Suffern School District eyes shutting Viola Elementary as more opt for yeshivas

“Viola Elementary School is slated to be shuttered next academic year, a move to consolidate five current elementary schools into four as the public-school census continues to dwindle, even as the population within Suffern district boundaries grows.

The four remaining elementary schools will be reconfigured with two housing pre-K through second grade and two hosting grades 3-5.

Suffern schools Superintendent Erik Gunderson announced the choice of Viola during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

About 70 people attended and more than a dozen spoke about the overhaul. Many expressed concern the plan was rushed. Others spoke in support.

The board is expected to vote Oct. 24 on the plan.

District leaders have pointed to changing demographics in the region for the dwindling number of kids entering public schools. New families often opt for Orthodox Jewish yeshivas, Suffern schools Superintendent Erik Gunderson has said.

Suffern district:Elementary school to shut as growing population sends kids to private yeshivas

The district will continue to own the building and will likely lease it to Rockland BOCES for programs that would serve Suffern and other local district students.

All Suffern district elementary schools realigned

The consolidation plan will bring change to most elementary students in the district. The district will launch a new grade structure for the the 2023-2025 academic year. Using what Gunderson called a “modified Princeton plan,” the buildings will be used for either lower or upper grades.

The plan presented Tuesday shows the following grade alignments:

  • Kindergarten through second grade at Sloatsburg Elementary School and R.P. Connor Elementary School; the district’s pre-K program will be at R.P. Connor and the YMCA pre-K program will remain at Sloatsburg.
  • Grades 3-5 will be at Montebello and Cherry Lane.

Kids will matriculate from the lower elementary grades to intermediate grades together. The pattern is:

  • Kids at Sloatsburg Elementary will move to Montebello for grades 3-5.
  • Youngsters at R.P. Connor will go to Cherry Lane for upper elementary grades.

Current Viola students will be split geographically, district officials said, and families will be provided with information.

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Most speakers were parents from Sloatsburg, a tight-knit village that’s several miles up Route 17 from the heart of the district who wanted their elementary to remain a K-5 building. A petition of some 215 Sloatsburg community members was presented to Gunderson demanding that the elementary school in this small village on the border with Tuxedo remain a K-5 community school.

Margaret Sammarone, who has lived in Sloatsburg all of her 46 years, said she supported the plan. She also disagreed with those calling to delay its implementation.

“Look at East Ramapo,” she said. The district abuts Suffern shuttered and sold two schools more than a decade ago amid fiscal crises that continue to this day. That district, she said, waited too long to react to its shifting demographics.

To underscore Suffern’s place of strength now and East Ramapo’s travails, she pointed out that in 2017, Suffern changed its name from Ramapo Central, largely motivated by confusion with the troubled district.

Population growing, schools shrinking The region that Suffern school district serves has seen significant population growth over the past decade, according to Census figures. That’s especially true in areas that are split between Suffern and East Ramapo districts, including: Viola, with a near 20% population increase; Airmont, with 18% more residents; and Monsey, which has a small section covered by Suffern schools, where the population soared around 46%.”

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