Lesley Ellis owner offers suggestion about high school, task force

The following statement by Dr. Ted Wilson, president of Schools for Children, was presented to the School Committee on Thursday, Oct. 8, at Town Hall:

We operate the Lesley Ellis School in the Gibbs building, Dearborn Academy in the old Crosby School and another program in the Central School. Taken together, we employ over 150 people across four towns, with our single, largest presence being in Arlington. 

Our SFC employees and families are major contributors to the economic health of Arlington. Every year, they spend in excess of $1M locally and our company spends an additional $.5M in the local economy. Our Lesley Ellis School is described in the material we have provided.

I actually believe that you value what we all do for the community … you may have even used our programs for your own families. You won’t be making decisions based on that, so, for that reason, I’d like to use my precious few minutes to imagine what I would be looking for if I was in your position.

You have made it clear that you are not going to be limited to the options already presented. While you may have reasons for leaning a certain direction, you have indicated that you are open to receiving community thoughts. I take that at face value and believe all options continue to be on your table … at least for the moment. Given that, I have one such additional option for you to consider:

I am a career educator and former Chair of a School committee. I like to think I have a good feel for what you are struggling with. Also, as the founder of the National Institute for Student Centered Education, I also am totally committed to supporting schools in doing what is best for every child. So I would like to propose one more option for you to consider. It is not in the list provided by the architects … it is one that is based on the one current project most likely to get outside funding … the Arlington High School rebuild. This project holds the key to addressing many of the enrollment issues you are facing and will ultimately have a funding stream to support it. Rather than try to create a pedagogy to justify forming a single grade school, I would suggest you look at enrolling the 8th grade class in a restructured high school.

This single decision would immediately address the long term projected overcrowding at the Ottoson, which appears to be the prime reason to re-purpose the 87 year old Gibbs building. The pedagogical approach for serving students in the 8th – 12th grades in one facility is far more tested and legitimate than the alternatives which have been proposed. I submit that this option should be put through the same analysis that the other options have received to see how it stacks up.

I also have two requests.

The chair stated in the last meeting that the community will be forming a broad task force to work through this very complicated issue. We would request to be kept informed of the composition of that task force and its meeting schedule so that we might fully participate in the discussions to be held. It would be even better if a representative of the Gibbs community was invited to sit on that task force.

We also request that you provide us, by the end of December, a projected timeline showing decision points and which town body is responsible for which actions … so we can stay abreast of this very fluid situation. Obviously, whether you end up deciding to solve Arlington’s enrollment surge by modifying the renovation plans for the high school and purchasing or leasing of state-of-the-art pre-fabricated buildings … or by taking back and re-purposing the 87 year old Gibbs school … each of the tenants remain committed to seeking stable and permanent homes in Arlington. We are part of this community and believe in its vision to be a diverse and exciting place to live and work. Thank you for listening.

This viewpoint was published Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015.