Interim Superintendent Randall Collins outlined a plan Tuesday night that would move fifth graders from Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School to Claude Chester Elementary for the coming school year, then relocate two programs at Claude Chester to neighboring schools to make room for the students.
Collins, who described the plan to the school board, said the move is needed to relieve crowding at the magnet school, which is over capacity with 487 children. The school’s capacity is 460.
Under the change, fifth graders would attend Claude Chester in the fall, and the IBS special education program at Claude Chester would move to Charles Barnum Elementary. Claude Chester’s early childhood assessment program would be relocated to S.B. Butler Elementary.
“It’s not the most desirable solution but it is a solution for next year,” Collins said. “We can’t let it go on another year like we did this year.”
The board did not vote on the change Tuesday, but Collins said he must start going forward because it’s late in the school year. The plan is to make the change for one year until a broader redistricting plan is complete.
Christine Dauphinais, principal of Catherine Kolnaski Magnet, said the school has students with significant behavioral issues and would have 25 students or more in a classroom otherwise, which is too many.
The change would reduce class size across grades at the school to 18 to 21 students.
“While we acknowledge that this is not an easy solution because moving kids is never easy and we’re attached to them, going on the way that we’re going on I just don’t see as being a viable option,” she said.
Collins said he anticipates some angst among parents who have fifth graders at the magnet school and younger children attending.
Enrollment is growing at the school because although students in upper grades are moving on to middle school, larger classes are moving in. The school has fourth and fifth grades of about 60 students and an incoming kindergarten class of 90. First grade is close to 100 students, Dauphinais said.
Denise Doolittle, director of pupil services and special education, said students and staff from the special education program at Claude Chester would move as a group to Charles Barnum, which should help.
“I think that will be a benefit and will ease the transition,” she said. She added that Charles Barnum has housed a similar program before.
The early childhood program that would move from Claude Chester to S.B. Butler is an assessment program, not one that students attend each day, she said.
School Board Member Beverly Washington said the district should do all it can to make the situation easier for parents. She suggested a bus be offered from the Catherine Kolnaski neighborhood so parents can get to Claude Chester for special school events.
Collins said he would support the idea.
Groton has been grappling with redistricting because it was cited by the state for a racial imbalance at Catherine Kolnaski Magnet. The district must still present a plan that deals with that issue, but the state board of education is not expected to review it until the fall.
Given this, Collins said it would be unwise for Groton to redistrict students now, only to present a plan to the state and possibly have to move them again.
Board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Gianacoplos said the crowding problem shows that redistricting is not just about racial balance.
“This is certainly not ideal and I think we all recognize that, but it is what it is,” she said. “It’s really a band-aid. So we need to acknowledge that.”