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Haigh Parent: 'These Kids Matter, this School Matters'

Over 50 residents filled rows of folding chairs for a community forum Tuesday.

Parents voiced their frustrations Tuesday during a Salem School Board forum that provided sporadic answers and plenty of speculation on the future of Walter F. Haigh Elementary School.

Over 50 residents crowded into rows of folding chairs in the Haigh School multipurpose room, and many of them believed that their school has not received a fair shake when stacked up with the town’s five other elementary schools.

Haigh School was part of two warrant articles in March. Voters approved one article, which called for modest improvements to the school alongside major renovations to both the Fisk and Soule Schools. A second article called for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) improvements to the facility. Salem residents narrowly knocked down that article.

Haigh School parent Amy Daley called out the board for their decision to single out the HVAC improvements in a separate article.

“When those (warrant) articles were split, it was devastating to this group of people to see that split,” she said. “These kids matter, this school matters.”

Board member Pamela Berry, who served as chairman before the March vote, told the parents in attendance that if she knew how the vote would have turned out, she might not have supported the packages that the board put together.

“I’m just one board member and I’ll say – we obviously let you down,” Berry told the parents.

But board members Michael Carney, Jr., Peter Morgan and Bernard Campbell, Jr. all stood by the decision to split the two articles.

Morgan said that he is convinced that the reason Article 2 passed was because the HVAC improvements were split from the article.

Carney and Campbell both noted that the board decision was in the best interest not just of Haigh School, but of the whole district.

Carney also clarified that redistricting likely would have occurred whether six schools, three schools or no schools were renovated.

Vice Chairman Patricia Corbett told the residents in attendance that the forum was about mending fences with the parents.

“The board truly cares about you and your children. I’ve said this in many public forums – these decisions that we’ve made up until now have been the hardest that we’ve ever made.”

Many parents came out to get further clarification on the school’s possible closure. Campbell said up front with near certainty – the school will be open this fall pending some catastrophic damage to the building.

“There is no date certain that an action to close this school or any other school will occur,” said Campbell.

Campbell explained that the board looks at enrollment numbers each year, which are declining in Salem and will continue to decline based on a district study recently commissioned.

He said that any decision to realign the district facilities will depend on how many open classrooms are in the rest of the district at a given point of time, and how those facilities can best be used.

A timeline relative to closure would be at least 14 to 15 months due to planning and budgeting, he said.

Superintendent Michael Delahanty said that should a closure happen, it would likely be a hard close because resources would be diminished for the students that would remain as the result of a soft close.

On class sizes, Delahanty gave the example of the second grade classrooms at Haigh School, explaining that the ideal realignment in the event of a school closure would maintain class sizes at 16 or 17.

But as Haigh School remains open, many parents are upset with a negative cloud that has formed around the aging facility.

Laurie Carmichael said that as Salem’s other five schools are being renovated, the Haigh School community looks like it is on the bad side of town.

Melissa Santos, who will soon have a daughter in the district, said that despite the negativity surrounding Haigh School, she has heard nothing but good things about the people involved with the school.

“I talk to a lot of people in the community. I talk to my daughter’s preschool teachers. They talk about what an awesome community this school really is. I get that feeling when I am here.”

Joseph Brito, a 12-year Salem resident, spoke of his daughter, who went from the little girl who used to be attached to his leg to the brave first grade student dancing on stage in the school’s variety show.

“What I need from you, I need you to show my little girl, my boys, that you love the Haigh,” Brito told the district leadership. “You say it, but I want to see it. I want to feel it.”

Delahanty told parents that when the rest of Salem’s elementary schools are renovated, the only resource that Haigh School will have less of is space.

“We’re interested in maintaining the quality of the school,” he said “At some point down the road there may be a need to close this school, just based on economics. We’re here to say – this is as viable a school, as important a school, as any other school in the district.”

One resident also raised the issue of Haigh School’s playground, which saw its equipment destroyed in a suspected arson case in August. 

Delahanty said that there is possibly money available to go toward the playground, which could combine with both fund-raising already done and a modest insurance settlement.

