The Wellesley Public Schools have a lot of balls in the air.
First off, construction on a teardown/rebuild on the existing footprint of the Hunnewell Elementary School in Wellesley Square is slated to begin next summer, provided the project gets the needed votes from Town Meeting this fall and from the general public at a special election in December. While construction goes on, students will need to be educated for 18 months in off-site swing space.
“The original proposal was for those students to be reassigned by grade level to the other elementary schools with space to host additional classes. A complex endeavor to be sure, with Hunnewell classes being separated, shifted to new schools, and then returning to their new school,” Wellesley Public Schools Supt. Dr. David Lussier wrote in an email replying to our questions.
Also on the calendar is a proposed teardown/rebuild of the John D. Hardy Elementary School, with a construction start date planned for next summer.
The new Hunnewell and Hardy schools are being designed to accommodate up to 365 students and 18 classrooms within a 6-school district.
Upham School, which along with Hardy was in the running to be revamped, ultimately was not chosen for a rebuild. The School Committee’s plans are to close Upham but retain ownership of the building and the property until such a time that the town’s elementary school enrollment increases to the point when a 7-elementary school model is once again needed.
At the same time, the district also has put into place plans for full elementary redistricting (slated to occur in 2024) upon the completion of both the Hunnewell and the Hardy building projects, and the consolidation from 7 to 6 elementary schools, with the closure of Upham School. “Those plans were completed and approved in early 2020 and were part of the community decision to assess building a new school on the Upham vs. Hardy sites,” Lussier said.
As part of these plans, Upham School was supposed to remain as the Upham School for another two years. However, many Upham families left the WPS system last year during the pandemic and enrolled their students in private school. During an update by WPS at the Aug. 31 School Committee meeting, it was reported that Upham is down to 175 students, 13 teachers, and 12 sections.
The falling numbers at Upham have led to a new proposal put together by members of the School Committee working on the building projects and the WPS administration. “Even prior to the pandemic, Upham’s numbers had declined to such a degree that there were single sections of some grade levels. The pandemic has only led to a further decline in Upham’s enrollment, despite district efforts to reassign students to that school,” Lussier said.
At a June School Committee meeting Lussier said, “…we’ve been dealing with significantly lower enrollment at Upham now for some years. In order to have a critical mass of students and to maintain a vibrant school community we are trying to use the tools available to us, and one of them of course is choice, allowing families to enroll.” To that end, enrollment was opened to families who might want to transfer their students there. Only 2 families signed on. Later, 1 of those pulled out.
During a Sept. 23 Zoom meeting attended by School Committee representatives and Lussier, the Upham community was informed of a proposal that could lead to the closure of Upham at the end of this school year, and an earlier-than-expected redistricting of that school’s students. Lussier emphasized to us that this is a proposal, not a decision.
Teachers and staff at Hunnewell and Upham were earlier told of the proposal, which has started to generate buzz across town.
Under the proposal, the idea is to redistrict Upham students at the end of the 2021-2022 school year and use the Upham building as swing space for the Hunnewell community until 2024, when the new Hunnewell is expected to open its doors. Under this plan, Upham will no longer serve its current community. Upham students would be redistributed to other schools. Lussier cites minimizing overall disruptions and transitions to students and families as the reasons for the change.
As laid out by Lussier during meetings, the proposal includes the following phased-in approach to redistricting:
- Beginning in SY2022-23, Upham students would be redistricted to Bates and Sprague, per the approved redistricting plan
- The Skills program, the in-district, specialized program that serves students on the autism spectrum, would be relocated to Hardy. This program, which draws students from across the district, was already slated to move to the new Hardy building, which is being customized to support this program.
- Hunnewell students, rather than being sent to multiple schools during their school construction, would move as an entire school into the Upham building in the fall of 2022 and then return to their new school in February of 2024.
- Phase 1 of this proposed early redistricting plan would only involve redistricting the Upham school. The remaining redistricting plan would be implemented in Phase 2 in 2024.
Lussier said, “We can certainly appreciate the feelings of the Upham community to this proposal, which would accelerate the timeline for that school’s closure by two years. We would not be contemplating this approach if we did not feel it was responsive to each of the aforementioned needs while minimizing overall disruptions/transitions to students and families.”
