But Onteora Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill announced that the change had been put on hold due to the outpouring of protest and that, instead, a shared decision making committee will be formed to come up with a solution, so the music programs will not interfere with the last hour of instructional time.
Currently Chorus, Jazz, Strings and Band in grades four-through-six are taught during the last hour of the school day, leaving some teachers and principals conflicted over their interference with the academic schedule. State mandated music, taught to all students, is separate and continues to be taught during school hours.
McGill said with rising standards at the state level mixed with slipping graduation rates, more time needs to be spent on core subjects including writing. “Music is wonderful, be we are competing for time and I want them to come here for the academic program, I want them here for the music program — there’s no doubt in my mind,” said McGill, “I think we can do both and I think our kids deserve both.”
But once the announcement was made that the music program was to be moved to the early morning slot, McGill received a great deal of push back from parents concerned the new hours would kill the popular program. After McGill met with the Woodstock PTA, teachers and the Onteora Teacher Association, she decided to turn the process over to a shared decision making committee consisting of parents, teachers and administrators. McGill encouraged parents to join and expects a recommendation by January 3, 2012. “I will not wait until next spring because our children can’t wait until next spring.”
Some parents thanked McGill for creating the committee. However concerns were still heard, warning that the early morning time is unacceptable. Parent Carolyn Mow said, “For me it’s about our vision for education and what we want to provide for our children and what our goals are.”
In related news, the school board tabled adopting a provision that would allow Home School and private school children to enroll in extra curricular band or chorus program. The matter will be taken up again when the committee makes a recommendation.
Anyone interested in joining the shared decision making committee, contact Fern Amster in the central office at 657-8851 or email@example.com. The charge of this committee is, “To study and provide a plan for the weekly practice of Chorus, Orchestra, jazz Band and Band outside of the instructional time which is required for core academic subject instruction.”
McGill presented newly released State statistics that solidified her concerns over academic time in elementary school. Onteora’s graduation rates compared to other school districts throughout the state and county fall somewhere in the middle. The 2010-2011 graduation rate is 77 percent, although McGill explained that August numbers were not calculated yet, and that therefore it may increase some. But, in 2006-2007, Onteora had a graduation rate of 88 percent. As state standards increase, McGill explained the graduation rates appear to be slipping. The overall state average for 2010-2011 is 73.4 percent compared to 2006-2007 State average of 75 percent. With the exception of a few school districts in the county, all graduation rates have slipped, some dramatically while others not so much. “What I think about is when you have 23 percent of your students who are not graduating,” said McGill, “and I’m a little bit of snob of our district — I think we are capable of a lot more.” McGill said Onteora’s 77 percent graduation rate is, “not good enough.” She explained that the district has a “great faculty, great administrators and great school board,” but all must do a better job. “The future for someone who does not have a High School diploma is bleak, unless they’re completely entrepreneurial and have a million bucks to make a million bucks.”
Another new State statistic has emerged titled “Aspirational Performance Measure,” and acts as a gauge to see if kids are college ready. “This is a new measure and it says of those kids who graduated, how many students got at least a 75 on the English Language Arts regents and at least an 80 or better on one math assessment,” McGill said. Of the 77 percent who graduated from Onteora, only 48 percent are considered college ready. McGill viewed career and college ready as having similar traits and said the district needed more ways to prepare students better. During public commentary, retired strings teacher Wini Paetow asked if the graduation rate had any impact on the increase of poverty. “Looking at the numbers on the board, I wondered if it has been carefully considered, the poverty indexes.” In a separate conversation McGill said it’s difficult to compare with past numbers since records on poverty were not fully accurate.
The school board held a public forum a half hour before the start of the board meeting to address any concerns regarding the recent purchase of 50 surveillance cameras. No one spoke on the subject, and therefore the board spent the additional 20 minutes before the regular meeting in executive session. There was a rumor that recent senior pranks on the lawn of the High School were caught on surveillance and proposed as evidence. McGill said, “No it’s not true, because we would have used the cameras and we have no policy right now. The cameras are not being used, but I can tell you we’ve been field testing it.”
Money left over from reimbursed State Aid, Tax certiorari and contract settlements totaling to nearly $2 million was approved and placed in the new voter approved fund balance for facility upgrades. There was an additional $2 million dollars left over from the 2010-2011 school year that will be returned to tax payers to offset the levy.
The board approved the financial consulting firm Bernard P. Donegan, Inc. at an approximate cost range of $12,000 to $14,000. The firm will provide a long-range financial plan including ongoing financial problems such as the mothballed West Hurley building, long term facility upgrades and declining enrollment.
Final meeting for student rep
Student representative Angie Cross, soon to graduate, attended her last board meeting. “I will miss you guys so much, thank you for everything. I think to be honest, I will miss the food,” joked Cross. The new student representative will be Jessica Moss. William Melvin Jr., Onteora grad of 2009 and past student representative was in attendance and offered some advice. “It’s definitely a unique opportunity you’re being presented with and you should try your best to come to the meetings because they offer a perhaps more valuable lessen than what you learn in High School civics. Also do not be afraid to speak out especially when your opinion differs with those on the board because, believe it or not, they do listen to you and your experience is valuable. Also don’t be afraid that you do not know what’s going on or understand the issue at hand because, at the risk of being offensive, often when they (the board) start, they know no more than you do.” This was met with a roar of laughter and applause.++