Last updated: March 27. 2014 11:17PM -
By - smocarsky@civitasmedia.com

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The Hazleton Area School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of Superintendent Francis Antonelli to have the current 9th Grade Center become a school for kindergarten through second-grade students and use the Maple Manor building for third-through-eighth grade students.

The option was one of three presented by the architect working to renovate the Maple Manor building, which housed the former Bishop Hafey High School and before the school district bought it.

School Board President Robert Wallace said any option would require some redistricting, but this option will be least disruptive to students, affecting only about 5 percent of students districtwide.

Wallace said the opening of the Maple Manor school will eliminate the need for classroom trailers at the Heights, West Hazleton and Hazleton elementary-middle schools and alleviate overcrowding at Arthur Street Elementary. “That was the whole purpose of this,” he said.

Wallace also said there would be a public redistricting meeting before redistricting takes effect next school year so parents will have the opportunity to see a redrawn map and comment on it before the plan goes into effect.

Superintendent Francis Antonelli also informed the board that the state Department of Education will allow the district to count two Act 180 days as make-up days for two of the seven snow days this school year, and will not require the other five snow days to be made up.

That means seniors will graduate on June 11 as scheduled, and June 11 will also be the last day of school for all students.

HAZLE TWP. — In a move that appeased hundreds of parents and students, the Hazleton Area School Board on Thursday voted to allow all students who applied to the district’s Academy of Sciences and met admission requirements to enroll next school year.

With 179 eligible applicants for the 2013-14 freshman class and initial plans to accept only 125 students in any class at the “STEM” school, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, board members at a committee meeting last week argued about how acceptance should be determined, either based on admission scores or by lottery.

School Board President Robert Wallace began Thursday’s standing-room-only board meeting by making apologies, first to Superintendent Francis Antonelli and academy Assistant Principal Marie Ernst if he was confrontational and argumentative at the committee meeting. He praised the administrators for their work in the past week to come up with more options for the board to consider.

He also apologized to parents, students and fellow board members, saying the last thing he wanted to do was “pit parent against parent (or) student against student, and that has taken place. And the last thing I wanted to do was pit board member against board member, and let me tell you, that has taken place. … I should have kept my mouth shut until I found out all of the facts.”

Finally, he apologized for the board’s failure to address the issue until the week before acceptance letters were to be mailed. “If you want to be mad at somebody, be mad at me.” He then chastised anyone who accused any board member of backing a plan for personal reasons, calling it “insulting,” and said students’ best interest was everyone’s top priority.

He said Antonelli would explain a plan that the board and administrators consider “absolutely fair.”

Antonelli said 335 students — more than one-third of the eighth-grade class — applied for admission to the academy’s freshman class, showing there is “much interest and much excitement” about the school in the community. He also noted that eligibility criteria for the 2014-15 school year increased over this year’s.

Because the senior class at the academy has only about 70 students, “what I’m going to propose this evening is, because we have such a strong pool of 179 students meeting increased eligibility standards, that all 179 students are admitted to the academy next year,” Antonelli said, drawing applause from parents and students.

“Those 179 students will put us right where we need to be, at approximately 500 students for capacity at that facility. … Looking at the normal attrition rate and … the 70 who will graduate two years down the road, that leaves us with approximately 415 students. We can still, two years down the road, meet our requirement of 125 students per class …and still be only 38 students above our projections,” Antonelli said.

During public comment, several parents thanked Antonelli and the board, and several current students at the academy expressed concerns that classes would be too large and overcrowded if a class of 179 students was accepted.

Wallace said more teachers would be hired, if necessary, to ensure that doesn’t happen and that a board committee will begin working on an admission acceptance policy for the academy for future years.

The board voted unanimously to approve Antonelli’s proposal.

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