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Redistricting Plan Fractures Culture, Desirability of Neighborhood

As an Oak Street resident for 14 years, this Winchester parent and realtor questions aspects of the proposed redistricting plan.

My family has lived on Oak Street for 14 years. Our daughters attended , a 10-minute walk from our house. Many cherished memories, indeed some of our best Winchester friendships, were made lingering while the kids played at “our” school playground before meandering home. Therefore I was shocked and saddened by the School Redistricting Plan. If accepted, it threatens to compromise our beloved in-town, walkable lifestyle, and weaken the desirability that brought many young families to our neighborhood. It will erase the rich tradition of families strolling down Washington Street with backpacked kids for morning drop-off or afternoon pick-up, heading to or coming from the train to work. At-home parents who now bundle up their strollered little ones, drop the “big kids” at Lincoln, then head downtown for walkable errands or coffee dates at will soon be hauling everyone into the car or onto the bus.

With all due respect, the common sense and safety of this Plan must be considered more carefully! I urge you to POSTPONE THIS VOTE until further research can be done!

As a Realtor, I can tell you that one of the great appeals and values of any neighborhood is the proximity to its school. Buyers ask, "How far is the school? We want to be able to walk." Every listing agent in town puts the phrase "walk to school!" on their listing sheets. It’s a great selling point! When hearing about this development, one neighborhood homeowner said, "Gee, that's why we bought on this street."  Another parent stood in front of the Redistricting Map and said, "Well, I wouldn't buy a house in THIS neighborhood" while pointing to my street. This plan has the potential to negatively affect home values in the redistricted areas and may drive families to other neighborhoods, towns, or private schools.

Despite having 2 elementary schools within ½ mile, the Plan will send our neighborhood’s families 1.5 miles away to . While an excellent school (many friends’ children walk to Lynch daily and love it), it’s significantly further away with necessary crossings at busy streets. Even families with “grandfathered” Lincoln 5th graders will be scrambling to get younger siblings at Lynch safely home. More buses and cars, fuel emissions, traffic, earlier pickup/dropoff times, and significant expense to our families. Not Sustainable!

Dear Committee, if your neighborhood’s culture, sustainability, and value were being threatened, what would YOU do? 

