Conversations on Elementary School Reconfiguration

Posted by Scott Carpenter on 11/7/2017

As the school-aged population has slowly declined Cape-wide, and in our two towns, what was a stable elementary population in Harwich and Chatham of 9 classes per grade level (3 at Chatham Elementary School and 6 in Harwich Elementary School) seems to be reaching a new stable state of 8 classes per grade level.  No matter what, we will need both elementary schools to house all of our elementary-aged children.  Based on the demographics of our towns, Chatham Elementary will likely gradually contract to have two classes per grade level, as it currently has at the kindergarten level.  Harwich Elementary may be larger than optimal at six classes per grade, while Chatham Elementary may become smaller than optimal with only two classes per grade.  Should Monomoy consider reconfiguring its elementary schools to more optimally support teaching, learning, and children’s social development?


We would like your feedback on what you consider to be the optimal configuration of our elementary schools.  Below is a link to a survey to get your feedback, and the information below the link provides you some context of this dilemma.  Your feedback will be shared with the School Committee to inform their discussion and debates about our elementary school configuration as they go through a mandated review of the district’s Regional Agreement.




Without a change to our Regional Agreement, there can be no reconfiguration of how Monomoy educates its elementary students.  Per the Regional Agreement, Chatham children are to attend Chatham Elementary School and Harwich children are to attend Harwich Elementary School.  There is no provision within the agreement to think about reconfiguring the elementary schools to have children attend school in the other town, even if that may make good educational sense.  Changes to the Regional Agreement need community input and require votes at both town meeting to ratify any changes proposed by the Monomoy Regional School Committee.


There are some educational disadvantages to having one elementary school quite large and the other rather small.  While some might see the smallness of Chatham Elementary School as an advantage, having only two classes per grade level could limit social connections because the peer group from which children make friends may be rather small (fact: a kindergarten boy at CES currently only has 11 other boys his age at the school).  Similarly, a kindergarten teacher at Chatham Elementary School would only have one other colleague with which to immediately share ideas and lesson plans.


Conversely, Harwich Elementary School operating with six classes per grade level will be a rather large elementary school, compared to most elementary schools on the Cape and in the state.  The building has been operating at capacity and because there aren't enough classrooms, one grade level (generally 4th grade) has historically been compressed into five classes with higher class sizes than exist at the other grades.  Harwich Elementary's size, provides ample peers for both students and teachers, but it also lacks some of the intimacy realized by having a smaller elementary school, like we find in Chatham.


Chatham Elementary’s enrollment has been augmented by school choice enrollment since before Monomoy regionalized as a district.  Prior to regionalization, approximately one-quarter of Chatham Elementary’s enrollment came in through school choice, mostly from Harwich families.  These school choice families opted for Chatham Elementary, seeking smaller class sizes offered in Chatham Public Schools, a smaller elementary school setting, and to have guaranteed access for their children to Chatham Middle School and Chatham High School in the future. 


With regionalization, we have tried to manage school choice to balance class sizes between Chatham Elementary School and Harwich Elementary School, we offer the same curriculum in both elementary schools, and our students now all have guaranteed access to the same middle and high school’s in their future.  As a result, fewer Harwich families have been opting for Chatham Elementary School.


We have tried to voluntarily encourage Harwich families to choose Chatham Elementary, with an annual letter to incoming kindergarten families and offering tours of Chatham Elementary to Harwich families.  While these efforts have helped augment Chatham Elementary’s enrollment, we haven’t seen enough families opting for Chatham to maintain three classes per grade level at Chatham Elementary.


We had a handful of Harwich families indicate that they would like to send their kindergarteners to Chatham Elementary this year, but even with these families, Chatham Elementary would have had three kindergarten classes of 12 students (per class), while Harwich Elementary would have had five kindergarten classes with 20 students.  An eight student discrepancy in class size didn’t make educational sense for children, so we unfortunately had to tell most of the Harwich families wanting to choice into Chatham that their kindergartener would need to attend Harwich Elementary, and diverted one of Chatham’s three kindergarten teachers to Harwich.  This finds us with kindergarten class sizes of 17-18 students in both Harwich and Chatham elementary classrooms, with six kindergarten classes in Harwich and only two kindergarten classes in Chatham.  With no elementary enrollment increase on the foreseeable future in Chatham, we can expect the school to have two first grade classes next year, two second grade classes the following year, and so on.  Simply put, augmenting Chatham Elementary’s enrollment voluntarily isn’t bringing in an additional 18 or so children per grade to maintain three classrooms per grade.


Our district needs to wrestle with what is the optimal sized elementary school for promoting learning and social-emotional growth in children. 


There are three options to mull:

  • Don’t change the regional agreement and let Chatham Elementary become small (two sections per grade level). In Chatham’s historic past, it has had cohorts with only one or two classes per grade level.
  • Amend the regional agreement to allow the School Committee the flexibility in the future to bus some elementary-aged students from Harwich to Chatham Elementary. In districts with this flexibility, this is called “redistricting.”  In this scenario, a few neighborhoods in Harwich would be identified, generally those closer to Chatham Elementary School, and the children from these neighborhoods required to attend school in Chatham.  If one of the ten buses serving Harwich Elementary School were diverted to Chatham Elementary School, it would both allow Chatham Elementary to maintain three classes per grade level and allow Harwich Elementary to become a little smaller and a bit more intimate and manageable.
  • Amend the regional agreement to allow the School Committee the flexibility to create a system with an “upper” and “lower” elementary school. This would find all elementary-aged students attend both Chatham Elementary and Harwich Elementary at some point during their elementary years.  Barnstable, Sandwich, and Brewster have systems with “upper” and “lower” elementary schools.  Under this scenario, one of our elementary schools could serve grades Pre-K through 2 and the other Grades 3 and 4 (as an example), since all elementary children of the same age would attend the same school, the children and their parents would have access to a broader peer group than what currently exists at either Monomoy elementary school.  This system facilitates collaboration between teachers, who can better share best practices and lesson plans, since all teachers teaching the same grade level are located in the same building, rather than being split between schools.  Creating “upper” and “lower” elementary schools may involve slightly higher transportation costs, which may be financially offset by other efficiencies realized, but for some, it would shift our schools away from the traditional neighborhood elementary schools that both towns have always known.


Click to open a link to a one-page summary of the issue and these options.


Which of the above options for Monomoy’s elementary schools resonates most for your family?