Nyack schools restructuring worries parents

A school bus is shown in this file A school bus is shown in this file photo. (April 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday file

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The Nyack School District is again weighing the possibility of restructuring its three elementary schools in order to save money and increase productivity -- a plan that has many parents concerned and puzzled.

An advisory committee formed three years ago is revisiting a restructuring proposal called the Princeton Plan. Under the plan, the town's three elementary schools would no longer offer all six grades, from kindergarten through fifth. Instead, all kindergartners and first-graders would attend Valley Cottage Elementary, while all second- and third-graders would attend Liberty Elementary and all fourth- and fifth-graders would attend Upper Nyack Elementary.

Parents are voicing skepticism about the plan.

"It seems to me that there's many cons and not too many pros," said parent Dianne Snyder. "Although they're trying to sell us on the pros."

Snyder's 6-year-old daughter Grace is a first-grader at Upper Nyack Elementary. Her 4-year-old, Ava, will be entering kindergarten at the school next fall.

"More than anything, our sense of community is really threatened," Snyder said. "I moved here from the city 4 1/2 years ago because of what I heard about the school system, and now this pops up. They need to give us more options."

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The advisory committee has met with parents twice so far, and has two more meetings scheduled for Oct. 9 and Oct. 30. Montesano described the re-evaluation process as a chance for everyone to ask, "Is this feasible?"

"What we're in the process of doing is collecting information," Montesano said. "We open up the floor for parents to ask questions and voice their concerns about how they may look at this."

Parents have said they are worried that their children would have to change schools three times throughout their elementary careers.

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"Nobody likes change," Montesano said. "The parents are very comfortable and feel proud of the schools their kids are in."

Snyder said she has concerns about special needs children.

"I grew up with a special ed sister and I thought about the special ed kids and they need regularity," Snyder said. "If you move them every two years, it's going to freak them out."

Marc Burns, 42, who serves as the PTA president for Valley Cottage Elementary, is excited over the opportunity to brainstorm about a new plan, but has some reservations. One has to do with scattering kids from a single family all over town.

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"One concern I would have is that if my kids wake up late one day, unless they have staggered start times, it could be a circus getting the kids to school," said Burns. "There are some downsides to this plan."

Burns has two children now attending Valley Cottage and a third who will start kindergarten in the fall.

"Nyack has a phenomenal arts program," said Burns. "But the musical staff is jumping from school to school to teach the fourth- and fifth-graders. If you had those age groups in the same school, it could be a lot greater and the product would be much more significant."

Although the school budget shows a surplus for the 2012-13 school year, the committee has been very much focused on costs, believing that the plan would lower costs across the board.

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"It's really a feasibility exercise we're working on," said Montesano. "We want to know what the implications are, how do people feel about it and do we want to move forward with it?"

On Dec. 4, all the data from the meetings will be compiled and the committee will come up with a decision, Montesano said.

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