-Katherine Waters-Clark

Realtor, REMAX Leading Edge

Resident of Oak Street

Kristine Kamikawa May 30, 2012 at 03:32 PM
I absolutey agree! This plan does not make sense. I live 7 minutes walking distance from Muraco. My two kindergarteners, second grader and I walk almost every day to school. We moved to this house because it was important to our family to be able to walk to school. Lynch is not walkable. Lynch does not make sense for us. Kristine Kamikawa 44 Swanton Street
RSB May 30, 2012 at 04:29 PM
I agree completely with Katherine's comments and I too live .5 miles from both Lincoln and Muraco schools. My family has been living here for 7 years and now that our daugther is coming of school age I feel the rug is being pulled out from under us. Why are we targeting the youngest of our children who are least able to travel to distant elementary schools ? Shouldn't they be given the priority to attend their local school. This proposed plan is backward on so many levels that countless parents in our neighborhood are simply flabbergasted. Isn't the school committee tasked with looking out for the best interests of the children? How is uprooting our entire neighborhood a "thoughful" plan as I read in another post? When traveling on a bus or train is it not our duty to give up the nearest seat to the elderly or a mother with a child? How is this different? How is this plan fair? The numbers do not bear this out, the map most certainly does not bear this out. The committee should think long and hard about the proposed burden that will be unfairly place on these neighborhoods. Isn't the first lesson we that we teach to our children about fairness? This plan is simply not fair. If I were the teacher, I would tell the advisory committee that this homework assignment is incomplete at best and verging on failing. I urge the committee to postpone the vote. Revisit the map with all parties involved and get it right. It is simply too important not to.
GB May 30, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Yes, I agree with Katherine as well. I think we all realize that this task of redistricting is very challenging, but that the school committee absolutely must reconsider and reset priorities so that safety and logic come first. And when I say logic, I mean not just relying on the numbers spat out by some computer program or the long routes the GIS assumes, not just minimizing numbers moved. It simply doesn't make any sense to leave VO so empty. It doesn't make sense to move families who very purposefully purchased homes less than half a mile (walking distance!) from a school, although I understand the problem: west side = big schools and sprawl, east side = small schools and walkable in-town streets...there is inherently a challenge, but this is not the right solution. All modern planning makes walkable communities a goal. With this plan, Winchester is going backward instead of forward. RSB, I agree -- please postpone the vote!
Tony May 30, 2012 at 10:00 PM
I agreed with Katherine. The Committee should postpone the vote until collecting more information for the general public. Voting only 2 weeks after choosing a final plan is totally NOT ACCEPTABLE. Why rush? Why does the committee choose a plan in scarifying children's safety? Look at the intersection of Swanton St and Main St with all the traffic from the transfer station, no No-Turn-On red sign, no crossing guard etc... How do they expect a kid to walk 1.5 miles in such dangerous route? Geography distance and safety should be the best guide line for a good redistricting plan.
Juanita Zerda May 30, 2012 at 11:42 PM
I disagree. There has been AMPLE time to submit comments. All that is included in the latest plan had already been included in parts earliest versions. Whatever plan the Committee comes up with will generate controversy. Delaying voting will only result in more divisiveness. I wish people had a bit more perspective. This is the United States, the Northeast, Massachusetts, Winchester. We are already very privileged. I think that the latest plan is coherent with the principles outlined by the Committee. Juanita Zerda
BAV May 31, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Spot on! There are no changes proposed in the RAC recommendation that were not proposed in the earlier drafts available in mid-April. Claims that people were not aware of the potential redistricting lines does not hold water. There was no rush. I appreciate that those who are unhappy with the recommendation would like a "do over". However, if that is to be the case, we must accept that those unhappy with the subsequent plans will also have a right to a "do over". I also honestly question what new information would be gained by delaying a vote. As it is, the school committee can vote the proposal up or down. Delaying the vote implies that there is new information to which the committee is not privy. This is not the case.
The purpose of the town-wide redistricting was to ease overcrowding and to provide the best physical learning environment possible at each elementary school. This plan will not alleviate the overcrowding at Lincoln or Muraco. Delaying the vote will give the School Committee time to process the public comments received on 6/4 and to deliberate at the table. I would like to hear the School Committee discuss the plan and to explain the basis for either supporting it or rejecting it. No plan will please everyone, but it is important for the School Committee to consider every angle before making its decision.
Suburbanmama May 31, 2012 at 04:45 AM
@Juanita, that was time to submit comments to the RAC, but not to the school committee. It's two weeks for the school committee, which does seem pretty short for such a high-impact decision. @BAV I also followed the whole process. We aren't affected by the redistricting but I understand why people in the proposed areas are surprised at the outcome of the report. In the RAC public meetings, it seemed as though the committee was taking input on many things including walkability, equity etc. and trying to balance many factors. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I also believed they were choosing between the three models they presented. Then the final report says "we weren't tasked with this or that" and seems to come down to one point - minimizing how many students are impacted right now while maintaining class size. Why didn't the committee just come out and say that at the beginning and save everyone the trouble of getting their hopes up that they would consider other factors? If only the school committee can consider these other factors, then they need longer to get and think about all of the public comments.
