Letter to the Editor: A vote for the "bookends" plan for Onteora

Editor's note: The Onteora Central School District held a meeting last night in Boiceville at which Superintendent Phyllis Spiegel McGill said that she prefers the "bookend" plan, according to an article in the Daily Freeman. -- Julia Reischel

Dear Editor,

I'm writing in favor of the bookends plan for Onteora Central School District, which would turn Bennett into a 4-6 intermediate school and Phoenicia and Woodstock elementary schools into K-3 primary schools.

Full disclosure: my son attended Phoenicia elementary for the entirety of his elementary experience, and the class sizes were rarely more than 20 kids; my wife was the president of the PTA, and I frequently taught afterschool workshops both there and in Woodstock. We, as a family, feel lucky to live in the OCSD. Jack is currently thriving at Onteora middle school.

My reasons for supporting the bookends plan are simple: class size and the opportunity for educational improvement. I have spent quite a lot of time around kids, both at a preschool teacher and as Uncle Rock, and I've been in a lot of classrooms, here at Onteora and further afield. Simply put: Big classes = more difficulty reaching kids.

Closing Phoenicia Elementary will send an influx of kids into Bennett and Woodstock elementaries and class sizes will swell. Kindergartens are already swelling. I've been to this rodeo before, so I expect those in favor of mothballing Phoenicia Elementary will cite the familiar phrase "freefall decline in enrollment," and argue that after perhaps a couple of crowded years, population will decrease. I do not see that and here's why:

One of my favorite engagements as Uncle Rock is a weekly visit to First Steps Preschool in Bearsville, where kids destined for Onteora enjoy a stellar early education program. A couple of years ago, when First Steps enrollment was way, way down, I may have bought the "freefall decline in enrollment" concept. But the 2011-2012 year has seen, far and away, the most kids I’ve played to in the four years I’ve gone there.

These kids and others will be arriving on Onteora’s doorstep next fall. They deserve the best attention Onteora can give them, and if Phoenicia closes, they are less likely to get it.

When I read the superintendent's outline for the three plans I am struck by the repeated mention, in the bookends plan, of involving parents in workshops to help Onteora students do better. This is key. Not only is Onteora struggling with funding, the district is struggling academically. This is not the time to opt for bigger class sizes.

The New Paltz Central School District employs the bookends plan and the numbers show that New Paltz students are faring better on the performance index, as well as most other areas, by pretty wide margins.

Fiscally, the bookends plan will save approximately $ 2 million, and even though it includes massive layoffs, the data shows that educational standards can improve. For me, that last part is the clincher. Smaller classes = more kids better served. Plus money saved.

It's the better deal. The elementary school years are crucial and we only get so many chances to do right by our kids before they leave the nest.

Robert Burke Warren (aka Uncle Rock)

Phoenicia, NY