Ninth Elementary School Location Q&A: Andrew Bott and Susan Wolf Ditkoff

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Ninth Elementary School Location Q&A: Andrew Bott and Susan Wolf Ditkoff

Ethan Gainsboro, Sports Writing Editor

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Andrew Bott, Superintendent:

How was the Baldwin location picked?

After a year of public process and more than 20 public meetings, getting input from hundreds of community members, working with town boards, commissions and departments, expert analysis from an architectural firm on the viability of the three sites, the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee selected the site that they believed gives the town the best opportunity to build a high quality ninth elementary school. The selected site was the best combination of quality of site, location, and cost.

What are the pros of the new location?

The location will allow the Public Schools of Brookline to meet the current and future needs for student enrollment in South Brookline. This is also the least complicated location in terms of siting a school, and is the least expensive option. Because of the adjacent Parks and Open Space fields, this is a unique opportunity for the schools and town to collaborate on creating a great facility for community use.

Are there any cons?

Every site had complexities. The concerns heard most about Baldwin from residents were about the impact on traffic, in particular at the intersection of Heath and Hammond during rush hour.

How long will the school take to build?

The current timeline is to have it built and ready to open by fall of 2020. Both the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen have been clear that this is a best case scenario timeline.  

How will the respective school zones change?

There will be a public process that will determine redefined school boundaries.  This will take between one and three years to complete.

Susan Wolf Ditkoff, Head of the Brookline School Committee:

What are the pros of the Baldwin Location?

We picked Baldwin for a number of reasons. First, it is a beautiful setting for a school. There is already a school there right now. There’s the opportunity to create a K-8 school there for students in a beautiful setting. The second thing is that it offers several opportunities to really create partnerships with the Parks of Rec. department. The Soule field and property is in use right now, but more K-8 children from Brookline could benefit from the wonderful space. I’m looking forward to this partnership as well. The fact that it is in South Brookline is an important draw. This will create some redistricting. We heard loud and clear from the South Brookline community that they are ready and excited to have a school there. They are excited to have it specifically at the Baldwin location. There are lots of really good reasons, including that it happened to be the least expensive of the three options, which is important because we think about being respectful of taxpayers. For those four reasons, I think it is a really great opportunity for us and quite frankly, the fact is that we need to do something. We absolutely need to build a ninth elementary school. We’re excited that this is moving forward.

Are there any potential cons?

One potential downside is the notion that we would not be building it in a place where many children could currently walk to school. That’s different from both the Stop & Shop and the Baker site. It’s also true that there are some traffic issues that need to be mitigated in the neighborhood. Both of those things are things we need to be paying attention to as we look through the feasibility study to make sure that it’s a great school.

Do you think that the location will take away from the Winthrop House and/or the teacher day care?

The Winthrop House program is a really important part of our high school, and the long-term decisions about how to grow all of our high school programs — given our enrollment growth at the high school — is part of a larger conversation. I think our commitment to the students served by the Winthrop House program is strong and unwavering. I think the question of exactly how it will look given the growth of the high school overall is part of an important, broader conversation as we think about growth at the high school. And that conversation is happening. The staff day care is a little bit different since it isn’t part of regular pre-K to 12th grade program. That’s a separate conversation we need to have about how we serve those students and families going forward.

How will the respective school zones and districts change?

We don’t know exactly yet because first of all, the school won’t open for five years. So, there’s no advantage in creating new districts now given that the population will potentially be different five years from now. We need to start the process of redistricting and figuring out how to turn a town that is currently carved into eight districts into nine districts. Obviously, that will mean modifications across the number of districts. There is a memo on the website right now that gives more information about the process of how we’re going to do that analysis.

Do you plan on hiring new teachers or moving teachers from other elementary schools to the Baldwin location?

Probably a combination of both, because the children are coming and so we need to educate them between now and the time that the school opens. If we don’t hire any new teachers between now and when the school opens, then class sizes will get very, very large. So, we will need to hire some number of new teachers in the interim years to keep our class sizes manageable and some number of those teachers and students will transfer over to the new school. So that’s part of the process of creating a transition plan that is as focused as possible on maximizing the opportunities and minimizing the impact on the kids in the meantime. So, yes, we will need to create that transition plan.

Do you have any other comments you’d like to say about the Baldwin location?

I’d like to thank all the staff members and in particular, the community members who have come out to advocate for different solutions. We clearly need a school and there is a complete community consensus on that.

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