The Onteora School Board’s recent split-decision to
begin moving the district towards a 5-8 Middle School, although
well-meaning, disappoints us on a number of fronts, based
not so much on the ideal of the configuration itself as its
deeper ramifications, as well as the process by which this
final decision was reached.
The letters that have started streaming in on this issue state
the problem pretty clearly… people are afraid that the
new Middle School will force the closure of another community-based
elementary school in a district still reeling from the closure
of West Hurley Elementary five years ago. They feel the individual
sense of community that they cherished when raising families
in the area has been thwarted for nominal savings on a district-wide
Beneath the surface, many are saying that the very configuration
of the 4-3 split vote, with all but one of the majority voters
hailing from Olive, which itself tried to split off from the
rest of the district a few years ago during the midst of the
Large Parcel debacle, bodes trouble for the decision. They
note that when breaking communities, a greater sense of communal
consensus should be worked towards. Maybe it would have been
better to wait on such a decision until everyone could be
behind it, especially given the way so much of the public
input given during the process leading up to this decision
weighed in against the avenue that has now been taken?
There’s now a growing movement in Woodstock and West
Hurley to find a way of setting up a separate school district.
From what was expected from the Phoenicia community at the
board’s meeting set for the day this editorial was going
to press, June 19, a similar sentiment seems to be growing
now in Phoenicia.
Trying to look at the big picture here, we’ve noticed
a couple of things. First, that despite recommendations to
the contrary from our state Department of Education, among
other entities, a vast majority of districts around the U.S.
are still running with a 6 to 8 middle school configuration
that, studies imply, seems to be working just fine. Secondly,
that the actual funding that could be saved by creating a
larger middle school, and the slimming down of our elementary
education to two community facilities, is nominal, at best.
More importantly, though, we feel that shifting away from
facilities that center hamlets and villages whose kids can
walk to school, to larger institutions reliant on bussing,
runs counter to the paradigmatic shifts so many are now suggesting
we’ll be making in the coming generation. That the decision
that’s been made was based on a low point that’s
rapidly changing as more families move from cities and suburbs
to cogent communities where they can drive less; the numbers
of kids in our schools will likely rise again, especially
as places like Boiceville, Phoenicia and Woodstock gain residents
via new sewer and affordable housing projects.
We have been proponents of centralized facilities between
towns and counties for some time now. Highway and police departments
are perfect for sharing, in our view. Pools and parks. Shopping
and service centers.
But not schools and post offices and libraries and the other
things that make our small communities vital, in our current
view. Not when the costs of getting around are rising like
they are, and people’s needs for communities beyond
what they find online, or via mass media, are so acute.
But a decision has been made… so let’s make the
best of it. Let’s now look long and hard at how best
to implement this new 5-8 Middle School ideal. Should we put
11 and 12 year olds in the same building complex as high school
juniors and seniors? Or in a separate campus. And if separate,
how far from the center of the district should they be?
We move on, now, to the district’s long-awaited process
of judging its facilities, and figuring out what will need
repair, what will be sold, what will become what for the next
50 years… a long ways off, and sure to be a span of
time as full of changes, if not more, than those occurred
over the past half century.
In the meantime, our nation’s birthday is coming up…
as good a time as any to consider such matters of progress
and community, present worries and the future, taxes and ideals.
After all, it’s out of such considerations that we became
who we are today…
It’s all about, has been and will be, communities and
(the ideal, at least) consensus.