‘This is your job, Board’ – big meeting tonight on school closings

KCSD Superintendent Paul Padalino. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

When the Board of Education convenes on Thursday evening to settle the fate of Superintendent Paul Padalino’s redistricting proposal, their ears may still be ringing from the din of a spirited public forum held Monday night.

Most speakers were critical of the plan, especially its recommendation that the fifth grade be moved from elementary schools to the middle schools. The Board of Education will vote on Padalino’s redistricting plan, which would also close Zena, Sophie Finn and Anna Devine elementary schools tonight — Thursday, Aug. 30 — with a meeting beginning at 6 p.m. at J. Watson Bailey Middle School. According to the district, the board will convene in executive session at 6, with the public portion set to begin at 7 p.m.

Though Padalino has cited studies which indicate students who spend more time in middle school tend to be better prepared for the rigors of high school, skeptics in the district have said they feel fifth-graders — many of whom are aged 10 or 11 — are too young to be put alongside seventh- and eighth-graders. School officials have discussed options for keeping the middle school’s youngest kids separate from its oldest as much as possible, though that has done little to alleviate concerns from parents and other members of the community like some of those in the auditorium at Kingston High.

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“Mixing fifth-graders is a mistake,” said Christopher Maloney, an area resident who said he had 20 years’ experience teaching middle-school kids. “Research and studies I’ve found on the Internet and other places are not conclusive to support such a change. It’s too much too soon … I’ve seen the interaction over the years, and I am positive that exposing a fifth-grader to junior high behaviors is not positive.”

Area resident Dennis Washington said he also opposes the move, especially given Kingston’s own history.

“I have worked with at-risk children for over 20 years and I remember the effects of moving sixth-graders to junior high,”Washingtonsaid. “I have seen the decline of academics of sixth-graders when they were moved into junior high.”

Padalino replied the move had the unanimous support of a committee of seven district principals, five of whom worked in elementary schools.Washingtonremained unmoved.

“I’m sure the principals know what they’re talking about with the fifth-graders in a fifth-grade environment,”Washingtonsaid. “If it doesn’t work, guess what: We have a boatload of fifth-graders who are going to be behind the eight ball because of an experiment.”

In addition to moving the fifth grade into the middle schools, Padalino’s plan would also close Anna Devine, Sophie Finn and Zena at the end of the 2012-13 school year, moving the attendance zone of each into that of another elementary school, thus allowing entire student populations to remain together. He’s also spoken about how the subsequent consolidation of services will give students more educational opportunities and will enable those who might slip through the cracks in the district’s current configuration to get the attention they need to succeed.

On Monday, Padalino responded to a comment questioning how that might be possible, given that the plan would also result in layoffs of teachers and support staff, by saying that layoffs are coming whether the redistricting plan is approved or not.

“There will be reduction in force,” he said. “We are looking at a $6.2 million budget gap next year. If we went to our state-mandated tax cap, we would still be looking at around $3 million. $3 million equals 30 teachers. One way or the other, there is going to be a reduction in force; a planned reduction in force [is one where we] consolidate our resources and students don’t lose programs.”

Slideshow image of Kingston Board of Education by Phyllis McCabe.

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