Moving On Up

ELLERY – Bemus Point Central School District students may get to spend an extra year in the Maple Grove Junior-Senior High School building.

On Wednesday, the district’s board of education approved a resolution to reconfigure the grade levels served by Bemus Point Elementary and Maple Grove for the 2013-14 school year.

The resolution called for sixth grade to be taught at Maple Grove, requiring the elementary school to serve only prekindergarten through fifth-grade students. According to Jacqueline Latshaw, Bemus Point superintendent, the move is intended to align the district with New York state’s new Common Core Learning Standards.

“We’re looking into this as a good move for the kids,” said Latshaw. “With the new (common) core state standards, everything is aligned (for) pre-K to fifth (grade) and sixth to 12th. So it was the sixth-grade teachers who were kind of left out down there, and weren’t included enough up here.”

Patrick Green, board president, said that this move is a logical step for a high-need facility.

“It’s really an eye-opener to see how much need this facility has, and there are so many things that we have to do to try to address those,” he said. “But I think this is a logical step, and this helps us when we go to deal with capital project improvements.”

The reconfiguration has been discussed by the board and community members over the past several months. Ultimately, the board ended up drawing up and approving the resolution far in advance of its anticipated timeframe. According to Latshaw, last year’s reconfiguration, which appointed Julie Verdonik as junior high principal and special education director, allowed the district up until June 14 to submit the forms. That was not the case for this reconfiguration.

“In my mind, I had until June 14,” she said. “On Feb. 13, I received an email from the state with many items that we were supposed to pay attention to. And under one little bullet, I noticed that it said, ‘Any school district (that is) going to close a school or have a new grade configuration, the forms need to be in by March 1.’

“So, I thought, ‘We just had a meeting (on Feb. 11), and now people are going to think the worst,'” she added. “And that was not the intent. The intent was to wait until the March (board) meeting.”

Now that resolution has passed through the board, paperwork will be submitted today for state approval. The district is expecting to wait for a couple months to hear from the state on its decision. Regarding the format of how many sixth grade classes and teachers will be needed at Maple Grove, Latshaw said that the district will not have that information for quite a while.

“There’s so many things that impact that,” she said. “Scheduling is one. We have elementary teachers who are great at the elementary level, that I would like to be able to leave at the elementary, if we have classes for them to teach. If not, then I would have to move them up to the middle (school) level, and we would be looking at people who have a certification in social studies or science. We do have a couple of people at the middle level who are part-time, who enjoy working with the younger kids, who have expressed some interest in teaching the sixth-grade students.”

Latshaw then explained that Maple Grove teachers are content specialists, while most elementary teachers are required to understand all subject matter. She said that the Common Core Standards have caused the district to desire having content-specialized teachers at the sixth-grade level.

“As that content gets deeper and deeper, that understanding has to be deeper and deeper,” she said. “We’re lucky that we have some elementary teachers that are dually certified, but it started to make sense that, even activity-wise, (students) are being left out. And it’s not anybody’s fault, it just made more sense to try to move them up here so that we could make a true middle-level education for them, and really try to give them the instruction in that core area by as many qualified teachers as we can.

“That might be a few years in the making,” she said. “But I think, eventually when the program is done, it will be a solid middle-level program for them, and it will benefit everybody. There are a lot of benefits, and we’re hoping that once it’s all done, everyone will agree that it was really the best move that we could have made.”