The future of Mansfield’s trio of elementary schools is once again up for discussion

A converted classroom servers as the crowded library at Goodwin Elementary . (Photo by Jackson Ballenger)
A con­vert­ed class­room serves as the crowd­ed library at Good­win Ele­men­tary . (Pho­to by Jack­son Bal­lenger)

Veron­i­ca Barcelona de Men­doza is a Mans­field res­i­dent and the moth­er of a sec­ond grad­er at Good­win Ele­men­tary School. She lives about one mile from the school, but every morn­ing it takes her son up to 45 min­utes to get to school on the bus.

Trans­porta­tion of stu­dents is one of the major chal­lenges fac­ing the semi-rur­al Mans­field ele­men­tary school sys­tem. Many of Mansfield’s roads are old and dam­aged by the New Eng­land weath­er. In many places, the roads are so nar­row that two cars bare­ly pass each oth­er by.

I’m con­cerned about how far my son will have to be bussed [to school]” Men­doza said.

Cre­at­ing a reli­able sys­tem of bus routes that serves all of Mans­field is a chal­lenge, espe­cial­ly when the pas­sen­gers are kinder­garten through fourth graders.

As the future of Mansfield’s trio of ele­men­tary schools comes up for dis­cus­sion again, trans­porta­tion is just one of the issues on parent’s minds.

Between 2006 and 2012, Mans­field par­ents and tax­pay­ers decid­ed to con­tin­ue main­tain­ing the three pub­lic ele­men­tary schools that serve the area. The three ele­men­tary schools, Dorothy C. Good­win, South­east, and Annie E. Vin­ton, have edu­cat­ed Mans­field chil­dren for over 50 years.

As part of the recent­ly passed Mans­field Tomor­row Plan, the future of the three schools is once again up for dis­cus­sion. The plan presents two options, either ren­o­vate the three schools to like-new con­di­tion or con­struct one or two new schools that would replace the three.

Two urinal toilets in the boy's bathroom at Goodwin that are out of order, there was one working urinal. (Photo by Jackson Ballenger)
Two uri­nal toi­lets in the boy’s bath­room at Good­win that are out of order, there was one work­ing uri­nal. (Pho­to by Jack­son Bal­lenger)

After ele­men­tary school, the Mans­field pub­lic school dis­trict con­sists of one mid­dle school, Mans­field Mid­dle School. The mid­dle school serves every stu­dent in Mans­field, but enroll­ment over the past 10 years has dropped by 15 per­cent. Con­verse­ly, total enroll­ment over the past 10 across all three ele­men­tary schools has increased by 5 per­cent. The town must assess if the cur­rent ele­men­tary schools can serve their chil­dren well enough.

All three of Mansfield’s ele­men­tary schools are over 50 years old and have numer­ous struc­tur­al and util­i­ty issues, Mans­field Super­in­ten­dent of Schools Kel­ly Lyman said.

The schools issues include boil­er prob­lems, bad roof­ing, faulty win­dows and an old steam sys­tem that is dif­fi­cult to main­tain, Lyman said. The schools also suf­fer from a lack of space. The gym, cafe­te­ria and audi­to­ri­um are the same room, Lyman said. No ele­men­tary school has an actu­al library. They are using con­vert­ed class­room space, Lyman said.

Main­tain­ing the cur­rent trio of ele­men­tary schools costs the town $400,000 per year, a Mans­field Town Coun­cil mem­ber and E.O Smith High School grad­u­ate Alex Mar­celli­no said.

Cur­rent reim­burse­ment for­mu­las make it impos­si­ble for state fund­ing to sub­si­dize the ren­o­va­tion of the schools, accord­ing to the Mans­field Tomor­row Plan. Mans­field tax­pay­ers would have to fund the ren­o­va­tions through increased tax­es, the plan states.

Students get their meals here before walking across the hall to the gym/cafeteria/auditorium to eat. (Photo by Jackson Ballenger)
Stu­dents get their meals here before walk­ing across the hall to the gym/cafeteria/auditorium to eat. (Pho­to by Jack­son Bal­lenger)

There are oth­er con­cerns with the ren­o­vate like-new option. The over­all cost of ren­o­vat­ing the schools is like­ly high­er than con­struct­ing one or two new schools. There would also be the issue of where to send the stu­dents to school dur­ing the ren­o­va­tions, Lyman said.

