As DASD continues to grow, the district periodically reviews the needs of its student population so it can plan for the future.
In 2019, DASD hired a national planning firm called FutureThink—they specialize in educational demographic analysis—to complete an enrollment projection and redistricting study. Based on their 90-page analysis, their projections indicate a growth in enrollment to nearly 14,000 for the 2029-30 school year. This would put five of DASD’s elementary schools over capacity, some significantly so (see p. 7).
While DASD has already started expansions for future middle & high school needs, there is also a need to add the elementary seats that will be needed. Construction in the near future will be necessary to avoid overcrowding.
Meanwhile, DASD has, for at least 10 years, been looking for the right way to add Full-Day Kindergarten to the district. Full-Day Kindergarten is highly desirable to families and broadly understood to be the best educational practice for students. It is offered by over 80% of public school districts in Pennsylvania. Broadly speaking, there is bipartisan consensus that Full-Day Kindergarten is the best path forward.
Why can’t we begin Full-Day Kindergarten immediately? Right now, 2 kindergarten classes can share 1 room and 1 teacher (one in the morning, the other in the afternoon). A move to Full Day Kindergarten means we need to build more classrooms and hire more teachers.
Because of the size of the district, with 10 elementary schools of different sizes and layouts, there’s not an obvious or simple path. DASD began researching possibilities in 2011 (see p. 5). Some were rejected right away—for example, building a single central Kindergarten Center, which is not best practice—and others were explored more carefully (see p. 4).
Three years ago, the consensus was reached to:
- Construct a new 5/6 school;
- Convert Marsh Creek from 6th-only to 5th & 6th (putting 6th Grade back into Elementary School);
- In a domino-effect, this would then open enough classrooms for Full-Day Kindergarten.
DASD then began looking at various land parcels that would be suitable for a new 1,200-student 5/6 center (the same size as Marsh Creek). They considered, and dismissed, 10 properties (see pp. 4-7 and pp. 13-16).
Some were on steep hills; in other situations, the local townships would not rezone for educational use; and in a few cases, environmental hazards became a deal-breaker (e.g. soil contaminants). One property remains a possible option—the “McCausland Property.” The McCausland Property has obstacles regarding rerouting traffic on busy roads and laying new plumbing to connect to local utilities. The township (East Brandywine) has also opposed construction of a 2-story school on the site. This rules it out as a possible 5/6 location. However it remains a possibility for a smaller elementary school.
DASD then considered its Bradford Heights property, which is uniquely expansive and could possibly hold another building. This closely mirrors the setup between Shamona Creek Elementary and the Marsh Creek 6th Grade Center. They settled on constructing the new 5/6 center on the Bradford Heights property.
These plans were abruptly put on hold when the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in Spring 2020, closing schools and requiring the Board’s (and public’s) full attention.
As the schools reopened, the board prepared to continue moving forward with the 5/6 center plan that was now years in the making. At this point, new questions and concerns emerged. The pandemic had shed light on imbalances between the elementary schools—which were large enough to accommodate social distancing, which have gymnasiums, etc.
Furthermore, many residents in the immediate vicinity of Bradford Heights, upon learning about the proposal, became concerned about the impact of a new school on their neighborhood’s roads and community.
So the School Board now finds itself in an odd situation; some are trying to advance a plan that is based on years of exacting research into the need and options, while others are raising concerns to make sure no students are left behind. While the plans have been on the radar for years and actively discussed at meetings for months, it still feels strangely rushed as everyone grapples with the complexity of the choices and their implications.
There are now two plans on the table. Both plans will require a major financial investment, both in up-front construction and ongoing staffing needs. Each plan has pros and cons.
The “McCausland Elementary” Plan
- Build a large (700-student) new K-5 elementary school on the “McCausland Property,” near 322 & Corner Ketch Rd. DASD bought this land in 2020.
- Build additions onto three more elementary schools, one by one. (Beaver Creek, West Bradford, Bradford Heights; this plan also involves relocating Brandywine Wallace to the “McCausland” building.)
- At the end of this process, there will be enough capacity for projected growth + Full-Day Kindergarten (~1200 seats).
