At the January 24, 2023 meeting of the Onteora Board of Education, trustees voted 6 to 0 (with one abstention) to reconfigure our middle school in order to better support our students. The new plan, which will be in place for September 2024, moves sixth grade from Bennett Elementary School to our middle school.
The meeting was well attended and many parents shared their thoughts about the timeline and other topics. This important feedback will help guide us as we move forward with the planning, which we have a year and a half to complete. We have every intention of collaborating with our faculty, staff and families throughout this process.
To ensure that our students will have a positive transition to the middle school and that our faculty and staff have the resources they need to create a more robust middle school experience, we are allocating funds in the 2023-2024 budget to support the transition. We intend to support the transition in the ways that they, as educators, feel will be most beneficial. For instance, the flow of student traffic in the hallways, where possible, may be redesigned to encourage additional separation between the students of the middle school from the students of the high school. We will also want to review the resources within the building and consider expanding areas such as the materials in the library media center. Although we all have ideas, it is vital that this transformation is driven by the building teams and I look forward to hearing all of their thoughts.
Integrating the sixth grade into the middle school will provide our students with an additional year to complete their required middle school curriculum, and the opportunity to access additional resources and supports without sacrificing other enrichment activities. A grade six through eight middle school model — common in New York State — enables students to develop a greater sense of affiliation with the school and staff, providing more time to build lasting relationships at a critical time in their development. It also allows staff more time to identify, assess, and implement supports and interventions for students with academic and emotional support needs. This move helps set them up for the greatest success in high school and beyond.
To develop future plans for our district, the Board has established an Ad Hoc Committee The committee recently held the first of three “World Cafes,” which is a meeting style that provides a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue among a volunteer participants. The committee recognizes that some community members were not able to participate in World Cafes, so they also created a community survey and have planned a community forum on March 30 to provide additional ways for our stakeholders to engage in this process.
This feedback will be instrumental in moving ahead with long-term planning for our district. Now that we have defined the middle school, a new K-5 elementary configuration must be determined. Since the 2004-2005 school year, district enrollment declined from 2,100 students to 1,100 students, yet we have not reduced the number of campuses that we operate. Given the lower student population, exploring our options for change makes economic and operational sense. Let me be clear, this is a process. We estimate that further changes will take at least three years, and quite possibly more, depending on the scenario chosen and the associated work that would need to be done prior to implementation. These changes will be thoughtful, strategic, and made with community involvement.
The options under consideration include:
- Closing Bennett Elementary and housing the elementary students in Woodstock Elementary and Phoenicia Elementary
- Closing either Woodstock or Phoenicia and utilizing Bennett Elementary in conjunction with one of the other buildings
- Closing both Woodstock Elementary and Phoenicia Elementary and utilizing Bennett Elementary as the sole elementary school and operating with a central campus model.
The future of our District is important to all of our community — students, parents, guardians, PTA members, taxpayers and local businesses, and we sincerely want to engage in meaningful dialogue as we tackle an exciting challenge and opportunity. Postcards are on the way to each residence in the District with information on how to access the survey and participate in the community forum. This information is also available on our social media and our website at www.onteora.k12.ny.us.
You may have questions, and we are eager to answer them. Don’t hesitate to reach out, and my leadership team or I will do our best to get you the information you need.
Onteora Superintendent of Schools