The Port Chester School District welcomes four new teachers to their faculty during the July 27 Board of Education meeting. They are, from left, Jennifer Mooney, a special education teacher at John F. Kennedy School, Jamie Florindi, a physical education teacher at the Port Chester Middle School, Lourdes Colon, a special education teacher at Park Avenue School, and Shaney Collando-Weaver, an elementary teacher at Park Avenue School.  
Casey Watts|Westmore News
The Port Chester School District welcomes four new teachers to their faculty during the July 27 Board of Education meeting. They are, from left, Jennifer Mooney, a special education teacher at John F. Kennedy School, Jamie Florindi, a physical education teacher at the Port Chester Middle School, Lourdes Colon, a special education teacher at Park Avenue School, and Shaney Collando-Weaver, an elementary teacher at Park Avenue School. Casey Watts|Westmore News
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All of the classrooms have been cleaned out, the floors polished and the furniture scoured. The Port Chester School District is prepared to open its doors to students for a full day of class on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

The Port Chester schools will have their doors open for 181 days for students and 185 days for teachers, with nine emergency closing days built in to be used for urgent maintenance issues and inclement weather. In the past years, the district only had two or three days built in, but Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus thought that wasn’t enough. Although the previous winter was mild, Kliszus wanted the extra days just in case the cold and snow decided to bombard Port Chester this year as it has done in years past.

Overall, Kliszus is excited and ready for the “ongoing daily challenge” school brings.

“It’s all about providing for our kids,” he said. “Our teachers and administration have high expectations for these students.”

The superintendent is also very aware of the demographic of his students and knows putting an emphasis on helping all of them will be a huge focus of the school board. In terms of population, Port Chester schools are diverse and many of the students are first or second generation U.S. citizens. Although Kliszus is thrilled to be able to support this diverse of a landscape, it isn’t without obstacles. Funding is a large problem for the Port Chester schools. They are normally funded at 45 percent of what the district is supposed to receive, but this year, the state funding, especially foundation aid, decreased to 36 percent.

“We need foundation aid restored,” Kliszus said at the Wednesday, Aug. 31 Board of Education meeting. He hopes to begin a political campaign for foundation aid advocacy as soon as possible, especially because every year is a guessing game for the Port Chester School District—the administrators never know how much funding the schools will receive from the state. To Kliszus, this is not okay, especially with the amount of diversity Port Chester schools have in their student bodies.

Immigrants and the minorities in the district are getting the short end of the stick for funding, Kliszus explained. Although no plans are currently set in motion with the Board of Education, working around the funding roadblock is high on the district administration’s “to do” list.

“I was talking to a group of community people and I asked how many of them were first and second generation. Everyone put their hands up,” Kliszus said. “They are among the most motivated people ever. For a young person to come here, they are incredibly motived, hungry to learn and hungry to be a success. It’s always exciting to see energy in our young people.”

Despite the funding shortfall, the Port Chester School District is still hiring, planning and moving towards the future. Over the summer, the district hired three new community coordinators for the elementary schools and 20-25 new staff and faculty.

But the lack of funding is not the biggest project the district will tackle this year. Overcrowding remains the highest priority.

How to overcome overcrowding

A Bond Advisory Committee has been put in place and was approved unanimously by the Board of Education during their Aug. 31 meeting. The committee consists of 30 community members. They are: Rosemarie Barone, Joan Carriero, Thomas Ceruzzi, Thomas Corbia, Susan-Anne Cosgrove, Kenneth Force, George Ford, Ana Isabel Gonzalez, Stephen Greto, Gregory Guarino, Jody Helmle, Richard Hyman, Maureen Josephson, Joseph Lodato, Laura Luzzi, Heather Mateus, Kevin McFadden, Keith Morlino, Chrissie Onofrio, Denise Quinn, Patricia Rinello, Eric Rios, Elizabeth Rotfeld, Lou Russo, Jennifer Sanders, Debra Scocchera, Stephen Simmons, Patricia Sutton and Albert Wesley.

Although their initial cap was 25 on the committee, the board decided they could not eliminate anyone.

“These people are invested in our schools one way or another and it wouldn’t be right to eliminate any of them,” Board President Jim Dreves said.

The group’s primary goal is to address overcrowding and present a management plan to the school board in November. This way, the community has input on how to handle the issue, as the last attempt at a bond failed in December 2015 mainly due to limited public participation.

Kliszus did not leave the team uninformed. He sent them all the narration and ideas drawn up by Fuller and D’Angelo P.C, Architects and Planners. All 30 of the members were presented three past options the architects created: adding onto Port Chester High School, a new building at Port Chester Middle School or transforming Park Avenue School into a ninth grade academy.

The first option still faces the same resistance to build anything at Port Chester High School, so Fuller and D’Angelo came up with the ideas to either add onto the corner of Tamarack Road and College Avenue or take away some of the parking lot on Tamarack Road for an expansion.

The Board of Education is also revisiting an idea they had in 2014 to relocate either fifth or ninth grade to an addition at the Port Chester Middle School.

The third option is to convert Park Avenue School into a ninth grade academy and build additions at John F. Kennedy School and King Street School for the displaced elementary students.

The committee will deliberate these options, meet with the architects to ask questions, and will enumerate their concerns for each option as well as ways to improve them. Their first meeting, which is open to the public, is on Sept. 13 from 6-8 p.m. in the Port Chester Middle School auditorium. The committee will be addressing the architects, asking questions and bringing forth any concerns they have about the options. The goal is for the members to present a plan to the Board of Education based on their work by Nov. 1.

“Enrollment in high school is growing every year; we’re already above capacity,” Kliszus said. The overcrowding affects the teachers just as much as it does the students. Kliszus sees his faculty struggle to find an empty room during their preparation period as only one or two rooms in the school are empty during the day. In addition to that, having too many students means cutting down on what courses can be offered and makes it harder to add more classes, as the schools simply don’t have the room for new equipment.

“It’s not something new, it’s ongoing,” Kliszus said.

“The building project is to manage it,” he continued. “We’ve kept the buildings in shape, but we need to address overcrowding. Elementary class sizes are among the highest in the county. We are at the higher end with about 22-27 kids per class, but the normal sizes are 18-22. We’d like to lower class sizes.”

Giving students a choice

At the end of the day, even though their students might all have to sit in a class with little elbow room, Port Chester puts an emphasis on feeling comfortable in school and graduating with options.

When he was younger, the Port Chester superintendent loved school. He remembers a few teachers who made him feel respected and cared for, which made him look forward to seeing them every day in the classroom.

“I want everyone to have that teacher,” he said. “My whole premise is a couple things. I want classrooms to be a place of joy and happiness. It may sound silly, but it’s for real.”

“We want to have kids graduating with choices and options,” Kliszus continued. “We want to give them as many choices as possible.”

“No one is dictating what they should do, we want them to have all those options. Too many people are told when they’re young that you’re going to do this when you grow up, and that’s wrong,” he concluded.