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Stoneham Parents Concerned With Middle School Site Plan

Central Elementary School parents shared the concerns of their children with the Stoneham School Committee Thursday night while the Committee tried to allay the parents' worries about the Stoneham Middle School project.

The Stoneham School Building Committee’s decision to propose building the new at the site of the current site drew several voices of opposition from local parents at the committee's meeting Thursday night at .

Several parents, all of whom have children currently going to the Central School, were concerned the reorganization would cause emotional stress among students potentially being separated from their friends.

The issue became such to children of the parents in attendance that some of them banded together during a snack period recently to take their own vote on how to approach the issue.

While School Committee members were appreciative that the parents were in attendance, they explained that the Stoneham School Building Committee, not the School Committee, held authority over the proposed plan that will go before Town Meeting this fall, and that all of the School Building Committee meetings were open to the public with schedules posted in advance. Parents at the session did accept the fact that they failed to note the dates of the sessions so they didn't have all the information about the project.

The committee also tried to allay fears of the parents by citing the fact that the project would not be completed until 2014 at the earliest, and that potential transfers of students from one school to another would more than likely not be an immediate process, allowing the children time to acclimate to the idea that their daily surroundings would change and adjust to the new social situations they find themselves in at another school.

An effort was also made to let the parents know that the decision between using the Central School location or putting a new Middle School at the High School site was a hotly contested debate among the School Building Committee, resulting in a 3-3 deadlock before chairperson Jeanne Craigie, one of the two School Committee liaisons on the Building Committee, cast the .

Craigie, who initially ran for School Committee in 1989 due to her children being split up because of Stoneham's school redistricting, tried to sympathize with the parents by explaining that the Central School site proposal for the new Middle School was the best option for the educational needs of Stoneham students, citing costs that the Massachusetts School Building Administration would not reimburse Stoneham for if the new Middle School was built at the High School site.

“The problem we have in Stoneham is that no site is a good site, I think we all have to realize that,” Craigie said. “Seeing what I’ve seen, seeing all the facts, sometimes you vote with your heart and sometimes you vote with your head, and I had to go with my head in thinking that this was the best thing to do for the school system and the town.”

Craigie told the parents that she was unaware of what the exact difference would be, but that the High School project was roughly estimated to cost at an additional $3 million more than the Central School plan.

Marie Christie, the other School Committee liaison on the School Building Committee, voted against the Central School site plan but later joined with her fellow dissenters in a final unanimous vote of the Building Committee emphasizing a desire to help others understand that regardless of any disagreements on how it should be done, everyone was in agreement that Stoneham was in desperate need of a new Middle School.

“At the end, I told the committee I would support whatever decision they chose…because we want this (project) to go (forward),” Christie said.

While discussion between the parents and School Committee became slightly heated at times, the biggest result of the dialogue appeared to be an interest among the parents toward becoming active participants in the process until it is presented to voters, a result that Craigie viewed as a positive one.

“I love people to come here (to meetings), because I have said this for 20 years, we sit here in a vacuum,” Craigie said. “We sit here, we make decisions and spend a lot of money and nobody ever asks us a question unless we’re at Stop and Shop or on the phone or walking the dog.

"If I had a hundred people at a meeting, I would be happy because then I would say, ‘Whoa, this is pretty bad. We’d better get more information’.”

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