“We’ve learned that being able to move full buildings into other buildings and as much of the staff as possible is reassuring to the community,” Padalino said. “But it’s important to consider the impact on both schools. We started out really talking a lot about Meagher and the needs of Meagher’s students and faculty without realizing that JFK was significantly impacted by this. It wasn’t a bunch of people moving into their school, it was creating an entirely new school.”

While the possibility remains that the school board will elect to slow the process down to allow for more conversation, Padalino said he hoped that whatever they decide to do, they do so quickly.

“Obviously these are big decisions,” he said. “Obviously these are hard decisions. I would encourage the board to choose a direction … Pick some deadlines. Pick some timelines that we will meet, that we will make sure that our students know where they’re going to school, that our faculty will know where they’re teaching and that our community will know what we’re doing. I think to drag things out would be a mistake.”

The public speaks

The back-and-forth between Padalino and school board trustees took about an hour an 40 minutes. After that, it was the people’s time to speak. Concerned parents and community members voiced their opinions, asked questions and got answers. Overall, most who spoke had some issue with the plan, but there were also those who supported it, saying it was a necessary move in a tight fiscal time and that fifth-graders could benefit from the increased opportunities a middle school atmosphere could provide.

Ulster County Legislator Don Gregorius praised Padalino for his “very impressive presentation,” but the Woodstock Democrat said he was concerned that the community hasn’t been consulted enough. “It’s important to get people in at the beginning of the process,” Gregorius said. “It’s my understanding that did not happen.” Gregorius, who noted that the Woodstock Town Board recently passed a resolution calling for Zena to remain open, recommended trustees visit the to-be-closed schools for “heart-to-heart talks” with parents and teachers. “The more information you get, the better your decision will be.”

Carol Murray, whose child attends Devine, said she was “not fearful about [her] 10-year-old moving” to a middle school environment.

“We’ve known for two full years that change needs to come to our district,” said Colleen Mulready, who has a child attending Devine. “We need to make decisions that are based on a vision, not based on fear.”

“I really want to appeal to the board of education to look at their expenditures,” said Rahiya Hill.

Daniel Baker of Rosendale served on the district’s expanded facilities committee which, he said, found that a full elementary school redistricting impacting all students would be the fairest way to reduce the KCSD’s square footage. “That has not happened, and that’s unfortunate … it’s not necessarily a slap in the face, but [Padalino’s plan] rejects recent ideas from the community. … I would encourage the board to look at [the plan] and not just accept a plan because you’ve needed a plan for a long time.”

Baker also wondered why the plan proposes “closing effective schools and transfer [students] to schools that aren’t effective.”

To this, Padalino responded emphatically: “Schools aren’t effective. Walls aren’t effective. Teachers are effective. … [What has the] most impact on a student’s achievement is the person standing in front of the room. What building it is doesn’t matter.”

Jill McLaughlin of Woodstock felt fifth grade was too soon for middle school. “We keep chopping the amount of childhood our kids have down,” she said, noting her kids “have had a great run” in the school district. “It was sixth grade, now you want it to be fifth grade.”