The Kingston City School District’s future configuration still has yet to be nailed down, but Superintendent Paul Padalino’s plan, which would close three elementary schools and see the fifth grade moved into the middle school level, is gaining traction among members of the Board of Education.
The school board held a public forum on the plan in the high school auditorium two weeks ago, giving Padalino an opportunity to respond to questions, clarify points and sell a proposal he said could save the district $4.76 million a year. While some members of the community have bristled at the possible closure of Anna Devine, Sophie Finn and Zena elementary schools, much of the debate has centered around the impact on fifth-graders if integrated into schools which go up to the 8th grade. While that debate isn’t likely to end soon, it does appear some school board trustees are leaning even closer to supporting the plan after the public forum.
James Shaughnessy, who retained his seat on the school board for a third term earlier this year but did not hold on to its presidency, released a position paper last week explaining his support for Padalino’s plan and expressing a sense of urgency in settling the matter.
“We have a crisis, and it is both educational and fiscal,” Shaughnessy wrote. “We have to address both aspects simultaneously, or we won’t solve it at all. I am in favor of Dr. Padalino’s redistricting plan. It is a bold and visionary solution to many parts of the crisis. We can’t afford to wait to make a decision until every question about every potential problem is answered.”
In his statement, Shaughnessy addressed concerns that a 10- or 11-year-old wouldn’t be ready for a middle-school environment. “Children are growing up faster than when I was in grade school. I don’t need a Ph.D. in childhood development or be a practicing pediatrician to be confident in asserting that. I can compare my daughter’s childhood to my own and know that to be the case.
“My mother was a homemaker. I don’t remember the term ‘stay-at-home mom.’ Some moms had jobs as telephone operators. Every phone call went through the switchboards in the telephone building.
“We had black-and-white TV with ABC, CBS, NBC and Channel 13. Radio was AM. Ozzie and Harriet went to sleep in separate twin beds. On American Bandstand, girls wore dresses and boys wore jacket and ties. Those days are not going to return. In sixth grade, my daughter had the math problem, ‘What is 2 raised to the zero power?’ I don’t think I had that problem until at least 10th grade.
“Our children are mature beyond what we were as children, and in many ways we demand it.”
But not all of Shaughnessy’s fellow trustees are as convinced that moving forward without all the details worked out, which the former president compared to President John F. Kennedy’s urging the nation to support the idea of landing man on the moon in 1961, eight years before all the plans came together and the mission was successful. Robin Jacobowitz, who earned her first full term on the board earlier this year, said she was unable to fully support any plan without more details than are currently available on Padalino’s plan.
“I think that Dr. Padalino did clarify some questions at the last public forum,” Jacobowitz said. “He has invested much time and energy in crafting a plan that responds to the challenges facing our district, and I want to recognize him for that. I still feel that there are many details that need to be elaborated, however, before I can fully support any plan. Those details are the key to understanding the educational value of the plan — of any plan — and they serve as a framework for accountability in the future.”
The Rev. James Childs also went into the forum with questions, but he said this week he feels like Padalino answered them.
“The major questions of concern that I had and those voiced to me from the public were answered,” Childs said. “I feel more supportive [of the plan.]”
Childs added that he still hopes to see more input from various members of the district community to ensure the plan comes off successfully.
“I agree with the direction proposed but I feel we need the input of [the Kingston Teachers Federation], administrators and community to make sure the implementation of the plan becomes most effective,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe any changes need to be made to the proposal.
“[The plan has] the potential to provide an enhanced educational opportunities to our students while saving taxpayers money,” Childs said.
James Michael, who officially began his first term on the board in July, also supports Padalino’s plan.
Slideshow image: Trustee the Rev. James Childs makes a point while trustees Maureen Bowers, left, and James Shaughnessy, right, listen at a recent school board forum. (Photo by Dan Barton)