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Half Hollow Hills board OKs new elementary school map

A woman takes a photo of the revised

A woman takes a photo of the revised Half Hollow Hills School district map which shows which students will be going to which elementary schools, prior to the start of a special school board meeting. (Dec. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Half Hollow Hills board of education unanimously approved a map Monday night that shows the redistribution of students in the elementary grades based on the recent decision to close two schools.

District officials said at a board meeting on Monday that the new elementary school configuration balances enrollment and diversity across the five schools. This vote came after the board decided on Oct. 28 to close two elementary schools, Forest Park and Chestnut Hill, because of declining enrollment. The remaining schools are Sunquam, Paumanok, Otsego, Signal Hill and Vanderbilt.

Since the school closings were announced, dozens of parents have showed up to school board meetings demanding answers and angry about the shuttering of their schools. Fifty-eight residents filed a petition recently asking for the state Education Department to halt the closure of Forest Park elementary school in Dix Hills, saying the board did not publicly deliberate and disputing the reasons the board has given for the closures.

Monday night's meeting did not allow for public comment and was calm and sparsely attended.

"They are doing the right thing," said Mark Stone, who has three children, including a son who attends Forest Park. "You have got to close schools."

Stone said he recently told his 9-year-old son that he would be going to a new school. He said he had some hesitation, but then said that "we'll just have to make that a Blue Ribbon School also." Forest Park was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2011 for academic achievement.

"I feel like it is the best scenario of a not-so-great situation," said Sharon Pesner, who has a son who goes to Chestnut Hill now and will be at Signal Hill next year. "I think my son will be fine wherever he goes."

She said she is concerned that her son will be going to school next year with about 200 more students. Chestnut Hill has about 450 students and Signal Hill has a projected enrollment of 643, according to district documents and Monday's presentation.

The other projected enrollments for kindergarten through fifth grade for next year are: Otsego, 520; Paumanok, 524; Sunquam, 585; and Vanderbilt, 662.

"I think it is a wonderful map," said Sandra Thomas, president of the Concerned Taxpayers of Wheatley Heights/Dix Hills, who has three daughters who graduated from the district.

Thomas said Wheatley Heights has the largest minority population in the district. She said the new map "keeps communities together and there is an equal distribution of minority representation in all schools."

Total elementary enrollment fell about 25 percent from 4,614 in 2007-08 to 3,475 this year. There are 932 students in Forest Park and Chestnut Hill this year. Projections call for the number of elementary students to plunge to 2,774 by 2017-18, according to district records.

The closures are expected to save the district about $3 million next year, mostly from staff cuts. Currently there are about 80 empty classrooms in the district, which has a $228 million budget.

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