Princeton School District Considering Shift Away From Neighborhood Elementary Schools Model

Riverside Elementary School, one of the four neighborhood elementary schools in Princeton

Princeton Public School District is considering a major restructuring of elementary school education. At a meeting of elementary school parents on April 27, district official presented a number of options to address growing student enrollment. One of these options would be to move to a ‘Sister Schools’ model, where students would attend one elementary school for kindergarten through Grade 2, and then switch to a different school for grades 3-5.

The school district is facing two issues. Student numbers are projected to increase, based on the latest demographic study commissioned by the district earlier this year. That creates a question of where the extra students will attend school. The other issue is that the existing elementary schools have an unbalanced enrollment. Littlebrook School and Johnson Park are currently at maximum utilization, whereas there is some unused capacity at the Community Park and Riverside schools.

In response to these issues, the district’s long-term planning committee is considering a number of options:

One of the slides shared by district officials on April 27

The district could do nothing, but that option seems unsustainable based on current class sizes and enrollment trends. ‘Scenario 1’ would involve changing the boundaries for the four existing elementary schools, to send more students to under-capacity schools and fewer students to schools that are at capacity. ‘Scenario 2’ would involve expanding schools that are full, which would obviously require some significant capital expenditure. ‘Scenario 3’ is the ‘Sister Schools’ model, which would involve students switching to a new school after second grade.

‘Sister Schools’ would allow rebalancing without changing school boundaries, and may make it easier for the district to set sections with more-equal numbers of students. But it would also require capital investment, because schools would have to be reconfigured to be age-appropriate. For example, classrooms for younger students must have an adjoining bathroom, so existing schools may need to be remodeled with more bathrooms, or other facilities to accommodate larger groups of students of one age group. ‘Sister Schools’ would also likely require increased spending on transporting kids by school bus, or increased traffic as parents make longer journeys to bring their kids to schools that may be further away. Walking and cycling to the local school would be more difficult, as more students would be attending schools outside their traditional area.

The district is keen to get public input and make a decision on elementary schools soon. The next step in the planning process will be another meeting from 4.30 p.m. – 5.30 p.m. today (Thursday, May 18 – Zoom link). The district has also launched a parent survey, which can be found at the link below.The target is to make a decision on how to organize elementary schools by fall of 2023. District officials seem set on doing a bond referendum in spring 2024 to raise funds to support whatever decision they make.

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