Oct 27, 2013 Joe Genco Uncategorized
The Skaneateles Central School District will soon be looking at some potentially controversial changes to deal with declining enrollment.
An email sent to Skaneateles community members by Interim Superintendent of Schools Judy Pastel about the district’s intention to study grade shifting sparked public opposition in the form of an online petition last week.
After the petition received more than 100 signatures in less than one day, Pastel set up a meeting with its author and released a statement expressing the district’s intent to get public feedback and explore a variety of options.
Pastel’s message, sent out via the school district’s School News Notifier system and posted to the district website on Oct. 23, states that the board of education will discuss its intention to study potential grade level shifts at its upcoming Nov. 5 meeting.
In the email Pastel writes: “Those shifts would involve grade two being housed at State Street while grade five would be housed at the middle school. The study and ensuing conversations are important in light of our determination to maintain and in some cases expand our excellent educational programs despite declining enrollment and financial stresses.”
On Oct. 24, Skaneateles resident Jessica Millman published a petition on gopetition.com that calls for the district to develop a more detailed plan for its future and get input from the entire community
It reads: “We, the undersigned, are kindly asking the administration and the board of education to engage the entire community (all the stakeholders from students, to teachers, to parents, to residents) in drafting a long-term plan that explores multiple options to address declining enrollment and required Common Core Learning Standards.”
As of Friday afternoon, the petition had more than 100 signatures, most of which included names. As of press time the petition had 165 signatures.
Millman said that the petition was not meant to be adversarial, but to express to the board and administration that the community wants to explore a variety of paths in planning for its future.
“We’d like an open dialogue where we can discuss ways to deal with declining enrollment,” she said.
Pastel quickly took notice of the petition and set up a meeting with Millman to discuss the matter on Friday.
A statement from the district released Sunday stated that Pastel will still outline the plan to study grade level shifts at the Nov. 5 board of education meeting, but the district will also hold a special public forum in the district meeting room at 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 12 to hear alternative ideas from community members.
“We want to maintain and even expand programs while dealing with the fiscal pressures that we have,” Pastel said in the release. “Are there other alternate possibilities than grade level shifts? That is a very reasonable question that we are opening up at the community forum. We want to be responsive. We are not only going to study the grade level shift … we are also going to look at ideas that are generated on Nov. 12.”
Smaller study groups composed of teachers and parents will then investigate all the ideas proposed at the public forum, in addition to the grade shifting idea, to determine what options would be viable. The district will also offer additional opportunities for the community to give comment during the process, which is expected to take place over the next three months, according to the release.
This is not the first time this year that the district has made or talked about making changes to respond to declining enrollment and pending financial problems.
The board, as per Pastel’s recommendation, recently moved to consolidate its administration by having Stephen Widrick become the elementary principal in charge of both State Street Intermediate School and Waterman Primary School. That change along with Waterman principal Gary Gerst taking over at the middle school are set to occur in February 2014.
The 2013-14 school year is also the first year for which the district has full-day kindergarten and Pastel recently noted at a meeting that this year’s incoming class of 80 students is a sharp decline from the most recent graduating class which numbered more than 140.
The board of education also recently postponed its search for a new superintendent of schools, and extended Pastel for a third year with the district, in part to deal with the litany of personnel and program changes happening.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.