Intradistrict choice rolled out for grades 7, 8

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MANCHESTER — This month, the parents of middle school students in what will become the Taconic and Green Regional School District are learning about a new option made possible by the merger that created the district: The possibility of sending their children anywhere in the district that offers seventh and eighth grade.

The district has five schools, but but only three offer seventh and eighth grade — Flood Brook School, The Dorset School and Manchester Elementary-Middle School. In the interest of equal opportunity, the district will implement intradistrict middle school choice across the board. A student at any of those middle school programs may attend any other middle school, so long as there's room.

The process began this month with the mailing of forms to student households. Those who want to attend the school to which they've assigned need do nothing more.

But those who want to choose a school other than the one assigned should fill out the form and return it by email, by mail, or in person to Currier Memorial School, Flood Brook School, Manchester Elementary Middle School, Sunderland Elementary School or the Bennington-Supervisory Union central office on Route 7A in Sunderland.

Primary assignments were based on current practice, the district said. Landgrove, Londonderry, Peru and Weston seventh and eighth-graders are being assigned to Flood Brook School, while Dorset and Manchester students will remain at The Dorset School and MEMS, respectively.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students from Sunderland, Danby and Mt. Tabor — towns that until the formation of the district, paid tuition for their students to attend any school at all, under school choice — have also been assigned to MEMS. But there's a grandfather clause for kids from those three towns. Seventh-graders from those towns already attending a school outside the district, such as Maple Street School or Long Trail School, may continue to do so. Furthermore, siblings currently in sixth grade may chose the same school as their older brothers and sisters.

As for students seeking an intradistrict choice assignment? If there's room, they're automatically accepted, BRSU superintendent Jackie Wilson said. In cases where the there's more applicants than spaces, a lottery will be held, and those not selected will be enrolled in their primary assigned school, she said.

To help parents make choices, the three middle schools were asked to summarize their educational program and what make them special, so that parents can be informed what each school offers. These profiles were posted to school websites and social media pages. For example, The Dorset School emphasized its tight-knit community atmosphere and project-based learning, while MEMS pointed to its arts and sports programs and its proximity to downtown Manchester and the Manchester Community Library.

That points to a possibility down the road, one that was discussed when the T&G merger was being debated: Could intradistrict choice eventually follow a magnet school model, in which opportunities for exploring and focusing on subject areas and programs, such as STEM, the humanities or farm to school, are made available for the district's children?

"That's something we're discussing now," Wilson said. "We want to get year one going but that is abs something the T&G is interested in and its schools are interested in — how might schools take on different programming and give kids more choices and opportunities that better fit them."

Wilson expects that will be developed over the next few years, and might include the elementary schools as well.

"Middle school is a great place to start [choice] but we can expand that if we feel there's a need for that," Wilson said. "If we can build some innovative programing, then why not?"

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