Geneva considers elementary education initiative

The Elementary Education Initiative is under way in the Geneva City School District. Superintendent Dr. Robert Young said “the district is looking for efficiency and effectiveness in the way in which we provide a quality education that demonstrates our commitment to our students and the community that we so proudly serve.” He added that “we must maintain our focus on what’s best for our students in terms of educational program, facilities, food service, transportation and transition.”The review involves whether Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) through second-graders should all attend one elementary school and whether third- through fifth-graders should all attend the other elementary school.Currently, North Street services Pre-K (Head Start) through grade 5 and West Street has Kindergarten through grade 5.If the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee now studying elementary education recommends restructuring the grades, then Pre-K students through second-graders would all attend one school and third- through fifth-graders would all attend the other elementary school.Dr. Young is excited about the possibilities. “It is very useful to do an internal review of elementary education from a program and fiscal perspective,” he said.Young said deciding what is best for children is driving the review and educators are heavily involved in the process. “As superintendent, I believe it’s critical to hear from the educators on this question.”Parents are very much involved in this examination of reconfiguration. The sixteen-member advisory committee was set up in January and will be meeting regularly through February. Dr. Paul Darnall, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, is the chair of the committee and Principals Nina McCarthy of North Street, Arlene McDermott of West Street and Carmine Calabria of the Geneva Middle School are involved. The panel includes teachers and parents from both elementary schools.The process also involves subcommittees focusing on specific areas such as staffing, transportation, facilities and budget. The committees are meeting with school educators and staff to get information on which to base their recommendation. Dr. Young would like to get the advisory committee’srecommendation by early March so there will be plenty of time for public comment and input before the school budget for next year has to be considered.Dr. Young and others have given some thought to the administrative assignments that would go with the plan. Nina McCarthy would be Principal of West Street School, which would be an elementary school for grades Pre-K through second grade. Scott Donnelly, currently Assistant Principal at West Street, would stay as Assistant Principal atWest Street.At North Street, which would be for grades 3 through 5, Arlene McDermott would be the Principal and Kevin Fairben (the Assistant Principal at North Street now) would stay as assistant principal. This arrangement would ensure staff familiarity with at least one administrator from their current assignments.Currently, McCarthy is at North Street and McDermott is at West Street.Besides helping the learning environment in Pre-K through fifth grades, Dr. Young said the realignment would help make the transition to the Middle School easier because students would have been together in Pre-K through grade 5. “Now the transition at 6th grade is difficult. There’s an opportunity here for students to progress through each grade level together, from Pre-K through graduation.” said Dr. Young.While educators look at the possibilities with restructuring, another necessary examination involves school finances, with the governor’s recent proposal to cut state aid for the Geneva district by $968,000.The combination of the governor’s proposal as well as the district’s contractual obligations and formula driven costs means the district has a shortfall of $2.3 million in the 2009-2010 school budget. That could mean a 14.5 percent tax levy increase, in order to carry forward all existing programs and staffing. This will be clearly unacceptable to our community,” said Dr. Young.Dr. Young estimates that the district could save as much as $1 million by going to the new elementary school plan. The good news, he said, is that programs would not be as severely affected, because savings would come from efficiencies gained by realignment. “A big solution for a big problem,” he commented.Most likely program cuts would be forced upon the district if the elementary structure stays the same, said Dr. Young.Projections show that the school district’s elementary enrollment will drop slowly but steadily in coming years, so Dr. Young believes it is prudent for the district “to improve efficiency now and be in a better position going forward.”The district needs to downsize and how to do it best is guiding the process currently under way to evaluate restructuring, Dr. Young explained. “It’s hard to make cuts without hurting education programs… we can lessen the impact of budget reductions with restructuring,” said Dr. Young. The district already buses 131 children from the West Street and North Street areas for the other school, he added.The Superintendent emphasized that the elementary initiative would not resolve all of the district’s financial challenges. “Other cuts are still needed,” he advised, noting that administration, athletics and operations are being reviewed, as well.Looking longer term, because the Head Start Program would move from North Street to West Street, space would be freed to return the administrative offices back to North Street, Dr. Young explained. The school district could then consider sale of the building on Elizabeth Blackwell Drive that now houses the district offices.Involved in the decision-making process for the elementary initiative will be the Budget Advisory Committee and the Board of Education as well as the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee. There will be several opportunities for public comment as the process unfolds, Dr. Young emphasized.

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