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August 31, 2013

Area schools: Stakes have been raised

New mandates mean more pressure for students, teachers

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — With schools opening for students this week, area superintendents said Friday they were looking forward to opening day. Most said they expect a good year, although recently revised curriculum standards and new teacher-evaluation systems loom as potential challenges.

“Everybody is really excited about a new start,” said Unatego Central School Superintendent Charles Molloy. “I always look forward to seeing the kids.”

He said he has met with his administrators and “everything is in place,” for the Wednesday opening. Although a construction project to retrofit bathrooms in the junior/senior high school won’t be finished, the bathrooms will be useable and the school will open on time.

In discussing the challenges schools face in the upcoming year, continued implementation of the Common Core curriculum was cited by all those interviewed on the issue. A system of state-mandated teacher evaluations, known as annual professional performance reviews (APPR), was also cited by some.

Scores on standardized tests based on the first year of the new curriculum showed a sharp drop in most New York schools. The state Education Department said last year’s test should not be compared to previous exams.

Instead, the scores should serve as a baseline.

The testing did not coordinate with all the curriculum, Molloy said, but that’s been improved for the upcoming year, and he said he was looking forward to a lot of improvement.

“It will require a lot of hard work from students,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work on staff development,” and the APPR will help by providing better supervision for teachers.

Laurens Central School Superintendent Romona Wenck said: “I love it when the kids come back.” Teachers have been in and out all summer getting ready for the students’ return Thursday, she said.Teaching to the Common Core will be a main focus as the district makes sure the curriculum aligns to what’s going on in the classroom. It will be a year-long goal to successfully implement the state modules, or lessons, in math and English language arts, but she said she was confident students’ scores would improve.

With the initiative, “the state is moving forward in a positive direction,” she said, in improving the skills and knowledge students have upon graduation. But the state has moved too fast with the process, leaving teachers and administrators without adequate time to absorb or implement it.

Wenck added that the APPR probably won’t be as helpful as the state had hoped. Every school negotiated with its teachers for an individual systems of review, she said, but the state needs to standardize the requirements so they aren’t as burdensome to implement. The time could have been better spent aligning the curriculum, she said.

Despite her concerns, she said she was looking forward to a successful year.

“I have very engaged teachers” providing a lot of opportunity for students, Wenck said.

Unadilla Valley Central School Superintendent Robert Mackey said the first day of school for students is Wednesday.

“It’s always fun to see the kids come back,” he said, adding he will see many during back-to-school night Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The main issue during the year will be the continued implementation of the Common Core. The expectations for learning will be higher but results should be better because teachers have had more time to review and prepare, he said. The teachers are excited and nervous because it will mean continued changes for all involved, he said, including parents who will see their kids coming home with more work, he said.

“We will continue to expand the APPR to cover more elements,” he said.

While some schools started with everything, “we started small.” It will be an important resource as teachers make shifts in their lessons to better align with the common core.

With the help of administrators, he was certain scores would improve. “I’m excited to see how well our students can learn.”

At the Oneonta City School District, Superintendent Joseph Yelich said teachers and principals are working together to create common practices, curriculum assessments and intervention strategies to help students meet the new standards. With classes starting for students on Thursday, “I’m looking forward to opening day,” he said.

Having started in July, he is getting oriented to the buildings, working with principals to make sure facilities are in top shape, and making sure staff is in place. He’s getting familiar with existing practices, he said, and will focus on supporting what works well and make changes where needed.

“It’s an ongoing process,” he said.

This is the first year sixth-graders will be going to the middle school. Yelich said Principal Kevin Johnson held an orientation to assure parents that the change provides significant educational opportunities, though the changes were made initially made out of budget concerns. Some of the benefits includes increased opportunities in arts, music and technology, Yelich said, and having all the sixth-grade teachers together will also help with instruction. The grade is separated from others, so it will have its own lunch and physical education periods. Recent administrative changes have also been well-integrated, he said.

At Delaware Academy Central School, Superintendent Jason Thomson said students return Wednesday.

“We love what we do and we love our kids,” he said. “We can’t wait to see them.” With Common Core and APPR under way for a year, “we know what to expect,” he said, and having recently met with administrators and board of education, “we have a good plan moving forward.”

With the recent state test results, “word is out that the expectations are greater for everyone,” he said. Parents and community can call the school to discuss the changes. More information can be found at www.engageny.org. It explains the Regents reform agenda.

During the summer there was professional development for teachers and staff on issues including aligning the curriculum. “It’s a testament to all they were so well-attended,” he said. “We will continue to work hard and do better with tremendous support from the community.”