The deadline for parents to apply for school choice within the Harwood Union district is much earlier than last year.

On Oct. 29, Superintendent Brigid Nease emailed parents to tell them about the deadline, which is in December, months before the deadline in past years.

“In the past, we accepted applications into late spring. Over the last couple of years, we have had a significant increase in requests, whereas in the past we had just a handful,” Nease wrote. “Because we are now experiencing so many change requests, we may need to adjust staffing. Therefore, in order to plan and budget accordingly for next year, all applications must be received no later than Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.”

Intradistrict choice was one of the selling points when voters approved the merger of the six Harwood towns into a single school district, effective July 1, 2017. In a few years, the number of school choice requests has grown, from 32 for the 2017-18 school year to 35 for 2018-19 and 50 for 2019-20.

This year, 107 students — or 5.9 percent — in the district are exercising choice.

Choice is available on a first-come, first-served basis, providing there is space in the receiving classroom and the transfer does not require hiring more staff.

Even before the merger, there was an agreement within the supervisory union that middle school parents could choose to send their children to either Crossett Brook or to Harwood middle school. Back then, roughly the same number of students from each school exercised choice, so neither school was gaining or losing a large number of students.

However, as of Oct. 30, the district has received 30 requests, with half of them asking to transfer from Harwood middle school to Crossett Brook.

In addition, there were requests from the parents of two children at Fayston — one currently in fourth grade, the other in fifth grade — to transfer to Crossett Brook, which teaches students in grades five through eight.

In Warren, which operates a K-6 school, the parents of three children — one fourth-grader and two fifth graders — have requested a transfer to Crossett Brook.

In total, Crossett Brook is the receiving school in 21 of the 30 requests received this far. Nobody has asked to transfer from Crossett Brook.

The migration is part of a larger trend; since the 2017 merger, Crossett Brook Middle School has gained 17 students through intradistrict choice, while Harwood Union Middle School has lost 11 students through choice.

School board members had an eye on those trends when they made plans to realign where students go to school in the district. The board has abandoned plans to send all students in grades five through eight to Crossett Brook, but are still considering putting all students in grades seven and eight at Crossett Brook.

That plan will dictate the scope of the bond proposal the board plans to present to voters in March, including how much construction — if any, depending on the plan — will be needed at Harwood and at Crossett Brook.

According to the state Agency of Education, Crossett Brook has capacity for 400 students; moving seventh- and eighth-graders to the school is projected to raise enrollment to 544, not counting the 21 requests received since Oct. 1.

At the board level, receiving the choice requests earlier rather than later will help on planning for the immediate future, said board chair Caitlin Hollister.

“In order for us to plan for the next budget, we need to have accurate numbers of where students will be,” Hollister said. “Also, we want to give parents clarity about where their children will be going to school.”

To apply for choice, visit huusd.org/apply-for-intradistrict-school-choice.

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