Grouping-plan vote expected

JOHNSTOWN – The city school board plans to vote next month on whether to move ahead with a grade-level grouping plan that would restructure the city’s elementary schools.

The Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education watched a slide-show presentation by Superintendent Robert DeLilli and Director of Curriculum, Testing and Personnel Trish Kilburn at a school board meeting Thursday. The school officials gave an update on the plans for grade-level grouping.

The changes may take place in fall 2014, pending board approval.

“Administrators have been putting a lot of time toward planning how exactly this would work from the things that came up from the two previous forums, and this presentation has a lot more of the details,” DeLilli said.

District officials said the purpose of grade-level grouping is to maximize the educational opportunities for Johnstown students and staff.

The changes would affect the district’s three elementary schools.

Currently, the three schools house kindergarten through sixth grade. Warren Street Elementary School also has prekindergartners.

Under the grouping plan, early learning would take place at Pleasant Avenue Elementary School. The school would house pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade.

Primary instruction would take place at Glebe Street Elementary School and include second and third grades.

Intermediate instruction would take place at Warren Street and include fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

Pleasant Avenue School would focus on a foundation in reading and math and would have two full-time certified teachers available for student intervention.

District officials estimate approximately 330 students would attend the school but noted these numbers are difficult to project because the actual grouping would not start for another two years.

Officials said Glebe Street School would focus on primary instruction that focuses on reading and critical thinking by incorporating multiple subjects and hands-on learning experiences.

The Glebe Street School would have about 260 students.

The Warren Street School would serve as intermediate instruction and focus on problem solving by incorporating student project learning. The school would offer students the opportunity to participate in activities such as band, chorus and art, and other clubs.

According to the presentation, Warren Street School would have about 350 students.

Kilburn said grade-level grouping would allow team planning among teachers and faculty for the students, something that is currently unavailable. She said the change also will allow collaboration among grade levels to address the individual needs of students.

She said this is different because in the current system, when a student reaches a different grade level, he or she often is in a different school, so it can become difficult for teachers to know exactly what each student needs or understands.

Under the grade-level grouping plan, each building would have one certified interventionist for students in reading and math, while Pleasant Avenue would have an additional certified early interventionist to work with the most needy students.

Officials said intervention materials and resources would be pooled within each building by level, and communication among classroom teachers and the interventionists would occur with greater frequency.

Also, student screenings and diagnostics would be consolidated.

The grouping system would offer the same levels of service currently offered at the schools in regard to art, music and physical education. In addition, vocal music lessons could return to secondary music programming and small instrumental ensembles may be possible at Warren Street, officials said.

Officials said all out-of-city students and those will special transportation needs would be bused to and from their homes. City students would have shuttles available to each school from each school.

For city students, the closest elementary school would serve as a shuttle station. Students could get on a bus that would stop at both of the other elementary schools.

Officials said the transportation department anticipates a safer and more efficient system under the grouping plan.

Rooms at Pleasant Avenue School would have to be remodeled to accommodate kindergarten requirements, but a capital building project would not be required because much of the work can be completed with resources already available to the district, DeLilli said.

The work would be completed in two phases.

In the spring and summer of 2013, the conversion of the existing art and music rooms to three kindergarten spaces would take place, and the new art and music rooms would be available in fall 2013.

In the spring and summer of 2014, the current grade two rooms would be converted to kindergarten rooms.

Both conversions would cost approximately $40,000, and most of the cost would go toward additional plumbing to install bathrooms in each classroom area, DeLilli said.

“This isn’t something we wanted to rush,” DeLilli said. “Planning this for 2014 and having it done in phases allows us to complete the work ourselves at a much lower cost and address any concerns that may come up before it starts.”

Board President Paul VanDenburgh said the board may pass a formal resolution at the March 14 meeting to either approve or reject continuing with the plan.

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