Redistricting fears

FI-EditorialHearing the word ‘redistricting’ sends chills up parents’ spines while making them want to reach right for the extra strength Excedrin, and for good reason.

No one wants to do it. Not the administrators responsible for it and certainly not the parents who could well find that their child’s school is no longer their school. It is a major league headache and will no doubt lead to frayed tempers and angry reactions. That’s perfectly understandable and everyone knows it’s coming. So while it may not be avoidable, perhaps it can be mitigated just a bit.

Last week Superintendent of Schools William McKersie began what he called a “major conversation.” It’s one that people know has been coming, but that won’t make the results any easier. Greenwich’s public schools seem to be either bursting at the seams with students or with tumbleweeds rolling through the halls. Only one school is in what the district calls the “sweet spot” of having the perfect level of students, and that’s one of the schools that the state has declared to be in racial imbalance.

Something has to be done. This problem will not go away, and it can’t be fixed by either closing a school or building a new one. Students are going to have to be, in the words of the district, “redistributed” around town. But how much “redistribution” is needed is still very much an open question.

What’s important to remember is that as of now no decisions have been made. There is an aggressive time frame ahead, and if all goes according to plan, an option will be identified by the end of the school year and a final decision will be made in early fall. That’s not a lot of time, but parents need to go into this with open minds and fingers off the panic button.

This is not a time to go charging directly at the district leadership with demands that hell will be unleashed if certain options are chosen. This is a time for communication among all sides and for everyone to listen. There’s no sense going on the attack when the Board of Education doesn’t even have a clear direction yet.

In the early parts of this conversation we have heard Dr. McKersie repeatedly refer to himself as a straight shooter and pledge to work with parents throughout the process. In the first year of his tenure he has not given us any reason to doubt him, and this is a situation that calls for just that kind of direct talk. Some parents aren’t going to hear what they want to hear, and the only way to make that better is for them to know they are being talked to honestly and free of spin or educational double talk.

Dr. McKersie appears to be going in with eyes fully open, and that’s a good thing. Knowing there are going to be upset parents, no matter what’s decided, means that a delicate but direct approach will be taken. The Board of Education has had more than its share of minefields to travel through, and it is hoped that experience will lead to a productive talk. Just as parents should not enter into this looking to attack any solution, the board should make sure it is dealing honestly and openly with the school communities.

No one wants a repeat of the RISE Committee debacle from a few years back, in which bridges were burned, grudges were formed and the district wasted a lot of time and money to solve absolutely nothing. In a perfect world this will not only address the facilities utilization issue but also take care of the state-mandated racial balance problem that has been too much of a distraction for too long and do it all while leaving everyone satisfied.

But when have things ever been perfect?

There are going to be bad moments in all of this, but together the administration, the board and the parents can keep bad from becoming worse. Remember, the goal here is to make sure every child in Greenwich receives the very best education.

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