By Jaime Craven
The October 17 School Committee meeting began with a bang as nearly half a dozen citizens chimed in with misgivings about the prospect of a dog park on Railroad Avenue, which would have abutted the middle school as well as several residences. The discussion extended an intended six-minute “Comments from the Public” section to four times that length, but not for naught: the School Committee soon afterward voted to remove the Railroad Avenue site from consideration for the dog park project.
More than one commenter urged the School Committee to think hard before relinquishing some of its limited property to an outside project, especially at a time when the student population is on the rise. Other worries centered on traffic, natural conservation, and safety for both the middle school students and the children of residential abutters. Superintendent Jon Sills expressed particular alarm at the 99-year lease required by the Bedford Bylaws; if the site were selected, it would be a dog park and only a dog park for almost a century.
Members of the ad hoc Dog Park Task Force (DPTF) stepped in to assuage some fears regarding safety, reiterating that the dog park will necessarily have a fence surrounding it, wherever the site. The potential impact to traffic, however, remained a problem. The area has been known to become congested, especially when the school buses arrive. Additionally, committee member Dan Brosgol expressed a longtime concern for drivers ignoring the nearby stop signs.
With Railroad Ave taken off the list, the DPTF now has Springs Brook Park and Lavender Lane to choose from for its site. Neither is as close to the center of town, but fortunately, only 15 of the first 100 respondents to the DPTF’s public survey listed a central location as an important feature.
Following this, the School Committee moved on to a presentation from the Bridge Program, which provides a “safe, therapeutic environment” for students with social or emotional disabilities so that they may transition to less restrictive environments in the future. The program currently serves a total of 45 students in the Lane, John Glenn, and High Schools, and is open to enrolling students from Davis as well. It also provides support and training to general education teachers so as to better accommodate the students’ needs.
The presentation outlined the mission and philosophy of the Bridge Program, as well as some of the challenges faced by the staff: notably, that student enrollment in the program has “increased significantly” in recent years, putting pressure on limited personnel. The assigned adjustment counselor at Lane School currently carries a caseload of 21 students from both within the Bridge Program and without; likewise, the counselor at John Glenn Middle School carries 27.
As the main purpose of the presentation was to provide a requisite update, no direct action was taken by the School Committee in response. However, members of the committee took the opportunity to express heartfelt support for the program.
“I don’t want you to think for a second that we don’t value what you do,” said Michael McAllister. “I think there’s probably never going to be a point where we can provide you with as much staff as you ever want, but I don’t ever want you to stop asking for staff… We need to be able to go talk with people like the Finance Committee, not just about the dollars and cents, but also why this is essential for kids – because what this is, is a community decision about how we’re educating our kids.”