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Merrimack Valley re-evaluates elementary school transfer requests

School board members in Merrimack Valley are working to develop a formal policy for parents who want to send their children to a different elementary school in the cooperative district in response to growing class sizes in Boscawen and Penacook.

“We can’t punish our existing children by allowing choice for whoever wants choice,” said Lorrie Carey, a board member from Boscawen, in a recent committee meeting to discuss the issue.

For years, parents have been allowed to submit requests to the board if they want to send their child to another school in the district. The board says no transfer is guaranteed, but it has never denied a request, said Chris Barry, assistant superintendent. Nearly all of the requests come from Salisbury and Webster parents asking to send their children to Penacook or Boscawen, citing after-school child care options at those schools as the reason.

But recently, the class sizes in these two schools have exceeded the district’s recommended capacity, leaving some board members, administrators and community members to worry about equal access to quality education for all students. The board recently voted to renew all 29 existing swaps but to put a moratorium on future transfers until a policy is in place, denying six requests for next year. In crafting a policy, the board will have to decide how and where to set the limit for allowing transfers into a school. There is no specific date for when the policy will be completed.

Of the 29 renewals, 26 of those students are coming from another school to Boscawen elementary, with nine out-of-town students in the fourth grade alone. In total, about 10 percent of both Salisbury and Webster’s students attend a different elementary school. The district’s class size guidelines say kindergarten through third grade shouldn’t exceed 20 students and fourth and fifth shouldn’t exceed 22. Based on projected enrollment for next year, not counting students who may move into the district this summer, Boscawen’s third grade and Penacook’s third and fourth grades will top that.

In Salisbury, each grade is well below the district’s recommended capacity. Next year’s first-grade class at Webster is the only class in the school expected to exceed capacity. Few to no students each year request to transfer in and out of Loudon, the district’s largest elementary school.

Nearly every parent lists child care as the reason for their request, Barry said. Both Penacook and Boscawen students have available transportation to the Penacook Community Center for its after-school program. The YMCA also offers a program at Boscawen and Loudon elementary schools. Webster students also have transportation to the Boscawen program, but parents still list child care in their requests.

Some board members say a formal policy is necessary because it’s unfair for taxpayers in Penacook and Boscawen to essentially subsidize education for Webster and Salisbury students while their own children sit in overcrowded classrooms. Furthermore, when the district studied consolidating Webster and Salisbury several years ago, residents made clear they did not want that.

“You’re paying taxes to keep those schools going in Webster and Salisbury, and that’s where those kids should be going,” said Will Renauld, a board member from Penacook.

The Boscawen and Penacook principals, Jeff Drouin and Linda McAllister, said smaller class sizes provide a better learning environment, and it can be a struggle for one teacher to deal with 25 students at once. Even bringing an aide into the classroom doesn’t completely alleviate the problem. As the district moves toward the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, the pressure on teachers will only increase, they said.

“Everyone would like a small class, and you’re more successful as a teacher in a small class,” McAllister said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments8

The IB program is nothing compared to what the common core values will do to our schools. That program will cost more and will most likely make our education system even more screwed up. Teachers are already complaining that it is very hard to implement. A perfect example of how when you complicate things, they become even harder and usually produce poorer results.

Kids are suffering?? Wasn't IB supposed to be the magic ticket that fixed all of the problems?? The VALUES based program that does nothing to help the kids academically?? When will the parents demand better? Then you have this: “We can’t punish our existing children by allowing choice for whoever wants choice,” said Lorrie Carey, a board member from Boscawen, in a recent committee meeting to discuss the issue. HUH? Choice allows for the suffering kids to find an alternative but it appears as if she wants them to continue to suffer. What a mess you have created. Throw out these board members who refuse to do anything to fix the problems with the lack of quality academic instruction!! Stop paying a foreign organization to teach your kids values and go back to teaching them how to read/write/multiply and DIVIDE!!

Thanks to liberal union teachers and liberal indoctrination at the government glorified day care sanatoriums there has been a 7X explosion of children being educated at HOME

I know that parents are putting child care as the reason but as a parent of children that belong to other schools the REAL reason is that Webster and Salisbury offer NO after school and/or extra programs. Parents have asked for a homework club, reading or math club and/or some kind of extra help for their children. I can't even get a teacher to stay after school one day a week to help my child. The response we get is that none of the teachers are able to stay after school for these types of things. I've also been told that Boscawen Elementary also has some sort of extra learning classes in the summer to help some of the kids who struggle to keep up. There are just simply more opportunities for kids in Boscawen then there are in Webster or Salisbury. We have absolutely nothing and our kids are suffering. Maybe with a new Principal next year she'll take the reigns and get something going because that's all we are really asking for - extra help for our kids. LEGO and Scrabble club just don't cut it.

This is very sad

Tell the school to stop wasting money on the VALUES based IB program. What a HUGE waste of money!

Wow. So it is all about child care for the most part. I would think a smaller class size would top that for folks in Salisbury, but I guess not. This is what happens now. If this is allowed then Penacook and Boscawen will be overcrowded. Just pass it on to another town I guess is the attitude here. The only students who should be allowed to go to school outside their district, are the ones that are not doing well at the school they are at, period and have to show that the school they prefer offers a better education to suit their child's needs. Salisbury and Webster need to address their after school care issues instead of forcing it on other towns.

"citing after-school child care options at those schools as the reason" if this is the real reason, just offer the child care at the other schools. If people are paying for the baby-setting at these schools they will certainly not mind paying for it at a school closer to their home. That is assuming that the baby-setting is not being paid by the tax payers….. The truly sad part is we hear constant complaints about the school system failing to educate and the most cited reason for requesting a transfer is baby-setting availability. Shows where the parents priorities are at.

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