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Bell & 7 Bridges to Stay at Grades 5-8, But With New Schedule

Superintendent cites continuity between students and teachers as reason for keeping grade configuration, and a chance for a more balanced instruction with having longer periods.

Chappaqua's two middle schools will continue to house students from grades 5-8, Superintendent Lyn McKay announced at Tuesday's school board meeting. However, starting next year they will have longer and fewer class periods.

McKay, who announced her decision from the community, school board members and staff, justified her deicision to keep the curent grade configuration due to maintaining continuity in terms of the relationships between students and staff. In one example of this importance - she referred to it as a concept of "family" - she cited a recent visit to and how parents supported having that sense at their school

“So one of the things that came out of all of this work, is that we really need to ensure that going from fourth to fifth, that we can keep the family feel," she said.

Other reasons that McKay gave for keeping the current grade setup include the fact that bus rides would get longer under the model in which one school would hosts grades 5-6 and the other for 7-8. In that scenario, a bus ride to would increase from 35 minutes to 50, while the trip to to go from 40 minutes to 50.

“That just didn’t make sense," she said.

McKay also agreed with an assertion that Board Member Randy Katchis made during the school board's Nov. 15 feedback meeting, that doing a grade change at the same time as a schedule change did not make sense.

McKay, acknowledging that some in the community would prefer to move to the 5-6, 7-8 model - one reason given by residents would be so that Roaring Brook students would not be split during their middle school years - she stated that a majority in the district have expressed support for keeping the current model.

While there is no definitive evidence in professional studies to suggest that middle schools with more grades is better, McKay noted that the system has worked well in the district during the years that it has used it.

In justifying the schedule change, which will mean having six 55-minute class periods and a 38-minute lunch, McKay stated that having longer periods would allow for instruction that is more balanced. For example, this would allow for teachers to have more individualized time with students. The current schedule, which has eight 40-minute periods and a 40-minute lunch, has been viewed as too constraining to allow for in-depth teaching.

One issue with the change that has been raised is that non-core classes, such as world language, would meet fewer times per week. Eric Byrne, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, will be meeting with departments to come up with solutions, McKay explained.

The schedule changes are estimated to save $500,000 to $600,000 annually because they will allow for the district to eliminate some teaching positions.

Going forward, however, McKay suggested that changing the middle school grade structure could be looked at again if enrollment continues to decline. In five years from now, it is projected that there will be less than 300 students for each middle school-level grade, which would make closing one of the schools practical. Options such as re-examining the 5-6, 7-8 option, a single school for grades 5-8 or one middle school with grades 6-8 - 5th grade would return to the elementary level, where it was before 2003 - could be looked at. McKay explained that looking at possible options should begin in 2-3 years from now.

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