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Neighborhood schools

Feb. 21, 2014 |

The state’s agreement to help fund the proposed school was largely based on Westfield’s claim it is eliminating three neighborhood schools: Abner Gibbs, Franklin [Avenue] and Juniper Park [elementary schools], and also to relieve “severe overcrowding.” If so, the era of neighborhood schools, in the lower wards, in the name of “progress” is over. Student population has decreased [by] 300 since then, and it continues to decline. Is there really a need for the new regional elementary school project – the one hailed as a “legacy project” and “… one of the most important initiatives in the history of Westfield (School Building Committee minutes, Sept. 22, 2010)?” Westfield started lobbying the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for a school in 2008, but not for the Ashley Street and Cross Street location. A press release by [then] state Sen. Michael Knapik Sept. 30, 2009 stated “In April, MSBA officials (toured) the school buildings which resulted in a draft proposal for further action. Since April, new factors have come into play, namely the closure of Moseley Elementary School and the shifting of fourth and fifth grade students from Juniper Park (whose lease is set to expire in a few years) to Highland Elementary School.” The city insisted the college was demanding the Juniper Park building back. A voluminous response to a Freedom of Information Act request did not yield such evidence. Westfield reversed the overcrowding at Highland School – after the new school funding was approved – by moving students back to Juniper Park, while extending the lease there. “Juniper Park currently has several empty classrooms that can be utilized by grades four and five, officials said. (Republican/ Mass Live March 24, 2012 ‘High Enrollment at Highland Ave School Prompts Changes at Juniper Park School’).” During that election season, assaults on Juniper Park continued. “[Mayor Daniel] Knapik, in keeping with his role as challenger, criticized Boulanger for continuing to use Juniper Park School on a rental basis, saying there are city buildings that could be used.” And the memorable, “I don’t know a teacher or parent who is happy at Juniper Park,” Knapik said (Republican/Mass Live Oct. 22, 2009 Westfield Finances Focus of Mayoral Debate). Former Councilor [Jim] Brown proposed the city relocate the School Department offices to the Moseley School building. That was rejected. Perhaps Moseley will miraculously re-open as in 1993 after Paper Mill and Munger Hill Schools were safe and sound – to relieve overcrowding in those two new schools. Prospect Hill and Washington Street School’s were deemed ­­­suitable for housing. The solid and historic Ashley Street School was razed. Westfield can and should keep using the buildings it already owns, most of which received substantial rehab funds recently. No application was made for Moseley. The people should question the politician’s “facts.” Enrollment continues to decline. Existing neighborhood schools should be repaired, or replaced with new appropriately sized neighborhood schools when necessary. The regional monument school seems to better serve the egos of the period’s transient officials rather than those families losing their neighborhood schools. Some “legacy” that is. Dan Smith Westfield

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