After many months of discussion and debate among parents and teachers, trustees and school officials, the Kingston City School District’s Board of Education has set Thursday, Aug. 30 as the day they will determine the fate of Superintendent Paul Padalino’s comprehensive elementary school redistricting plan.
Padalino, who came to the district in January, was immediately tasked with attempting to overcome a $12 million gap in preparing the budget for the 2012-13 school year, and devising a plan to tackle the first portion of the redistricting issue by sending the students from the now-shuttered Frank L. Meagher Elementary to John F. Kennedy Elementary. While the superintendent worked on those projects, the larger redistricting issue still loomed; hopes that the debate would be settled by June proved unfulfilled.
Padalino eventually presented his plan, which includes closing three more elementary schools and moving the fifth grade to the middle-school level, in late June. Some parents at Anna Devine, Sophie Finn and Zena elementary schools are protesting against the proposed closure of their buildings, and other parents all across the district bristle at the idea that fifth-graders are intellectually and emotionally prepared for middle school.
But so far, Padalino’s plan has remained intact, and trustees will have the option of voting on it fully or separating it piece-by-piece. What they won’t do, it appears, is wait any longer.
“We could keep putting it off and putting it off and putting it off, but I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interests,” said Trustee James Shaughnessy, who recently released a document pledging his support for the plan. “The board is thoroughly familiar with the issues, and we’ve had public forums going back to the spring. Certainly it’s not been a secret that school closures were a possibility to deal with the financial issues in the district. And as I’ve said many times, there are educational benefits to this plan as well.”
At a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 1, Padalino attempted to further illustrate some of those educational benefits, focusing on the middle school level and noting that his plan would not only offer educational benefits to fifth graders in Kingston schools, but to all middle school students.
“Allocating our resources and consolidating our resources allows us to do it,” Padalino said. “It frees up teacher time and frees up staff in order to do this.”
Using hypothetical sample schedules for fifth- and sixth-graders, Padalino explained that students would have access to opportunities they might not have without the change, including 10-week “mini-courses” for intensive study in areas like foreign language, advanced art or family and consumer science.
There would also be opportunities, possibly on an alternating basis, for enrichment or remediation, which Padalino said would help catch students who might otherwise be slipping through the cracks.
“That’s one of the concerns of many parents,” Padalino said. “We talk a lot about struggling students, but are we doing things we need to do to enrich and extend the learning for the students who are really maybe a little ahead or need to be pushed a little bit? Consolidation of resources and consolidating our schools would allow our staff that time.”
The sample schedules might seem curious to those accustomed to periods of the day laid out in uniform lengths, though for the most part they run for 80 minutes, which would include subjects like math, science and ELA and electives such as music and enrichment and re-teach opportunities. Lunch, recess and advisory sessions would be covered in an hour-long block in the middle of the day, and rotation blocks at the end of the day could be split into a pair of 40-minute sessions, including mini-courses in subjects like art, technology, health and interdisciplinary reading.
“Advisory will be a period for students to have exactly what it sounds like,” Padalino said. “[Opportunities for] looking at study skills, looking at transitions, looking at character education, peer mentors, teacher mentors, social skills and life skills.”
Other sample schedules included shorter periods of study covering a greater span of opportunities.
Slideshow photo of Sophie Finn school by Phyllis McCabe.