This is all far from a done deal. “This proposal is being shared with the intent of soliciting feedback from the community before any decision is made by the School Committee to proceed,” Lussier said.
- The Hunnewell community has been invited to a 7pm Zoom meeting on Monday, Sept. 27 to learn about “important updates on the WPS elementary building projects and their impact on Hunnewell moving forward.” Supt. Lussier and and School Committee representatives will be on hand for this discussion.
- Wellesley School Committee will have its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 6:30pm. Among the agenda items: Swing space and phased redistricting.
- A WPS community webinar on swing space & redistricting is slated for Thursday, Sept. 30 at 7pm.
Separately, the Wellesley Advisory Committee has been reviewing Town Meeting articles related to the school projects, including at its Sept. 22 meeting.
More: Hardy, Hunnewell, Upham Facilities Projects
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Javid m says
This is a brand new redistricting plan that has never before been presented or discussed. It is being rushed through in less than 60 days with no time for the Upham area residents and not just parents to review.
There was never a plan proposed to move the entire Hunnewell district en masse to Upham across route 9. Having an entire school worth of cars crossing rt9 and rt16 twice a day will make the town gridlocked beyond imagination. This is not phase 1 of the original plan by any stretch.
This is not just a plan to separate the very cohort of kids who have struggled through Covid. This is the school district trying to fire teachers to save money and telling the rest of the town “Time for some traffic problems in Wellesley”. Natick and Framingham drivers using either 9 or 16 to get to work will be impacted too.
Supporting swing space at Upham says
The proposal would be to bus kids from Hunnewell to Upham. To be absolutely honest this plan makes sense, Upham lost approx 70 students from families pulling their kids in the 2020 school year. New families to town were used to bump up Upham’s numbers,
that is wrong on so many levels. Imagine buying a home close to Sprague only to be told you need to go to Upham just to help them add enrollment?! Now that is a bait and switch. If Upham families want to be upset at someone they should be upset at their neighbors .
Upham students will be placed where they will be in 2024. Maybe the autism program should be placed elsewhere for construction. Hunnewell kids shouldn’t have to be scattered all over town while we see Upham’s enrollment declining. There is room at the other schools.
This is not a bait and switch this is an ever changing landscape and a proposal that makes the most sense.
I understand the pain of Upham parents but as a taxpayer and parent I support this plan. These two school projects are desperately needed for our youngest learners who continue to function in buildings our town has put little money into over the past 40 years.
Hell No says
You sound very selfish. You need to give up something – it’s not all about you. If the debt exclusion passes, you get a new school. Why should all the burden of this pathetically managed process fall on one school community? Think about someone other than yourself.
Supporting Swing Space at Upham says
I’m not sure who you are calling selfish but that is a pretty good description of what residents have witnessed from Upham parents during this process. They thought they had it in the bag and had no care in the world for any other school. Comments at the lastest Upham meeting re swing space included but were not limited to: we are the wealthier area of town, we pay more taxes, we deserve a new school and of course the drug running mules on Rt9. Directed to our Superintendent were comments like: we pay your salary and we know you will do the right thing for us. We never heard Upham parents complain that their kids would be on a construction site when Upham was still on the table. The level of entitlement is out of control. The kids will be fine and we have plenty of room to administer this new plan. If you remove the skills kids and their siblings, metco students and employee children we are looking at probably 100 kids. Bates lost 51 student during the year 2020/21 and two more this year. Let’s focus on getting all the kids in better facilities.
I wish you had the confidence to back your ludicrous comments and lies with a real name. You are blatantly lying, no such comments were ever made during that 4.5 hour zoom.
Julia Miwa says
I, too, would like to see someone willing to put their name on these accusations. I’m also not sure what you mean by removing employee children and Metco students – is it your expectation that these children will stop attending WPS? Or is it your plan to just separate them from their current schoolmates and send them to some other elementary school in town?
Supporting the original plan says
These school projects are desperately needed, which means votes in support of them are desperately needed, so it would make sense not to alienate the voters from the Upham district. The suggestion that the closing of Upham is somehow the fault of the people who live in that neighborhood is not productive.
