Though about 40 people attended a public hearing on a grade reconfiguration proposal in the Liverpool Central School District Tuesday Aug. 23, few spoke out on the changes proposed to the board of education in a report made by a subcommittee last month.
In his opening remarks, Board President Don Cook praised the committee in a written statement for the work they’d done in coming to their recommendations.
“Many voices were heard, including many in the community,” Cook said. “I have before and will again thank them for their considerable effort, their tremendous leadership and their ability to come up with what they feel is the best educational reasons for the configuration they proposed.”
The committee has recommended that the district switch from its current configuration (K-6/7-8/9/10-12) to an elementary configuration of K-5, middle of 6-8 and high school of 9-12. This would involve shutting down the ninth grade annex and moving those students into the main building, as well as shifting the sixth grades from the elementary schools into the middle schools.
According to the committee’s report, this configuration allows for “more opportunities for vertical alignment in curriculum in the middle and high school,” helps bring the district into line with changing state education requirements and provides for more consistent delivery of instruction at the middle and high school levels. The report suggests the new configuration could also present opportunities for accelerated classes for fifth through eighth grade students and would allow for more flexible scheduling in the middle and high school levels. Most notably, the reconfiguration would reduce the number of transitions, which, according to the report, researchers say result in “achievement losses” and may cause at-risk students to fall through the cracks.
Several parents in the district, however, did not agree with the committee’s assessment. Five spoke in opposition to the proposal at Tuesday’s public hearing.
Sharon Yager expressed concerns about moving the students from the annex to the main building, particularly in terms of lab space, increasing class sizes and lunchroom space.
“How will we be able to fit those students into the main building?” she asked. “How will 500 other students affect our lunchrooms?”
Jeff Crook recalled serving on the Long-Range Facilities Planning Committee and examining the reconfiguration issue in the past. He said he’d seen no proof that the grade shift would serve students at that time.
“There’s no empirical evidence that moving the sixth grades to the middle school benefits them,” Crook said. “I think it was a 27 to 6 or a 26 to 7 vote that we recommended not to move the sixth grade up to the middle school, so I want to know where that comes into play, and I think this [report] needs to be revisited in detail.”
Renee Curkendall was surprised that reconfiguration was even being discussed at all.
“I feel like just a few years ago, we went through this entire process with an outside committee and paid thousands of dollars to do this, and it came down to the fact that it was working beautifully,” Curkendall said. “It was decided that it was not appropriate to change it.”
Curkendall has six children, all but one of whom has special needs. Five are still in school in the district.
“I can’t imagine my sixth grade special needs student entering middle school,” she said. “Middle school is such a trying time as parents working with middle schools with kids with special needs. Special ed is a transition nonstop. And the teachers are only certified special ed K through 6 and 7 through 12, so you can’t even interact with the teachers. They don’t have the right certifications. The sixth-graders will just be isolated. I don’t know how that’s going to benefit anybody.”
No one spoke in favor of the proposal.
Cook said he wasn’t surprised.
“At this kind of hearing, you’re not going to have people coming out and saying, ‘Yay, let’s do it!’” he said. “But there weren’t many to speak against it, and I think that says something.”
Cook said his wife taught in the district years ago when its configuration was similar to the one currently under consideration.
“It was changed because of building utilization at the time, but we did once have a K-5/6-8 configuration, and we survived it,” he said. “Our kids survived it. We have to decide if that’s in the best educational interest of our kids right now.”
One thing that will not happen?
“No matter what anyone is saying, we have no plans to close Morgan Road,” Cook said. “The only thing on the table right now is the possibility of closing the Chestnut Hill complex, and that came up before we started talking about the grade reconfiguration. We have three middle schools in this district, and if we do approve this and we’re talking about putting sixth-graders in the middle schools, we’re not going to close a middle school. That just doesn’t make sense.”
Cook said the board members are trying to do what they were elected to do.
“Dr. Johns is making his recommendations, and we’re doing our due diligence with regard to those recommendations,” he said. “Some we’ll approve, and some we won’t approve. But we have to look at them, and some changes will be made. Otherwise we’re not moving forward, and if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, right? You can’t always stay the same.”
The district has also been answering questions via e-mail from district residents regarding the reconfiguration. To view those questions and answers, visit www.liverpool.k12.ny.us/files/news/reconfigq%26a2.pdf. The committee’s report is also available; see www.liverpool.k12.ny.us/files/news/gc recomm doc. rev. 01.pdf.
Cook said the board is expected to vote on the proposal at its Sept. 12 meeting. If approved, the proposal will then go to the Buildings Sub-Committee to determine how to proceed with implementing any kind of redistricting plan.
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.