The Massapequa school board approved in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night a proposal to move the sixth grade from the system’s six elementary schools to Berner Middle School — a change that some parents had opposed, questioning the educational benefits, cost and the potential for crowding at the larger school.
The trustees heard Superintendent Lucille Iconis present a lengthy executive summary at a meeting in the Berner auditorium, where many speakers opposed the move that she had recommended.
“We are here for one purpose and that’s the children,” Iconis said at the start of the meeting.
Iconis said the change would give sixth-graders many more educational opportunities. The middle school — which now serves grades seven and eight — would add the sixth grade in September 2017.
“It is about expanding opportunities,” Iconis said, adding that many of Long Island’s high-achieving districts have a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school structure.
One board member, Joseph LaBella, said he voted against the move because while he supports the district administration, as an elected official he had to vote the “will of the people” — most of whom he said were against the move.
Some parents have said sixth-graders do better educationally and developmentally in the current K-6 arrangement. An online petition against the change has more than 3,000 signatures, parents said.
Frank Ranzie, 17, of Massapequa, attended the public schools until ninth grade and is now a senior at a private Catholic school.
He told the board it’s wrong to mix sixth-graders with older students.
“When you mix eighth-graders with sixth-graders, they are going to be exposed to things that sixth-graders are too young to know about,” he said.
Some opponents wore red shirts and feared an impact on sixth-graders’ academic performance if they move to the middle school. Some touted the district’s strong academic record and asked why they should make a change when the current system works so well.
Parent Joanne Maglione, whose children are in the second and fifth grades and who has strongly opposed the move, told the board: “If this board does not listen to the community, change is inevitable.”
But some parents, such as Rose Stein, spoke in favor of the proposal.
“We have faith in our administration,” she said, adding there are many who support the change and expect the proposal would enhance her children’s education.
Iconis said moving to the sixth grade would enhance students’ exposure to a more versatile curriculum, including world languages, science laboratories, art and family/consumer science; more consistency in placement for accelerated classes; access to guidance counselors; and expanded extracurricular opportunities.
There also would be benefits to sixth-grade students in special education, Iconis said.
By moving the sixth grade, Berner would have slightly more than 1,600 students, including about 450 sixth-graders, for the 2017-18 school year, the superintendent said. The school was one of Massapequa’s high schools in the 1980s, she said, and at one point held 2,500 students.
The middle school would be among the largest in Nassau County.
Iconis said the effect on taxpayers would be minimal. The district may have to add an auxiliary gym to Berner, she said, and would pay for that out of capital reserve funds.
District officials said they held forums at each of the elementary schools and sought other community input.