JOHNSTOWN - The Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education Thursday voted unanimously to begin developing a plan to determine the feasibility of grade-level grouping for the district's three elementary schools.
The decision doesn't commit the district to switching to grade-level grouping. It also doesn't commit the district to a certain school year to begin the initiative.
The district will study parameters needed if officials want to move ahead.
The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich
Second-grade teacher Tracy Ringer
talks about grade-level grouping during a meeting of the Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education on Thursday at Johnstown High School.
"I want to keep this process moving forward," said board President Paul VanDenburgh.
He added, "I'm asking for this board to be courageous, and with the help of the community, we can make this [district] better."
The board scheduled another session for 7 p.m. Monday at Johnstown High School.
Members of the public spoke at Thursday's meeting. Most of the speakers were teachers and former educators.
Under grade-level grouping, schools would be dedicated to certain grades. For example, schools could include prekindergarten to grade two, grades three to four, and grades five to six.
Currently, the district has kindergarten through grade six at Glebe Street Elementary School, which has 319 students in 14 rooms; Pleasant Avenue Elementary School, which has 297 stu-
dents in 14 classrooms; and Warren Street Elementary School, which has 334 students in 14 classrooms and prekindergarten.
The district has studied a new set-up as the number of students has decreased and the district seeks ways to be more efficient.
The grade-level grouping discussion accelerated when the district closed Jansen Avenue Elementary School in 2009, leaving the district with three elementary schools.
"Grade-level grouping will definitely change the structure for the enrichment opportunities we don't have time for," said Tamara Healy, a 22-year elementary school music teacher.
Speaker Deb Allen said teachers would be able to "focus" better under such a change.
"Grouping seems to be a way to do that," she said.
Former board member Barb Skoda said she feared the goal of a more-efficient education system has turned children into "cookie cutters."
"I think there would be many benefits for both teachers and students" under grade-level grouping, said Pleasant Avenue Elementary School teacher Kristin Meashaw.
Second-grade teacher Tracy Ringer said education has gone through many changes that have left both staff and students "exhausted."
"The issue is can this district properly support the teachers and students going forward with this plan?" she asked.
Michael Anich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.