To a certain extent, every elementary school in the Kingston City School District is a vibrant, unique community all its own. Zena Elementary, depending upon who you ask, is either facing the end of that community or the transition into a larger community more entwined with the rest of the district.
Even in a district as large as Kingston — which after the closure of Frank L. Meagher Elementary last month still has 10 elementary schools — Zena stands out. The school’s attendance zone, which covers part of Woodstock, makes it one of the most remote facilities in the district. The school consistently tests well, offers unique extra-curricular activities to its students and by all accounts has a strong sense of spirit among its students, teachers and parents. Zena is also one of three elementary schools — Anna Devine and Sophie Finn are the others — on the chopping block in Superintendent Paul Padalino’s comprehensive redistricting plan.
In an effort to honor the community Zena and the other schools have fostered over the years, Padalino’s proposal would see entire attendance zones absorbed by other schools, effectively keeping students and teachers together and blending them with an already existing community. Padalino sold his Meagher plan — successful after numerous prior attempts by his predecessor, Gerard Gretzinger failed to gain enough support of the Board of Education — in part because its students will be able to make the transition together this fall as they become part of John F. Kennedy Elementary. If the plan goes ahead in its current incarnation, Zena students would attend Edward R. Crosby Elementary at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.
While some parents in the buildings earmarked for closure have tried to point to the strength of their communities, and the educational successes their children have experienced in their own neighborhood schools, it may not be enough to stop the momentum of a proposal, which school officials say better reflects a rapid decline in student population.
“I think all of our schools provide a supportive environment for students,” said Trustee James Shaughnessy. “They’ll get equivalent instruction at the schools that they move to. It’s teachers that provide the environment in the school and not the building.”
But to some parents, that’s an oversimplification, especially at Zena where recently released results from New York State Educational Department testing of grades 3-5 during the 2012-13 school year saw them ranked first in Kingston. In the 4th grade alone, 100 percent of the 23 students tested met or exceeded state standards. Math was also a strong subject in the 3rd (72.4 percent) and 5th (75 percent) grades at Zena. Their highest ELA score was at the 4th grade level, with 70.8 percent meeting or exceeding standards.
“Our school tends to have high academic standing, and it concerns everybody,” said Allison Gallo, co-president of the Zena PTA. “Not that another school couldn’t also give our kids the same, but it works where it is. Why wouldn’t they move kids from another school that might not be doing as well into an environment that does work?”
Jillian Fisher, another Zena parent, agreed, adding that with the high school principal involved in talks about creating smaller learning environments at that level, it seemed counterintuitive to increase class sizes in elementary school.
“A lot of talk has been about how Mr. (Adrian) Manuel from the high school is looking to smaller models and clustering students for better learning,” said Fisher. “So it’s interesting to me that you have a school that is an incredible learning environment and really what the school district should be doing is look to the school and figuring out what is making the school so successful.”