McMahon parents unhappy with redistricting, grill superintendent

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LEWISTON — McMahon Elementary School parents Wednesday night blasted a plan to disperse poorer and English-learning students throughout the city’s six elementary schools next fall.

Several in the audience of about 100 asked that the proposal be shelved.

Some, in angry tones, demanded a redistricting committee be reconfigured to include McMahon school parents, and more be done to inform parents.

Others suggested alternative plans.

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Superintendent Bill Webster announced a proposal to the School Committee late last year to send about 8 percent of elementary school students — an estimated 234 out of 3,036 — to different schools next year. Fourth-through-sixth-grade students and their siblings would be allowed to stay at their schools, so the number would likely be less than 234.

On Wednesday he unveiled an alternative, which he said came from parents. It would expand the McMahon school district’s borders, grabbing more students who live in the Randall and Pond road area. That would increase McMahon’s student population, and fill 10 new classrooms this fall. But it would keep the school’s English Language Learners population the same at 15 percent.

It would scrap the redistricting committee’s idea of moving downtown students to outer-city schools to provide a more even distribution of ELL students.

Webster’s alternative proposal pleased some in the McMahon audience. “That makes more sense,” said McMahon grandparent June Chartier. Others agreed.

McMahon School PTO President Jodi Wolverton praised the alternative, while other parents questioned what chance it had of being adopted.

But Montello parent Rachel Dymkoski was upset by the proposal and said it would further burden her school by giving it a 40 percent ELL population instead of the current 37 percent, or the 24 percent as proposed by the redistricting committee.

“The new proposal is outrageous,” Dymkoski said. “Their whole purpose of redistricting is to help take the burden off Montello. It does the exact opposite.”

The alternative plan would bus her children from Montello to McMahon.

“Why is my child good enough to come to your school, but a Knox Street child isn’t good enough to come to your school?”

Webster explained there’s a big difference in elementary schools as far as the percentages of ELL populations. Farwell has a 5 percent ELL population, McMahon 15 percent, Montello 37 percent and Longley 61 percent.

Creating a more diversified student population would benefit all students, Webster said, saying research shows all would get a better education. And, he added, Lewiston’s ELL students are doing well academically.

Some parents weren’t convinced. They asked Webster if ELL students are doing well, why move them?

Wolverton said McMahon already has 52 percent of students getting free and reduced-price lunches and 15 percent learning English. “You are not busing in students to a completely white school. We are diverse.”

What’s not clear, she said, “is what additional diversity will do, other than drain already very limited resources.”

One father said the Somali immigrant parents are devastated by the redistricting proposal.

“What are you going to tell these people? We’re shipping your kids because they don’t speak English well?’”

The effort to diversify schools has divided the community, he added, and McMahon school is now looked at “as the big bad enemy and it shouldn’t be like that.”

Webster said community groups he has spoken to favor the redistricting plan. Responding to Wolverton, he said the plan would reduce class sizes in elementary schools. At McMahon, average class sizes would shrink from 24.5 to 21.

As far as special need students, the resources will follow students, Webster said.

Reacting to parents who worry more ELL students would harm McMahon’s students, Webster said diversity can help all, if the balance is right.

The redistricting committee will meet with the Lewiston School Committee on Feb. 11 at Lewiston High School. The School Committee is scheduled to vote on the plan Feb. 25.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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