Kingston schools Superintendent Paul Padalino expects to separate 5th-graders from older students under reconfiguration plan (video)
KINGSTON, N.Y. — A number of parents remain apprehensive about the prospect of fifth-graders going to the Kingston school district’s two middle schools starting in the fall of 2013 if district Superintendent Paul Padalino’s school restructuring plan is approved by the Board of Education.
Faced with a rapidly declining enrollment over the last decade, rising costs, and a state tax cap, Padalino last week proposed closing three elementary schools and dividing the district’s fifth graders between J. Watson Bailey and M. Clifford Miller middle schools, which currently serve grades six through eight.
The move would save the district an estimated $4.7 million a year, allow that money to be reinvested in academic programs, and help school officials consolidate services that are divided among several buildings to give students more consistent access to them, Padalino has said.
Even so, many parents are fearful about the prospect of younger students being exposed to speech and behavior that is not appropriate for their age or being bullied by older students.
“Our children are forced to grow up so quickly,” district parent Tracy Steeves recently told the school board. “Why force them to make these adjustments? I may be overdramatic, but I think if you move fifth grade to sixth, seventh, eighth (grade middle schools) ... I think they’re still going to be bombarded with things that could wait two more years. I think it’s a horrible, horrible mistake.”
An online survey the district recently posted found that blending fifth-graders with older students was a major concern of the public.
Several district residents have suggested that if fifth grade is moved to the middle schools, the district should place fifth and sixth grades in one building and seventh and eighth grades at the other instead of housing all fifth through eighth grade at both schools.
Padalino responded that research shows students lose academic ground every time they make a transition to a new school. Keeping students in a familiar setting at middle school for four years instead of three could yield academic benefits in eighth grade and in high school, he said.
The superintendent said he envisions separating fifth-graders from their older peers to address some of the parent concerns. Continued...
At Bailey, he proposes dedicating a wing on the southeast side of the second floor — the side of the building facing Harry L. Edson Elementary School — to fifth-graders, who would have their own entrance to the building.
“Bailey actually lends itself perfectly this configuration because there is a split directly down the middle,” Padalino said. “All the elective areas are in the middle.”
At Miller, Padalino proposes creating a fifth- and sixth-grade wing on the second floor with its own entrance at the southeast side of the building, near the edge of the athletic field and the bus loop.
Paul Holt, a high school junior, said at Wednesday’s school board meeting he thought it was impossible to truly separate students at Miller and cited shared spaces like the cafeteria and gymnasium as potential problems.
On transportation, Padalino said the district has “options within options.” The default option would be to blend fifth graders with the rest of the students, but Padalino said the district could reinvest some of the savings from reconfiguration into creating separate bus runs for grades five and six as well as seven and eight.
He also said express buses could be created for students who live at the “farthest reaches” off the Anna Devine Elementary School attendance zone in Rifton, which Padalino proposes merging with Robert Graves Elementary School in Port Ewen — a trip that could be a bit lengthy for some students. An express bus could avoid stopping many times on the way to school and travel more directly there than other buses.
“We don’t want our kindergartners on the bus for 40 minutes,” Padalino said.
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