Why don’t we build a new elementary school in Upper Falls? I used to be a vocal advocate for a 16th school in Upper Falls. Then as I learned more my thinking gradually changed.
An UF school would have a small population, as low as 250 students, and ongoing student population growth in this area is speculation, not fact. In the 70s and 80s Newton closed schools around the City as their enrollments hit the low to mid 200s because an economic assessment showed that schools of this size were very inefficient to run. Building and operating new small schools is still inefficient, and investments in new buildings channel dollars away from maintaining and repairing our older school buildings.
But its not just about the money — Newton has developed a teaching and learning model that allows us to best serve students when school populations are over 400, as this maximizes our ability to optimize class cohorts, enhance grade-level teacher collaboration, and deliver teaching from specialists.
Regardless, what if we wanted to build a new Upper Falls school anyway? Suggested locations such as the west side of the Eliot Street DPW Yard or Braceland Park have profound issues, with trade-offs that have been generally ignored by their supporters (I fully appreciate that at another time with a different set of facts and needs Newton may choose to tackle these issues and accept trade-offs that we might not now). I’ve concluded that maintaining and upgrading our 15 current schools, and adding capacity for flexibility to each school we touch is the best use of our financial resources and allows us to fund the best education possible for every Newton student.
Yes, this means that there is not a safe walking route for Upper Falls students to get to their elementary school. Yet this is the same issue faced by students of Lower Falls, and Oak Hill Park, and Hammond Street, and Nonantum Road, and the east face of West Newton Hill, and Islington, and west of the Eliot T station…. Just as for these neighborhoods, there are situations where it is sounder judgment to bring the student to the school than to try to build a school next to the student.