Last year, residents of the Liverpool Central School District feared that they might lose an elementary school as the result of a study conducted by Castallo and Silky Consultants that examined the possible options for reorganizing elementary and middle schools in the district. While district officials ruled out that possibility, there was still a chance that things would change. The district revealed in late March, however, that the current configuration would remain in place.
“We decided to take a step back and look at the recommendations,” said Maureen Patterson, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the district. “We had to examine whether to go ahead with the reconfiguration and whether we had the community’s support.”
The K through 8 Reconfiguration Study began late in the summer of 2005, when the board authorized the study, hoping to improve the quality of middle-level education in Liverpool, and appointed the advisory committee, in which all schools were represented. In December of 2005, the committee held its first organizational meeting. Throughout the next three months, the committee met monthly to review and organize the data collected by Castallo and Silky. All meetings were open to the public. They explored their options over the last two months, holding the three community forums at each of the district’s middle schools. In October, the consultants recommended that the district shift to a K-5 elementary/6-8 model and close Liverpool Elementary School, turning it into a middle school annex. After vehement opposition from the community, the board scrapped the idea and decided to look at other options.
Looking at options
Patterson, along with Director of Secondary Education Tim Ryan and Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Ellen Kuno, looked at the curriculum requirements for fifth through eighth grade as well as state education requirements. While there would be no building reconfiguration, the team wanted to know if it would be feasible to move some of the middle school requirements — courses like technology, health, foreign languages and family and consumer science — from seventh and eighth grades down to fifth or sixth.
“We had to determine what was best for the students and whether it was feasible for us to try to meet the requirements,” Patterson said.
“We had to ask, what would be the advantages of moving the classes?” Ryan said. “What would be the disadvantages? We basically said, ‘Will we increase the strength of our program by having sixth graders take on those classes?'”
“The important question was, what will you gain if you move the classes out of seventh and eighth [grades[?” Patterson said. “What could we do that would be best for students?”
Ultimately, it was decided that it would be neither feasible nor advantageous to implement those changes.
“It didn’t help the strength of the program,” Ryan said. “As we moved some requirements, they’d still have to be picked up again in ninth [grade], so there was a long gap between the introduction and when they’re supposed to pick it up again.”
In addition, facility changes would be needed to move technology and family and consumer science into the elementary schools, a move that would have been cost prohibitive. Staffing also proved to be a problem, as teachers now covering three schools would have to teach in 13. Finally, the move wouldn’t lessen the hectic schedules of middle school students, and it would only make schedules heavier at the elementary level.
“It didn’t make sense based on the minimal benefits,” Ryan said.
Instead, the district has undertaken other initiatives to improve the quality of education middle-schoolers receive. The Read 180 program, which works to bring all students up to grade level in reading, has been implemented in all of the middle schools.
“It’s not just for special ed students,” Patterson said. “There are so many students in seventh and eighth grade who can’t read at level. They can’t be focused on their academics if they can’t read at grade level — and not just in English class. It impacts all of their core classes. They can’t grasp the vocabulary and the concepts and transfer them to real life. Read 180 is a big initiative that really helps the students that are most at risk.”
The district is also adding three math teachers’ aide positions in the 2007-08 school year in the middle schools, has implemented innovative Performance by Design programs in the elementary schools, and working with elementary and middle school principals to implement other changes.
In any case, district officials are glad that the study was done; it allowed them to examine what they were doing and detect other ways in which education at both the middle and elementary level could be improved. The initiatives undertaken since the study was completed are sure to have an impact into high school and beyond.
“Our end game is to raise graduation rates,” Patterson said. “We’re working to improve student achievement. That’s the most important thing — graduating students who will then go on and be successful.”
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.