By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — Parents and students pushed back against the school administration last week and this week after changes to the Rangerland pre-school program were announced via letters to parents.
School Committee members received numerous emails and phone calls from parents about the changes and perceptions that the program would end altogether. City Councilors also fielded calls from parents who said they were not getting a response from their School Committee members.
Those things are more common. What was unusual was the initiative of parents and high school students to get together to discuss the changes and the rumors they heard and to directly confront the school administration about changes and what the students felt were broken promises and mixed messages. Another student started a petition this week to ask the superintendent to leave the program alone.
“They’re students, I get that,” Superintendent Judith Scannell said Tuesday evening after a sometimes contentious meeting with parents and high school students enrolled in the Rangerland program at the Quinn Building on Hampshire Street.
“But you’ve got to love their courage,” she said.
More than a dozen students on Tuesday challenged Scannell, high school principal James Giuca, associate principal Maria McLaughlin, high school vocational supervisor Jane Obshatkin and special education director Gina Bozek on why the changes were being made, why other options were not being pursued and the promises they believed Scannell made at previous meetings.
One student pressed Scannell several times about Maryann Merrill, the high school teacher who supervises the Rangerland program, and her role in the grammar school preschool programs that will be accepting Rangerland toddlers starting Dec. 3. The student, who did not give her name, said Scannell told them Merrill would travel to the grammar schools to visit the current Rangerland children.
Scannell shook her head, “Those words never came out of my mouth.” She and McLaughlin explained that Merrill works with the high school students and would stay with them at Timony Grammar School, where the high schoolers will finish their preschool clinic. But the student would not give any ground.
“I’m not just making it up,” she said.
Some parents Tuesday indicated during and after the meeting they were satisfied, though several declined to be interviewed afterward. From a table at the front of the room at Quinn Tuesday, a couple parents tried to help answer questions from the students about safety, liability and transportation.
Others left unconvinced. And most of the students seemed frustrated, thinking their concerns were being ignored. “We just want the program back and that’s not happening,” student Kayla Potter said after Tuesday’s meeting.
A group of four students, who had questioned Scannell vigorously during the roughly 90-minute meeting, said the meeting was not helpful for them. But a parent intervened before they could explain why, shook her head and shooed them out the door.
One student, Alyssa Joubert, a junior who works in Rangerland, said before the meeting Tuesday she began passing out petitions that ask the superintendent to keep the Rangerland program as is.
“We wanted to send it to Mrs. Scannell, saying that we still want Rangerland open and we don’t feel this decision is a good decision,” she said.
She had about 50 signatures Tuesday, with several other signature sheets still circulating, she said.
The School Department announced in letters to parents earlier this month that Rangerland preschool could not continue this year because of safety concerns about high school students walking from the high school to Tenney Grammar School, where Rangerland was moved during the high school renovation project.
Parents of both the preschoolers and the high schoolers protested the changes, forcing Scannell and school officials to scramble to clarify what was happening. The entire program, which includes classes, the preschool clinic with the children and an externship, will not end, Scannell has said. The preschool clinic as is, however, would have to end for the year, with the children being assigned to their neighborhood grammar schools and the high school students finishing the clinic at the Timony.
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