“We are now in the first phase of the most massive systemic requirement change in the history of education in the United State, forced by the RTT (Race To the Top) monies but also by the State’s Legislation,” Gregory said, at the October 12 Board of Education meeting at Phoenicia Elementary School.
New York State recently raised the academic bar for standardized tests in grades three-through-eight and as a result more students have falling below the allowable passing level.
Additionally budget cuts have forced the State to reduce and rethink the amount of tests administered to students including Regents exams. Children will begin standardized tests in the fourth grade instead of grade three and focus will be put on Math and ELA, integrating other subjects. Particular Regents tests are also on the chopping block, but at this point specific tests targeted are unclear. Gregory said she believed the tests would most likely focus on core academics. “We must not lose the fact that we are trying to educate the whole child, for the rest of his/her life,” Gregory said, “so our education should not just be based on these requirements, it’s got to be bigger and broader than that.” Gregory was met with vigorous applause by the only two parents in the audience.
Overall the State of New York was awarded nearly $700 million in Federal Race To the Top money with the State promise that changes will come. This includes additional oversight to student, teacher and administrator accountability.
The 2010 New York State School Report card was partially released and revealed a significant drop statewide in student achievement due to the higher standards. For Onteora, in 2010, between grades three-through-eight, students that achieved a passing grade of three and above in ELA scores averaged 61 percent, compared to 83 percent in 2009. Math scores for the same grades averaged 63 in 2010 dropping from 87 percent in 2009. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Kathleen O’Brien explained that these scores were still above the State average and number two highest in Ulster County, number one being the New Paltz school district. But she explained that the district has a lot of work to be done on bringing students up to the new standards. Intervention programs already in place will be expanded in order to help more students with core academics. O’Brien said, “As you can see by the test scores that there are more AIS (State Mandated Academic Intervention Services), eligible students, and what we need to do now is make sure they get the services they need, monitoring or, that teachers in the classrooms are given the strategy they need to meet students needs.”
Gregory said the district would be implementing a three-to-five year plan with a target of 90 percent mastery of improvement. She said it would be a difficult task with little resources. “You cannot do what has to be done on $71,000 unless you unite as a front.” She suggested using BOCES as the means to bring in professionals, while using a committee of the best teachers in the district to implement new ways. “So this is going to be massive change,” Gregory said as she described a classroom setting. “No more sitting in rows, listening to what I call the talking heads, it’s going to be much more facilitation, much more rapid use of technology with less pencils.”
After receiving a rash of complaints from parents over the past year on bullying behavior throughout the schools, the Board of Education has implemented and unanimously approved the district’s first bullying policy. It outlines what it believes bullying to be, including cyber bullying, off campus bullying that is related to school, prevention and intervention. Gregory said the district is directly addressing particular problems with individuals but also plans to have a scope of programming on several levels. “The cabinet next week is going to ask for more intense educational programs that need to occur at all levels of the system.”
Parent Lea Kwiecinski who has a child in Phoenicia school thanked the board for taking action. “There was an issue that arose at Phoenicia that was dealt with, but we need to bring this conversation to the larger national issue that we are seeing right now.”
Related to the subject of bullying, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 3 in the High School auditorium, parents and the community are invited to attend a seminar on cyber bullying. On hand will be members of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice and District officials. Gregory said it is important that parents are informed on what can go on through Social Networking. “I have to tell you, if there ever was a time in dealing with these new issues and their children, they need to come.”
External auditor Michael Rossi of West and Company conducted three audits of the district, including the district’s fund balances, external revenues, including grant money and extra classroom activity funds.
“The net assets for the district [are] currently about $19 million,” said Rossi. “That’s a little misleading because over time in about the next three or four years, the net assets of this district will be negative due to the $100 million liability that’s outstanding for the teacher and staff health insurance that we owe because we sign certain contracts throughout the years.” He said this is an accrual of the post retirement health insurance, based on the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB 45). Rossi commended the district for having a solid business plan run by a Business Administrator and Certified Public Accountant. “They do a wonderful job and we had very few adjustments, we found the records complete and accurate.” He said very few schools districts are so complete in their accounting and “it’s important because you are talking $50 to $60 million.”
Board Members discussed parameters for the district Task Force and are asking people to join. Responsibilities will include meeting at least once a month until the end of January, reviewing past grade configurations, enrollment and researching current educational data. The Task Force will be expected to make recommendations based on this research and a community vision. The board will fine tune specific responsibilities by the next meeting on October 26. Anyone interested in joining the Task Force can send an email to OnteoraBOE@onteora.k12.ny.us.
Transportation Director Dave Moraca was chosen by the State Education Department to be part of a school bus driver advisory committee. It is a three-year appointment where he will sit with a handful of other school transportation officials in Albany. He said it deals with issues such as performance tests, safety and transporting students with disabilities.++