Off-site locations will provide students more space, says district
The Westbury School District is moving ahead with a plan to move the incoming ninth-grade class to off-site locations, in an effort to quell the problem of overcrowding at the high school.
The board of education voted on April 20 to split the Class of 2021 into taking classes at either the Nassau Community College (NCC) Annex building or the Cradle of Aviation. Interim Superintendent Eudes Budhai said the move, which was brought up by his predecessor Dr. Mary Lagnado and supported by building principals, would not only help ease overcrowding problems, but promote a positive environment for learning and socialization.
“One of the main focuses is to alleviate space [at the high school] so students are not in such major traffic in the hallways and classrooms. We want to create space,” said Budhai, adding that the high school was currently over capacity with more than 1,600 students in the building. “We want to provide students the space they need and an environment for learning where they can socialize and collaborate in an environment that meets their needs.”
Approximately 250 freshmen will take classes at the Annex, with the rest of the class taking higher level classes at the Cradle of Aviation, where the district has been running a successful STEM program for the past 10 years. Classes such as art, music, lunch and physical education will still be offered at both sites. The district will also have access to the NCC site on weekends and after school.
The district held a meeting on May 4 with parents of eighth-graders to discuss the plan, however, at the board of education meeting on Thursday, May 11, several parents voiced frustrations, saying they weren’t properly informed of the decision and raised concerns regarding safety and the social/emotional effect the move would have on students.
“I’m concerned with fighting, drug use, predators. I feel like it would be better for 12th-graders to handle that rather than sending a freshman into that,” said parent April Abrams. “My child being in the mix with college kids is a concern.”
The Annex building is two-tenths of a mile away from the Nassau Community College campus, Budhai said, so freshmen students wouldn’t be mingling with college students. Building doors would also be alarmed and security guards would be in place to secure the area.
Budhai said regardless of location, the district had been planning to implement a “ninth-grade academy,” a smaller, more collaborative learning environment for freshmen. Moving the entire grade off-site allows the benefit of more cohesive planning, Budhai said, as teachers can meet to coordinate curriculum and freshmen will be free from distractions or peer pressure from older students.
The interim superintendent noted that another factor the district took into consideration when deciding which grade should be moved off-site was that there are several overage, undercredited students at the high school. There were some concerns from administrators that these older students, who could be up to 21 years old, would be in class with 14-year-old freshmen.
Budhai said transportation costs to take students to NCC or the Cradle will be very minimal. Freshmen will be transported from their bus stop straight to the site and a second bus will loop around to pick up any students who missed the first one. Students will also be transported to the high school after class if they participate in sports or extracurriculars.
Moving ninth-graders off-site buys the district time as they come up with a more permanent solution to accommodate the growing student population. The lease is renewable on a yearly basis and Budhai anticipates using the NCC space for at least two years.
“During that time, the board of education and community need to deliberate on how we’re going to expand and address the needs of the school district with enrollment and see how it’ll be maximized,” Budhai said.
The district will soon be determining a date for an open house, where shuttles will transport parents and guardians to the Annex so they can see the facilities.