On Monday night, an open forum was held at Upper Nyack School to discuss the possible reconfiguration of the Nyack elementaries.
In an earlier Nyack Patch article, some background information was presented on the district's process up to this point; a closer look at the Princeton plan; and committee findings on the effects of reconfiguration.
The Nyack Board of Education is contemplating a shift to the Princeton Plan, which would divide the current K-through-fifth-grade experience into smaller segments across the elementary school buildings. Currently, the elementry schools are under the common neighborhood school plan, which uses geographic district lines to assign students to schools.
Under the Princeton Plan, grades would be assigned to specific schools. Instead of the three schools—Valley Cottage Elementary, Liberty Elementary and Upper Nyack Elementary—housing children from all grades, they would house children from just two grades.
- K-1: Valley Cottage Elementary
- 2-3: Liberty Elementary
- 4-5: Upper Nyack Elementary
More than 50 parents attended the forum, which was led by Superintendent James Montesano, Assistant Superintendent of Business Service Carleen Millsaps and Nyack Middle School principal Nicole Saieva.
Millsaps and Saieva were asked to co-chair a committee of parents and staff back in 2010. This advisory committee’s purpose was to address the “overcrowding conditions at Valley Cottage School," said Montesano.
This Patch article will look at the parent comments from Monday's meeting and comments from school board members from the Tuesday Board of Education meeting.
- Dollar amounts not listed for expenditures
- Since this isn’t a done deal, the other solutions need to be presented to the community—“At the end of this exercise and if we come back and choose to we stay where we are (with the neighborhood school plan), at least we know that we did all we could to prepare ourselves (and look at all options),” said Montesano. “Is this the only solution? Absolutely not. It’s just part of the process.”
- Holiday concerts and back to school nights
- Will buses be by grade level or geographic area
- Traffic with the drop off in Valley Cottage
- Larger class sizes
- Start/End times and parking and picking up multiple students at different buildings; will there be a shuttle so that parents only have to go to one school?; Will a K-1 student have a program or someone to wait with them if parents are late picking them up coming from a different elementary building.
- How will the district decide on which teachers and TAs would be let go? Montesano said that a “it’s decided by a law, by seniority and years of service.”
- Some parents said that they picked Upper Nyack because it performed better than the other elementaries
- Advantages of multi-age play groups and interactions
- Separating siblings can lead to less of a smoother transition
- Concerns with the consistency of groups of friends
- Some asked for more parent involvement with the process
- What is the alternative? What would be on the chopping block if the neighborhood plan was kept? Would Sports or Music be cut?—Montesano said labor costs make up more than 75 percent of the budget and any non-mandated areas would most likely be under review.
- Long-term projections?
- With Pre-K, a child would be going through six transitions. “For many children, the only stability is the school,” said one parent.
“More transitions equal less achievement,” said Paul Ferguson, a NYC teacher and Liberty parent. “Also, what kind of achievement are we talking about? Student test scores? Because teachers are going to be evaluated now in a different way … There’s a whole new rubric coming out and teachers are now teaching more to the test because they’re more accountable for test scores … If our school scores go down, so do property values.”
He added that in NYC, he’s part of a pilot test program where this new rubric is implemented.
“Teachers need more professional development, but there’s no need to put teachers all in one building for it,” added Ferguson. “We’re a community. When we do this, we lose community. No longer will our teachers know our families. We have to have a really close look at this.
He also added that the district needed to also look at teachers union studies and wrap-around services so that music in not just one elementary building.
“I saw more negatives than positives,” he said. “We’re going to have to pack the classrooms more. We have surplus classrooms, why not make the classes smaller? They’re out children. Demographics change. There are ways that we solved it in the past. Why not revisit them? Lets not reinvent the wheel.”
One parent stood up to speak in favor of the Princeton Plan.
“At the middle school level, some people take their kids to private schools because of the social transition,” said Lezlee Peterzell-Bellanich. “I like the idea of all kids getting to know each other and growing up together, so when they do go to middle school, they already know everyone else.”
However, the majority of parents had strong concerns about the change.
“Nyack has a unique neighborhood feel. Neighborhood schools, your neighbors go to your school,” said Art Gunther, a South Orangetown first grade teacher under the Princeton Plan for the last eight years. “Teachers at my school say that they wished they could go back to (neighborhood school plan). Nothing beats a neighborhood school. Also, special education students, if they get used to their support personnel, two years later, you get new support personnel.”
Montesano said that he’s been in contact and will bring some of these questions to South Orangetown School District to learn the pros and cons of the Princeton Plan.
“Those transitional years …special education students have difficulties with those types of transitions,” said Montesano. “There isn’t much research out there on grade spans, but there is research out there about grade transitions, particularly kids who move from one school to the next. Those transitions tend to be more difficult for academic learning than positive. Those are things that need to be looked at.”
Angela Bernhardt, one of the people behind the Nyack REF (Restore Education Funding) Facebook page, asked parents to voice their concerns on the Facebook page.
"(Monday) night the Nyack school district held it's first meeting to discuss the Princeton plan proposal. Most parents were not in favor of what was presented. People should feel free to use this Facebook page to post their concerns and questions. REF will let district leadership know they can come here to read community comments,” she said.
- Liberty School Wednesday, October 3 7:30 PM
- Valley Cottage School Tuesday, October 9 7:30 PM
- Nyack Center Tuesday, October 30 7:30 PM
Nyack Elementaries: Neighborhood vs Princeton Plan
Elementary Parents Oppose Princeton Plan
Revamp Nyack Elem. Schools? Meeting Tonight