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Easthampton school leaders propose reorganization plan for elementary schools

Principals for the two schools believe there is a better way.

As it stands now, both Maple School on Chapel Street and Center/Pepin School on Park Street enroll elementary students in kindergarten through Grade 4. Center/Pepin has two buildings but operates as one program.

The proposed reorganization plan would group pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students at Maple School with second through fourth graders attending Center/Pepin. If approved, the plan would go into effect next fall.

Because of the mixed groupings at each school, Maple School Principal Tim Luce said, “we now have students who live right next door to each other in the same grade who go to different schools. It’s frustrating for families.”

The School Committee is seeking public comment on a proposal that would house all students in the same grade at the same school. School leaders say the reorganization, which revives an idea first explored four years ago, will produce a more coordinated curriculum in the early grades.

“Even though our schools are not separated by that many miles, they might as well be in different towns, given how hard it is to get teachers together,” said Robert Orlando, Center/Pepin’s principal. “This plan allows us to have more efficient use of resources.”

There would be no change in school start times or bus schedules, administrators say, though accommodations would be needed for families with students enrolled at both schools. There would also be no staff reductions as a result of the plan.

Other advantages to the plan, according to Orlando, are that it would give all students access to the same school facilities, such as the gym and auditorium at Pepin. The reorganization will also make it easier to provide special education services to students in the same grade, he said.

At Maple, Luce said the change would mean the creation of an early childhood learning center.

“People may ask, ‘Why give up the concept of neighborhood schools?’ ” he said. “But our city is small enough that both schools are neighborhood schools.”

School leaders acknowledge that teachers and families are likely to have concerns about the reorganization, and for that reason they have scheduled a public forum on the proposal for 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 27 at Pepin.

“We need to take this under advisement until we’ve heard from the public,” said School Board Chairwoman Nancy Sykes.

Orlando said a letter describing the reorganization has been mailed to all elementary school families. He encouraged anyone with questions to feel free to call. Center/Pepin’s main office number is 529-1540 and Maple’s is 529-1550.

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