School Committee Meeting Underscores Imminent Peril Facing Bridge Street School

The full board of the Northampton School Committee met on October 16. A Bridge Street School parent of two attended and emailed us with their concerns:

I would like to bring to your attention that although the school committee meeting was not televised last night, some important information that the public might want to know was given out. Most importantly the go-ahead for the replacement of the kindergarten playground at Bridge Street School. The troubling part of the conversation was that committee members were already talking about what will happen when the school is closed and what the liability will be when school is no longer in session for children who use the structure. There was also a tone that indicated that some thought it was a waste of money because it would not be used for that long as the school will be closed.

It was also discussed that parents were offered their money back when informed that the school may be closing and their money may be wasted. The committee was informed that no one wanted any of the $47,000 raised back. I think it speaks volumes about the Bridge Street community. We need to keep moving forward as business as usual even though there are those who believe that the school will be ultimately closed.

I am upset that people would speak publicly to the extent they did last night about a possibility not yet realized. Also, it is my understanding that the strengths identified by the strategic planning committee include small, neighborhood schools. I hope the committee is not shortsighted about these findings but will use them in order to preserve our school and all others in the city.

Lastly, a committee member brought up the redevelopment of the former state hospital land as a potential pupil increase factor for the school system. The superintendent responded by saying that although several hundred housing units (347 to be exact) may be created, data shows that school enrollment will continue to decline. I find that hard to believe.

The next meeting of the full board of the School Committee is Thursday, November 13, 7:15pm, in the Community Room of JFK Middle School (100 Bridge Road in Florence). We urge concerned citizens to attend.

See also:

Northampton School Committee – Agendas and Minutes

Videos: Northampton Public Schools Strategic Planning, Open Meeting of 10/1/08; Did You Know?

Ward 3 Neighborhood Association: Statement of Support for Bridge Street Elementary School
As a school, Bridge Street Elementary greatly contributes to the overall vitality and health of Ward 3.

Not only do we greatly value Bridge Street’s considerable academic
achievement, we value the school for its role in our community as a hub
for neighborhood social and civic activities.

Furthermore, in light of this relationship, we strongly support the
on-going vitality of all Northampton neighborhood schools for the
breadth of activities they offer and the sense of community they

Closing Bridge Street School Contradicts Smart Growth Goals
On page 11 of the Sustainable Northampton Plan, Land Use objective number 5 states:

Locate housing within walking distances along safe paths, or with
bicycle access, to and from neighborhood commercial areas, parks and
recreation, schools, and public transportation.

On page 51, one metric of progress is “Percent of children able to walk to school”.

It is well known that mothers of young children are heavy users of cars. The Surface Transportation Policy Partnership reports (2002, emphasis added):

From 1990 to 1995, the number of trips women took rose by 13 percent.
Whether they work or not, married women with school-age children now
make more than five trips a day, 20 percent more than the average for
all women, and 21 percent more than the average man…

Children have become highly dependent on adults with cars, because the
places where they learn or play often can’t be reached by foot or by
bicycle. As suburban schools
consolidate into larger buildings and recreation centers are built far
from residential areas, parents find themselves left with no choice but
to drive their kids just about everywhere…

Officials cite declining enrollment as a reason to consider closing the Bridge Street School (Gazette,
3/13/08). However, the Sustainable Northampton Plan envisions
accommodating “the vast majority of new smart growth residential
development” within Northampton’s Traditional Neighborhood and Receiving Zone, which precisely characterizes the Bridge Street neighborhood.

Education World: “Are Smaller Schools Better Schools?” (7/20/00)
Researchers Craig Howley, of Ohio University and the Appalachia
Educational Laboratory, and Robert Bickel, of Marshall University, set
out to find out whether smaller schools could reduce the negative
effects of poverty on student achievement. In four separate studies of
seven states, they repeatedly found that poor kids do better if they
attend a small school…

Although a variety of factors affect student achievement, the greatest
factor was the reduction of anonymity — going to a school where
someone knows you and your name. Being known by your teachers and peers
makes a difference, Wasley noted.

The study found that small schools are also safer for this reason. “We
really think that size does have to do with the reduction of anonymity
and isolation of students, which reduces fighting and violence,” Wasley

Students took more responsibility for their behavior and the behavior
of their classmates in small schools. They told researchers they fought
less because they knew one another.

“Back to School for Planners”
Schools contribute to the economic life and vitality of their
neighborhoods. When a community lacks a school, fewer new residents
move there and property values decline. The buying power of the school
district and its employees, and the purchases students, parents, and
community members make in businesses located around the school, can be

Schools located at a distance from the
community’s center force people to use buses and automobiles,
increasing air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels… schools are
“the advance scouts for sprawl”…