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Smithtown schools eye new grade plan

Smithtown schools could become the latest on Long Island to adopt the grade-restructuring model known as the Princeton Plan.

Smithtown officials are considering a proposal to ditch the traditional kindergarten-to-fifth-grade elementary school and send those students to separate schools based on their grade levels. It would take effect in September.

If adopted, it would save a net of nearly $600,000 per year, school officials said Thursday at a meeting of the district's citizens advisory committee on instruction and housing. The committee is expected to recommend next month whether to adopt the Princeton Plan and which of the district's schools to close. The school board ultimately will decide both issues.

Despite the potential savings, committee co-chair Jennifer Bradshaw cautioned that restructuring could cause "disruptions" for students, such as switching schools and spending more time on buses.

"Most of the pros [for the Princeton Plan] are financial," Bradshaw, Smithtown's director of curriculum, said. "Does the financial saving outweigh the tumultuous change?"

The Princeton Plan, also known as grade clustering, is used in a handful of Long Island districts, such as Babylon and Commack. Four other districts are considering it.

The plan started in Princeton, N.J., in 1948 as a way to integrate public schools.

Smithtown plans to close one of its nine elementary schools next year to save nearly $1 million per year in personnel expenses. The advisory committee has pared the options for closure to Mills Pond Elementary in St. James and Nesconset Elementary.

Under grade clustering, students in grades 3 to 5 would attend four of the remaining eight schools and students in the lower grades would go to the other four. That would cut 20 jobs districtwide by increasing class sizes, saving an additional $1.37 million, officials said.

But more buses would be needed to carry students longer distances to school, causing a net busing increase of almost $800,000, officials said.

At Thursday's meeting, committee members raised questions about restructuring's effect on students, such as the social impact of separating older and younger children. The committee's next meeting at which more discussion is expected on the subject -- is 7 p.m. Thursday at the district office building, 26 New York Ave. in Smithtown.

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