Downgrade to upgrade for West Hempstead sixth-graders?

Board of Ed continues discussion on grade level restructuring


With student enrollment declining, the West Hempstead Union Free School District is proposing grade level restructuring. Plans to remove the sixth grade from West Hempstead Middle School — which currently occupies the same building as the high school — to create an intermediate school with grades four though six have been floated at recent board meetings.

“Our real intent would be to transport what exists in the middle school setting to the intermediate setting,” Superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kriss said at a Jan. 16 board meeting. “We would like to mirror that schedule, both for our teachers and our students.”

The district introduced the idea to parents in November, and many parents said they were concerned that the change was being rushed. Sullivan-Kriss said that the district had discussed plans to restructure grade levels long before she became superintendent in 2016.

“I feel that if we’re serving our children,” she said, “it’s never a rush to move forward to do what I believe is in the best interests of our students. It may be uncomfortable at times, but this is what we need to do for children.”

The district currently has two elementary schools, and the board recommended turn ing one into an intermediate school, while the other would serve as the district’s sole elementary school. By moving its 121 sixth-graders, Sullivan-Kriss said, the district hopes to reduce class sizes. She explained that based on the district’s research, students thrive when classes are smaller.

Board of Education Trustee Byars Cole asked if this would mean eliminating teachers as well. “I’m not in support of reducing teachers unless we absolutely have to,” Cole said. “We want more teachers around … that’s the whole idea.”

“If a state aid number comes in that kills us, I might come back to the board and say that we need to look at this a little differently,” Sullivan-Kriss said, referencing the district’s 2018-19 budget. “We did not go about this with the intention that it was a fiscal issue and we were abolishing teaching positions. Rather, we know we have needs in the district, and we want to create effective structures for our students.”

She added that while other school districts such as Freeport, Oceanside and Bellmore Public Schools have the sixth grade in an intermediate setting, this did not influence the board’s proposal.

The district hopes to keep its schedule the same for teachers who have multiple classes. Some parents said they were worried that students would be limited to one teacher.

“The students will still get to change their classes,” said board President Karen Brohm, “and they will still get to be independent and move from class to class to learn how to do things on their own ... I don’t want people to say that we’re just picking them up and moving them and not giving them greater options, and we’re not giving them greater chances to become better learners.”

“Our goal is to offer, as closely as possible, what’s being offered in the middle school,” Sullivan-Kriss added. “There may be some slight changes in the way we provide support for our students, but I think the flipside of it is the [chance] for us to really continue to focus on the path that we’re looking to create an intermediate school setting for our fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.”

The board will vote on the proposal at its next public meeting, on Jan. 30 in West Hempstead High School’s videoconference room at 7:30 p.m.