending kids to Hopkinton schools
A groundswell of support is growing among some Webster residents interested in sending the town’s students to Hopkinton, as the town continues its push to study withdrawal from the Merrimack Valley School District.
“For so many years I’ve heard whispers off and on about Webster going to Hopkinton,” said Webster resident Karin Page. “I get that a lot of parents want their kids to go to MV. They went there and they graduated from there. I get that, but there are also parents who want options.”
In February, petitions calling for a study of potential withdrawal from Merrimack Valley began circulating in Webster and Salisbury, two of the five towns that comprise the district. Based in Penacook, the district also includes students from Loudon, Penacook and Boscawen.
District enrollment continues to tumble in Hopkinton, where the school board chairman said they would listen to the overtures from Webster.
“We’re certainly aware of it,” said David Luneau, chairman of the Hopkinton School Board. Several Webster residents have shared their interest with Superintendent Steven Chamberlain, Luneau said. “Obviously, they are in the very early stages of what will take some time. We are certainly, as a district, open to listening to their interest, being responsive and learning more.”
For Hopkinton, absorbing Webster students would help boost enrollment. In 2005, Hopkinton had 1,055 students, according to the state Department of Education. The number dipped to 905 students this year, bringing with it continued loss of state aid and staff reductions because of fewer students in the classroom. Merrimack Valley High School also has about 900 students.
“We recognize there is a structured process for the town and Merrimack Valley to follow, and we’ll be interested to learn more and explore what opportunities might make sense if the time comes,” Luneau said.
The petitions in Webster started with Page.
Next year, her daughter, who is home-schooled, will attend Merrimack Valley Middle School. Her son, also home-schooled, will likely attend a Montessori school, she said. Page and other parents have supported the study as a way to identify options. “I think finally enough parents said, ‘Let’s do something,’ ” she said. “I started circulating it on the parent level and found Mason Donovan was doing the same thing. We were doing it for different reasons, but we want the same end result.”
Donovan, a Webster selectman, said petitions are still circulating, but they have not been submitted to the school board. “One of our select board members suggested at a recent open session that we create an informal committee to gather more information on our alternatives,” Donovan said in an email. “So when the special town meeting is set, we will have more to share with residents.”
The committee’s main charge will be gathering information to present to the public. Its members will be determined this week, Page said. “A lot of people are very emotional about this. I think if the emotions come out of this and people will look at the facts, we’ll be better guided,” she said. “We’re not looking to take MV away from people who want it. It’s more about choice.”
For the Page family, which lives on Clough-Sanborn Hill Road near the town line, Hopkinton is a more natural fit. “My daughter will have a 50-minute bus ride each way next year. She will get up at 5:30 in the morning to go to school and get off on the bus at 3:20 p.m.” she said.
State law sets the framework to study withdrawal.
To formally begin the process, selectmen in Salisbury and Webster would need to schedule a special town meeting for a vote based on the petitions. This would trigger the Merrimack Valley School Board to create a study commission with at least one school board member and selectmen from each of the district’s communities. Within 180 days of its formation, the committee would report its findings to the state Board of Education. Only after the state board approves a withdrawal plan would residents in the district get a chance to vote on the proposal.
“I think there are still a lot of questions. The only way to answer these is by forming a committee,” she said.
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)