Plan would fundamentally alter traditional single-teacher elementary classrooms

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The Riccardi Elementary School principal and several teachers are excited about “departmentalization,” which would restructure the school to be more like the middle school and high school, with teachers specializing in subjects and teaching the same students in subsequent years.

Riccardi parents? Not so much.

At least that was the story at the June 10 School Board meeting, in which several parents expressed frustration that the school had not notified them of the change or sought input, and questioned what sort of effect it would have on their children.

Trustees and Superintendent Seth Turner agreed that more communication was required, and two dates for public meetings at Riccardi Elementary were set: Tuesday, June 24 at 6 p.m. for third and fourth graders and Wednesday, June 25 at 6 p.m. for fifth and sixth graders.


The plan would go into effect this fall.


Switching classes

Although “platooning,” as it’s known among educators, is not a new practice — some schools have doing it since the early days of No Child Left Behind — it has increased in popularity after the adoption of Common Core. The hope in many schools is that it will increase standardized test scores.

The Riccardi plan would have students changing classes for math, English, science and social studies. There would be two sections at each grade level, and each teacher would teach the same students in their subject for two consecutive years; either third and fourth grade or fifth and sixth.

Saugerties elementary schools currently have one teacher per class who teaches all subjects.


Increase expertise, fight boredom

In her presentation, Osterhoudt listed a number of benefits to departmentalizing, such as allowing a teacher to become fully immersed in a single content area, which would improve teacher confidence. This immersion within a content area would also create a greater passion in the area, which theoretically would be passed on to the classroom full of students. Because teachers would be building their own subject area libraries, they would have more resources for creating different types of instruction. Moving between rooms and teachers, she said, would alleviate student boredom and reduce negative behaviors.


Parents want to be included

But the parents who spoke at the meeting were not convinced. In fact, some spoke before the presentation was given. Their message: Include us. Instead of receiving official communication from the school, they found out through rumors from parents of special education students, who were the first to learn of the plan.

Parent Stephanie Rifenburgh asked why parents weren’t a part of the team that put together this plan. John Graham, another parent, said that it was “very concerning” that parents weren’t made aware of it ahead of time. Jackie VanNosdall, whose child attends Riccardi, said that all stakeholders should have been involved in the planning process, and that there should be far more research done before attempting to roll this out.

The concerns didn’t stop with the planning. Parent Karen Graham wondered if switching classes would put an end to the emotional bond elementary students often form with teachers and, on the other hand, prolong problems when a student and teacher don’t click by doubling their time together.


Board members question communication

Members of the board echoed these concerns. Trustee Florence Hyatt said the excitement over the new program couldn’t be “a one-way street,” in which only the faculty and administration, but not the parents, supported the idea. That would cause it to be a failure. Trustee Robert Thomann told Osterhoudt that she should have held informational meetings prior to the board presentation, though kids are “more adaptable than we as parents are.” Board President George Heidcamp asked Osterhoudt if any parents had reached out to her with concerns, and though she first said none had, after several parents in the audience called out that this wasn’t true, she acknowledged one had.


Superintendent could move teachers

Immediately after the meeting was dismissed, Superintendent Seth Turner called back the group of parents who had complained. He told them if he had to, he would move the eight teachers in Riccardi who want to departmentalize, whom the parents professed to respect, to another building where it would be “more palatable.”

The parents in attendance called this a threat.

When asked for comment the following day, Turner said that he stood by his words. He said the program sounds exciting and he is enthusiastic about it, and he doesn’t want it to cause a rift. “I don’t have the capability to move parents, but I do have the capability to move teachers, and I reserve the right to do so.”