Stephen DeConto May 31, 2012 at 01:39 PM
While the goal is to relieve overcrowding and reclaim specialist space that has been lost in our schools, the solution to this town wide problem should not be put on the backs of families who live within a neighborhood they chose to buy their homes because of what the neighborhood offered and an easy walk to school. This plan may be comfortable for the majority of families in town, but that may simply be because it doesn't impact in any way on their lives, the safety and wellbeing of their children, the cohesiveness of their neighborhood and the value of their homes. Whatever is done to improve ALL of our schools and ALL of our children’s education should be a shared responsibility and much more equitable. How many examples do we have in Winchester of what were thought to be good decisions or the "best " plans at the time that now, with the passage of time are seen to be seriously flawed. Let us be smarter than this and work out a plan that we can live with now and look back at in the future and be proud of. Stephen DeConto Blossom Hill Road
outsidein May 31, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I too can understand why the people impacted are panicked and upset (as would probably anyone that is impacted), but its wrong to say the process was flawed or that there weren't enough meetings or that people didn't know about it. I thought it was clearly stated that the primary goal was equitable class sizes and reclaiming specialist space. They made it clear that secondary considerations were things like walkability. My feeling is that people who felt walkability was the most important thing heard what they wanted to hear, not what was being communicated in meetings, presentations, and other written communications.
HML52 May 31, 2012 at 02:42 PM
For Ambrose families not affected by the proposed May 22 plan: if you would choose to attend V-O if given an opportunity, please let the School Committee know before June 4 by sending a note via the RAC website http://www.winchesterredistricting.com/. It might help to open up enrollment elsewhere for choice.
Joe Peters May 31, 2012 at 03:08 PM
This plan has been coming since the idea of rebuilding V-O first took root with the state some 5 years ago. Granted, it seems like we came at this backward - build the school first and then figure out where the kids are rather than first figuring enrollment and then building there, but five years ago, we needed to hop in line with the state's school building program. It is hard to see how more time will produce better information. You do raise a good point about how the RAC's final plan did not reflect the previous models, but weren't these meetings all open to the public (have to be to some extent under the Open Meeting Law)? In the ideal, we might also be putting an addition on at Muraco, and even then, still, we have kids at Ambrose and Lincoln (ironically the two schools most recently rebuilt) that would need to move. If we knew five or 10 years ago, what we know now, no doubt we would have executed a different or a better plan. But this is what we bought into five years ago. That's five town elections - plenty of opportunity to change the School Committee or at least raise these issues in debate. That's about 10 Town Meetings (including one specifically dedicated to the expansion of the McCall School). Last year, we even had a dedicated election to cement this plan - the V-O override. My kid is moving from a school he loves. That disappoints me, but I can't say the process hasn't been fair or open.
Joe Peters May 31, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Stephen, I agree that with time, past decisions seem flawed. As a town government, we have hard time thinking in the abstract - at a policy level. Much of what we have done is with a specific goal in mind. It's target focus, and we block out the possible negatives that undoubtedly come to fruition. I empathize with many of your points, but it is hard to see how we fix this. The one possibility I see that if we are willing to accept some negatives (larger than ideal class sizes or not recovering specialist space) we could probably grandfather existing students where they are. But that may be a lot for the majority of students to accept for the benefit of those who might be redistricted. Otherwise, the math is clear. If this is the worst thing my child will ever have to face, I'd be delighted, but the truth is whatever awkwardness or discomfort he experiences a year from now is just part of life and adjusting to change. As changes go, this will be relatively minor. Undoubtedly, there may also be benefit that is hard to see right now. I would also say that I think we have been behind the curve in dealing with our enrollment, but a good portion of that predates our current school administration. We've been playing catch-up, and that invariably leads to less-than-ideal solutions.
Winchester Parent May 31, 2012 at 03:49 PM
What did people think when they voted for a new school that could accomodate additional students? I'm sensing from the commentary this is a case of NIMBY - fine for someone else's child to move but not mine. It was clear at the outset, to me at least, that redistricting would be necessary to fill up space in the new VO school and free up space at other schools by moving students out. Nobody likes change. It can be disruptive and uncomfortable. At the end of the day, all our children will still have the opportunity to go to a Winchester Public School - among the best schools in the state, in a state that ranks highly in education.
@Joe -- Unfortunately, the math is not clear. The proposed plan is based on an inflated capacity at Muraco and Lincoln. Muraco has 475 students enrolled this year -- 100 more students than when my 5th grader entered the school in 2006. Muraco's capacity was reported in 2007 to the MSBA to be 315. Now the administration is saying that Muraco's capacity is 480, simply because we have 24 classrooms. If our class sizes are still relatively low, it's because we have these 24 classrooms (and I'm glad we were able to have them these past 3 years). But Muraco cannot continue to function as a 24 classroom building. The administration recognizes this and the plan calls for Muraco to become a 22 classroom building. But there are three problems with this. First of all, that includes the two modular classrooms, which are not permanent. Second, the building is too small to be a 20 classroom building (without the modular classrooms). And finally, the plan will not free up two classrooms. Only 10 children would be redistricted.
