Johnstown gearing up for change

JOHNSTOWN – Parents, teachers, school officials and students are finding out how the Greater Johnstown School District’s grade-level grouping plan is going to come together.

Eric Houser, whose son, Brady, currently attends Glebe Street Elementary School but will go to Warren Street Elementary School for fourth grade in the fall, said his family is trying to adjust to the change.

“At first we were concerned,” Houser said at an open-house tour last week at Warren Street School. “Now we’ve learned to accept it and it’s time for change.”

The district is dedicating its three elementary schools to specific grades starting in the fall.

School officials said this will be a more efficient way to teach elementary school students, who currently attend one of the three elementary schools in kindergarten through grades six.

District officials anticipate 900 children will be affected by grade-level grouping, as well as 200 staff members.

Current Glebe Street Elementary School fifth-grader Thomas Truckenmiller was walking into Warren Street Elementary School on Wednesday night for the grade-level grouping tour.

His mother, Rachel, said the family lives near the Glebe Street School.

Thomas was a bit apprehensive about going to Warren Street School in the fall, saying he was “sort of” looking forward to the change.

Apprehension may be a watchword for the district as it rolls out the new grade-level grouping, but officials say concerns will be addressed quickly.

“They’re continuing to plan,” Superintendent Robert DeLilli said Thursday of the district’s officials.

He said grade-level grouping – done to some degree in the Gloversville Enlarged School District’s Meco and McNab schools, the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District’s elementary school and the Queensbury school district – has advantages.

“In our education opinion, it’s two-fold,” DeLilli said. “We believe the students grouped by age configuration will be educated better.”

The superintendent said the transition also will be better for students going from Warren Street School, which will house grades four, five and six, to the secondary level at Knox Junior High School.

Transportation is one of the concerns.

DeLilli said the district recently conducted a “dry run” of its new shuttle system.

He said the district anticipates 600 bused students may be affected.

A district shuttle will transport students between the three elementary schools for students who live inside city limits.

“I think it went pretty well,” DeLilli said of the dry run, other than “a couple bumps.”

The dry run involved participation by all three principals, two buses and two drivers.

He said no students were left on the bus.

Parents with students in multiple elementary schools may drop all children off at one elementary school and students will be shuttled to their assigned building.

At the end of the school day, students living inside city limits who have registered for the shuttle will be returned to the closest elementary school to their residence. Signups for the shuttle bus are required.

“Sounds to me like it was a success,” board President Paul VanDenburgh said of the test run. “It was designed to show a weakness or two. It will work.”

Pleasant Avenue Elementary School Principal Jeffrey Vivenzio said the schools’ recent field trips for students and families to the elementary schools went well.

“I think the momentum is very positive right now,” said Warren Street Elementary School Principal Scott Ziomek, who greeted families at the school during last week’s tour.

Warren Street School on Wednesday night conducted an event to welcome newcomers.

That school conducted a “Strive for Five” scavenger hunt. Students were given clues about the school and they included questions about history, the Internet, band and art classes at Warren.

Ziomek said grade-level grouping will help collaborative curriculum planning as each school adjusts to teaching a certain level of elementary school pupils.

He said people are moving away from their neighborhood schools in some cases. He said he understands parents’ apprehension about dealing with transportation issues, but said that will work itself out.

He said the district is working hard to lessen some of the parents’ fears about the change.

“We have really worked to alleviate their concerns,” Ziomek stated.

Some of the children will make new friends, but they are predictably used to seeing their old school friends.

“It will be just be a little different with my friends,” said Glebe Street school fifth-grader Ariana Vuskalans, who is going into sixth grade this fall at Warren.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.