FORT EDWARD — Fort Edward students would have access to more courses if the district was to merge with South Glens Falls.
Alan Pole, of Castallo and Silky Educational Consultants, presented an overview of academic, extracurricular and athletic programs offered at the two districts on Monday during the second meeting of the advisory committee providing input into the merger study.
Pole said the overarching goal of the study is to enhance learning opportunities and to achieve efficiencies. Both of those objectives can be achieved, he said.
A combined district would reduce the total number of classes needed to accommodate all middle and high school students in both districts by about 50, which Pole said would create efficiencies and allow for expanded course offerings.
Pole said he based his projections on conservative estimates of class sizes and keeping the academic programs the same.
“We assume that students will have access to every single course that is offered in either school district,” he said.
For example, Fort Edward currently has two sixth-grade sections of English containing 14 and 15 students. If those students came to South Glens Falls, they would not likely stay in separate classes. There may be one section of 25 students with a few students moved around to other classes.
With fewer sections needed, Pole said the combined district could reduce staff, reduce class size or expand the number of courses offered.
“It could be a combination of all of those things,” he said.
At the elementary level, Fort Edward has 12 elementary sections and South Glens Falls has 67, according to Pole. Fort Edward’s average elementary class size is about 15, which is about five students fewer than South Glens Falls.
Fort Edward and South Glens Falls school officials have come to an agreement to keep Fort Edward elementary school students in a school building in Fort Edward — unless enrollment is too low to create a section and then those students would be transferred to a South Glens Falls school.
Fort Edward has small class sizes because of its low enrollment. Pole said the district offers a surprisingly high number — 79 — of courses for its size. About 55% of the courses offered by the district have fewer than 10 students enrolled.
There is nothing wrong with having small class sizes, but Pole said the district continues to face financial challenges.
“How long are they going to maintain classes that have two or three kids in them? That’s the question?” he said.
Pole acknowledged that Fort Edward students would likely be in larger classes than they are now.
However, he said students could have access to opportunities.
For example, Pole said South Glens Falls offers French, business courses and the Project Lead the Way Engineering program.
“Those opportunities would also be available to students from Fort Edward,” he said.
Pole said academic achievement of the students is very similar between the two districts. It is slightly higher in South Glens Falls.
For the last four years, about 30% of Fort Edward students in grades 3-8 scored a 1 on the standardized tests — the lowest mark. That is compared with 21% for South Glens Falls.
Pole cautioned that as a smaller district, Fort Edward’s numbers could be skewed by a few students either way. Also during this time, there were parents opting their children out of taking exams because of the controversy over state tests and their role in evaluating teachers.
The results on Regents exams are also pretty similar, with South Glens Falls awarding more Regents diplomas. Fort Edward has a higher dropout rate.
As for athletics and extracurricular activities, Fort Edward had to eliminate all programs after its budget defeat.
The Fort Edward Booster Club has provided funds for some sports and clubs, but Pole said that is not sustainable.
“You don’t want to build a district’s athletic program that counts on athletic booster club support every year,” he said.
Before the budget cut, Fort Edward had four junior varsity teams, compared with 15 for South Glens Falls. Pole said in a merged district there would be more competition for playing time. However, Fort Edward students would have a wider variety of sports from which to choose.
“The kid who doesn’t make the basketball team could become a volleyball player,” he said.
The committee will meet three more times to discuss the following topics: Dec. 21, facilities and transportation; Jan. 11, finances; Feb. 22, staffing.
The consultant’s draft report will be reviewed by the committee at its April 12 meeting.