Joe Peters May 31, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Maura, I agree that the specific numbers are a little hard to reconcile, in part because the RAC report seems to feature two sets of data (compare chart 1 to the charts in addendum A). However, it does seem the goal is to step down capacity at Muraco, Lincoln and Ambrose while increasing capacity at Lynch (due to departure of administration) and at V-O, which will have a built-out capacity of 480 for a current district of about 300 students. Going forward, it appears as though elementary enrollment is leveling off if not declining. I suspect the hope is eventually the portables will disappear. It sounds like from your comment, you would like to see Muraco step down in capacity more quickly. As you say, the capacities seem to be inflated. That's a good point. There does seem to be a goal of minimizing the impact but there is a point where moving only a handful of students may be worse than moving a lot - at their new school those students might not see a familiar face; however with a larger redistricting, there will be more familiar faces. Still the bottom line is we have to put about 2200 students somewhere and to me that is the clear math: Our excess capacity will be at V-O and Lynch (to some extent). Our over capacity is at Ambrose, Lincoln and Muraco.
Kathleen Costello June 01, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Joe- thank you so much for your reasonable and intelligent comments. I completely agree. We have some big issues to deal with if the majority of kids can not overcome the challenge of switching elementary schools within the same town! I also have to point out that it was very clear ten years ago that Vinson Owen needed to be rebuilt due to an awful building and overcrowding in schools. I am shocked at all the surprise from the westland walkers crowd? Where did they think the town was going to pull.from to relieve crowding and fill Vinson Owen? I feel like these people moved into wrigleyville and then complained about the cubs games? Or moved into the fens and then complained about the red sox? Hasn't the writing been on the wall for at least ten years??
Joe Peters June 01, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Kathleen, I saw one or two of your posts standing up for Lynch. It's unfortunate this is coming on the heels of the MCAS debacle. I think the MCAS is abundantly flawed, but what people should look at is not the fourth-grade scores but how those scores progress/improve through time. What the numbers are saying is what many of us already know: Lynch does a great job taking kids of many different backgrounds and learning abilities and gives them the foundation they need to pull even with their peers later on. The MCAS is just proof that politicians have no place in the classroom. I like the Wrigleyville reference. In fairness to the contingent upset over redistricting (and that might include me), you did have to read between the lines of what the town has been doing the past several years. I think you are right, the comprehensive plan that identified V-O is probably close to 10 years old. But it was about five years ago, that V-O got placed on the state track for reconstruction. The problem is we didn't connect "room for all" with redistricting. Maybe there is a lesson learned there. Redistricting is the finishing touch to a process that involved two-thirds consent of Town Meeting and a majority vote of the public (i.e. override). We need to make sure we do it right, but I haven't heard a better plan, just ones that substitute who gets moved. I am not happy that we are moving, but it isn't hardest thing we or our kids will ever face - by a long shot.
Winchester Coalition for a Safer Community June 01, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Joe, You are right that I think Muraco needs to step down in enrollment more quickly. We have been severely overcrowded for 6 years already and this plan won't change that. I agree that the excess capacity is at the new VO and Lynch and I was hoping to see a plan that would take advantage of that excess capacity. But VO, for example, is projected to have only 398 kids in 2013, well under its capacity.
Stephen DeConto June 01, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Thank you Joe and Kathleen for respectfully expressing your thoughts on this matter. As many can see, this can be an emotional issue. It strikes at what many of us value most, our families, our homes, our neighborhoods. So, maintaining thoughtful and polite conversation is greatly appreciated. We are better able solve issues and live and grow together as a community this way than those who would become arrogant. I would suggest though that 10 years ago, the plan to reduce overcrowding at Ambrose was to be solved by the town wide funding for the new, larger Ambrose School. Therefore it is very upsetting for many of the families who live in this Ambrose School neighborhood or who bought homes in this neighborhood in the past 10 years directly adjacent to the Ambrose School to find out that now the solution to overcrowding in 2012 has to solved at their expense. For these families in this neighborhood it does change the dynamics of the neighborhood and how children and families interact. It does impact on home values. This plan does create safety issues that are not addressed and are very difficult to address. But, you have to live in this neighborhood to really understand this. We are not a school district. We are right next to this school! I don't believe we can liken this to living close to a ballpark and being upset about the noise. The exact opposite is truer. Families moved into this neighborhood to enjoy its local amenities, the Ambrose School being one of them.
