EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 19, 2013

Andover elementary school shuffle in works

Plan will involve redistricting students across town

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — Parents of elementary school students, take note: Your child’s school may be changing.

Work to redraw district lines for the town’s elementary schools is well under way, as the district prepares to open a new Bancroft Elementary School and potentially close Shawsheen School next year.

When the 680-student Bancroft Elementary opens, it will be the largest school in town — and capable of holding 227 more students than its predecessor, according to documents outlining the process.

Shawsheen School, a choice public elementary school that parents can opt to send their children to instead of their district school, has been slated for closure due to its age and condition. The school serves students in preschool through second grade.

Mary Lou Walsh, district transportation coordinator, said she is using software designed to draw district lines from hard data looking at Andover homes and neighborhoods with elementary-aged children. The software will then draw the districts so each school would be at around 95 percent capacity.

Sample maps were displayed at a meeting yesterday morning with parents. In the maps, chunks of town were marked as moving from one district to another, with the new Bancroft district extending into neighboring district territory.

But officials were quick to say the maps were not an accurate portrayal of what will ultimately move forward.

“This is very fluid. It’s dynamic. As we speak, that map may be changing,” Paul Szymanski, assistant superintendent of finance and administration, said.

There are also a number of questions left unanswered — particularly when the new Bancroft school will open, and if — not when — Shawsheen will close.

“Our starting assumption is to start with Shawsheen going offline because, when we built and planned for the new Bancroft, that was an opportunity for us to look at taking a very expensive building that has a high rate of physical plant needs offline,” Annie Gilbert, assistant chairwoman of the School Committee, said.

“We’re going to start with the same assumption because that was our plan, but things have changed demographically in our community. So, we’re going to see where that data leads us,” Gilbert said.

The construction timeline for Bancroft Elementary School also hinders planning. The new Bancroft was originally targeted for a September 2014 opening, but officials now say it may be able to open as soon as this coming April school vacation.

If an April opening moves forward, the phase three, follow-up work involving the demolition of the old Bancroft and site improvements could start earlier, Gilbert said.

“It would save the town money,” she said. “If we don’t meet the April move-in, phase three would have to wait until the end of the school year.”

More meetings on the redistricting will be scheduled as information is gathered, with a presentation before the School Committee expected sometime in December, according to Gilbert.

With that, a final vote to change the lines would take place early next year, ahead of kindergarten student enrollment. Depending on how far along the Bancroft project is, the implementation of the new lines could take effect next September or be delayed until the fall of 2015, Gilbert said.

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For more on the process, including a closer look at the present schools’ capacities, see the Oct. 24 edition of the Andover Townsman.