- Cost: $71M Capital + $7M Annually (see pp. 11&13)
- Keep Marsh Creek 6th Grade Center as is (one 6GC for whole district)
- Keep 5th Grade in the K-5 schools
- Allocate resources to schools that are lagging behind in some ways; the 3 schools targeted for additions have demonstrated inequity needs; for example, Beaver Creek, regarding capacity (especially seen in 2020, when the BC addition was unable to seat students far enough apart), and Bradford Heights, regarding its lack of gymnasium
- Keeps 5th Grade in the local schools
- Avoids building a second facility at Bradford Heights
- Save $1M annually once construction is done
- Construction in the 3 schools would not necessarily address any other issues unrelated to additions—the scope of those needs is poorly understood
- It’s not a simple fix-all. For example, Lionville Elementary’s lack of gymnasium would not be included.
- Cost $7M more up front, at least
- The full cost remains unknown and could rise significantly as each township might require the whole building brought to code.
- Significant neighborhood, permitting and traffic hurdles at McCausland
- Full Day Kindergarten would not begin until 2028 at earliest
- 4 elementary schools would now be quite large (700+ students)
- What happens with the Brandywine Wallace building at the end? Will involve losing 500 seats to recoup funds or spending more $$ to preserve seats
- The 6GC would remain unchanged (single-grade schools are not best praxis; long bus rides)
“Bradford Heights 5/6 Plan”
- Build essentially another Marsh Creek 6th Grade Center next to Bradford Heights, facing Romig Road (not unlike the Marsh Creek/Shamona Creek layout)
- Turn this new school and Marsh Creek both into 5th-6th schools
- The now-empty classrooms in all elementary schools (from the 5th grades) create capacity for Full Day K + projected growth
- Cost: $64M Capital + $8M Annually (see pp. 11&13)
Changes the 6th Grade experience for the whole district:
- 6th Grade returns to elementary (schedule, recess, etc.)
- 5th Grade, while still elementary, means transitioning schools, teachers and staff (an “upper elementary”)
- The “lower elementary” schools become K-4 only
- Scope and cost are better known
- Costs $7M less up-front
- Timeline for Full-Day K is known and shorter (2025 vs. 2028)
- Fixes the single-grade-school problem at Marsh Creek and shortens many bus rides
- Restores 6th grade to elementary status
- Fixes several problems at Bradford Heights—parking lot layout, adding a gym
- Adds the most seats overall and most seats per dollar
- Does not address needs at Beaver Creek, Brandywine Wallace, West Bradford
- Would the split of the district at 5th grade, instead of 7th, raise any equity questions? (There are 4 Title 1 Elementary Schools in DASD.)
- Shortening some bus rides might lengthen others
- Annual cost $1M more (+$8M vs +$7M)
- Requires changes to an established school that concern local residents:
- Playground layout—how the schools will share a central playground, what kind of retaining wall would be needed to make fields usable, etc. (the mockup—p. 10 here—is generally disliked by local families)
- Road traffic for drivers and walkers—safety and density
- With concerns about retaining walls, 2-story buildings, and new parking lots, will Bradford Heights still be an attractive part of such a green area?
It’s the opinion of this writer that the 5/6 Center sounds like a smart way to solve many problems at the same time. FDK is of paramount importance. The McCausland plan risks becoming a black box that delays FDK access for years. As for the schools proposed for additions, what if they also need accessibility, a different layout, or better music rooms?—nothing like that would be fixed by building an addition.
However, the board should also pay attention to the significant concerns shared by local families. They should:
- Clarify the changes for 5th and 6th graders (confirming that 5th-graders will NOT become middle-schoolers)
- Ask the architects for more options on the playground and field layouts and more clarity about the street-level views (these concerns are valid).
- Take note of lackluster support, listen seriously to the concerns shared, and communicate more clearly, proactively, and collaboratively with the public.
Ultimately this writer thinks the board governs best from a place of collaboration and consensus—with one another and the public. The board might want to delay the vote for the purpose of communicating with the DASD community, gathering feedback, and building a consensus.
How about you? What’s your opinion?
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Correction: this article previously said West Bradford is missing a gymnasium, rather than Lionville.