In a series of community meetings next month, Superintendent Laurence Spring will defend the school board’s decision to get rid of K-8 schools.
Voters will decide the matter in a referendum in January. That means school officials have four months to persuade the public to support the plan.
Spring will explain that the goal is to create elementary schools with enough space to take in every kindergartner. The district would no longer run an overflow school just for kindergartners.
The plan would also create three middle schools, which he argues will be far better than the current Mont Pleasant Middle School.
“It’s called a middle school, but right now it’s a junior high school,” he said. “It’s structured in a pattern very similar to a high school.”
Each department’s classrooms are clustered together, so students walk the length of the school to get from their science class to their English class.
Spring wants the building set up like the Ninth Grade Academy, where students’ classes are all close together so that students don’t wander through the building. Students would also be organized into teams — with perhaps two teams per grade level — so that they can connect with a smaller community.
The goal is “gentle progression,” he said. By 10th grade, students would be free to walk wherever they needed to go to get to their various classes.
“Every step along the way, there’s a little bit more independence,” Spring said.
If the referendum is approved, the school district will reopen Oneida Middle School and turn Central Park International Magnet School into a middle school. Elmer Elementary School will close and the attendance zones for all of the schools will be redrawn to reflect the student population. The Northside neighborhood population is increasing, while the student population in the Woodlawn neighborhood is falling.
The redistricting would be done by fall 2016.
Some parents have criticized the school board for switching back to middle schools rather than continuing to move toward a K-8 model. When Oneida Middle School was closed, the board created several new K-8 schools, and many residents believed the district would eventually renovate buildings to create enough space for every student to go to a K-8 school.
The board decided this summer to go back to K-5 schools instead, but board members have struggled to explain their reasoning and have debated the matter at length.
Spring said it came down to money.
“We did explore really very thoroughly how we could have all K-8s, and that’s not viable,” he said. “We could do it, I guess, if we had the capital to raze and rebuild a pretty significant number of our buildings.”
The district has not released any cost figures.
Spring said it would also not be fair to keep some K-8 buildings.
“Some kids get to be in a K-8 model and some kids don’t. There’s an equity issue,” he said. “Some kids transition at kindergarten and then at ninth. Other kids transition at kindergarten, first, sixth and then ninth. That’s a lot of transitions. That’s a big disparity.”
At the meetings, Spring said he will also ask residents to support the ongoing effort to get more funding from the state.
He also wants to listen to residents.
“Just kind of making sure I’m making myself available to people,” he said.
The meeting schedule is as follows:
• Oct. 8, 6 to 7:30 p.m., at the Mont Pleasant Middle School cafeteria.
• Oct. 15, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Lincoln Elementary School library.
• Oct. 17, 6 to 7:15 p.m. at the main branch of the library, in the McChesney Room.
• Oct. 22, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Van Corlaer Elementary School.
• Oct. 29, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Howe Early Childhood Center.