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Scenarios of possible Niskayuna school reconfiguration take shape

Scenarios of possible Niskayuna school reconfiguration take shape

First-blush look being offered as final report refined
Scenarios of possible Niskayuna school reconfiguration take shape
Photographer: Stock images

NISKAYUNA - A handful of scenarios for adjusting how grade levels are distributed across Niskayuna's eight school buildings are beginning to take shape as a consultant and community committee finalize a report for the school board.

The options, which consultant Paul Seversky cautioned are still being modified, include a look at trimming the number of grades served at neighborhood elementary schools and converting the district's middle schools into districtwide buildings serving two or three grades.

One draft option, for example, envisions five neighborhood elementary schools serving pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, all district fifth and sixth graders attending Van Antwerp, students in seventh and eighth grades attending Iroquois, and the high school grade structure remaining as ninth through 12th grades.

Other potential options shrink the elementary schools to serving up to third grade and moving fourth grade to Van Antwerp with fifth and sixth graders. Another set of possible scenarios considers converting Glencliff Elementary to a pre-kindergarten center and district central offices – though those options received push back from committee members who said it would be viewed as “closing” a neighborhood school. Like all the scenarios, Seversky said, those could be dismissed or changed.

The community committee – made up of residents, parents, teachers and others in the Niskayuna community – discussed the draft report outlining the emerging reconfiguration options at a recent meeting. The report is still considered a draft in progress but is slated to be finalized May 11, Seversky said at a recent meeting. Seversky is a private consultant who helps districts project enrollment trajectories and develop district organization options. 

The work of Seversky and the community committee is meant to lay the foundation for a capital project expected to go to voters in fall 2020.

That capital project – which was floated at a potential cost of around $50 million in a recent presentation to the school board – has been described as necessary for accommodating what district officials expect to be growing enrollment. The proposed improvements would also facilitate more flexible and “nimble” academic programs.

The draft report includes a range of projected enrollments. But Seversky said Niskayuna should plan for more students in the coming years. The draft examines the student capacity of each school building and outlines how much new classroom space would be needed to meet growth projections under the different configuration scenarios.

“These are doable scenarios not because I say they are doable, but because the data says so,” Seversky said .

The committee is scheduled to meet again May 15 as a “focus group” to review the various scenarios, with each committee member ranking the options in the order they think best serves students. The final report and the committee's rankings will then be passed along to the school board, which will have the final say in how to move forward.

The study leaves plenty of wiggle room for the school board to decide to not change how the buildings are configured and proceed with a capital project to renovate, upgrade and in some places expand schools while maintaining the district's current grade structure. But the emerging options also give district officials space to remake how the district delivers its academic program to students in dramatic ways.

For each potential scenario, the reports lists advantages and disadvantages and details how much new classroom space and other support space would be needed to accommodate growing enrollments. Some of the new configurations would help address facility shortfalls – like a lack of orchestra space at the middle school level – and bring together teachers of the same grade in a more close-knit way.

“Such centralization helps bring efficient staff deployment and consistency of program/curriculum delivery,” the draft report said of joining students districtwide as early as fourth or fifth grade.

After the board makes a decision about what the future organization of the district will look like, district officials will spend another year planning the details of the capital project and a transition to a new building arrangements – if necessary.

“The board has to have the public policy direction of how it's going to be organized,” Seversky said. “All that comes in once the public policy decision is made.”

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