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Grade Configuration Steering Committee Meeting Summary

March 27, 2017: Continuing discussion of facilities and beginning to discuss enrollment patterns

  • The committee spent the first hour of the meeting continuing its discussion of facilities to address future enrollment. There are essentially two choices of how to proceed; three large middle schools that would not be able to accommodate the number of required seats or four moderately size middle schools with room for growth. The committee expects to finalize its recommendation for facilities after viewing a cost analysis of both options at the April meeting

  •  The first option is to renovate Arbor Hill Elementary School and transform it into a large middle school serving approximately 800 students; along with William S. Hackett and Stephen and Harriet Myers, this would bring the total number of middle schools in the City School District of Albany to three
    • The displaced elementary students from Arbor Hill would be accommodated at North Albany Academy and the 50 North Lark facility, which would be converted to an elementary school
    • Although the financial cost of this is lower than the alternative, committee members have raised repeated concerns about the safety and educational experience students would receive at such a large middle school
    • The committee also examined the research they requested from Dr. Butterworth about the comparable success rates between large and small middle school
      • Although the data is inconclusive in its most general sense, the committee agreed that when examining the pieces relevant to the demographics of this district, that smaller middle schools showed more favorable results
  • The second option is for 50 North Lark to continue operating as a permanent middle school serving approximately 450 students and to convert Arbor Hill or North Albany into another similarly sized middle school, bringing the total number of middle schools in the district to four
    • The primary argument against this scenario is that it is more expensive to staff four middle schools; staffing for each of these buildings would cost an estimated $750,000 annually for the duration of their existence
    •  While the financial impact is clearly an important one, the committee appears to be approaching a consensus that it cannot be the sole motivation, and that the quality of education provided to students must also be given equal if not greater consideration
      •  Committee members have requested more precise estimates of the costs of both scenarios, and a careful review will be made to avoid jeopardizing students’ education for the sake of fiscal convenience
      • Many committee members noted that although the tax impact may be higher, if this proposal has the capability to fix long-standing issues of equity within the city and provide students with a safe and high quality education, and that it would be superior to the more affordable alternative
    •  Committee members also raised questions about the possibility of exploring sites other than North Albany or Arbor Hill as the fourth middle school, with Giffen Memorial Elementary, Albany School of Humanities and TOAST being the schools with the next largest amounts of space
      • ASH and TOAST would be located far too close to the existing middle schools at Myers and Hackett, respectively
      • This would leave only Giffen as a viable option, and although it was not expressly stated that all new middle schools would be opened on the north side of town, transforming Giffen to a middle school would leave the south end without an elementary school
  • After agreeing that it would like to see specific cost estimates of these two options before feeling informed enough to make a final decision, the committee moved on to discuss potential enrollment patterns for any future facilities
  • The three primary choices are as follows:
    • Magnet/themed schools: allows parents to select the school of their choice, which creates extremely difficult transportation issues and may lead to segregation among schools, as evidenced by the current demographics of Montessori Magnet School
    • Neighborhood schools: as pointed out by a committee member, this was historically the model of all schools in Albany, and although it allowed parents to remain active in their children’s school, it also reinforced geographical segregation in the city
    •  Feeder patterns: this is the current model, in which a specified number of elementary schools feed into respective middle schools to create the most demographically balanced schools possible
      • The committee authorized staff to investigate possible feeder groups for both three and four middle school scenarios that would evenly distribute elementary schools based off of test performance, which is how the current feeder patter was established
  • Similar to the previous discussion of facilities, the committee did not immediately reach a consensus, but initiated a meaningful dialogue that will lead to a decision in the meetings to come
    • The primary issues at play are maintaining racially diverse schools throughout the city without disenfranchising parents by requiring them to travel prohibitively far distances to their child’s schools, all while providing an equitable middle school experience to children across the city

 

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