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Ken-Ton parents express concern about mixing 8th graders with older students

One concern appears to be most prevalent among parents in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District, which has begun fully implementing a consolidation and reorganization process that will close three schools next year.

Many of the questions posed to Superintendent Dawn F. Mirand during a town hall-style meeting Tuesday night revolved around plans to incorporate eighth-graders into the district’s two high schools next year. There are worries about mixing 13- and 14-year-olds with upper classmates as old as 18.

“It is a scary transition time for parents and I keep hearing lots of general comments that ‘Yes, the eighth-graders will be kept separate as best as we can,’ ” said district parent Jen Morrow. “But I think as parents right now, we need specifics.”

Mirand responded that the district’s high school transition committee has drawn up a list of recommendations and would invite parents of next year’s incoming eighth- and ninth-graders to a session to go over those details.

In response to an earlier question on the topic, Mirand said the plan is to designate a hall or wing of each school building for eighth-graders. “We’re actually looking forward to being able to give our eighth-graders a little more opportunities and support as they transition into high school,” she said.

Many questions Tuesday were specific to a certain student’s situation, while others were relevant to the entire district.

Parent and Ken-Ton PTSA Council President Dawn Stinner asked how the district will manage an expected loss of $3 million to $4 million in revenue because of the planned closure of the Huntley power plant. “With the consolidation, we were supposed to save three to four million dollars,” she said. “That was going to be our restoration of programs. So now what?”

Mirand said the district is working with the Town of Tonawanda and Erie County on exploring what the final impact will be of Huntley’s closure. The district will be lobbying for state funding set aside to help restore funding for communities hurt by the retirement of coal-burning power plants, she said.

Earlier, resident Steve Caruana inquired about the futures of the three schools slated to close – Kenmore Middle, and Roosevelt and Hamilton elementary – and the Sheridan building, where Tuesday’s meeting was held.

Mirand said the district would form a stakeholder committee to study the usage of each building. “What we want to do is make sure that whenever buildings are repurposed, that it’s a repurpose that’s going to benefit the community,” she said, noting that district buildings cannot be sold without a public referendum.

Toward the end, Mirand was pressed again for specifics by a parent who said she worried students next year would be “guinea pigs” for the district. Mirand said the district would work harder to bring parents and principals together at future information sessions.

“I think that will help put parents at ease that we are working on things and we do really know what we’re doing,” she said. “We might miss a few things here and there but our goal is to have this smooth transition and really do what’s best for kids.”