Stephen DeConto June 01, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Vinson Owen will be a fine new school. That is not the issue. All of the schools in town should be able to provide equal education and opportunities for all of the children. The way this plan is devised, Ambrose becomes the most economically enriched school, while Lynch suffers the loss of more affluent households and the increase of less affluent households. We don't need hindsight to know now what economic disparity will do to equality of resources and quality of the education our children will experience when this imbalance occurs. We do need to shift students from one district to another as things stand now for better classroom balance. What our neighborhood is saying is let's get it right this time. Maybe even take the time to fix some of the mistakes made in the past. Don't let this plan be the one that we look back at and regret our short sightedness again.
Joe Peters June 01, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Stephen, one of the fun, what-if exercises is to look at a map of the town and put schools where you think they should be. I doubt anyone, would put them in the current locations. When you look at how the railroad tracks, the Aberjona, major roads and the cemetery split up the town, our schools seem more located on the borders of neighborhoods than in the middle of them. Turn the clock back far enough when there were twice as many, smaller, elementary schools, maybe it would make sense. And maybe there is something to the fact that that town's master plan predates the buildings and any number of changes the town has gone through in the past 60 years. I agree that there are drawbacks to what has been proposed. However, I am at a loss as to how to mitigate them without undoing the series of decisions that have been made over the past several years. Some of those decisions required a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting. A big decision (the override) required a majority of all voters. Even then, I would say popularity doesn't equate to fairness and this is where an elected board is valuable. Maybe they will find something to balance the benefit for a majority against the disruption caused to a few. Is there some alternate plan you or your neighborhood are backing? I have come up with different scenarios, but they all seem to just shift the problem onto somebody else - unless I figure a way of building a municipal time machine :)
Stephen DeConto June 01, 2012 at 09:55 PM
@Joe Peters I grew up in town Joe when we did have the Mystic School serving the Pierrepont Rd area and southern area of town, The Wyman(now condos on Church) served the Flats and George Washington (near the hospital and now condos) served the Muraco area. The RAC recommendation report states that our town has changed over the years and "calling our current model a "neighborhood" model is to a large degree, inaccurate." True we may not be the "model" of neighborhood schools anymore, but every elementary school in town does have an adjacent neighborhood that is part of that school. To declare that we don't fit the neighborhood model seems to be the RAC’s justification to severing a neighborhood school neighborhood from its school. Yes there may be some alternatives proposed to the school committee. True, almost any reasonable plan will shift the solution to achieving these goals elsewhere.. Consider this though. Might it be better to shift the redistricting map toward neighborhoods that drive or take the bus already and can stay intact?
Joe Peters June 01, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Stephen, I have a theory that a couple of grandparents who have seen three generations in Winchester probably could predict enrollment better than a lot of the information tools we are using. If you look at the past peak enrollment of the early 70s, the question really isn't why are we seeing this enrollment now; it's why didn't we see this a few years early (given generational cycles). My issue is we can't recover the buildings we excised. We can't move the ones we have to more central locations. So what do we do? You have an interesting idea, redistrict the people in the gap or distant areas instead of people immediately adjacent. I don't have a problem with that.
outsidein June 02, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Stephen, an aside note. I was very impressed with your Westland Walkers group from the meetings I attended. You all were passionate, enthusiastic, and organized. As a VO parent, I would selfishly love to see your group become part of the VO community for the enthusiasm and energy you bring. I'm sure the rest of VO would welcome your spirit with open arms!
Winchester Mom June 02, 2012 at 03:11 AM
If the new VO was being built at Parkhurst the Westland Walkers would be much happier and quieter. We have no issue with VO. It's a wonderful school, has a great community of parents and children... It's just in the wrong place and we have some serious safety concerns about our kids going up Johnson to get to school.
Joe Peters June 02, 2012 at 03:14 PM
If you look at the location of all our elementary schools, they border at least one major road. I think many parents - before and after redistricting - would echo the comments of the walkers about safety etc. Rebuilding V-O at Parkhurst would have been an interesting idea, and would have saved the $2 million or so it cost to renovate the building. But now you have two new schools right next to each other, and you trade the walking impact on one neighborhood for that of another (say, anyone north of Johnson Road). Five years ago, we had to get into the state's school building pipeline quickly and what was at the top of the list was V-O per the schools master plan. In my view the issue was V-O was at the top of the list due to its condition, not enrollment, but we had to make one project serve two functions: fix a dilapidated school and fix enrollment. The problem was enrollment was an issue everywhere but at V-O. This might not be a perfect plan, but between town elections and Town Meetings, this was the plan we chose multiple times. In fairness, some objected to it, especially around the time of the override, but this is what we chose democratically. Sure, the specifics of redistricting we didn't choose (and won't directly). Maybe the lines could be drawn better, and that is worth exploring; we'd love to stay at our current school. I just can't see how given the numbers we do this without some disruption.

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