studley elementary school

Studley (above) and Thacher elementary schools could serve preschool, kindergarten and grade 1 students under changes that officials are contemplating.

ATTLEBORO — The school department is considering a major reorganization of the way it groups grade levels and how school districts are drawn.

The reorganization could also result in high school students going to school later in the day and young children starting the day earlier in the morning.

School officials caution that they are only in the early stages of considering the changes and would spend a lot of time talking to parents and teachers before making a decision.

“This is just the start of a conversation,” Assistant Superintendent Laurie Regan said Tuesday.

The goal is to have any changes that are made in place for the 2021-2022 school year.

Regan and Superintendent David Sawyer told the school committee Monday evening that they would schedule meetings with PTO groups to present the ideas.

Sawyer said even if the school start times and grade configurations are not changed, redistricting must take place.

He said the school department hasn’t gone through redistricting in 20 years.

Regan said redistricting is needed because there is an inequity in the elementary school enrollments because of the shifting population in the city.

Neighborhoods that use to be brimming with school-aged children are now populated by “empty nesters” while formerly unused land is now the site of new housing developments with lots of children, she said.

As a result, some elementary schools have too many students.

The reconfiguration of grade groupings might be the biggest part of the reorganization.

Currently, all five elementary schools in Attleboro contain kindergarten through fourth grade. Middle schools are grades 5 through 8 and the high school is 9 through 12.

School officials are considering changing that with the idea of having some elementary schools contain preschool through first grade and others grades 2 through 4.

The current thinking is to have a lower elementary level consisting of preschool, kindergarten, and grade 1 at Studley and Thacher elementary schools.

Then there would be an upper elementary level of grades 2, 3 and 4 at Hyman Fine, Hill-Roberts, and Willett elementary schools.

Regan said that type of grouping would allow the school system to better target its resources to provide services.

As an example, she said that as things stand, if administrators want to provide a service such as special reading help for kindergarten and first graders, they would have to hire five reading teachers — one for each school.

If the grades were regrouped, only two reading teachers would be needed because all kindergarten and first graders would be in two schools rather than five.

Changing the times for each school is another issue the administration said it will address.

Education researchers have found that teenage brains do not function well early in the morning and high school should start later in the day.

Regan said the opposite is true of young children. They tend to get up early in the morning and tire out by late afternoon.

Yet, in Attleboro, and most other school districts, high school starts early and elementary starts later.

Attleboro High School goes from 7:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. and some students get a bus about 6:30 a.m.

Thacher Elementary School, one the other hand, starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 3:25 p.m.

There is a national movement to reverse the times and Regan said California has passed a law to make it happen.

School committee member William Larson, however, warned that some parents will be opposed to changing the times because, due to work obligations, they rely on their high school-age child to babysit younger siblings.

There were also concerns raised about the impact keeping high school students in school later would have on sports and extracurricular activities.

Sawyer said there is already talk within the Hockomock sports league about making adjustments to game times.

Regan said Sharon schools have made a similar change.

Sharon High School’s first class of the day is at 8:05 a.m.

School committee member Dianne Sawyer said she thought the changes would be a positive move, but member David Quinn said he is concerned about the “loudest voices” drowning out other points of view.

Later Quinn explained he expects the subject to bring out a lot of passionate opinions and the school committee should listen to all of them, not just the loudest.

Jim Hand may be reached at 508-236-0399 or jhand@thesunchronicle.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TSCpolitics.

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