Administration considering configuration options (11/12/09)

Parent raises questions at board meeting

Nov. 12, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Where will third and fourth graders be placed within Williston Central School next year after the configuration change? Will the school need a sixth upper house team, which could cost more money?

Those were questions one parent put to the School Board and administration at the board’s meeting last week.

Speaking during the public comment period of the meeting on Nov. 4, Nicki Layman, the mother of second and fifth grade students, asked District Principal Walter Nardelli and School Board members how house placement would be determined at Williston Central and why a sixth upper house is being considered. She also offered her own solutions for the administration to consider.

“Recommendations that make long-term sense, both academically and financially, should be considered above individual team preferences or attachment to space,” Layman said, reading from a statement.

Starting next school year, the Williston School District will undergo a major configuration change: Pre-kindergarten through second grade students will be housed at Allen Brook School and third through eighth graders will be housed at Williston Central. There will be a mix of two-year houses and four-year houses for grades five through eight.

Layman said she wants to make sure all third and fourth graders would be placed near each other in a wing of the school, rather than having the lower houses scattered between upper houses.

“Where are you physically going to put them and how is it going to function?” Layman asked Nardelli and the board.

Layman said she devised a solution she believes would be fair and equitable. She said all third and fourth graders should be housed in the “ABC” hallway where Meeting, Swift and Voyager upper houses currently reside. She said the houses have a similar physical space to those at Allen Brook, would be equitable in terms of facilities and allow for more teacher coordination and cross-team building.

Nardelli said the administration was not at the point of making decisions on house placement. He said he was waiting for next school year’s final enrollment projections to come later this month. The administration also plans to talk with individual teachers and staff to get their opinions about the best layout for Williston Central.

“There’s a lot of pieces of information we just don’t have yet,” Nardelli said.

As for the potential of a sixth upper house, Nardelli told the School Board in October it remained a possibility, especially if a large number of parents preferred their children in a two-year house instead of a four-year house. Creating another house would likely result in hiring more teachers and staff, he told the board last month.

Layman asked the board and Nardelli if an additional house was a feasible solution. Considering financial costs and the school district’s steadily declining enrollment, Layman believes the idea for a sixth house needs to be reevaluated.

“I am very concerned that if the administration does not take the time now to reconsider the ramification of adding a sixth house, then the decisions made down the line will not serve our school community well in the long or short term,” Layman read from her statement.

Nardelli said no decisions have been made on the sixth house and administrators continue to research the results of an online survey about house structure that parents took last month. According to survey results released by school officials last week, 41 percent of responding parents said they wanted their children to be in a two-year house; 52 percent said they wanted a four-year house for their children. Seven percent had no preference.

Budgetary concerns were also on Nardelli’s mind, he said. The configuration change will cost money in next year’s budget, he said, and needs to be done as cost-effectively as possible.

“We have to show (residents) we’ve been as efficient as we possibly can in this move,” Nardelli said.

“If we can get away with fewer classrooms, it’ll actually help us, especially at (Williston Central),” he added.