There is no cur­rent esti­mate of much ren­o­va­tions or con­struc­tion would cost. The plan is to hire an out­side plan­ning con­sul­tant to address the costs of both options, Lyman said.

This exceeds the bud­get of the Mans­field Board of Edu­ca­tion and will be sub­mit­ted as part of the town bud­get in the 2016–2017 cap­i­tal improve­ment fund, Lyman said.

There is a good chance that the funds for this will be approved, Mar­celli­no said. The 2016–2017 bud­get meet­ing will take place this May.

The cur­rent three schools are full or close to it. The dis­trict stan­dard class size is 18 stu­dents, but each school cur­rent­ly has a least one class of 20 stu­dents, Lyman said. In addi­tion, Vin­ton ele­men­tary is cur­rent­ly at capac­i­ty, Lyman said.

We would love to add anoth­er teacher [to Vin­ton], but there isn’t enough phys­i­cal class­room space,” Lyman said.

Class size is a crit­i­cal fac­tor in a child’s aca­d­e­m­ic and social devel­op­ment. Stu­dents in small­er class­es per­form bet­ter in all sub­jects com­pared to their peers in larg­er class­es, the Nation­al Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Eng­lish said in a state­ment.

The gymnasium at Goodwin Elementary also serves as the cafeteria and auditorium. (Photo by Jackson Ballenger)
The gym­na­si­um at Good­win Ele­men­tary also serves as the cafe­te­ria and audi­to­ri­um. (Pho­to by Jack­son Bal­lenger)

The effect of small class sizes has the most impact dur­ing the ele­men­tary years, accord­ing to the NCTE. The ear­li­er and longer that a child is in small class­es, the more they ben­e­fit. Stu­dents who are engaged in small class­es in ele­men­tary school also car­ry the ben­e­fits with them into high­er edu­ca­tion. A stu­dent enrolled in small ele­men­tary class­es will con­tin­ue to ben­e­fit even if they are in larg­er class­es in high school and col­lege, accord­ing to the NCTE.

The ben­e­fits of small­er class sizes go beyond school. Stu­dents in small­er class­es are more like­ly to talk to each oth­er and the teacher, rather than sit­ting pas­sive­ly, accord­ing to the NCTE. A study pub­lished by Diane Whit­more Schanzen­bach of the Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Pol­i­cy Cen­ter found that the ben­e­fits of small class­es fol­low stu­dents beyond school as well. Stu­dents assigned to small­er class­es fared bet­ter than their peers in large class­es across a vari­ety of met­rics, Schanzen­bach wrote. These include crim­i­nal behav­ior, teen preg­nan­cy, grad­u­a­tion rates, mar­riage rates and home own­er­ship.

Rochelle Mar­cus, a teacher at Mans­field Mid­dle School who has stud­ied the effects of class size on stu­dents, said that her ide­al class size is 18 stu­dents.

With a large class of 25 or more stu­dents, I’m not going to be able to per­son­al­ize it [class] as much, and I’m going to have behav­ior issues.” Mar­cus said.

Large class sizes do cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where the stu­dents will work togeth­er bet­ter and more inde­pen­dent­ly, but this is because it’s not pos­si­ble to give per­son­al­ized atten­tion like you would to a small­er class, Mar­cus said.

Par­ents in Mans­field have grown attached to the three ele­men­tary schools for oth­er rea­sons as well. In a Feb. 4 let­ter to the Mans­field Town Coun­cil, res­i­dent Jonathan Sgro expressed his dis­dain for the idea of con­struct­ing new schools. When the issue was raised before, par­ents vot­ed to keep the cur­rent three schools, Sgro said.

Peo­ple like the con­cept of small com­mu­ni­ty schools, espe­cial­ly at the ele­men­tary lev­el. They get attached to the school and its teach­ers, Mar­celli­no said.

One of the rea­sons we chose to move to Mans­field was because of the excel­lent school dis­trict here” Men­doza said.

Men­doza did acknowl­edge that there are areas that need to be improved on. A sep­a­rate gym, cafe­te­ria and audi­to­ri­um would be cru­cial if the schools were to be ren­o­vat­ed, Men­doza said. The school’s tech­nol­o­gy is also in need of an upgrade.

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