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February 18, 2012

Reporter's Notebook: Sidney youth lauded for contributions to Boys & Girls Club

By Mark Boshnack
Daily Star

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The Boys & Girls Club of Sidney named 12-year-old Ragan Knowles as its "Youth of the Month," according to a media release. The award is presented to a member to recognize outstanding contributions to their family, school, community and club.

Sidney resident Ragan has been a club member since June 2009 and is in seventh grade at Sidney Middle School, where she is on the honor roll. Besides spending time with friends at the club and playing in the game room, Ragan is a junior staff member who volunteers at the club's sign-in desk almost daily.

The Sidney club provides after-school and summer programming to more than 550 youths annually between the ages of 5 and 19. It is a charter member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. More information on the club is available at www.bgcsidney.com.

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Following an agreement between state and teachers' union officials on a teacher and principal evaluation system, New York State School Board Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in a media release he was hopeful it would bring greater clarity to the issues remaining. This would bring the state closer to its goal of improving student achievement.

There may be "many thorny issues" still to be negotiated between school administrators and bargaining units. But with the lawsuit now settled between state Education Department and the union, "a better framework is in place for resolving some of those issues."

These include state Education Department-approved evaluation measures that should help ensure school leaders can negotiate rigorous evaluation criteria, he said. Having the Education Commissioner approve a local evaluation program is also an important step.

Being able to deny tenure to poorly performing probationary teachers and principals during an appeal is "a key victory for school districts and students," he said.

Concerns that remain include strict deadlines for review, approval and implementation, which could put school districts in danger of losing state aid if there are prolonged local negotiations.

"School boards agree that the evaluation system is, first and foremost, about sharing the teaching methods of exemplary teachers and providing developmental opportunities to those who need it," he said. "This will best serve students in the long run."

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Over 600 letters signed at a recent forum on school funding at Unatego High School made their way to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office recently, according to Sen. James Seward.

He met Wednesday with Cuomo's Deputy Secretary for Education, David Wakelyn, and delivered the letters.

Seward said he appreciated the chance to meet "on behalf of Unatego, and in essence, all of the schools I represent. It was an ideal opportunity to discuss the needs of many struggling schools and convey the message that New York's public education aid formula doesn't add up."

Seward has joined other upstate senators in calling for a change in the existing school-funding formulas to properly account for the financial condition of rural schools.

He has met with school administrators, teachers and citizen groups throughout his district to learn firsthand what measures are being proposed to deal with the governor's proposed education aid cuts.

"Unatego Central School, and other similar districts, are considering cuts to essential education programs, AP courses, even closing school buildings. The manner in which state dollars are distributed to low-wealth, rural schools must change to avoid gutting many of our upstate districts," Seward added.

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On Feb. 14, the Sidney Central School District Board of Education finalized its refunding of construction bonds. This will save the district more than $590,000 over the term of the bonds, according to a media release from Superintendent Bill Christensen. It came about because the district's overall Standard and Poor's bond rating was raised from A- to A+.

Christensen said, "the district's strong financial practices in combination with the strong district financial position has led to an increased overall financial rating." The savings generated by the refunding of the bonds will go back to taxpayers by being used to offset the annual tax levy, he said.

"We are very excited to continue to support our community stakeholders," Christensen said.

Mark Boshnack can be reached at 432-1000 or (800) 721-1000, ext. 218, or at mboshnack@thedailystar.com.