The Gloversville school district might make major changes to its school configuration in time for next school year — but not without a heated community debate first.
As Gloversville school officials Monday night unveiled three options for reconfiguring the district’s schools, they faced public criticisms about how the plans were developed, the timing of implementation, and concerns about an alternative school that could rent one of the district’s buildings.
Gloversville Superintendent Michael Vanyo spelled out the three proposals for consolidating elementary schools and creating a fifth-grade and sixth-grade “school within a school” at the district middle school. The plans also would convert Meco Elementary School into an early childhood center.
Vanyo said the reconfiguration proposals would save the district about $1 million a year, addressing fiscal challenges and declining enrollment in the district of just over 3,000 students.
One proposal would retain the neighborhood school model, establishing new attendance zones for three pre-K through fourth-grade schools. Another option would use the grade-level grouping model adopted by Johnstown schools, creating separate schools for pre-K and kindergarten, first and second grades, and third- and fourth-grade schools.
'There is no way I can make 100 percent of the people happy.'
-- Gloversville Superintendent Michael Vanyo
A third option was a hybrid of the two models, with two pre-K through second-grade buildings and a combined district school for third and fourth grades.
“There is no way I can make 100 percent of the people happy,” Vanyo said. “All of the decisions were always about what can be for the long-term betterment of our students.”
The Gloversville Board of Education, which sat quietly through the two-hour meeting, has yet to make any decisions about which option to adopt. And they could decide on a fourth option, which would be take no action, Vanyo said.
The district has scheduled another public meeting for Feb. 22, when it will continue to answer questions and solicit public input. District officials hope to make a decision about how to move forward in March.
While Vanyo said he would take only “clarification” questions after his presentation Monday, he stood and answered a bevy of sometimes critical questions for well over an hour. During the public questions, clear lines of criticism emerged, touching on timing, process and what would become of the old elementary buildings.
A handful of residents were especially concerned about renting McNab Elementary School to Adirondack Academy, an “alternative” BOCES school designed for students “whose needs are not met by our traditional schools.” Those residents expressed fears that the students from the academy could cause problems in the surrounding neighborhood.
“Are there other options for McNab?” asked Darleen Gaugler, who said she lives next to the school. “It seems like that (Adirondack Academy) is pigeon-holed for McNab and there are no other choices.”
In Vanyo’s presentation, all of the reorganization proposals included using McNab for the BOCES program.
The superintendent said the options could be tweaked, but he defended the program, arguing it would help students learn in a more focused environment and that the plans would make sure to separate that school from Gloversville’s broader student population.
“I haven’t had anyone knock on my door and ask if we are going to sell a building, because they can really use it,” Vanyo said. “I did have someone knock on my door and say the Adirondack Academy is growing and could use more space.”
Patrick Michel, superintendent of the Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery counties BOCES district, said today that Adirondack Academy already is capacity — 130 students — in its space at the BOCES center between Fort Johnson and Johnstown. He said there is a waiting list of another 45 students in the region hoping to get into the school.
The students at the school represent varying backgrounds, he said, and the program aims to provide them with an education that best meets their specific needs.
“The student population at the academy varies ... we have some students who have had behavioral problems, and we have students who have not had behavioral problems,” Michel said. “We try to get kids back into regular schools, but some never want to go back — they find the community we created at the school so nurturing they want to stay.”
Other criticisms were more process-oriented. One audience member said she was part of a school-district-created committee that evaluated a broader set of proposals developed by a consultant who studied the district. But, she said, the final proposals looked completely different.
Vanyo said district administrators narrowed the proposals to options that were most “feasible.”
A former teacher in the audience bluntly asked Vanyo if he had enough time to pull off a major district reconfiguration in time for the start of next school year. The ex-teacher, Rosaria Girouard, cited the challenges of moving teachers to new classes and easing the anxiety of a major transition for students.
“Do you honestly think you can have all of this in place by the start of September? You have staff to move and busing to work out and before- and after-school programs,” said Girouard, a former teacher at both McNab and Meco elementary schools. “Maybe you aren’t giving yourself enough time to make this work, you are going into it and hoping it will work itself out over time, or you will iron out the kinks.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.