Times of Middle Country

Middle Country Board of Education is considering closing Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center due to low enrollment. Photo by Erika Karp

As enrollment continues to decline, Middle Country Central School District is considering closing Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center .

At the district’s Space/Bond Committee meeting on Oct. 18, Board of Education President Karen Lessler assured community members that no decision has been made but that the purpose of the meeting was to have a discussion between stakeholders and the board.

If Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center were to close, Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center would become the district’s pre-k center next year and the elementary schools would be reorganized to serve kindergarten through fifth grade.

“It is an opportunity to capture another savings early enough in the school year [and] to work it into the budget,” Superintendent Roberta Gerold said. “We will continue to look for other
options anyway.”

According to Herb Chessler, assistant superintendent for business, the change would result in transportation, building and staff savings totaling about $750,000 a year. Gerold said an administrative position would be eliminated and staff would either be placed elsewhere in the district or excessed.

The $750,000 in savings could change, depending on what the district decides to do with the building. Lessler said it is possible that the district would lease the building. The district will also consider moving its central offices, which are currently located at Dawnwood Middle School, to Bicycle Path. Lessler said she would like to see the old office space turned into science laboratories. The cost of the transition is yet to be determined.

Capital improvement projects like this may be possible if the district decides to put a bond up for a public vote in March.

Lessler said the committee has discussed the option and asked building principals to compile a list of projects they would like to see completed. While the board decided to continue preparing for a bond, should they decide to put one up, some members voiced concern with the time constraints of preparing the bond resolution, which would have to be completed by Christmas.
According to Gerold, size and proximity to the district’s trailers were factors in the decision to look at closing Bicycle Path.

“Unity gives us more opportunities to have a variety of uses,” Gerold said.

Lessler and Gerold said the district wouldn’t sell the building and that it would be maintained since the district’s enrollment may change in the future.

“We certainly have declining enrollment now, but I don’t think that will continue,” Lessler said.
According to Gerold, the district saw a drop in the number of kindergarten classes from 33 classes last year to 30 this year.

Last year, the district discussed closing an elementary school or moving 6th-grade classes back to the elementary schools, but ultimately decided the disruption to students was not worth the savings.

Bicycle Path PTA President Dawn Sharrock said she wants the board to make sure there is adequate space in the elementary schools in order to accommodate the influx of students, while Michael Herrschaft, chairman of physical education and health, asked the board to see if kindergarteners have benefited in anyway from being in separate buildings.

“As a district administration we appreciate the opportunity to collect that data because we too will have to report out,” Gerold said. “So it’s not a matter of money — It’s having a thorough analysis of the topic.”

Like many school districts across the country, Middle Country Central School District is adjusting to new regulations for the National School Lunch Program, while trying to avoid grumbling from students and their stomachs.

At a Board of Education meeting on Oct. 3, William Kidd, assistant business administrator for the MCCSD, led a presentation on the new regulations, which include calorie restrictions based on grade level, an emphasis on larger servings of fruits and vegetables, and smaller servings of proteins (students in Middle Country can expect to see five chicken nuggets as opposed to the seven they saw last year, for example), and a switch to fat-free or 1 percent milk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program provides reduced price and free meals to students in public and private schools nationwide. The new rules, which stem from the passage of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, are the first major changes to school lunches in 15 years. Accompanying Kidd were representatives from Whitsons Culinary Group, the district’s food service management company.

According to Kidd, the district is reimbursed $1.4 million in federal and state funding based on the sale of the regulated meals.

“The school lunch program is self-sustaining when it takes in more revenue than it spends,” Kidd said in an email. “Here at Middle Country, we have been fortunate that this has been the case for many years. All annual meal/food deposits, plus the federal and state funding reimbursements that come from those sales, have allowed the Food Service Program to operate as self-sustaining.”

According to Kidd, the district has seen an increase in the number of students receiving free and reduced price meals over the past few years. This year 2,011 students receive free meals in the district.

Elementary school lunch costs $2, while secondary school lunch costs $2.25. According to Kidd, since last year, the price rose 10 cents for elementary school lunch and 25 cents for secondary school lunch.

