Sept. 25, 2003
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Students and teachers from two schools start their year together
ROME –– For two years the administration and staff along with parent, teacher, and parish representatives brainstormed, examined and discussed how they could preserve the pre-k through grade 12 Catholic education system in Rome. In hard economic times, the Rome Catholic School Board recognized that the three school buildings were struggling. “It was recognized that physically, educationally and financially, we could not support three Catholic schools in the Rome area,” said St. Peter’s principal, Beth Warwick. “To the credit of the people involved and in order to move forward, we needed to make the hard decisions that need to be made.”
As a result, Transfiguration Elementary School was closed and the pre-k through grade 5 students were blended with the students at St. Peter’s. The sixth grade students are now housed at Rome Catholic Junior-Senior High School. Five days into the new school year, the staff and students seemed to have made the adjustment. Warwick said the first week went well. “The first week was fast and pleasant. I’ve met some lovely people and have had a lot of parents from Transfiguration volunteer their services at St. Peter’s. We have set up a new parent group that will include parents from both schools,” she said.
To help make the transition go more smoothly, parents and students were given the opportunity to visit the new school at a number of summer get-togethers. Parent meetings were held and an informal ice cream social took place to give the parents, children and staff the opportunity to get to know each other. “We spent a lot of time over the summer looking at ways to help the parents learn the policies and procedures of St. Peter’s so that they would feel like this was their school right from the start,” said Warwick.
The increase in the number of students attending St. Peter’s has required further adjustment. In addition to making room for the students in grades kindergarten through 5, the pre-k program and the before and after school program were also brought over from Transfiguration. “The increased number of students takes getting used to,” said Warwick. “The planning times have to be adjusted and we have to re-think how to do what we want to do within the constraints of time and space.” There are 166 students now enrolled at St. Peter’s in grades kindergarten through fifth. This does not include the number of children enrolled in the pre-k program. In addition to the principal moving from Transfiguration, one assistant and three teachers also made the move.
Space is also an issue for the newly blended students and staff. The smallest class size at St. Peter’s is 24 pupils. Grades first, second and third have 30 students each. “Now that enrollment is firm, we will look at hiring assistants to help in the classrooms that have a need,” said Warwick. “Instead of looking at increasing the number of classrooms and in addition to hiring teaching assistants, we will utilize alternate locations and flexible grouping as a more feasible alternative,” explained Warwick. “For specific lessons, groups of students can go to the computer lab, library, or work with the Title I teacher.”
There are other issues being addressed as well. One issue is the difference in the uniform code that varied at each school. While each school had a handbook on the uniform code that explained what was acceptable to wear and what was not, there were differences. For instance, it was acceptable for Transfiguration students to wear light blue golf shirts and navy shorts in the months of September, October, May and June. While the students of St. Peter’s had the option of wearing short sleeved shirts and shorts in the summer months, the specifics were different. “Right now, we are accepting both codes,” said Warwick. “A committee will be set up to unify the code of both schools.”
There is also the issue of the students changing for physical education. At Transfiguration, the students wore their gym clothes to school on days they had physical education. At St. Peter’s the children changed into their gym clothes before class begun. Christine Rizzo, a teacher who came from Transfiguration, said it’s been difficult to get used to the students changing for gym class. “It was wonderful for the kids to be in their gym clothes all day,” she said. “On gym days, you could do other activities with the students and not worry about them ruining their uniforms. It also saved on instruction time.” It took her students 15 minutes to change into their gym uniforms for a 30-minute physical education class.
Not all changes have been a struggle. The current staff at St. Peter’s was enthusiastic and pleased with some of the traditions brought over from Transfiguration. One such tradition was the celebration of Grandparent’s Day. The students invited their grandparents to school, met them at the door and gave them a tour of their classroom. “Celebrating Grandparents Day was new to me,” said Dawn Dunn, an instructor who has been teaching at St. Peter’s for eight years. “It was very fun. As a first time parent myself, I enjoyed celebrating Grandparent’s Day with the students.” Dunn said that two other teachers from St. Peter’s came into her classroom to express how much they enjoyed the day. “It was a fun way to fulfill a New York State Standard,” said Dunn. The standard requires students to learn how to greet someone, introduce someone, and say “hello”. How has Rizzo felt the transition from Transfiguration to St. Peter’s is going so far? “Everyone has been willing to share information and fill me in on policies and procedures,” she said. “Everyone has been open and helpful.”
Our goals are to provide an authentically Catholic, academically excellent and financially sound environment,” said Warwick. On day five it seemed everyone had transitioned well. “Everyone has gotten in, out, recessed and fed,” she said.