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What you need to know for 01/19/2018

Officials begin to revamp Schenectady school district

Officials begin to revamp Schenectady school district

Residents will be able to watch online while the Schenectady City School District experiments with s
Officials begin to revamp Schenectady school district
Central Park Elementary School will return to being a middle school as part of plans by the Schenectady City School District.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Residents will be able to watch online while the Schenectady City School District experiments with sweeping changes in its school attendance zones.

An interactive map on the school website will show each option being considered by the redistricting committee. Residents got their first look at the map Tuesday during a preliminary meeting.

Some were hoping the changes would save money, but Superintendent Laurence Spring said that won’t be the case. “This is not a big place to save money,” he said, explaining some classrooms are crowded while others have too few students. “It’s just not very efficient right now. If kids were more evenly distributed, we might be able to spend a little bit less on personnel, but really, redistricting is cost-neutral.”

That’s not to say it’s not important, he went on. Demographics have changed, and there are far more students now in the Northside and fewer in Woodlawn, he said.

Without redistricting, “kids will be hanging out the windows of Yates [elementary school] and rattling around a mostly empty Woodlawn [elementary school],” he said.

This summer, the redistricting committee is charged with thinking outside the box to develop attendance zone options. At the end of September, the district will hold a community forum to discuss options developed by the committee. By January, the school board will choose the best of those options.

“It’s a quick timeline,” said Lori McKenna, director of planning and accountability for the district. “As you can imagine, we have a lot of work to do.”

She wants to do a lot: make space for preschoolers in elementary schools while moving sixth-graders to the middle school, add rooms for special education children so they can attend their neighborhood school, and balance enrollment at each school so none are too crowded. And all that would be done while closing three elementary schools: Elmer Avenue, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Central Park. The first two will be closed altogether, while Central Park will become a middle school.

In addition, Howe will be renovated to become an elementary school, and Fulton may also be added to the district’s elementary schools.

McKenna said the numbers indicate there will be enough space to fit all elementary students.

The district has hired Cropper GIS to help develop options. Consultant Matthew Cropper said one of his goals is to ensure each elementary school feeds into one middle school. He doesn’t want a group of fifth-graders to be split between two middle schools.

“You want them to have familiar faces,” he said.

He also wants to keep students in neighborhood schools, with equitable programs in each school so special education students don’t have to be bused to a school on the other side of the city.

“I know redistricting, in every community we work with, it’s an emotional process,” he said. “It’s my job to maintain objectivity … and keep to our objectives.”

Spring said the district might phase in changes or let some children stay in a school that’s not in their zone.

“We want to minimize disruption,” he said.

The district has already started phasing out FDR, cutting kindergarten last year and this year. By 2016, when the new attendance zones go into affect and FDR is closed, there will be only a few grades of students in the school.

Magnet schools will also cease to exist in 2016, as they will be converted into traditional K-5 schools, McKenna said.

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