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Rome board votes to grade-band grades 5-6

Cara Dolan Berry
Staff writer
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Posted 8/10/22

The Rome Board of Education, at its regular meeting on Monday, voted unanimously to close the chapter on K-6 elementary schools in the district, voting instead to scale six elementary school …

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Rome board votes to grade-band grades 5-6

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The Rome Board of Education, at its regular meeting on Monday, voted unanimously to close the chapter on K-6 elementary schools in the district, voting instead to scale six elementary school buildings back to grades K-4.

According to Superintendent of Schools Peter Blake, there has been “zero discussion about what schools would become K-4 buildings.” 

After three months of heated, often combative debate, a resolution to create two grade 5-8 ‘sister middle schools,’ where half of the district’s students at that grade level would be placed at Strough Middle School and the other half at a new school to be built on the Turin Road site, with the two buildings walking distance from each other at just a half-mile apart, failed in a 4-5 vote of the nine-member board.

Instead of the grade 5-8 sister school model, the final resolution to be voted on called for Turin Road to be the site of new distict-wide grade 5-6 intermediate school, a sort of ‘Staley 2.0,’ where the Rome district had adopted this model once before at what is now the likely permanently closed Staley Elementary School building. In this approach, Strough Middle School would stay essentially the same.

The agenda separated the redistricting plan into three resolutions.

The first proposed the scaling of the six remaining district elementary schools from K-6 to K-4, which had wide support on the board.

The second resolution was the first of two approaches to intermediate education in Rome. A proposed two 5-8 school alignment appeared to be poised to pass, supported by Board President Joseph Mellace, Karen Fontana, Anna Megerell and Superintendent Peter C. Blake. Board member John Nash had articulated his full support and Board Clerk Danielle Lubecki had noted it as one of two models she would support, where the other, a K5 model, was not being considered. But when the resolution was moved to a roll call vote, Lubecki said “nay” and the measure failed 4-5. 

“In my heart and gut, it wasn’t enough when you look at the whole picture of Strough (old school) 5-8 and new school 5-8,” said Lubecki.

She was not alone in her fear of lack of equity. Christine Steurrys, President of the Rome Teachers Association and a district teacher at Strough Middle School who is transferring to teach at Rome Free Academy this fall, also expressed concerns about equity between the two schools. 

“Before you can vertically align, you have to horizontally align,” said Steurrys. “The two 5-8 schools, who goes to which school?” 

The theme was reinforced by Roberto Angelicola, a member of the community who is a member of the Rome NAACP Task Force and who spoke at the meeting before the vote.

“As you make decisions, we are urging you not to make ‘super schools’ – not to make schools that are receiving more resources,” said Angelicola. “Children who go to Ganesvoort deserve everything that children who go to Ridge Mills deserve. This community cannot go forward until we take those kids who need extra attention and lift them up.”

To put those concerns in perspective, Assistant Superintendent Chris Brewer updated the board to report that the plans requiring state review for two of the four of the district’s now six elementary schools that are not in good standing per state guidelines, Ganesvoort and Denti Elementary Schools – both at Level 1 Comprehensive Support, had been approved and he was awaiting and expecting approval for Joy Elementary, also at Level 1. Brewer shared that Bellamy was a “TSI” school – Target for Support and Intervention. It, too, is not in good standing at Level 2 of the four state grades and also requires the approval of an annual plan. 

But the priorities primarily expressed had less to do with academic outcomes and more to do with fear; fear of a “super school” emerging, as Ridge Mills and Stokes have emerged from the elementary ranks, fear of a 11-year-old encountering a 13-year-old in the nurse’s office … as Nash summed it, “fear of change.”

While concern was expressed regarding equity at the intermediate school level, little change other than smaller class sizes and dedicated spaces for special curriculums such as AIS, music, and art – what the community wanted – appear planned.

The grade-banded 5-6 school was subject to the next resolution moved and seconded by Maggiolino. Mellace and Nash dissented, but the resolution passed 7-2.

“I voted against the 5-6 stand alone building because that model had failed in the recent past,” said Nash, who echoed Blake and Mellace in similar warnings. “I am not confident that the problems will be adequately solved this time around.”

Nash went on to express that, now that the decision has been made, he will “work towards making it successful.”

“The 5-6 was on the watch list from SED.  The system was failing – that model was failing,” implored Mellace during the ad hoc discussions. “From a historical aspect, why would we go back to a model that failed?”

‘At a glance’ at the changes approved on Monday night, after graduating from elementary schools upon completing grade 4, all of Rome’s rising 10- and 11-year-old fifth-graders will transition to a grade-banded 5-6 intermediate school on Turin Road. They will then transition to Strough for grades 7-8 then, once more, to Rome Free Academy.

Next steps

Blake clarified that his next step would be to dispatch the architects to begin preparing plans to present to the community at a public hearing he hoped to see held by end September. The plans and their costs would then be subject of a public referendum in December. If approved, Blake predicted three years as the earliest point the model would be manifest, and upwards of five years. In the interim, the district structure will remain essentially the same.

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