Concord school board votes to keep new middle school grades 6 through 8

  • Graham Szuksta, 3, looks up at the ceiling as his parents, Haley and Scott, take the tour at Rundlett Middle School on Tuesday night, June 8, 2021. Music teacher Nathan Therrien (right) walked the Szukstas around the building and then there was a question and answer session about the limitations of the 1957 structure. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Business administrator Jack Dunn speaks to the Concord School Board about the process of applying for school building aid for the Rundlett Middle School project on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/20/2022 3:33:25 PM

A new middle school building in Concord planned to open several years from now should have the exact same grade configuration of six to eight as the current middle school, the Concord School Board decided Wednesday. 

Board members opted not to pursue an alternative course that would have added fifth graders to the new building.

In a close vote, the school board voted 5-4 to proceed with the construction of a new middle school that keeps the grade structure as it currently exists. The debate was lengthy, as school board members pointed out the benefits and drawbacks of both changing and keeping it the same.

“We have to build for the next 50 years,” said board member Gina Cannon. “And so I think we need to build as comprehensively as we can, looking into the future, given the financial realities of now.”

The new building, which is being designed by HMFH Architects, is estimated to be completed in 2025 and cost around $74 million. While a final location for the school hasn’t yet been determined, the district is considering both the parcel of land on South Street where the current Rundlett building stands, and another site that was discussed Wednesday in a non-public session.

The school board had been considering moving fifth grade from the community elementary schools up to the middle school, and constructing a larger school that would house all four grades. Benefits of doing that would have included exposing fifth graders to extracurricular opportunities earlier, making the middle school experience longer and creating more space at the elementary schools for a potential pre-school offering in the future.

“We had a Communications and Policy meeting the other day about how we can provide more advancement opportunities for middle school students. If we can provide them even at a younger age, I think that's a great opportunity,” board member Jonathan Weinberg said. “I think there are a lot of advantages.”

However, other board members felt keeping the six-to-eight configuration would keep the school population smaller, keep building costs down and prevent fifth graders from being forced to grow up too quickly.

“There's, as far as I can tell, absolutely little or no evidence that shows that students perform better in a five to eight configuration than in a six eight configuration,” said board member Bob Cotton. “We've had a number of reasons cited for why you should keep kids in elementary schools, specifically there's the emphasis on English, social studies, math and science. And as also has been pointed out, there are leadership opportunities for fifth graders that they would miss if they transferred early.”

Ultimately Cotton, Brenda Hastings, Barb Higgins, Jim Richards and Pamela Walsh voted in favor of a six to eight middle school, while Cannon, David Parker, Weinberg and Kate West voted against it.

The Concord School Board also voted unanimously to move forward with a non-binding letter of intent to explore a collaboration with the Granite YMCA and brainstorm ideas for a middle school building alongside a family YMCA facility. 

“I do want to make it clear to the public that this is in no way a commitment or a binding decision for us to to invest anything or to make any final decision,” Richards said.

The board also voted unanimously to extend their contract with HMFH Architects, of Cambridge, Mass., for $471,000 so the company can complete designs for both potential school sites in time for the district to submit its application to the Department of Education for school building aid by July 1.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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