Schenectady County

Officials tinker with idea to close Oneida Middle School

Plans for the possible closure of Oneida Middle School are becoming clearer now that Interim Superin

Despite keeping as many seventh- and eighth-graders in their elementary school as possible, hundreds will have to move to Mont Pleasant Middle School if the school district closes Oneida Middle School.

Plans for the possible closure are becoming clearer now that Interim Superintendent John Yagielski has met with most of the parent-teacher organizations at the affected buildings.

Yagielski has suggested saving money by closing Oneida Middle School and possibly turning three elementary schools into K-8 buildings. Many students would be moved to Mont Pleasant Middle School, which would be the only remaining middle school.

Students at Zoller, Woodlawn, Paige, Elmer and Yates elementary schools would be affected by the changes. All of those students normally go to Oneida Middle School.

Some parents have balked at sending their students to the other side of the city — with some calling Mont Pleasant the “worst” school in the district. School board member Gary Farkas publicly criticized parents for those comments, but said this week that he’d like to avoid moving students because of the cost of busing.

He suggested moving enough students to Central Park International Magnet School, and other buildings in walking distance, to avoid busing any students.

But Yagielski said the savings plan includes adding 150 to 250 students to Mont Pleasant Middle School. That would put the school at 700 to 800 students, far below the more than 1,000 students who used the building as a high school many years ago.

Some parents have said they want their children to go to Mont Pleasant, rather than a K-8, because there might be more opportunities for sports, electives and accelerated classes. Some even said they would volunteer for the move if Oneida closes.

But Yagielski said he wouldn’t be able to simply fill Mont Pleasant with volunteers.

It’s “unrealistic,” he said, because so many students must be moved to make the plan work.

Still, those comments led him to form plans for Mont Pleasant as well as the K-8s.

Mont Pleasant would offer many programs that the district couldn’t afford to do until now because it couldn’t afford to duplicate them at every middle school, Yagielski said.

“We could really create a new Mont Pleasant Middle School,” he said. “I see it as a positive.”

Among the ideas: Mont Pleasant could be the site for accelerated classes. It already offers ninth-grade algebra to eighth-graders. Similar classes could be offered for science, and the fine arts program could be expanded.

“Those are the things I’m exploring now,” he said.

He’s also trying to determine whether it’s realistic to turn Zoller, Woodlawn or Paige elementary schools into K-8 buildings.

Many students near those schools would start their school career by being bused to Howe for kindergarten, to make room for grades 7 and 8 at the elementary schools. Only kindergartners who would have to ride a bus anyway would be sent to Howe; those who walk would stay at their neighborhood’s elementary school.

Howe is the district’s kindergarten and pre-K building and has room for many more classes, Yagielski said.

The best way to save money, he has argued, is to use all of the space in the district, rather than underutilizing some buildings while others are crowded.

Howe has plenty of space, so it should be used by more kindergarten classes, he said. Kindergartners from Central Park and King, which are currently K-8 buildings, would also go to Howe to make room for more seventh- and eighth-graders there.

Yagielski doesn’t want to remove all kindergarten classes from the elementary schools, but he needs six classrooms in each building to make room for seventh and eighth grade. He’s not sure if the elementary schools in question are big enough.

“We’re seriously looking at it,” he said.

In the meantime, Farkas and other school board members are trying to persuade parents that Mont Pleasant isn’t a “bad” school, as some described it in recent PTO meetings.

“Mont Pleasant is a wonderful building,” Farkas said at Wednesday’s school board meeting. “All our schools are good schools. I would send my kids to any building here.”

He added that Oneida and Mont Pleasant seem identical — teachers offer the same programs, enforce the same rules and have the same equipment. The only differences, he said, are architectural.

“Other than the walls, you don’t know if you’re in Mont Pleasant or Oneida when you’re in there,” Farkas said.

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