TOWNSEND -- Following pushback from parents from the North Middlesex Regional School District's three towns, Superintendent Brad Morgan said he is not likely to recommend a school restructuring plan that would send all fifth- and sixth-grade students to Hawthorne Brook Middle School in Townsend and seventh- and eighth-grade students to Nissitissit Middle School in Pepperell.
"We have to take each reason and take it seriously to make a decision for the district and what's best for the community," he said during a forum at North Middlesex Regional High School last week. "I'm not going to recommend anything that would be detrimental to your kids."
The forum was the last of four hosted around the district where parents spoke out against the plan. About 20 parents came to the last one at the high school.
Some Ashby parents who attended said restructuring would impact their children the most.
"I think the Ashby students will be hit with this the most because of the distance and the shift," said Liryc Donald, who has one child at Ashby Elementary School and one who will enroll there next year.
The town is about a half-hour drive from Nissitissit but up to an hour by bus.
There would be less time for students to do their homework, eat and spend time with their families if they are commuting longer, she said.
Ashby students are also at a disadvantage because there are fewer of them, Donald said.
Another Ashby parent, June McNeil, has three children attending the elementary school and Hawthorne Brook.
She said when her 9-year-old gets home from school, it's a rush to get her outside to enjoy the last few moments of daylight. With a longer trip to get home, that may not be possible.
"It's so much to take from our kids at a young age," McNeil said.
At the forums, parents spoke out about longer bus rides, getting kids to afterschool activities on time, picking up children from multiple transitions, and kids having to attend four different schools during their time in the district.
About 80 people attended forums at Hawthorne Brook and Nissitissit, Morgan said, and 20 were at an earlier forum at the high school.
The School Committee wanted the superintendent to explore the option of school restructuring, said Susan Robbins, a member who attended the forum. It's an idea that has come up over the years with prior superintendents.
School restructuring has gone on in the district before, she said. With changing demographics, she said there may be a need for it in the future.
"It won't be like (how it is) forever," Robbins said.
The committee is also looking at how bus routes and school start times could change.
Morgan was interested in the school restructuring to pursue one of his goals as superintendent -- creating a consistent school district with one culture.
It doesn't feel that way now until students get to high school, he said. Restructuring could be a way to get students to mix together earlier.
The fifth- and sixth-grade and seventh- and eighth-grade groupings also seem more age appropriate, Morgan said. There could be opportunity for better programming and planning for these age groups.
Parents were on board with creating a more unified district, he said, but the logistics would need to be re-examined.
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