The transition has been frustrating at times, Kidd said. Some new options, like a deli sandwich service, which was a success in the schools, had to be revamped because of the new rules — gone are the large deli rolls.

According to Christine Kunnmann, a district manager at Whitsons, there are plans to introduce a new deli station, which will be modeled after Subway and offer students a selection of vegetable toppings since there are no limits on vegetables.

In a phone interview on Monday, Kunnmann said while portions have changed, students are still getting quite a large amount of food. She has been traveling to different districts across Long Island in an effort to educate principals, teachers, cafeteria staff and students about the regulations.

Sue Merims, a food service consultant, said that adapting to the new regulations is “a work in progress.” She said work could be done to improve the lunch’s presentation, as well as offering students more variety and flavorful foods.

After the presentation, board President Karen Lessler said that earlier in the day the board had met with students who vocalized their displeasure with the lunch program. Lessler asked to meet with Whitsons’ representatives to discuss the matter.

“We heard the grumblings,” Lessler said. “… These are serious comments being made by our students.”

On Monday, Kunnmann said meetings were arranged with board members and students to address the issues.

“Now more than ever we need to meet with the student[s],” Kunnmann said in her presentation. “We need to be involved with those students to get their feedback because we know that there are a couple of grumblings out there and we really want to make sure the kids are happy and they understand what is happening with the regulation.”

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Middle Country Public Library’s toddler program is copied throughout the country

At Middle Country Public Library, 14-month-old Shane Looney takes a crawl through a play tunnel. Photo by Erika Karp

A large room full of blocks, puppets, arts and crafts, instruments and more than a dozen lively toddlers seems more like a room in a nursery school than a library, but it is exactly how Middle Country Public Library Director Sandy Feinberg wanted the room to be.

The room is home to the library’s Parent-Child Workshop, a five-week program that provides an opportunity for young children to play with each other and their parents, and for the parents to connect with each other and learn about community resources.

It has been more than three decades since Feinberg first developed the program, which emphasizes the role of parents as the primary teachers in a child’s life. The program became the Family Place Libraries initiative in 1996, keeping the Parent-Child Workshop as one of its core components. Today, more than 300 libraries in 24 states offer Family Place Library programs and that number is continuing to grow, as 28 more libraries will soon implement the program thanks to a $450,000 grant MCPL received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent government agency.

Feinberg said that winning such a prestigious grant was an honor.

“It’s really an acclimation of my work and our work here,” she said.

Feinberg said that when she first developed the program in 1979, toddlers weren’t welcome in libraries.

“At the time there were no toys in the library,” she recalled.

But after having a child of her own and becoming immersed in parenting, she realized the positive impact libraries could have on the community if they focused on parents and caregivers.

To become a Family Place Library, libraries must complete three phases. First, librarians from all over the country attend a three-day Family Place Training Institute at Middle Country Public Library and complete seven hours of online training. Next, they go back to their libraries to implement the program within one year of the training. Lastly, evaluators visit those libraries and answer questions.

“It changes the focus of the children’s librarian to integrate toddlers and parents,” Feinberg said. “It broadens their perception of themselves [and] who they can reach.”

Kathleen Deerr, the national coordinator for Family Place Libraries, said that the program works well in all communities and helps parents engage their children in developmentally appropriate activities.

“Parents need to love first of all, and talk, play, sing and share books with their kids,” she said.

Anthony Smith, a senior grant program officer with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, said that the IMLS is always looking to support libraries and museums that serve as community anchors. The IMLS has awarded more than $2.5 million in grants this year.

“There really is strong emphasis with funding projects that demonstrate libraries and museums are working collaboratively with other community organizations,” Smith said.

Feinberg said that the role of libraries is changing and it is a goal for them to become more of a community education center. She said that she believes the IMLS grant can prove how Family Place programming can impact the entire library. Deerr agreed, stating how a library’s mission is to support lifelong learning — from cradle to grave.

“Young children learn through good relationships,” Deerr said. “[The program] helps [parents] bond with that child. That is going to really help strengthen the initial relationships that are really at the core of learning.”