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More Residents Support Smaller Fox Hill In Community Meeting

Burlington residents shared their perspectives Monday night in a community meeting about the future of the Fox Hill Elementary School, with the vast majority speaking in favor of a smaller, 325-student school on the Fox Hill Site. 

As Burlington nears a December deadline to tell the Massachusetts School Building which of two options it would prefer for Fox Hill – a 325-student school that would essentially replace Fox Hill, or a larger, 640-student school that would consolidated Fox Hill and Pine Glen Elementary Schools under one roof but with separate identities – the School Building Committee has sought the input of the community. 

Former teacher and district parent Beth Pandolfo said that even though she doesn’t regret that her children went to Francis Wyman, which is Burlington’s largest elementary school at this time, she couldn’t help but be upset that they would never have the experience of going to a smaller school. “We need to preserve the smaller neighborhood schools that Burlington is known for and keep the four separate sites intact. If we’re looking at what’s truly best for future generations of Burlington children, in this case, bigger is not better.” 

Many community members worried that a three-story, 640-student school would cause traffic and disrupt the character of the Fox Hill neighborhood. 

A small number of speakers defended the combined school, which has been called the “butterfly model” because two separate schools would share some resources, like a kitchen space and cafetorium. 

Town Meeting Member Joanne Frustaci said her daughter attended a small private school before going to Francis Wyman Elementary School, which is currently Burlington’s largest elementary school. “I believe at the time it was over 600. No one ever called it a mega-school. People didn’t get horrified at the size,” she said. “I thought it was good for her, it exposed her to various things that prepared her for a large university.” 

Whichever plan the School Building Committee chooses, it will need anywhere between $77 million and $111 million of district money. It’s a sum that will require two thirds of Town Meeting and likely a majority of taxpayers to approve a debt exclusion, so choosing an option that residents would support is critical for the committee. 

“It was great to hear from the community,” said Elementary School Building Committee Chair Melissa Massardo. “I think there were about 150 people here, so I think we can continue the discussion via the town-wide survey.”

In addition to soliciting feedback from in-person attendees, the Burlington School Committee has opened a survey using the platform Thought Exchange. From now until Sept. 29, residents can visit and use the code 517-840-058 to share their thoughts and rate the thoughts of others. 

The responses are anonymous. 

One respondent wrote, “Francis Wyman is too big and draws from too large an area. Why build something bigger? We should preserve the position of a small town. We are not Arlington or Lexington.” 

Another respondent said, “If the larger school is cheaper in the long run I am for it. I am a disabled citizen on a fixed income.” 

A third wrote, “There should be a comprehensive strategic plan for capital investment in all Burlington school buildings. We are letting the MSBA drive our strategy rather than planning for our own community needs.”