The city school district is considering a radical realignment of its elementary schools from the traditional model of each building containing all grades to buildings containing grouped grade levels.
Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli said the board is exploring the concept and will make a decision this summer on whether to proceed. If the board gives the green light, the grade-level grouping would take about a year to complete, and the goal would be to have it in place by September 2013.
He said the motivation behind the realignment is a need to use resources efficiently in light of the state cutting its aid and capping the district’s property tax increases. The goal is to reduce duplicative programming and services and to improve educational opportunities for students.
“We do not see this is a major money-saver, but we see it is a way to enhance our education program,” DeLilli said.
He has been outlining the proposal before various community groups since January, with his latest presentation scheduled for March 5 at Pleasant Avenue School.
“We want parents and community members to weigh in on it, on the pros and concerns, and there are definitely concerns,” he said.
DeLilli said some of the concerns he has heard are that the proposed realignment would affect the district’s neighborhood school concept, that it would split siblings who now attend the same school and that it would create transportation problems.
Grade-level grouping involves placing all sections of one grade together in a single building. The district has three elementary schools. Each now hosts eight different grade levels, from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade.
Under grade-level grouping, one building would contain all the district’s pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade classes; the second building would have all the second- and third-grade classes; and the third building all the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes. Another configuration is pre-K through first in one building, grades two to four in the second building, and grades five and six in the third building. The district’s junior high school and high school would not be affected by the realignment.
Lisa Vanaernam, first vice president of the Central Council PTA, said the PTA has no formal position on the proposal, having first heard about it in January.
But Vanaernam said she personally supports the proposal. She has two children in the district, an eighth-grader and a fifth-grader, and works as a teacher’s aide in a district school.
“It will give our children the best education for our tax dollars,” she said. “It will let the teachers and staff best use the resources they have to give the kids what they need.”
Vanaernam said her children will not be affected by the proposed realignment but she may have to relocate to work in another school should it be approved. She said the proposed realignment would benefit staff.
“It would not affect them in terms of reduction. It would be positive and they would be with colleagues who are working with similar grade levels of students, and by being together they would be able to collaborate,” she said.
Vanaernam said the neighborhood school concept is a myth. “It doesn’t exist anymore. Kids get moved around all the time for special education programming and for classroom changes,” she said.
DeLilli noted the following: 356 K-6 students have had to move between schools in the past three years; 55 K-6 siblings attend different schools; the district plans to move a projected 15 K-6 students next year; a projected 119 K-6 students are not in their “home school” as it stands.
DeLilli said the district’s teachers union has not raised any concerns, as the proposal has not touched upon staffing issues.
In 2009, the district closed Jansen Elementary School in response to declining enrollment. The closure forced the district to redraw attendance zones for the remaining three schools. At the time, it considered but did not implement grade-level grouping.