Pembroke Village, Hill schools could merge as soon as next year

  • The Pembroke School Board is proposing a merger of the Pembroke Village School (left) and Pembroke Hill School (right). If approved by voters at deliberative session, the plan would send Pembroke Village’s K-1 students to Pembroke Hill School as early as next year. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The Pembroke School Board is looking at a merger of the Pembroke Hill School and the Pembroke Village School. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Pembroke’s two elementary schools could merge as soon as next year if voters and the school board green-light a proposal to send kindergarten and first-grade students at Pembroke Village School over to Pembroke Hill School.

“(Pembroke) Hill is not only capable of being a K-through-4 building, but this merger could create inherent benefits for a variety of stakeholder groups – most importantly, the students,” Susie Griffith, Hill’s principal, told the school board Monday.

With declining enrollment across the district, and Pembroke Village badly in need of upgrades, the school board has for months been mulling the idea of consolidating the schools. During her presentation, Griffith said Pembroke Hill had the capacity to accommodate four classes in kindergarten through fourth grades if the district brought in one modular classroom.

The modular could either house the school’s part-time preschool program or host two unified arts classes for the general school population, Griffith said.

School board Chairman Dan Driscoll said the plan right now – if the consolidation is approved – is to use the modular for about five years as the district keeps an eye on enrollment. If enrollment keeps declining, the district might be able to get rid of the modular without building an addition to Pembroke Hill, he said. If enrollment plateaus, the district can revisit an addition in a few years, when the schools are in better financial shape.

Pembroke’s schools – and taxpayers – were hit by an unexpected $1 million shortfall this year. The district had originally planned to create a committee to look at building an add-on to Pembroke Hill.

“Quite honestly, we went out, we looked for committee members, then the budget issues hit, and it kind of got lost in the shuffle,” Driscoll said.

The committee hasn’t convened yet and wasn’t really intended to study the modular option, Driscoll said. It’ll likely be convened this month to see how it could contribute to the process going forward, he said.

After several postponements, a cost-benefit analysis of merging is expected at the Jan. 22 school board meeting. That’s also when the school board could make its decision about the merger. The consensus on the board is to put the issue before voters at deliberative session, Driscoll said, which means the board must give its go-ahead soon if it’s going to make all legal deadlines to properly give notice of the proposal.

Students would benefit from the merger because they wouldn’t have to change schools in the middle of their elementary school career, Griffith said, and because older students would be able to mentor their younger peers.

And teachers and administrators could more easily collaborate and have a better opportunity to get to know students over a length of time, Griffith said.

“This builds a stable, dependable environment for students in which long-term relationships with adults can be created,” she said.

The larger community could benefit, too, she said, from savings on the maintenance of a building to better traffic flow during pick-up and drop-off times.

Making the change in time for next year also sees several advantages, Griffith said. A Pembroke Village administrator is set to retire, which would allow for the creation of a vice-principal position at Pembroke Hill. And Pembroke Village would have had to reorganize this summer anyway because of new federal mandates round kindergarten room size.

The school district has scheduled an open house next Wednesday at Pembroke Hill School from 6 to 6:30 p.m. and at the Pembroke Village School from 6:45 to 7:15 p.m. for the public to see the buildings and discuss a merger.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)