Anna Devine, Zena, Sophie Finn and Meagher were all named in a study completed last fall by Advisory Solutions as schools that could either be closed and sold, or repurposed by the district for other uses. Even in the latter scenario, with alternative education or district offices being relocated to the facility, the school chosen would see its students moved to another school.
While there has been concern among parents of elementary school kids in the district about how their children will react to the news that their school could be chosen for closure, some are saying they’ve gone out of their way to not discuss the issue at all.
“It’s not like a high school or a junior high where kids are reading the paper,” said Jillian Fisher, parent of a second-grader at Zena. “From what I know, most parents are actually trying not to talk about it in front of their kids. Why get the children upset about this?”
Some parents at Anna Devine are adopting the same philosophy.
“I don’t think many parents are really discussing it with the kids,” said Colleen Mulready, president of the Anna Devine PTA. We’re trying to keep them out of the conversation so as not to upset them. The typical response at our school is really not to include them. There’s so much that’s unknown.”
Jennifer Borrero is the president of the PTO at Sophie Finn. While she believes the students shouldn’t be worrying about school closure before anything’s been decided, she acknowledged that it’s not always easy to keep the rumors from circulating.
“My own son, he’s in third grade, and he was really upset about it,” she said. “He doesn’t want to see his school close. They’re a tight little group at Sophie Finn, the kids there. Just from talking to other parents, they’re upset. We don’t want the children to be upset about it and create terror.”
Late last year, Superintendent Gerard Gretzinger said the district clerk’s office had received packets from at least one unspecified school with letters from students asking that their buildings not be closed. School officials expressed concern that teachers might be directing their students to write the letters during class time, and some parents in the district agreed.
“Our school didn’t really do anything like that,” said Mulready. “That was never discussed as part of our strategy. I don’t think the kids at our school are really even aware that this is being discussed. They might have some general sense of parents going to meetings, but that’s it. I do think the school closing issue is really for adults to discuss and work out. I don’t think the kids should be made to feel any sense of anxiety.”
Loss of identity
The issue of anxiety is a strong one, said Andrea Grunblatt, and it’s likely to be felt by students across the district whether their school is closed completely or altered by what school officials say will likely be a widespread redrawing of attendance boundaries. Grunblatt is a Kingston-based Ph.D. and certified school psychologist.
“It’s not just a question of anxiety, but also the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to me if I go to another elementary school,” she said. “It’s not just those elementary schools that might be shut down.”
Grunblatt said the moves the district is considering could most impact the kids who will find themselves moving to a new school whether their building was shuttered altogether or they simply found themselves places in a new attendance zone.
“They will lose some of their identity,” she said. “If they’re now bused to different schools, what one loses is the identity of one’s neighborhood. In general, that has quite a detrimental effect on the kids and the parents. It’s important to feel safe so you have that identity.”
The issue is of great concern to Zena parent Ninette Parisi.
“Children need stability, not only at home but in their school as well,” she said. “They spend most of their time there; their school, teachers and friends are like their family. If they’re faced with the worry that their school will close, they are likely to feel scared and vulnerable, don’t you think? What about the children that attend the Zena School who live in households that aren’t perfectly stable and (are) forced to face this concern? Who can they count on?”
Grunblatt said she feels it’s important for parents to speak openly with their children about the issue once they decide it’s okay to let their kids know what’s going on.
“Bring it up with your children and talk to them about it,” she said. “’What are your thoughts about it?’ Write a letter together. It will validate their feelings by not saying, ‘This isn’t a big deal.’ Those feelings are very understandable: It is frightening.”
Mulready said that while it’s clear many of the parents of the four schools that are considered for closure are engaged and aware of the conversation, parents in the district as a whole might not be prepared for what Kingston schools will look like once any plan is finalized.
“My personal opinion is that there’s a lot of families in the community not really paying attention to this because their school wasn’t going to be closed,” she said. “I think there’s going to be some families that are going to be surprised by redistricting.”
Grunblatt said that the best way to reduce the shock for any child moving from one elementary school to another is to reinforce their sense of community.
“You won’t have the same teachers, maybe, or be in the same school,” she said. But it’s very important for parents to make sure that kids will still have friends in the neighborhood, maybe have block parties, so you still have an identity in the neighborhood. It would sort of counteract that.”
Parisi echoed the concern of many parents who are happy with the education their children are receiving in their present schools.
“The quality of learning will be compromised with larger class sizes, undoubtedly,” she said. “Do we want that for our children, less quality? Aren’t there enough obstacles? We are hoping this will not be the case for us. I would hate to pull my child out of the public school system at this stage of her learning. I will if it no longer works for her. I would like not to be forced to do so. I would like our school tax dollars to be working for our own child also.”
Fisher said she’s concerned about what might happen should the student population rise again soon after wholesale changes like those under consideration in Kingston are enacted.
“Populations are cyclical,” she said. “In five or six years we’re going to be having this same discussion.”