Location, Location, Location
Robert and Susanne Cippitelli, the parents of five children all under the age of 6, said their decision to move from Manhasset to Dix Hills last summer was highly motivated by Forest Park Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon status. The Cippitellis said they closed on their Dix Hills home the last week of May, moved into the house in June, and enrolled two of their children in the kindergarten and first grade programs at Forest Park, with plans to enroll their daughter in the universal Pre-K program next year.
The Cippitellis said that until several weeks ago they were unaware of the pending school closures – a final decision on which was announced last week at a board of education meeting that drew a crowd of over 300 parents – but were under the impression that Forest Park was not truly under the microscope.
Due to declining enrollment at the elementary level, the Half Hollow Hills School District announced Oct. 28 that Forest Park and Chestnut Hill Elementary Schools will close, effective beginning the 2013-2014 school year.
“It’s disheartening. It was very hush hush; we would have protested but we weren’t given any information,” Susanne said. “I would have been an advocate for my children and school but I wasn’t given the opportunity, and then to be blindsided by this is extremely infuriating.”
Half Hollow Hills Board of Education President James Ptucha said trustees chose the lesser of two evils in deciding to close Chestnut Hill and Forest Park over Vanderbilt and Signal Hill Elementary Schools next year.
Ptucha said Monday fewer students will be affected by closing Forest Park instead of Vanderbilt Elementary School. Closing Forest Park, Ptucha said, affects 129-percent less children than closing Vanderbilt. Conversely, closing Chestnut Hill over Signal Hill affects 63-percent fewer students than the alternative.
Additionally, Vanderbilt and Signal Hill are at the demographic center of the respective areas, closer to neighborhoods where children will be coming from in the next five to six years. From a safety and security standpoint, Forest Park is only accessible by Deforest road, Ptucha said, making it difficult to get to and evacuate from in the event of an emergency or storm.
The school board, which outlined the principles that guided their decision right before they announced the closures Oct. 28, did not provide residents with a detailed list as to why one school was chosen over another. Ptucha said the district could have posted reasons to their website, but at this point felt it would be counterproductive and add fuel to the fire.
“We don’t want to hurt anybody, [but] it’s not like it’s changing,” Ptucha said.
But some Forest Park parents said they feel blindsided by the board’s decision, which comes two years after Forest Park was named a National Blue Ribbon School. Blue Ribbon schools are chosen annually by the U.S. Department of Education after the state selects schools they believe would be successful applicants for the highly selective program that awards schools for their very high performance or achievements in a given year.
Ptucha, however, drilling the issue down to three deal breakers that ultimately confirmed the board’s decision, said in addition to affecting fewer children, the board was motivated by safety and security as well as demographics.
Regarding Signal Hill, Ptucha said it was hard for the board to imagine having a shuttered school next door to High School West, which could prove “attractive to students” looking to engage in improper behavior.
Since the intention is to lease out the vacant schools, board members were also concerned about lessees, who will inevitably invite guests and customers to the leased space, at Signal Hill, given its proximity to the high school.
Signal Hill, Ptucha added, is more centrally located to the demographic center of the district — while it may not be as geographically centered as Chestnut Hill, is it closer to the neighborhoods where students are coming from and will come from over the next five years.
Parents after the announcement expressed great concern over where their children will go next year, as students who are in the five schools that will remain open next year also stand to be affected by redistricting.
The tentative feeding pattern maps, released at work sessions and facilities committee presentations, have raised tensions among parents who are frustrated with rumors about redistricting because of the maps.
Superintendent Kelly Fallon and the board stressed that the redistricting process will honor middle and high school feeding patterns, and students who were intended to attend either Candlewood or West Hollow Middle Schools; and East or West High School, will be guaranteed a spot at their respective schools.
“This is not true for all kids, but we will have to address it specifically on a location basis,” Ptucha said.