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Pottsgrove Board OKs Ed Centers, Full-Day Kindergarten

Centers' opponent Rick Rabinowitz, seated, and school board President Michael Neiffer smile and talk before Tuesday's vote

POTTSTOWN PA – With a guarantee that full-day kindergarten classes will be provided across the Pottsgrove School District, rather that its current mix of mostly half- and some full-day offerings, and with the promise that parents would be included in transition planning, the Board of School Directors unanimously voted Tuesday (Feb. 28, 2012) to remake three  elementary schools into substantially different grade-level education centers.

The vote means that by September, when they re-open for the 2012-2013 year, West Pottsgrove and Ringing Rocks elementaries will house only kindergarten through second-grade students, and Lower Pottsgrove Elementary will serve only those in grades 3-5. All three currently accommodate a traditional K-5 student body.

The reconfiguration will result in busing some children, who live near a school they currently attend, to one farther away. Families with children in different grades who now attend the same school together may find them separated next year. Those are trade-offs directors said they were willing to make for “the long-term well-being of every child,” according to board President Michael Neiffer.

The change is intended to improve teaching quality, and possibly lower future costs by consolidating teachers and resources. But most members of an audience of about 150 people, who attended the board meeting at Pottsgrove High School, hotly disputed those claims. Upon hearing the vote many in the crowd were initially stunned and disbelieving, then became angry. A few left shouting in outrage.

“I’m really disappointed,” said centers’ opposition spokesman Rick Rabinowitz. “I think the school board really blew it. They has so many other choices they could have made. They had such an opportunity to exploit this positive energy of so many parents, and they just put a dart through it.”

Rabinowitz said opponents would explore legal options to further fight the decision. He also said he likely would be a future candidate to run for election to the board.

The centers concept, proposed and advocated by Superintendent Dr. Bradley Landis, was one of two possible methods the district said it could use to reduce growing class sizes and balance the elementary student population. The second method, redrawing boundary lines that determine which students attend which schools, went unmentioned by the nine-member board during Tuesday’s final discussions.

A large group of district residents, calling themselves “Pottsgrove Residents Against Centers,” argued during the last three months that the proposal was unproven and experimental. They said it would create more disruptions, for students and teachers alike, than solve learning difficulties or raise scores on state and federal standardized tests.

They also said it would increase, not lower, district expenses with more busing and hiring required for full-day kindergarten. The board acknowledged that, in the first year, centers would add about $170,000 to district costs. Directors did not say where that money would come from.

The group also openly expressed doubts whether Landis and his staff can successfully execute the plan. “I just don’t trust the administration to do it properly,” parent Danielle Walsh told directors.

“We don’t have all the answers,” Neiffer conceded. “We won’t have all the answers until we start to implement the plan … The administration says they can get it done, and we have to believe they will.”

Each board member spoke before the vote, with almost all conditioning their approval on the full-day kindergarten guarantee.

Other coverage:

Related (to Pottsgrove School District redistricting):

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Feb. 28 meeting):

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