RCS to expand pre-K, return to Cypress St.

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Rome Catholic School is returning to its former longtime home at 800 Cypress St. for the 2019-20 school year that starts in September, after spending the last three years at a 400 Floyd Ave. site.

The move, announced today by RCS, will be accompanied by the school accepting an expanded number of students in pre-K classes for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in conjunction with the Rome school district’s state grant-funded pre-K program.

The Rome school district’s pre-K classrooms for 2019-20 will be at either the former Clough school building at 409 Bell Road or at RCS, and no longer will also be at some other community facilities, said district Superintendent Peter C. Blake. The Rome district today separately announced the upcoming changes in its pre-K configurations.

RCS would have at least 10 classrooms for pre-K in 2019-20 compared to currently having about four, and could accommodate up to about 180 pre-K students in 2019-20, Blake said.

RCS currently has about 101 students in pre-K to grade 6 including about 61 in pre-K, with 56 of the pre-K students in conjunction with the Rome school district’s pre-K program.

RCS moved in 2016 from 800 Cypress St. to the smaller 400 Floyd Ave. site of the former St. Peter’s school because of factors including declining enrollment. It had been at 800 Cypress St. since the building opened in 1963, originally as a grade 9-12 facility which had 424 students; consolidations due to enrollment declines in the local Catholic school program led to the Cypress Street building later becoming a site for pre-K to grade 12 and then pre-K to grade 6. Programs for grades 7-12 shifted to the Notre Dame school of Utica in fall 2013.

“We’re very excited” about moving back to 800 Cypress St. and “excited to see a reversal of the decision” to vacate it three years ago, said RCS Principal Nancy Wilson. The building will allow more space and flexibility to “grow the upper grades” at RCS though grade 6 in addition to the pre-K expansion, she noted.

“This is an opportunity for us to maintain Catholic education in Rome and also help the community,” Wilson commented, calling it a “win-win situation.” An RCS announcement said “the Cypress Street location brings with it added parking for events, the space to divide our combined first through sixth grade classes as the need arises, and ample areas for outdoor play and learning for all of our students.”

The RCS move back to Cypress Street “will take place after the close of the school year, during the months of July and August,” the announcement said. “The faculty and staff are looking forward to the move and having the space to expand as we grow.”

The Rome district’s upcoming placement of all its pre-K students at either the Bell Road or Cypress street locations is part of changes geared to “maximize the grants’ funding, district oversight, and quality requirements,” its announcement said.

The Rome district currently has about 680 students in its pre-K program for 4-year-olds, all in half-day sessions, plus about 380 students in pre-K for 3-year-olds with some in full-day sessions and others in half-day sessions, said Blake. There will be full-day programming for all of the pre-K slots in 2019-20.

When asked what prompted the changes involving RCS, Wilson said she had seen recent news reports that the Rome school district’s pre-K program for 3-year-olds was in jeopardy of district cutbacks for 2019-20 due to budget considerations; Blake had proposed outsourcing pre-K for 3-year-olds to community facilities using grant funding, at a savings of $153,651 in school district expenses. With permission from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, she said, she contacted Rome district Director of Early Childhood Dana Benzo “to see if we could help, maybe accommodate more students.” The Rome district’s expenses for pre-K for 3-year-olds have been reinstated in its 2019-20 proposed budget, among other reinstatements following an increase in state financial aid.

As for the 800 Cypress St. building that will soon see RCS return, it is owned by the Syracuse Diocese and was leased by the Rome school district for usage by Strough Middle School students in 2016-17 and 2017-18 during a Strough building renovation. It had gone back on the market for sale last August.

The 400 Floyd Ave. site that RCS will be vacating is owned by St. Peter’s church.

RCS has “a long history of empowering children to grow and develop to their potential in a family-centered, faith-based environment. We strive to become a STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts, math) school while encouraging service to the community,” its announcement said.

The school encourages interested families to call 315-336-6190 “to arrange a tour of our current location to experience our faith-filled family atmosphere, or to get an application to attend. We are currently accepting applications for grades K-6.”

Families interested in pre-K for 3-year-olds or pre-K for 4-year-olds should contact the Rome school district’s Early Childhood Program, said RCS.

The Rome district said that if families have already completed an application for either the pre-K 3-year-old or 4-year-old program, its Early Childhood Office “will contact you to re-confirm or change your preference sheet beginning Monday....” Placements will be confirmed shortly thereafter.

If families have not yet registered a child for the program, there is still time, said the district, adding that applications can be completed at the 409 Bell Road facility. Items that should be brought along include birth certificates, proof of school district residency, and proof of immunizations.

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