Nyack Elementaries: Neighborhood vs Princeton Plan

Parents, teachers and administrators discuss moving to the Princeton method. Most parents that spoke out were against the plan. Check back with Nyack Patch tomorrow for more.


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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. 

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. "There are times when we have difficulties in implementing things like instrumental music lessons because of our space limitations."

Nyack's Current Situation

Grade Valley Cottage Liberty Upper Nyack Class Size Range K 63 74 54 16-22 1 49 82 92 16-22 2 72 73 66 17-22 3 75 67 61 18-25 4 77 69 66 19-26 5 87 91 74 21-25 Total 423 456 413

"In 2004, we changed the district boundaries (to shift some students to Valley Cottage) because Liberty Elementary was overcrowded," said Millsaps "As you can see from those numbers, that problem has gone away, but we have to keep a close eye on it and in the next couple of years, we may see the shift happen again."

2010-11 committee made the recommendation to change the boundaries and at that time there was no imputes to change the neighborhood school plan.

"However, we were once again faced with a new challenge, which is the tax cap." 

Neighborhood vs Princeton Plan

"If you look at the district map, the concept of neighborhood schools in the Nyack community, it’s is really not nestled around your neighborhood streets. You have three slices of property. You do have students that travel quite a distance to get to their “neighborhood” schools," said Montesano. 

He added that, to his understanding, the main reason behind the the district having neighborhood schools was "primarily for socio-economic balance that the district and the community wanted to experience over time.

"Also, what’s been happening from time to time and year to year, the boards of education have had to make (shifts) to boundaries to accommodate changing demographics. Last year, Valley Cottage had a very low kindergarten class. If that continues to happen, over time ... we’ll be at a point where we’ll have to make a shift to balance things out."

About the Princeton Plan

The name Princeton Plan comes from the Princeton School District in NJ that first implemented this change in 1948.  “It was put into place for a socio-economic balance.”

Since then, in Rockland County, other school districts that operate under this plan include Nanuet, South Orangetown and North Rockland. In Westchester, there are 13 school districts that run under this method

One of the slides shown on Monday night was "Why do schools reconfigure their grade spans?"

  • Philosophical preference
  • Most efficient use of facilities
  • Transportation costs — “In the case of Nyack, because you’re so spread apart … what we found in the study is that transportation costs aren’t really relevant in regards to travel time, although … there are some additional minutes for some students. With regards to cost, it does not seem to be an added cost,” said Montesano.
  • Socio-economic balance
  • Increasing student enrollment
  • Personnel costs

“Usually, communities like their current structure, regardless whether it’s a neighborhood school or (one under the Princeton Plan). From a parental perspective, people want to keep what they have,” said Montesano.  “I assume most of you are here because you don’t want to lose what you have with regards to what (your elementary) offers your children.”

Another slide from the meeting: What will impact our future situation?

  • NY cap on tax levy
  • Uncertain state and federal aid
  • Demand for more rigorous curriculum
  • Need for improving student achievements
  • Need for increased professional development

“Schools today offer a lot more different services and programs,” said Montesano, adding that the schools' goals was to prepare students for success in college. "Parents are asking for language immersion and science in elementary schools."

A chart of the 5-year budget forecast was also one of the slides, which showed that expenses would increase much faster than revenue, which would leave the district to face a deficit and difficult financial decisions. This slide is one of the photos attached to this article. 

"Over the next several years ... The board is going to look at several things—labor, contract negotiations, etc—in hopes of controlling costs. The board is going to be challenged not only to maintain programs, but we have a strong interest in advancing programs in this district," he added. 

He said that there will be a meeting in December to "talk more extensively with the school board on where it chooses to go in regard to future plans for the school district." 


Meeting dates

  • 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
Art Gunther October 03, 2012 at 01:52 AM
I am sorry but this article only represents one side of the story that unfolded last night. There were actually upwards of 100 parents in attendance. Truly 98% of these parents expressed the opinion that Nyack must preserve their neighborhood schools. Much evidence was presented by these parents, including several educators on the advantages of neighborhood schools and the shortcomings of the Princeton Plan. The district's presentation on the Princeton Plan was woefully short of persuasive facts that a reorganization holds any real educational benefits. It is economics over education. Even Dr. Montesano's explanation of neighborhood schools was inaccurate. Hopefully the Patch will report in depth on the communities' reaction.
Mary Fichter October 03, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Another perspective on the Princeton Plan: http://2paragraphs.com/2012/10/princeton-plan-for-schools-good-or-bad/
Lezlee Peterzell-Bellanich October 03, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I was one of the few lone voices that was open to the Princeton Plan. 1. Many families switch their kids to private schools during Middle School. They're worried about the academics and transition into a larger environment where all three schools are merged. With the Princeton Plan, the 3 schools with same kids are merged throughout elementary so they are not having 2/3 new kids. Also, parents get to know the other 2/3 families earlier. I'd like to see research iindicating the percentage of kids that stay in the system utilizing the Princeton Plan, verses kids that opt for private at this time with neighborhood schools. 2. Personally, I think it is nice to keep kids of the same age range together for a while. They are mostly with each other in their classrooms anyway. There can be opportunities of older kids mentoring younger kids after school, or events organized by the PTA. 3. While it is nice to stay in the same building, I don't buy the argument that it would be unstable for children or cause educational harm to have them switch buildings every two years. Most kids adapt, and it's all in how you present it. The stability is that they are with the same kids! Right now I have one child in a pre-school and another in elementary. I go two places. It's not that big of a deal. 4. If Princeton Plan is in effect to save money, teachers are laid off, and class sizes max out to 27 - not good. If class sizes can be reduced, better.
Kim Tran October 03, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Check back with Nyack Patch at 4:30 today for the last post from this meeting. It'll go over parent concerns that were brought up
Alison Morales October 07, 2012 at 01:43 AM
There are pages and pages of reports showing that transitions and large class sizes disrupt learning. There are other ways to save money, and if it is true that nothing has been decided, then the community needs to be presented with other alternatives. Most people in the community are opposed to this plan. The school board needs to represent the people. In addition, no one mentioned the additional air pollution from the extra busing. This affects everyone in the community, not only those with children.


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