Three Village school district eyes school restructuring, seeks community input

Three Village school district eyes school restructuring, seeks community input

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Option four in the survey, which would create primary schools for kindergarten through second grade and intermediate schools for third through fifth, has been widely panned. Setauket Elementary School pictured above. Photo by Mallie Kim

By Mallie Kim

Declining enrollment alongside a history of budget vote woes has Three Village Central School District eyeing structural changes, and the Board of Education is asking parents, students, staff and the community to weigh in by survey. 

The request for community involvement, which comes after a series of public strategic planning meetings, is a step toward forming the 2023-24 district budget after last year’s budget proposal squeaked by with 66 votes and the 2021 budget failed to pass the vote at all, forcing a tighter contingency budget and no tax levy increase. The vote this spring will be the first under the leadership of new Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon.

Results of the survey will weigh heavily in upcoming budget and planning discussions, according to Scanlon. “The board and administration will only consider those options which receive the majority of support from each of the groups surveyed,” he wrote by email.

The survey, which opened Feb. 2 and will close Feb. 17, includes explanatory video messages from Scanlon and asks residents to rank the favorability of four restructuring options individually and then against each other. The options include maintaining the status quo, moving up ninth grade to high school and sixth grade to middle school, moving up only the ninth grade and finally the Princeton Plan, which calls for dividing elementary students into lower and upper grade schools.

According to district data, there’s been a 23% decrease in the student population since the 2012-13 school year, from just over 7,000 students enrolled a decade ago to about 5,500 this year in grades K-12. Maintaining the current structure of district schools may only be sustainable if enrollment increases, according to Scanlon. Proposed restructuring is an effort to prepare in case enrollment continues to decline along its current trajectory. In response to rumors among concerned parents, Scanlon has emphasized at strategic planning meetings and in the survey videos that no decisions have been made about closing or repurposing any of the five district elementary schools. Any such move “would not be considered by the administration until the budget process next year for the 2024-25 school year,” Scanlon wrote.

The options on the table this year, which have been explained and discussed publicly at the strategic planning meetings, have varying popularity among local families.

Creating sixth through eighth grade middle schools and a four-year high school would bring Three Village more in line with schools across New York state and the country, give sixth graders more course and extracurricular offerings and, according to figures provided by the board, save about $450,000 per year on transportation costs alone, for ninth graders traveling to Ward Melville High School for athletics and advanced placement courses.

The proposal to move ninth grade to the high school has received a lot of public support, due to the prevalence of four-year high schools in the United States and the fact that it would save the district money. Kim Moody, who has four children spread across all levels of district schools, agrees. “I really think it would benefit the ninth graders to be at the high school,” she said, pointing to the inefficient time management for those who bus to Ward Melville for extracurriculars and for the high schoolers who have to wait for those buses to arrive. “It is an ambiguous year that ninth graders can be part of JV sports teams, but they’re still housed separately from their teammates,” she added.

Detractors at strategic planning committees have raised hallway crowding and increased traffic around Ward Melville as primary reasons for pause.Moody is less firm in her opinion about moving sixth grade up to middle school. “I don’t think they can make a wrong decision around sixth grade, personally,” she said. Moody, who works with adolescents through the Christian organization Young Life, has noticed both in personal and professional experience that students tend to make a developmental leap around the middle of sixth grade. “As a parent, the first part of sixth grade I was glad they were in elementary school, but by the second half, I would think: ‘This kid could be in middle.’”

Some parents, including Moody, say if the change goes through, the district should find ways to scaffold this variance in readiness among sixth graders during their first middle school semester and should also begin preparing fifth graders to switch classes — something district elementary schools are already piloting this year. 

Option four in the survey, which would create primary schools for kindergarten through second grade and intermediate schools for third through fifth, has been widely panned at strategic planning subcommittee meetings and on social media. In the Princeton Plan, common in surrounding school districts on Long Island, classroom and special area teachers would specialize in a smaller range of grades while students in programs like the Intellectually Gifted classes would no longer have to bus to alternate schools. This option would also mean adding a school transition for students, splitting elementary-aged siblings and a lengthening commute time for some children, away from their neighborhood schools.

Data from the survey will be broken up into the four respondent groups: the community at large; parents of students currently enrolled in Three Village schools; secondary students and district staff and will be shared in the relevant committees before moving on to a formal presentation to the school board.

For more survey information, visit the district’s website and click on School Restructuring Survey on the home page.