Tom Linehan May 01, 2013 at 12:08 PM
There are more choices than to let Haigh close or to keep it open and renovate it or to keep it open and not renovate it. Haigh could house a Charter School. There is already one in Salem. Perhaps a new or existing Charter School could use the space. The fact that the Birches was oversubscribed before it opened shows that the need exists. Beyond that Charter Schools are public schools. Kids who now attend Haigh along with their younger siblings could be given priority in a new Charter School located there as part of the Charter for a new Charter School. This action has precedence as well. When the only public school in Surry closed, it became a Charter School and the same kids who attended it as a government run school, attended the Charter School.
Scott-NH May 01, 2013 at 01:35 PM
"Laurie Carmichael said that as Salem’s other five schools are being renovated, the Haigh School community looks like it is on the bad side of town." This woman knows that just 3 miles north of this school, is North Salem and just 3 miles south is Barron, 3 miles west is Fisk. Really? The bad side of town, that's the argument being used? How about, it's simply an outdated and unneeded school when you look at the big picture of eroding enrollment?! It has nothing to do with the neighborhood, it has to do with balancing the funding of our education system vs. emotional attachments to a building. These kids, when moved to other schools, will still receive the same education they get now, the building and location will be the only difference. That and the ability to use the monies that would have kept that school open, can now be used to reinvest in the remaining facilities, teachers and students. Anything less is a waste of our tax dollars. If you look at the 40 year history of this school, it's been open, closed, reassigned and then used again. Haigh has always been the overflow school that becomes what the school district needs it to function as. Closing this school just-makes-sense! Keeping a school open for the emotional attachment of a neighborhood has no feasible argument.
Love NH May 01, 2013 at 03:39 PM
If the School District decides that it no longer needs to keep Haigh School open I expect them to get top dollar for the property, not donate it or lease it below market value to a charter school.
Tom Linehan May 01, 2013 at 03:51 PM
@Love NH For Haigh to become a Charter School would face more hurdles than that. One could expect the education cartel to throw up every road block they could imagine. I did not expect them to donate the Haigh to a Charter School. Given the location and the zoning, I would suspect that value would not be more than that of a couple of house lots. I actually went to school there in the 50s when it was the number one school, a two room school house.
Tom Linehan May 01, 2013 at 04:29 PM
@Love NH. The purpose of my repose was to suggest to parents in the Haigh School another possibility. But it does illustrate a point that the School District probably does not fully appreciate. Free Markets increase choices, Governments restrict choices in general. You have many choices of who cuts your kids' hair. But in public education your child's teacher, the curriculum, the environment are all dictated to you. What is more important to you? Who cuts your kids' hair? Or the person to whom you delegate part of your responsibility to educate your children? This is not my idea. Read Chapter Nine of Hayek's Constitution of Liberty on state coercion. Hayek covers this point in excruciating detail.
Riley Reid May 01, 2013 at 04:47 PM
You've got to be kidding me. The school system hasn't replaced the playground that was destroyed by fire last AUGUST? That's just wrong.
Michael Ryan May 01, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Hi all, no personal attacks on other readers, please. Let's keep it civil.
Brian May 02, 2013 at 03:38 PM
I've stated this before and I'll state it again ... the Salem School Board got what it wanted, a reason to close the Haigh school. When they created two Warrant Articles, they knew exactly what they were doing. They knew that the article for the repairs to the Haigh school would get voted down. Trying to “mend fences” between the school board and the Haigh community was, in my opinion, a complete waste of time. That ship has sailed and the school board has lost all credibility with me. The comment about the board being "near certain" that Haigh will be open this fall is a complete joke. Cambell saying with "near certainty" is like saying he's "pretty sure" the school will be open in the fall. While I would prefer the town to keep the school open ... I feel that now that the school board has it's excuse to close Haigh, they should do the right thing and inform the the Staff and Families that the school will be closed after the 2013-2014 school year. Thereby giving the staff and families enough notice so that they can begin making plans. As long as the school board delays the inevitable it'll only keep giving everybody concerned a false hope that the school can be saved.
