Plan to Reduce Classroom Sizes Could Convert St. James to Middle Grades, Repurpose Small Schools

St. James School, Primrose Street. (Courtesy photograph.)

Editor’s Note: As noted below, Superintendent Margaret Marotta declined to provide details of a proposed reorganization. However, School Committee members insisted this morning that no school buildings will be “closed,” per se, but they may not house the same types of student classes they do today. Kindergarten classes, for example, may be relocated to other buildings. This updated version reflects that view.

An attempt to reduce Haverhill classroom sizes could see St. James School reorganized into a middle school and several neighborhood schools repurposed for other educational uses.

The proposal by Superintendent Margaret Marotta is one idea on the table when the Haverhill School Committee holds a rare, off-site budget workshop tonight at UMass Lowell’s iHub. A preview of the plan was presented to the School Committee’s Finance subcommittee last month. The draft calls for using the leased St. James School on Primrose Street and changing how Crowell, Greenleaf and Bartlett Schools are used.

“We need to deal with overcrowding in our middle schools. The superintendent has a proposal that she will formally present at the budget workshop,” said Finance Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti when asked by WHAV. Magliocchetti, who suggested using iHub for the public meeting, praised Marotta for her efforts. “We have some middle school classes that are 32 to 37 kids. She is trying to get the numbers down to 28.”

The city has leased St. James School from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for 45 years. It previously served as a parochial school. The lease is up for renewal at the end of June and the city has solicited a proposal from the Archdiocese, according to city Purchasing Director Steven S. Bucuzzo. Any major costs to upgrade the school would first have to considered by the City Council, Magliocchetti said.

Marotta declined to discuss the specifics of the plan until the full School Committee has a chance to review it. “My obligation is to share information with my bosses (the School Committee).”

St. James currently hosts special education programs including the Therapeutic Education Assessment Center of Haverhill and the Haverhill Alternative School. While still in the earliest stage of discussion, those programs could be moved to Greenleaf School. School Committee member Richard J. Rosa, another member of the Finance Committee, said St. James is a natural option.

“The school has a lot more space than we’re utilizing at this point. We have to start to take a look at that to reduce class sizes,” Rosa said.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Gail M. Sullivan told WHAV the reorganization is only a possible action. “The purpose (of the meeting) is so the budget can be built according to the priorities of the School Committee. Since we can’t have everything we want, what are the type things we can do?” she explained.

Haverhill Education Association President Ted Kempinski said the union leadership is interested in decreasing large class sizes. “We will work with the district to minimize disruption for students and staff and, as always, the educators.”

In his State of the City Address Tuesday night, Mayor James J. Fiorentini also pointed to concerns over classroom overcrowding. He said there are 190 empty desks, mostly in Bradford, that can be put to better use under a reorganization.

“This is a challenge and opportunity. An opportunity to redistrict and bring relief to areas where schools are overcrowded. I know that our superintendent is making this a top priority.”

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