At their Feb. 9 public meeting, the Massapequa Board of Education voted 3-2 to approve a measure that will see all six of the school district’s elementary schools move their sixth grade classes to the Berner Middle School for the 2017-18 school year onward.
At the meeting—held before a packed audience in the Berner auditorium—Superintendent of Schools Lucille F. Iconis gave a lengthily presentation on her reasoning for the reconfiguration, citing numerous studies that found that the 6-8 grade model has been very successful and, for most schools in New York State, is the current norm.
“There are certain truths that can’t be denied…most school districts have sixth grade in their middle school. It’s a well-respected model because it has a proven track record, particularly in high-performing school districts,” she said. “The NYS curriculum is written in grade 6-8 bands not by accident, but by design. Middle school gives students educational opportunities that they cannot get at the elementary level.”
Iconis noted that the reconfiguration would expose sixth graders to a far broader curriculum—including expanded opportunities for special education students—and that there would be minimal expense to the taxpayers for the move. An anticipated expansion of Berner’s gymnasium would be paid for out of the district’s capital reserve funds, noted Deputy Superintendent Alan C. Adcock.
Iconis stressed that the reconfiguration was for one reason above all others—the good of the children, and to give them every opportunity to succeed.
“I have been in this school district for 16 years, and in those 16 years I’ve been witness to many changes here, many of which I had the privilege of spearheading,” she said. “I don’t do this haphazardly, and I would not make this recommendation if I felt that it was not in the best interests of every student in this district.”
While the reconfiguration had many supporters amongst parents present at the meeting—who felt it gave their children more opportunities for a better, more expansive education—it was considered controversial by others. The Nassau County Police Department was present to watch over the proceedings, although no direct action on their part was required.
Some parents at the meeting voiced concerns ranging from emotional and physical safety of the younger students when interacting with older classmates to a perceived lack of educational benefits. In addition, many parents noted that Massapequa is already one of the highest-performing school districts on Long Island, bringing into question the need to make such a drastic change to what they considered a working formula.
Also, worries over potential overcrowding were expressed, with the addition of 450 sixth graders, Berner’s student population in for the 2017-18 school year would swell to more than 1,600. However, it was pointed out by the administration that Berner had previously served as a high school in the district, during which time it served over 2,500 students.
A petition allegedly signed by 3,000 local residents opposed to the change was presented to the board that evening before the vote was taken. Previously, the board had held public workshops on the reconfiguration to keep residents informed.
When the vote was taken at the end of an extended public comment period, two trustees—Joseph LaBella and Timothy Taylor—voted against the reconfiguration. Nonetheless, the measure successfully passed with three other trustees voting for it.
Currently, Berner only serves grades 7-8, with the addition of the sixth grade slated to take place at the start of the 2017-18 school year; a previous attempt to move the district’s sixth grade to Berner was voted down two years ago.