Hudson school board makes JLE School closing official

HUDSON–The Board of Education formally voted this week to close the John L. Edwards Primary School (JLE) effective June 30, 2018. JLE currently holds the Hudson City School District’s pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade classes. These grades, starting next school year, will use the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School building, which currently holds 2nd through 5th grades. On September 1, that school’s name will change to Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School.

The February 12 meeting began with a public hearing on the JLE closing, and many people from the community crowded into the seats. But not one of them spoke. So the hearing ended in less than five minutes.

The decision to close JLE was made two years ago as part of the capital program package that included building for the High School much-needed quality track and field facilities. The Board’s February 12 vote was a technicality.

Perhaps a short public hearing was anticipated. The upcoming board meetings will begin a half hour early, at 6 p.m., for community comment on the school district budget, but the February 12 meeting began at the usual 6:30 time. In addition, Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier could not attend.

Steven Spicer is the principal at JLE. When asked right after the meeting about his future, he indicated that it is still open question. “I don’t know,” he said. “I may stay on, I may retire.”

The next day, Selha Graham of Claverack, who has children in HCSD schools, called the JLE closing “a double-edged sword,” adding, “The District has to consolidate” for economic reasons, but “the downside is that the smaller kids won’t have their own space anymore.” The Montgomery C. Smith (MCS) building “feels like a place of transition, not like a place of beginning,” she said.

MCS was erected in the 1930’s and originally served as Hudson’s high school. Its original wing has three stories topped by a cupola that is prominent on the Hudson skyline. Since Hudson High School moved to its then-new building in 1972, MCS has served middle grades and accrued additions. To take on the youngest grades, the ones currently in JLE, it is getting another addition, now under construction, a new wing tailored to little children.

The JLE building has been operating over half a century. It eventually replaced four neighborhood schools in Hudson and various schools in other communities around the district. It was last enlarged in 2009. At times it held grades K-5.

The has issued a leaflet available for the February 12 meeting about the JLE closing. Under “Why are we downsizing to a two-campus district,” it mentions a “potential… positive impact” on children who proceed from one grade to the next in the same building, because “education research has shown that school-to-school transitions can be disruptive to the learning process.” The leaflet mentions that district “enrollment has declined over the last decade, a trend shared by many New York State school districts.” But it also points out the decreased energy and operating costs from having fewer buildings. “It’s not so much downsizing as it is rightsizing,” the leaflet proclaims.

Under the heading “Will there be any significant changes to staffing?” the leaflet says that support staff and teachers of special subjects “will remain the same.” Furthermore, “an additional associate principal will be added to assist with the safety and management of additional students. However, as in past years, staffing needs at all schools will be reviewed each year as part of the annual budget… process.”

The leaflet says that the district plans to sell the JLE building “at some point.” Over the past year, possibilities mentioned for it include using the space for Columbia County offices, Hudson city offices, and services for people with opioid addictions.

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