Here's reporter Jackie Majerus' story on the positions that the Board of Education candidates have on the on the K-8 plan:
Almost all of the Bristol school board candidates said they support of the plan to switch to a K-8 format and build two new 900-student schools.
Only Republicans Dick Prindle and Wayne Sparks and Working Families candidate Mary Rydingsward expressed any serious reservations. All are seeking their first term on the board.
Prindle said he doesn't support the K-8 plan and opposes the idea of two new 900-student schools.
"I don't believe in it. I wholeheartedly support neighborhood schools," said Prindle. "I would dump that whole situation."
Rydingsward said she doesn't know of a "formalized plan" to change the district to a K-8 configuration, but said that smaller schools and smaller class sizes are better for learning.
"I believe that the plan can work if it is absolutely necessary and, if that is the plan for our schools, I will work toward its success," said Sparks. But, he added, "I am not convinced that is the case in Bristol."
Sparks said, though, that his experiences with private school taught him that it is possible for a school to include children of "widely disparate ages" and "still maintain a well ordered learning environment."
Instead of concentrating on facilities, the school board should be focusing on a quality education plan, Rydingsward said.
Another Republican seeking her first term, Jane Holschlag, offered limited support for the plan.
"Based on what I have read and heard from educators, I think the K-8 format can work in Bristol for both economic and educational reasons," Holschlag said, "but I believe it's important for the community to be fully informed and to support the change."
Other potential newcomers to the board, Democrats Sherry Turcotte and Karen Vibert and Republican Peg Bonola, praised the K-8 plan.
"I love the idea," said Turcotte, who said children will "reap the rewards" of being in the same school for nine years. "This a great move."
Vibert said she looks at the K-8 school as an elementary and a middle school "that just are housed in the same complex."
Elementary students will be minimally impacted, said Vibert, and at-risk students won't "slip through the cracks" as much.
"I'm in favor of it," said Bonola. A K-8 school, said Bonola, would maintain a sense of community.
"They would be separate, but it would be one school," said Bonola.
Older students could mentor the younger ones, said Bonola, and parents wouldn't be divided between two schools.
"I think it's a good experience," said Bonola.
But Prindle said that Bristol shouldn't have two different systems operating at once, with some kids getting a K-8 education and others a K-5 and 6-8 experience.
Instead, Prindle said, the school board should make sure that all the students in Bristol are getting the same education.
All incumbents said they support the move to K-8 and the plan for two new 900-student schools.
Democrat Tom O'Brien said the board relied on three "major educational reasons" for opting for the switch.
O'Brien and other incumbents said they believe that putting students through fewer transitions – a K-8 school eliminates the change from elementary to middle school – is a benefit to students, that parents will be more involved in a K-8 school and that the format will allow for smaller numbers of students in any particular grade level.
Democrat Barbara Doyle, said she "wholeheartedly" supports the plan to switch to a K-8 format, for all of those reasons.
Republican Chris Wilson said middle school years can be tough for kids, and reducing the number of sixth, seventh and eighth graders in a school to 250 to 300 students should have a positive influence.
"We read a lot of research," said Democrat Jane Anastasio. "The less movement of students, the greater the scores on the test, the greater the student achievement."
In a K-8 school, Anastasio said, parents and students feel more "ownership" because they're at the school for more years, and there's more parent involvement.
"Parent participation continues through the middle school years" in a K-8 school, said Anastasio, instead of falling off in middle school.
Wilson said the district should do what it can to help kids do better in school.
"While we cannot adopt every new educational fad that comes along, I believe this is a well founded strategy," said Wilson.
Republican Amy Coan said the change may help with test scores.
"I feel that it is a better format than what we have now," said Coan. "Tests scores sometimes drop when students switch to a new school."
Democrat Julie Luczkow said a K-8 school will offer "stability" for students who didn't go to preschool and are behind when they enter kindergarten.
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