Sara Swanson

Young-fives Program, Alumni Field, artificial turf all subjects of Superintendent coffee hour

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Brad Hamilton, Manchester Community Schools’ interim superintendent, held the first of three coffee hours last Wednesday

Interim Superintendent Brad Hamilton fielded questions on a wide range of topics at the first of three coffee hours last Wednesday morning. The coffee hours were scheduled to give students’ families and community members an opportunity to provide input on and ask questions about the school board’s recent decisions to re-open the Middle School, reconfigure grade distribution among the buildings, close the Ackerson building, discontinue the school’s use of Alumni field, and invest in energy-saving projects across the district.

One big change coming to Klager Elementary School next year is that Manchester Community Schools will offer Young-Fives for incoming five year olds who are not yet ready for kindergarten. They will then attend kindergarten the following year. This is a departure from the district’s previous method of enrolling all incoming five-year olds into kindergarten, then having the students who are not ready for first grade, repeat kindergarten. Hamilton stated that there were 14 kindergarten students identified last year that would have benefited from young-fives. In the recent past Manchester students had no option for young-fives, but in 2014, the Co-op Preschool began offering a full-day, three day a week young-fives program. However, as a private program this young-fives had a fee, where young-fives through the school district will be free.

The middle school, dormant this year, will be reopened next year and will house 3rd-6th graders and will become a project-based learning environment. Hamilton explained that Gary Puhl, who will be the building’s principal, is certified as a project based teacher and teachers are receiving project-based training through the Buck Institute of Education. The Buck Institute of Education defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” Hamilton stated that plans are in the early stages and there will be trial and error as teachers discover what works and what doesn’t, but that project based-learning will only be part of the students’ day and traditional teaching methods will make up the majority of it.

Although, the Middle School/High School housed in the high school building will not be directly affected by building configuration or closure, Hamilton, who was joined by Middle School/High School principal Eric McCalla at the coffee hour, talked about the the pendulum swinging back from an exclusive focus on students attending 4-year institutions after graduation to a balance between college and trades. He stated that the district is in talks with Amcor and Martinrea to establish connections for future collaborations and hope in the future to install maker spaces and offer skilled trade classes.

Hamilton addressed the decision to replace the grass on the football field with artificial turf and explained that while there are disadvantages, the advantages far outweigh them and it is a “better solution than what we have now.” He explained that the artificial turf will allow soccer to be played on the field as well as football and the stadium–including snack stand and bathrooms–will be used twice as much. The field will be safer than Alumni Field for the soccer players, and the district will save a significant amount of money in irrigation costs.

“What will happen to the Ackerson building and Alumni Field?” was a prominent concern among coffee hour attendees. Hamilton stated that that decision would be tackled by the school board later. He talked about how important it is not to leave the Ackerson Building vacant but that it would take a very specific buyer as it has many issues. He gave the example of a comparable old school building in Stockbridge. Stockbridge wrote $800,000 into their bond to use to demolish the building but found a “buyer” who is assuming ownership of the building for the cost of $30,000 of repairs.

Regarding Alumni Field, Hamilton, who will be leaving in spring, stated, “I guarantee, that while I’m here, my suggestion to the board will be don’t do anything with Alumni Field until plans are in place for everyone who uses the field.” In acknowledging that it won’t be easy, he also stated that he is glad that he is not having to lead the district through these decisions.

If you missed the first coffee hour, don’t worry. You can attend the second on February 15th at 6 pm or the third on February 21st at 9 am. Both will be held in the board room of the Ackerson building, 410 City Road. Coffee and snacks will be provided.

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