Published in the March 9, 2016 edition


WAKEFIELD — Walton School parents were well represented at last night’s public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2017 School Department budget.

But they weren’t there to discuss the budget. They wanted to impress upon the School Committee the need to address space issues at the Walton School.

Andrew Bray of Highland Avenue led off the public comments on the Walton issue. He first thanked the School Committee for pursuing a capital request in next year’s budget for additional classroom space at the school. But he said that the school was also space constrained because one multi-purpose room is being used for many different functions at different times.

He said that the room functions as a library, art class, music class, technology class and science class among other educational programs.

The demands on that space, he said, have outstripped the room’s ability to host them.

Bray said that because the turnover of that room from one function to another requires time to clean up and rearrange, it is taking instructional time away from students, placing them at an educational disadvantage compared to students at other elementary schools.

He appealed to the School Committee for help in addressing the space issue, adding that there is also a shortage of a meeting area for the school staff.

Bray also decried the fact that the space shortage at the school has meant the loss of kindergarteners at the school, who he said have now been spread around the district.

He commented that he understood that the capital request for more classroom space has led to a recommendation from the town for a site analysis, which would require a Town Meeting article.

Bray called upon the School Committee to help draft such a warrant article for the May Annual Town Meeting. He asked that action on the space issue be fast tracked as it has been an ongoing problem. He hoped that the space issues could begin to be addressed as soon as September 2017.

Amy Miller of Elm Crest Road echoed Bray’s point regarding the fact that due to space issues kindergarten age students no longer attend the Walton, creating a hardship for parents.

“We want to keep our community intact and our neighborhood schools good,” she told the School Committee. Jeffrey Holmes of Bellevue Road also stressed the urgency of addressing the space problem, calling for quick action. Walton School Principal Jeri Hammond said that the space constraints hamper teachers’ ability to do long-term projects because the area must be cleaned up to get it ready for the next use.
“We just need something that gives us a little more room to grow and learn and make sure that we’re doing our best for our students,” Hammond said.
Angelique Defeo of Gould Street talked about the impact that the space shortage has had on Special Education students at the Walton School.
Other parents echoed the space concerns, particularly in that it has resulted in kindergarten students having to take a bus to different schools.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith said that the School Committee had originally requested at least one modular classroom for the Walton as part of the school capital plan. She said that Rick Stinson of the Capital Planning Committee had advised doing a site study first.
Smith said that she was asking the School Committee to take the lead in requesting a Town Meeting warrant article for $50,000 for a site study at the Walton to begin addressing the space needs. She agreed that the need for the multi-purpose room to serve so many functions was taking away from instructional time.
She said that the Walton was not in danger of running out of general grade level classes in the near future, but the multi-purpose room was a problem. She said that the site study could address both the multi-purpose room and the classroom issues.
Smith noted that at another elementary school in the district, the Greenwood, the issues are not related to space needs. She also said that she didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the Statement of Interest for the High School that is being submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
School Committee member Thomas Markham suggested that Smith consult with Stinson and Town Counsel Thomas Mullen to draft language for a Town Meeting warrant article to fund a site analysis for the Walton School so that it would be ready for the School Committee to vote on at an upcoming meeting.
Smith agreed to do so.