Schenectady County

District mulls options for reconfiguring schools

The question of whether to reopen the former Oneida Middle School will depend on an analysis of all
A 2012 file image of Oneida School in Schenectady.
A 2012 file image of Oneida School in Schenectady.

The question of whether to reopen the former Oneida Middle School will depend on an analysis of all of the schools in the district.

School board members decided late Wednesday that they want to create a long-term plan for the entire district, possibly putting the same grade configuration in every school.

Currently, some schools house kindergarten through eighth grades, while others are K-6 schools. There is one middle school and one high school.

The question is whether to turn every elementary school into a K-6 — which would require another middle school — or turn them all into K-8 buildings and get rid of the middle school.

The district could also stay with the hybrid model, in which some schools are K-8 and others are K-6. But board members did not discuss how they would decide which students get to go to each school.

While many parents said last year that they want K-8, others later said that they wanted the benefits of a large middle school, such as the better chances of filling advanced classes and intramural sports teams.

On Election Day, some parents told The Gazette outside the polls that they wanted more neighborhood schools, which they said would support the neighborhood because the children living there would know each other and their parents would connect over the common bond of their children’s school.

But other parents cited research that suggests children do better if they do not switch schools repeatedly. Staying in a school with younger children also encourages adolescents to behave better because they are role models.

However, the research has not definitively shown that K-8 is better than K-6, and board members said they probably can’t be certain which model is best for children.

So the decision might boil down to space and cost.

Board members directed their long-term planning committee to look into all three options. They need to know whether the district’s buildings could all support K-8, for example, and how much it would cost to expand the buildings to do so.

They also need to weigh the costs of K-6, which would also require another middle school and expansions at several elementary schools.

They could also choose a hybrid model, which would require outfitting five schools as K-8 buildings, board President Cathy Lewis said.

“A hybrid system might be a reality based on the capacity of our buildings,” she said. “What can we do affordably?”

She added that whatever the decision, it will involve reopening Oneida to handle a projected increase in young students and possibly closing Elmer Elementary.

“It seems as if it’s likely we will need to do something with Oneida,” she said. “It seems as if the time has come to do something with regards to Elmer.”

Elmer, which has a wooden frame, is in such bad shape that it cannot be repaired, a building analysis has shown. The analysis also recommended not rebuilding on the site because of the lot’s small size and drainage problems.

Lewis said the board plans to take steps toward reopening Oneida at its next meeting. The board can call for a routine environmental review and advertise to hire architects before deciding what it wants to do with the building.

Technically, the board can put off a decision until after it interviews the three finalists from among architectural firms that submit proposals. Architects could be asked to bring two proposals to their interview: one of the renovations needed to make Oneida a K-6 school and one for a K-8 school.

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