The reality of constructing an eighth elementary school has set in with new boundaries for kindergarten through grade five in Shenendehowa. After Shen district voters approved the budget and construction of a new grade school to be called Shatekon in May, the district’s elementary school boundaries will soon be changed to accommodate the new elementary school for the 2007-08 school year.
The school board met on Tuesday night and Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson gave the first presentation of the redistricting plans. The elementary school is to be built to ease the existing overcrowding problem the district faces.
There has been an increasing trend in enrollment in the last three to five years, Robinson said. `We cannot deny that reality. We need to contend with that reality.`
In December 2004, the board created the elementary redistricting committee (ERC) and approved criteria for the new boundaries. Students in same geographic area or neighborhood will be able to attend the same school when the numbers allow; siblings will be able to attend the same school; and transportation will be maintained efficiently with minimal added expenditure.
Robinson assured residents that the board will try to stay true to this, and the boundaries will not be finalized until January 2007, allowing for any necessary changes.
By the numbers
`There’s no perfect answer to everyone’s situation,` Robinson said.
With the new boundaries, Tesago will have the most change, with 38 percent of its students changing schools; Orenda, with 36 percent; Skano with 35 percent; Arongen with 29 percent; Karigon with 26 percent; Okte with 4 percent; and Chango, the least with 1 percent. In total, one-third of the elementary students will have to change schools.
`We were surprised the numbers came out as low as they did,` Robinson said.
According to the newly drawn map, current Arongen and Tesago students, especially those in Waterford, will primarily make up Shatekon, though all seven schools will be affected. The most noticeable changes are that children who currently attend Karigon will move to Orenda, and some from Skano will attend Okte.
Robinson pointed out that the map can be deceiving, as the geography doesn’t exactly match population flow. Larger parts of the mapped boundaries do not exactly mean a larger population, as there are wetlands and rural areas to consider.
The boundaries were developed through a mathematical system which divided the district into 142 cells. These cells, or neighborhoods, were then configured according to the geographical layout of the land and transportation routes that made the most sense.
`It’s not just going from building to building and putting kids in. It’s not a shot in the dark, it’s a very strategic method,` said Robinson.
The data was also compiled with an estimate in mind of the number of new housing units expected to be built over the next three to five years. The ERC contacted developers to get an estimate of new developments in the area.
`As much as we’d like to be clairvoyant about 2010 or 2011, we don’t know,` said Robinson. `We anticipate the new elem-entary school to hold for the next three years. This doesn’t necessarily address a perfect scenario, but it does project a much better scenario than we have now.`
The last major redistricting plan was in 1995, and since then has been stable. For the first six to seven years, the boundaries were adjusted by assigning students in new developments and kindergarten students who had no older siblings. Since then, the schools are over their capacity, making it difficult to provide space for art, music and special services.
Robinson said when the eighth school opens, each school should consist of 540 students (with the exception of Arongen which is larger and meant to hold 675 students) to maintain small class size of 21-24 students.
Currently, Tesago is the most crowded, holding 220 extra students. In total, the seven schools are 460 students over target. The addition of Shatekon will help the current situation, but will still be over target with 693 students for Arongen and 555-567 for the other schools instead of the desired 540. The board’s goal is to go from a 14 percent overcrowded situation in the 2006-07 school year to 4 percent by the 2007-08 school year.
Robinson said this addition will hold for the next three years, but future growth is still projected.
`We can’t say at a certain point we won’t be accepting any more kids,` he said. `That’s not an option.`
Driving the students
Transportation had a huge impact on the way the boundaries were drawn. The board will have to finalize bus routes for the new school, and make sure the routes are not redundant, having kids on a bus that drives by another school.
`On any given day we have 198-plus buses that drive some 2 million miles a year. It’s a big deal to taxpayers, it’s a big deal to the board, it’s a big deal to everyone,` Robinson said.
Much of the audience Tuesday night had questions about the redistricting pertaining to staffing and transitioning to new schools. Robinson said the current staff will have an opportunity to submit a request for a transfer, and a lottery drawing will follow. He said Shatekon’s staff will be almost all current personnel and the board would try and balance the staff evenly with both new and veteran teachers. The new principal will be posted on the district’s Web site, shenet.org, this summer and will start in January 2007.
The board plans to develop a transition plan to ease the change for reassigned students, es-pecially for fifth graders. The new boundaries will primarily impact the fifth grade students who will have to leave their old school for their last year before heading off to middle school. Many parents had concerns on how this would affect their children. James Grande, who served on the board during the 1994-95 redistricting plan, suggested the board investigate the possibility of offering fifth-grade students the chance to stay in their own schools for their last year.
`Often times their friends are not in the neighborhood, so it can be traumatic,` he said, noting that the new boundaries will group kids by neighborhood.
The board will be looking at the feeding pattern from elementary schools to middle schools, and middle schools impacted by the redistricting will be an-nounced early fall. A handbook will be created the elementary schools and will be available to parents and students as early as fall 2006 on shenet.org.
`The intention is not to erase each school’s personality, but to ensure that when a parent or student walks into one of our buildings, they know it is a Shen school,` said Robinson, who has two children in the Shen schools. `Our concern is not the name on the wall of the school; it’s what’s going on inside the schools.`
Other audience members were concerned that socioeconomics should play a role in deciding the new boundaries so that students are exposed to students of all walks of life, arousing a response from others in the audience.
Principal of Orenda Elementary School Ann Frantti approached the mic telling the audience she had not intended to speak at the meeting.
`I understand wanting to expose your children to diverse backgrounds, but in a community like this when the poor are very poor, it would not be fair to separate those children into eight separate schools so that other children can be exposed to different backgrounds,` said Ann Frantti, principal of Orenda Elementary School. `That would be wrong,` she said, eliciting a round of applause.
Robinson said that students’ education will not be affected by circumstances or birth, and that they are all getting the same education.
`We have an obligation to every student. Schools will be the same regardless of where students come from economically,` he said.
Shatekon’s name is derived from the Mohawk and Iroquois language, as are the names of the other seven elementary schools. Shatekon represents the number eight, which means a balanced life. The district was in contact with Native American groups who helped identify several names for the new school. All first through fifth grade students voted on the name.
The board will continue to tweak the boundaries until January 2007 due to bus routing and by using feedback from parents and staff though they don’t expect the new map to change very much. Residents with concerns or questions are urged to e-mail the board at [email protected] or call the superintendent’s office at 881-0610. The power point presentation and map from Tuesday night are available on shenet.org.“