After a tremendous negative response from the community, the Liverpool Central School District’s Board of Education has decided not to go ahead with a plan to reconfigure the middle and elementary grades by phasing out Liverpool Elementary.
The district had asked Castallo and Silky Consultants to conduct an elementary and middle school grade reconfiguration study. After a year-long study, the consultants recommended switching to a K-5/6-8 configuration. In order to accommodate more students, the consultants advised the district to close LE and convert it into a middle school annex.
In a release issued by Board President J. Mark Lawson on Tuesday Oct. 17, the board noted that the proposal did not have enough support to be adopted. Lawson stated that he and Superintendent Jan Matousek discussed the matter with the board before deciding not to move forward with the proposal.
Lawson said that he and Board Vice President David Savlov decided to informally poll the other board members yesterday. “This has never been on the agenda,” he said. “We had to decide whether or not to even put it on the agenda.”
Based on the response and the lack of support for the proposal, Lawson said the board decided that it would not even take the proposal under consideration.
The board and administration are very sensitive to the many concerns that have been raised by the community, Lawson said. We are equally concerned that the original purpose of determining the best way to educate Liverpool students is getting lost in the debate over this proposal. We need to step back and refocus on the challenges we face at the middle level.
The board will continue to consider the reconfiguration proposal.
“Now we can step back and refocus the discussion on middle school education,” Lawson said. “We spent so much time talking about LE, and I can understand that. It’s an emotional subject. But it distracted us from what we’re really concerned about. Now we can make a better case about middle school education.”
Lawson pointed out that the main reason the district undertook the study in the first place was that the state was pushing for it.
“The state education department defines middle school as fifth through eighth grade,” he said. “So middle school is defined as four years. We now only have two grades in the buildings that are equipped for middle-level education.”
Lawson explained that middle school education requires larger classrooms than elementary education. Middle schoolers need science labs, home and careers labs and larger spaces for art and music, and the classrooms need to be set up differently.
“Now we’re packing all of that into two years,” he said. “That means we can’t offer as many accelerated courses for our high-end learners, and our struggling learners fall through the cracks.”
Lawson understands the criticisms of the plan. Many parents feel that sixth graders are too young to be in middle school. The state, however, feels differently.
“The state already defines middle school as five through eight,” he said. “We need to comply with that.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.