Written by Dr. Charles Murphy, Island Trees Superintendent of Schools Friday, 28 January 2011 00:00
In September, Island Trees restructured our elementary schools from the traditional K-4 schools to the “Princeton Plan” model, K-1 at Sparke Elementary School and grades 2-4 at Stokes Elementary School. With the new plan, the elementary schools were reorganized by grade levels, not by geographic local. At the time, we calculated a $450,000 savings from the long-established K-4 model. Clearly, this cost-saving measure was welcomed in the challenging economic climate we face in New York.
From the start, the district understood we were entering uncharted waters. During the summer, we had many concerns about moving classrooms, materials and supplies from one to school to the other. After all, we needed to move some grade levels from Sparke to Stokes and others from Stokes to Sparke. In fact, the Princeton Plan caused almost every elementary classroom to be moved in some manner. This enormous physical task and tremendous undertaking was completed before the start of school in September. Kudos to all involved! Additionally, there were the non-physical changes that we had to overcome. Although the cosmetic alterations were formidable, the emotional task of changing schools for students, staff, and parents was equally challenging. It’s not easy to change almost 60 years of tradition overnight without having a few bumps in the road or tears in the eyes for that matter.
By and large, the students, staff and parents have adjusted to the new Princeton model. Is it different? Of course it is, especially when students, teachers, and community all had emotional relationships with their “home” school. It’s very easy for me to say it’s working well and everyone has adjusted nicely. However, I did notice many hugs and a few tears recently when the kindergarten and first grade classes visited Stokes during December’s holiday concert. Yes, a good portion of the school community is getting comfortable with the changes while for others it is one day at a time.
In addition, we recognized from the outset student arrival and dismissal would be challenging. To gain additional savings and “economy”, we decided to have the two elementary schools share their transportation; in particular, the buses would pick up students from the neighborhood, K-4, but the students would be separated once arriving at the elementary campus, K-1 and 2-4. In truth, this one transportation change would have been difficult enough, but due to our economic hardships, we compounded the challenge by reducing the overall number of transportation routes in the district to save an additional $145,000. As a result, we added more students per bus and extended our transportation routes. Although we are doing a good job at both arrival and dismissal, we still need to improve in this area, specifically, our dismissal procedures. Indeed in retrospect, altering our school start/dismissal time may have given our buses a bit more time for arrival and dismissal at our elementary schools, but unfortunately we did not anticipate the effect of both the new arrival/ dismissal pattern coupled with fewer overall buses. We have a few ideas moving forward to improve our arrival and dismissal procedures for next school year. We do thank the community for their understanding during this transition time.