Love NH May 03, 2013 at 12:47 PM
I disagree completely. The school board wanted to renovate the Haigh School along with the Soule and Fisk. The voters defeated that warrant article in 2012. So they came back with a plan to renovate only Soule and Fisk; an option that they felt was what the majority of the voters wanted. The school board added a second smaller measure to the ballot for Haigh renovations to appease Haigh families. The voters approved the Soule and Fisk renovations and defeated the Haigh renovations. So, to hang this on the school board is incorrect. If you want to place blame, responsibility, etc. then put it on the town voters where it belongs..
Tom Linehan May 03, 2013 at 01:42 PM
@Love NH I basically agree with you. The School Board did the right thing. One of the main reasons school improvements [and other infrastructure projects like the police station shaped like a doughnut as well as some of the road programs] are not approved is that more than 40% of the voters think they are too grandiose. The voters rightly or wrongly reject the bond articles. By breaking the school infrastructure projects up as they did the School Board rightly lets the voters decide. That is how the Town form of government is designed. When politicians try to dictate what is good for the people, often the people reject it at the ballot box. Personally, if it were up to me I would have school renovation articles mostly in bight size chunks and with cash so that they only require 50% and the voters and the board can clearly understand what they are doing. I voted against the HS renovation because it became clear to me that the school board and the administration did not understand what they were doing. I asked simple questions and got no answers. I am not sure they could answer the same questions today.
Love NH May 03, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Our schools today need more than bite sized improvements. The high school is outdated and in some cases unsafe. If we wait until we have enough cash to pay for improvements they will never get done. Moreover, with the current interest rates and low construction costs this is the perfect time for projects like this. When times are "good" interest rates and construction prices are high. Yet with a 20 year bond those payments will be paid in good times and in bad.
H Hughes May 03, 2013 at 02:15 PM
20 teachers @ $50K is a million smackeroos. It has been pretty much proven that the towns school system is overstaffed. You would be a dope not to realize this has ramifications. Either a dope or school board member (he he).
Ugh May 03, 2013 at 02:26 PM
@Howard Hughes Yippee, at least someone has read my stuff and thanks for that.
Love NH May 03, 2013 at 02:45 PM
Who could miss it. You've posted the same flawed numbers at lease 25 times.
Tom Linehan May 03, 2013 at 07:24 PM
@Love NH The alternatives are not to fix everything that the school board and its advocates want on the one hand or bit size improvements on the other. The alternatives are what 60% of the voters will approve and nothing. The reason Salem is behind in so many infrastructure projects is because in the past the big bite projects have failed at the ballot box. What makes anyone think that more grandiose schemes are going to get 60% when so many have failed? What has change? This year both the town and the schools had modest projects pass. That should tell us something. I agree that the High School needs work. They broke ground on it when I attended Woodbury High School. But when I toured the High School and asked several simple questions, both the school board and the administration seemed not to have a clue. In my view the HS proposal was tantamount to throwing money at the problem and hoped some stuck. For instance no one seemed to know where the current bearing partitions are. How can you start moving walls around when you don't know which ones are bearing partitions? The cost and danger of knocking down a non bearing wall and a bearing wall can be vastly different.. I was quite disappointed that I could not support the project because the HS really needs renovation.
Soujourner Truth May 05, 2013 at 12:26 PM
I don't understand how this relates to the issue at hand, which is about facilities, unless you're suggesting a private company would bring Haigh facilities up to par with other Salem public elementary schools. In which case, let's see the proposal from some private entity who wants to sink several million dollars into a school - not sure what the motivation for that would be if not profit. If the Birches had a lot of interest, I don't see that so much as being about "need" but rather about parents who don't want their children in supersized schools and large classrooms and maybe want more of the arts included in the curriculum. That I understand. When Salem voters reduce budgets, we are acting to reduce arts and increase class size of our traditional public schools. Are you suggesting public schools are instantly improved when decisions are taken out of the hands of the voters?

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