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Focus district designation may fill Aquebogue Elementary beyond capacity

06/08/2017 1:03 PM |

An influx of transfer students into the Aquebogue Elementary School following Riverhead’s designation as a focus district for the second straight year could fill the school beyond capacity, according to Superintendent Nancy Carney. Parents of students in Phillips, Riley and Roanoke elementary schools have the option for their children to transfer to Aquebogue.

“Even though the state said ‘we don’t care if you don’t have room,’ we have contractual limits we have to abide by,” Ms. Carney said at an informational meeting Wednesday night with about a dozen parents. “So if kindergarten is closed and somebody wants to move their child we’ll tell them it’s closed … we have no room to open a new section. Our hands are tied there.”

In grades K-2, classes can’t exceed 25 students, and for grades 3 and up the maximum is 30 students per classroom, said Ms. Carney, who will retire as of Aug. 30 and be replaced by Aurelia Henriquez.

Last August, 43 students from Phillips and Roanoke transferred to Aquebogue. This is the first year Riley students have the option.

This year’s transfer deadline is Friday, June 16. Ms. Carney said as of now she expects most transfers to be in the incoming kindergarten class.

Tara Jacobs, the mother of an Aquebogue kindergartener, expressed concern about class sizes.

“Aquebogue is already a small footprint of a building,” she said. “My daughter is already in [occupational therapy] on the stage.”

Jenn Stepnoski, who also has a child at Aquebogue, asked if the school would get portables to fit an influx of students who may not fit in the building. Ms. Carney replied by saying that wouldn’t happen because it would take a minimum of seven months to get them approved by the state and installed.

Ms. Carney and Christine Tona, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, tried to highlight the positives of keeping children in their home schools — saying their neighbors and friends will most likely attend that building. Also, younger children who have yet to enter kindergarten may not have the transfer option if the schools lose their focus status in the future.

There are no transfer options at Pulaski Street Elementary School, the middle school and high school since they are the only buildings that teach their respective grades, even though they are also considered focus schools.

Riverhead was named a focus district based off the performance of certain subgroups of students on the state mandated math and English Language Arts exams given in 2015, as well as the graduation rate that year, Ms. Carney said.

One parent who has two sons in the district, Laura Huber, asked about how declining graduation rates factor into the designation and what is being done to improve them.

Ms. Carney said the high school, which has seen over 100 new students ages 16 and 18 enter each year over the past couple years, has created newcomer programs to help those students graduate; 90 percent of those students are English as a New Language Learners, she said.

The focus designation last year led to a district review by the state. The district received $50,000 per each school designated a focus school, as well as an additional $50,000 to use district-wide, Ms. Carney said. That money has been used to create after-school enrichment programs at each building as well as create plans to increase high school ENL programs and programs for students with disabilities at the elementary level.

Overall, Ms. Carney said the exams, of which over 30 percent of students didn’t take, were “just a snapshot” of what is going on in classrooms and isn’t indicative of the student’s abilities and achievements.

“I’m very proud of all our buildings,” she said. “We have excellent teachers and a wonderful program.”

Photo caption: Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney spoke with about a dozen parents Wednesday night. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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