BS Schools Plan says
How many times have Upham families been reassigned over the years to other schools so that Upham could be used as a science project to make a statement that single section classrooms are bad for children? When Lussier started with the district 8-9 years ago, redistricting was discussed. Why was it not put in place? The residents! People didn’t want to move! Had redistricting happened all those years ago, the schools would have been more appropriately aligned. Upham has been allowed to die on the vine, and you now have a self-fulfilling prophecy. Congratulations, Wellesley.
Please don’t send our Town’s littlest kids with autism to a construction zone. Let’s keep the original timeline.
Concerned WPS Parent says
What an awful, hastily prepared “proposal”.
Pack Bates classrooms full off students, hindering the quality of both the Upham and Bates students education (Dr. Lussier, doesn’t the WPS have guidelines saying the ideal elementary class size is 18-22 per class? And Covid concerns, anyone?), pack the Upham skills program students into Hardy – putting children, many of whom have difficulty with transitions and sensory sensitivities, on busy Weston Road, with construction to occur behind it, separating those skills students from their friendships formed over time at Upham and abruptly moving them into a new community away from the other redistricted Upham students…which new community will CHANGE AGAIN in two years once district-wide redistricting occurs; claim fiscal savings, when the WPS is pursuing two enormously expensive (the most and the third most expensive elementary schools on a per pupil basis in the state)….all after a year in which our students have suffered tremendously. Two years earlier than planned. Was the plan this community was presented with over the past [feels like a million] years all a ruse? A bait and switch? And why did families leave WPS? Because those families valued education, trusted science, and were incredibly frustrated by the WPS’ lack of prioritising our students’ mental health and quality of education. Families are now panicking, children are panicking, teachers are panicking…all for something Lussier casually describes as a “proposal”, not a done deal. WELLESLEY DESERVES BETTER. Right now, we are lacking even competent management. It is a disgrace.
ALL WHILE the WPS could have avoided the need for swing space in the first place by proposing to build Hardy first. When does the madness end?
Julia Miwa says
This proposal does not “minimize overall disruption/transitions to students and families”. Moving children out of their school and into a new one two years earlier than expected is a huge disruption. 40% of the children at Upham who will be moved to new schools under this proposal would not have moved to new schools at all under the previous plan – they would already be at the middle school or starting there when the redistricting took place. The Upham community would have a final year to celebrate their school and have a proper farewell – important for all students and teachers but especially important for students in the Skills Program.
An Upham Constituent says
The reason the Upham families have been de-enrolling is that they (rightfully) feel abandoned by the WPS. Despite the most dated facilities, the School Committee chose not to invest in a new school in order to save some mythical primeval forest that was alleged to be located where the new building would have sat. Instead, we will now be sending yellow school buses back and forth across Route 9 and the Upham kids will be dispersed to the winds like a Lost Tribe.
The WPS should be alerted to the very real possibility that they are now going to lose the support of a sizeable number of citizens when it comes to approving the capital budgets for their building plan.
Oh no! BATES AND SPRAGUE PARENTS – take note! Way more students coming our way in September if this passes!
Mari Passananti says
A deal is a deal. Upham families were told they’d have two more school years, after this one, in their school.
Yes, enrollment is down. Voters decided they wanted to consolidate.
But why should Upham’s kids be evicted so that another school’s kids can colonize their building? Why would we move our town’s most vulnerable kids away from their support system and into a construction zone?
Furthermore, why should Schofield and Fiske parents believe their schools are off the table, if the committee elects Internal Swing Space?
After all, it’s only a deal.
The Upham families had a deal, too, until they didn’t.
There is a Plan C that avoids the whole swing space mess. Build Hardy first.
The timelines have already been pressed close together by the pandemic, so leapfrogging Hardy ahead is feasible. The only reason advanced in favor of Hunnewell first to date has been “escalation costs.” Escalation costs mean construction-industry specific inflation. Inflation is real, but it’s rarely (if ever) the deciding factor on a major municipal capital project. And inflation won’t matter if the voters kill one or both debt exclusions.
I’d encourage every voter to watch the swing space discussion and the public comment at the beginning and end of last night’s School Committee meeting when it becomes available on Wellesley Public Media.
And I’d encourage commenters here to sign their names. We’re all neighbors, after all.