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Massapequa eyes putting sixth grade in Berner Middle School

Berner Middle School, where Massapequa district officials are

Berner Middle School, where Massapequa district officials are considering adding sixth grade to the current seventh and eighth grades, on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Massapequa school board is expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to move the sixth grade from the system’s six elementary schools to Berner Middle School — a change that some parents oppose, questioning its educational benefits, cost and the potential for crowding at the larger school.

The trustees’ consideration is slated after Superintendent Lucille Iconis presents her executive summary at the meeting, scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Berner auditorium.

Iconis said the change would give sixth-graders many more educational opportunities. If approved, the middle school — which now serves grades seven and eight — would add the sixth grade in September 2017.

“The question has been, ‘We are a solid school district, why would we look to change?’ ” Iconis said. “The truth is, you have to look at your system. You must always be committed to ongoing improvements. And the children would have such an enhanced opportunity at Berner, being in a middle-level environment, and they would be able to be supported, socially, academically, emotionally in ways we can’t at the elementary level.”

Some parents said the sixth-graders do better educationally and developmentally in the current K-6 arrangement. A petition against the change has more than 2,000 signatures, parent Joanee Maglione said.

Maglione, whose children are in the second and fifth grades, said the reconfiguration was proposed and rejected by the school board two years ago.

If the educational enhancements are so important, she said, “Why isn’t the current sixth-grade elementary curriculum focusing on including such coursework, in a building that a whole range of children, kindergarten up to sixth grade, can enjoy?”

Iconis said if the change is made, sixth-graders would get significantly more instructional time — two additional 40-minute periods daily — at Berner.

She pointed to 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.

If the change is approved, 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.

Maglione said she fears a negative effect on sixth-graders’ academic performance if they switch to the middle school.

“Many in our community know from their own experience that these sixth-graders will be more successful in an elementary environment, where they can continue to work on their competency and social skills in their ‘home’ environment,” she said.

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.

“There is no comparison between what I can offer them in the elementary building versus what can be offered a couple of miles down the road,” the superintendent said.

District officials said they held forums at each of the elementary schools and sought other community input. They also visited other districts, such as Commack and Levittown, that have middle schools for grades six through eight, Iconis said.


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