The Guilford Central School (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
The Guilford Central School (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Wednesday March 20, 2013

GUILFORD -- Just a few weeks after voters approved sending Guilford's seventh- and eighth-grade students to Brattleboro, officials are laying the groundwork for that change.

There are short- and long-term goals for Guilford school officials, including the eventual establishment of a preschool in vacated middle-school space.

But the most-immediate concern is preparing Guilford's current sixth- and seventh-grade students -- as well as their parents -- for the transition from Guilford Central School to the larger Brattleboro Area Middle School later this year.

BAMS administrators visited Guilford last week to talk with those parents.

"Basically, it was just an open floor for parents to ask questions," Guilford school board member Penny Lussier said.

"It went well -- very, very organized," Lussier said. "I think it was very calming for a lot of parents."

After extensive research, debate and budget work, the Guilford board voted earlier this year to recommend tuitioning seventh and eighth graders to BAMS starting in the 2013-14 school year.

They cited expanded educational and extracurricular opportunities at the larger school as well as declining enrollment in Guilford. Also, the board saved money by shutting the middle school.

At Town Meeting, voters approved the BAMS move by a vote of 130 to 91.

While some residents were concerned about middle schoolers missing out on Guilford's "community-centered" learning environment, BAMS administrators have stressed that they also offer small classes, small student groups and frequent interaction between teachers and parents.

"I think that's the big scare for a lot of parents," Lussier said. "It's very easy to come into a small school like this, walk in and grab a teacher if you feel your kid's having a little bit of trouble."

At BAMS, Lussier said, "they contact you continually if your child is having any issues. But also, it's a very open-door policy."

She added that last week's meeting "reassured the parents."

Board members are discussing ways to give Guilford's departing students a proper send-off. Eighth-graders will take part in the school's annual graduation, but Lussier also said "we'll absolutely do something for the sixth- and seventh-graders."

Board members also will be discussing a community gathering to honor middle school teachers who won't be retained after this school year.

And they are moving forward with possible establishment of a preschool that would occupy classrooms currently used by middle-school students. Guilford board Chairwoman Carole Mills said there is a demand for such a service.

"The biggest problem in this area is, there's not enough child care available for all the children who need it," Mills said.

Windham Child Care Association already is conducting a needs assessment for a Guilford preschool, Mills said, adding that she is confident that there will be a clear need.

"Because there is no early childhood education program in this town, I can't imagine it not going through," she said.

But the project will take time and money, as classrooms and the school grounds will have to be transformed to meet the needs of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. Lussier said the preschool eventually may be the subject of a Town Meeting article, much like the middle-school situation was this year.

"There's a lot of planning involved," she said.

Mills said she's "excited" by the prospect of a Guilford preschool, but she cautioned that the service won't be available for a while.

"September 2015 would be the earliest this could happen," Mills said.

In other business Monday, Lussier said removal of asbestos is expected to begin July 1 at Guilford Central School.

Voters at Town Meeting authorized the board to finance up to $50,000 for not more than five years to remove the potentially hazardous construction material, which is in pipe wrapping and ceiling tiles in some areas of the building.

Board members have said the actual cost may be less than $35,000.

Given the nature of the work, officials expect the project to create a significant disruption for school staff this summer.

"It means, basically, there will be no access to the building for about a month," Lussier said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.