WARREN — In a win-win-win for students, taxpayers and the community, Warren Village School is adding a new library and learning center, but more importantly, it is returning the town’s middle-schoolers to the historic structure.
The original WVS, built more than 100 years ago, educated students in grades 1-8 after which they were tuitioned to out-of-town high schools, a practice that continues. The school later transitioned to a K-6 model and began sending its seventh- and eighth-graders to school outside town.
For now, parents of middle-school children in Warren will continue to send them to Haverhill Cooperative Middle School in North Haverhill, Rivendell Academy in Orford, or Plymouth Elementary School.
The per-pupil cost of doing so is substantial and has been examined for a while, said Don Bagley, who chairs both the Warren School Board and the SAU 23 School Board.
SAU 23 comprises the towns of Warren, Piermont, Bath, Benton and Haverhill.
Bagley, who has been on the Warren school board for more than 24 years, said the Warren Village School is a structure that began life as a two-classroom school, which in 1906 was “jacked up, rotated 180 degrees” and expanded with the construction of two additional classrooms directly below it.
Twenty-two years ago, a new main entrance was built as were four more classrooms, a gymnasium and boys’ and girls’ bathrooms. Now, thanks to voters at March’s school district meeting who approved about $320,000 for the project, a 1,300-square-foot addition is being constructed and it’ll feature a combined library/learning center as well as a science lab within the existing building footprint.
The new space also comes with a return to the way things were at WVS, said Bagley
He said that in the 2014-2015 school year, WVS will add a seventh grade and a seventh-grade teacher, repeating the process in 2015-2016 with an eighth-grade class and teacher.
Asked why the seventh and eighth graders were coming back, Bagley replied “economics.”
“When you send kids to open tuition you can’t control the costs,” he said, but if you can keep K-8 students in one, in-town school, the expense is controlled.
WVS Principal Laurie Melanson said it costs between $14,000 and $18,500 a year to send a Warren seventh or eighth grader to an out-of-town middle school, on top of which there are transportation costs of between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.
Having the seventh graders back at WVS next year — currently, there are 65 students in grades k-6, with 13 in sixth grade — will cover about one-third of the cost of the ongoing construction at the school, said Melanson, and by the time the eighth graders are in, the savings of not sending them out-of-town will exceed the cost of the addition.
“A K through six was really enjoyable,” she said, “but a lot of research supports K through eight,” in so far that students perform higher academically, have one less transition to make in an already-challenging time of their lives, and because they’ll remain in a place where “everybody knows them already.”
Overall, Bagley said it will also be half as expensive for the WVS to go with the K-8 model than to send middle-schoolers elsewhere.
“We’re just going back to what it used to be, “he summed up.
In her fourth year as the head of the WVS, Melanson said the coming changes are welcome and she thanked voters, staff, the school board, parents and students for helping support them.
“We’re excited. It’s been a ton of work” – construction began in mid-April and is scheduled to last into August – “but we’re excited,” said Melanson who expects that WVS will be as successful as a K-8 school as it is a K-6 one.
“We’re 97 percent proficient in reading and math,” she said, “and we want that to continue for our seventh and eighth graders.”