By Doug Ireland
SALEM — Parents are unsure where their children will go to school next year after learning the district will close Haigh School.
The School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a realignment plan that shutters the 64-year-old school at the end of the school year.
But it’s not only Haigh students who will be affected. The district will shift students at four of the five remaining elementary schools in order to balance enrollment.
Although some Haigh parents said the move was inevitable, it was still disheartening to hear the small neighborhood school would close.
“I think it’s a really disappointing decision even though we all knew it was going to happen,” said Amy Dailey, 35, a mother of two who attended Haigh as a child. “It’s really sad to see that school close.”
Julie Adams, who also has two daughters, was unhappy as well.
“It’s sombering to have it official,” she said. “Everyone is wondering now when they heck they are going to find out where their kids are going next year.”
Superintendent Michael Delahanty said he received many complaints from disappointed parents Wednesday.
“There is an understandable sadness,” Delahanty said. “That school is particularly tight-knit.”
The move affects the 162 Haigh students and approximately 80 to 100 students at four of the other five elementary schools — about 12 percent overall, Delahanty said. No North Salem School students would be moved, he said.
Closing Haigh would save the district $750,000 a year, according to Delahanty said. Approximately nine positions would be eliminated, including four or five teachers, he said.
In 2010, the district had about 1,800 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. That decreased to 1,580 in 2013 and 1,543 this fall, Delahanty has said.
Enrollment is projected to continue falling to about 1,504 in 2015-2016, he said.
Although the district posted a map online, Dailey and Adams said parents are having trouble figuring out how their neighborhoods would be affected.
Delahanty said a letter notifying parents of the change was sent Wednesday. School assignments won’t be released for at least a few weeks, he said.
Haigh parents were informed earlier in the year that a special committee was studying various realignment options because of declining enrollment in the district.
District officials have considered shutting Haigh since 2009 and scrapped plans to renovate it a few years ago because of the possibility it would close.
The town’s five other public elementary schools have received major upgrades and voters approved the renovation of Salem High School earlier this year.
Two weeks ago, Delahanty said the School Board would decide whether Haigh would close, but said he couldn’t reveal further details until he presented his recommendation last week.
That plan calls for sending 60 percent of Haigh students to Barron School and 40 percent to Lancaster School.
It also includes sending some Lancaster students to North Salem School, moving some Lancaster children to Fisk School, and shifting some Fisk students to Soule School.
The transition affects about 12 percent of students throughout the district.
Even if Haigh remained open, the district would still be forced to realign its student population, according to Delahanty. He said some Haigh parents are relieved a decision was finally made.
School Board members said although it was a tough decision, closing the school made the most sense as enrollment continues to drop.
“I do agree it’s the right thing to do for this community,” Chairman Patricia Corbett said. “We are making this decision with very heavy hearts.”
Adams said parents were notified last week that they should begin discussing the proposed transition with their children.
Her second-grade daughter, Jacalyn, was devastated, she said.
“At first, she started to get emotional and teary-eyed, but she’s a really strong kid,” Adams said. “She’s dealing with it as best as she can.”
Haigh parents aren’t the only ones who are unhappy.
Harold Moore, who has two daughters attending Lancaster, is disappointed his children will now have to attend Fisk and leave most of their friends behind.
Moore was the only parent to address the board Tuesday night. He’s also worried about his children’s bus now having to cross busy Route 28
“They are going to be in a situation isolated from their friends and classmates,” he said. “We haven’t explained this yet. Obviously, it’s going to be a traumatic event.”