A systematic change

Superintendent proposes same grade levels in same buildings

OBSERVER photo by Jimmy McCarthy Dunkirk Schools’ Superintendent Dr. James Tracy discusses his school reconfiguration proposal at Thursday’s board of education meeting.

A proposal by Dunkirk Schools’ Superintendent Dr. James Tracy is aiming to place grade levels in the same building.

Tracy told board of education members on Thursday that the idea came up when he first interviewed for the job as teachers were expressing their wish to have grade levels together.

“We’re at the point now where we’re ready to go from talking to action,” he said. “We want to look at what are some things that we can restructure to allow for teaching strategies that we’re trying to get into place.”

Specifically, Tracy is proposing Schools 3 and 7 as the learning destinations for those in pre-kindergarten to first grade. Tracy said he’d also like to have a nursery and full-day pre-K options to provide a firm educational foundation for students within the district. As it stands now, the pre-K program is a half-day.

Schools 4 and 5, under his proposal, would be the learning destinations for second- to fourth-graders. As for the fifth-graders, they’d move to the middle school and be located on the same floor with sixth-graders.

For Tracy, some of the benefits to the proposed reconfiguration include a better environment for students to learn, a collaboration among teachers in the same grade and class-size balancing. In addition, he said more students would be transported to school by bus.

“If they’re not transported and it’s really cold, chances are they won’t come to school,” he said. “The nice thing is there will be far more kids transported. The negative side to that is it will cost more.”

Tracy told board members the district could be reimbursed for a chunk of the expense.

Academically, the proposed reconfiguration will allow for schedule changes as Tracy said the current model isn’t working.

“We’ve had similar schedules for the last few years, the middle school has had the same schedule and they consistently have been considered failing schools,” he said.

Several hurdles stand in the way of the proposal, including the notion of change and loyalties to a school, according to Tracy. While he acknowledged that change is hard, he said the school district will continue to be at the bottom if they keep doing things the same.

For some board members, Thursday evening was the first time they heard the details. Tracy’s proposed time frame was February for board approval.

“This is a systematic change in the way we educate our kids. I want to make sure we get this right,” said Board President Dave Damico. “If it takes us another year to do it, then so be it, but let’s make sure we’re right. The communication has to come between all of us before we get to a point like this.”

Tracy responded to board members by saying that he’s not locking them into a time frame.

“We’re going to have a lot of work to do,” Tracy said.

Damico had questions regarding teachers staying in their assigned places and busing and how it’d impact staffing levels.

“Those are things I need to know,” Damico said.

Board member Kenneth Kozlowski said it may be difficult for the community to swallow. Tracy said he gave an overview to administrators. He intends to speak to teachers about the proposal next week and the community further down the road.

If the board gave its approval, plans would go to the state for review.