Superintendent proposes relocation of students during construction

SUSD officials are discussing plans for Helmers Elementary with parents. Bobby Block / The Signal.

The superintendent of the Saugus Union School District proposed a plan to board members Tuesday to relocate some of the students at Charles Helmers Elementary School to North Park Elementary School at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year to allow for campus upgrades to take place.

The proposal, if approved, would also impact the availability of transitional kindergarten enrollment at Helmers for the duration of the upgrades. 

Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said she would like to have multiple community meetings before making a final decision with board members, which she said would happen sometime in March. 

Helmers Elementary is set for construction work at the beginning of next year to replace multiple portable classrooms with a permanent building, which will include classrooms, a science laboratory and playground.

“There are 281 students that will need to be relocated,” said Hawkins. “That’s about 12 or 13 classrooms that have to be relocated in some fashion.”

During the meeting, Hawkins said Helmers Elementary is a small campus, meaning there would be no place to put additional temporary housing.

Hawkins proposed to provide a bus that will relocate fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to North Park Elementary School before the school day begins, and back to Helmers Elementary after school ends, for the duration of construction, which is anticipated to finish in 2023. The bus plan, if enacted, would mean parents with more than one Helmers student wouldn’t have to drop their children off at two different locations.

“We will provide a bus, that is the most economical and respectful solution,” said Hawkins. “We’re not going to ask all the moms and dads to start driving to two locations to drop their kids off at school.”

The board is scheduled to hold a community meeting on Feb. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Helmers Elementary so parents can ask questions and voice concerns about the proposal. The proposal will then return to the board for further discussion.

Parents looking to enroll their children into transitional-kindergarten programs at Helmers Elementary would not have that option for the 2020-21 school year, under the proposal. Hawkins said parents would have to look at other programs offered at nearby schools, such as Bridgeport Elementary School, if the plan is approved.

The construction will temporarily decrease the number of classrooms available to the more than 700 students who currently attend the school, and require construction vehicles to drive through the single fire lane on the campus.

Hawkins said the decision to possibly relocate fourth through sixth graders was proposed because the kindergarten play area is appropriate for children up to 8 years old, which is the average age for third-graders. 

Board members David Powell and Laura Arrowsmith voiced concerns for incoming sixth-graders who would be spending their last year away from the Helmers campus.

Hawkins said the idea of moving kindergarten through third-graders was discussed, but because of the facilities in the classroom, having young students being transported by bus, and a limited play area, it led to the proposal of relocating the higher grade levels instead.

“These are the kinds of discussions I want to have with the community,” said Hawkins.

Students involved with after-school programs at Helmers Elementary will be bused back to the school’s campus after school ends to attend those programs on the school’s campus.

“While the kids will still participate in activities with (North Park),” said Hawkins, during the discussion of the proposal, “they would function as students of Helmers school.” 

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