Friday, February 23, 2018

Reflecting on tragedy and student safety

It has been just over a week since the unimaginable tragedy occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. My heart is heavy thinking of the 17 lives that were lost and the many other lives that in a blink of an eye, have been forever changed. At the same time, I can only hope that we never experience this kind of grief first hand.

As a country, we mourn the victims of this senseless act. Still, as we struggle to process this tragic event, we call on state and federal leaders to have the courage to seek meaningful solutions and take bold action to prevent tragedies like Parkland and Sandy Hook, from repeating time and again.

As we prepare to welcome students back on Monday, February 26, I want to assure you that as a district, we take the responsibility of protecting the children in our care very seriously. We are always assessing and reassessing our safety policies, procedures and protocols; however, in the wake of the recent Florida school shooting, we reflect even deeper on our safety practices as we strive to be proactive as opposed to reactive.

The following are some of the measures our district currently has in place intended to keep our students safe and facilities secure:

  • All doors in both buildings are locked at all times.  
  • Both buildings have a single, secure point of access during school hours and all visitors are "buzzed in" through a secure vestibule where they must present an ID, as well as sign a visitor's log and obtain a badge.  
  • Both buildings are equipped with internal and external surveillance cameras, which are monitored via computer.  
  • District and building-wide school emergency response plans are provided to staff members.
  • Numerous safety drills are practiced throughout the school year.  The Watervliet Police and Watervliet Fire Departments participate in many of our safety drills to remain familiar with the layout of both schools.  
  • Teachers and staff are required to wear identification badges during the school day.  
  • Before being hired, all employees are fingerprinted and background checks are conducted by the New York State Education Department.  
  • The WPD periodically conducts active shooter trainings in our buildings at times when students and staff are on vacation. Law enforcement also has representation at our Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Committee meetings.  
  • We have increased our mental health trainings, and will be introducing substance abuse/mental health counseling to our campus beginning next year.  
  • The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) is a component of school safety. Each building has a DASA coordinator, and any child or adult who feels bullied or threatened is strongly encouraged to report these incidents to the DASA coordinators for investigation. 

Lastly, in recent months Police Chief Mark Spain and I along with my administrative team began steps toward restoring a cooperative partnership between his department and our schools. To that end, Officer Chris Toleman, who has been with the WPD for four years and served in the Mechanicville PD before that, is working as a liaison between the police department and our schools.

In an effort to develop proactive and positive relationships with our students and staff, Officer Toleman will visit our schools as his schedule allows, and introduce himself to students and staff. I want to emphasize that Officer Toleman is not serving in the capacity of a School Resource Officer. He is not stationed in our school buildings, nor does he participate in any disciplinary actions or de-escalation efforts with students.

It remains important for teachers, staff, parents, students and community members to work toward a common goal of keeping our schools safe. The adage “if you see something, say something” could not be more important in today’s world, and could be a determining factor in preventing future tragedies. Please do not hesitate to report any threats of violence against our students or schools, or questionable behaviors that you hear about or see on social media to school leaders and law enforcement.

In the meantime, please know that we will continue to work every day to maintain a safe, positive environment for all of our students. As always, I encourage you to reach out to your child’s building principal or contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns.

Resources for helping children cope with trauma

The following links are resources to help reassure students who are troubled by this tragedy or are feeling anxious about returning to school in light of the extensive media coverage of this horrific event. Please be sure to let children know that they can talk to their school counselors or social workers at any time, if they feel the need.

Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

National PTA School Safety resources

Monday, January 29, 2018

Will we be able to sustain the progress?

In recent years, increases in state aid and a conscientious approach to budgeting have given our district the ability to restore people, programs and services. In addition, grant funding has allowed us to create more opportunities for our students, including the ExTRA after-school program and Grade 9 Pivot program. The steady progress we have made could hang in the balance given that the state has an estimated $4 billion budget gap to close and uncertainties about federal funding exist, including the as-yet unknown effects of the recently enacted federal tax reforms.

2018-19 Executive Budget proposal: WCSD state funding increase just shy of 2 percent 

In mid-January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented his executive state budget proposal, which includes a $769 million increase in overall school funding for the 2018-19 school year.

Under the governor’s proposed state fiscal plan, Watervliet would receive an additional $144,263 (1.2 percent increase) in Foundation Aid for the 2018-19 school year. Foundation Aid is the main source for funding day-to-day school operations.We also would receive state funding to reimburse expenditures including transportation and BOCES services for which the district has already paid. After factoring in the expense-based and other aid categories (prekindergarten, building aid), our overall funding increase from the state next year would total about $336,000, or 1.8 percent.

The executive budget proposal also designates funding for community schools, after-school programs, teacher development and school breakfast initiatives. Similar to other categorical aids, the state earmarks this funding for specific uses.

The perspective of the state’s leading education groups

The education funding proposed by the governor once again falls short of the increases recommended by both the state Board of Regents and the Educational Conference Board (ECB), a coalition of the state’s major education groups. The Regents called for a $1.6 billion increase in Foundation Aid that includes funding for targeted priorities, such as increased support for English Language Learners. Read the SED memo

Meanwhile, the ECB recommended an increase of $2 billion in state Foundation Aid for the 2018-19 school year; estimating that an increase of $1.5 billion alone would be necessary for schools to continue to provide current programs and services. Read ECB’s position paper

Mark your calendars for upcoming budget work sessions 

During the coming weeks as we develop our 2018-19 school budget proposal, our district leadership team will be analyzing current programs and services, prioritizing academic needs in our schools, and identifying ways to balance our budget given rising costs, which include contractual increases in salaries and changes in pension rates. Throughout the process, we hope to gather feedback from you our community. We plan to schedule at least three budget work sessions, the first one in March, before the Board of Education adopts the proposed budget in April. The dates of these meetings and presentations are as follows:

  • Thursday, March 8:  Board of Education meeting:  Budget Presentation (Workshop #1) - WJSHS Conference Room, 6:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 10:  PTA meeting:  Workshop #2 - WES cafeteria, 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 14:  Budget Breakfast (Workshop #3) - WJSHS Conference Room, 9:00 a.m.

I do not want to sound any alarm bells just yet, as the release of the governor’s executive budget proposal is only the beginning of state budget negotiations. During the next several weeks, both houses of the State Legislature will analyze and deliberate the governor’s proposal and set priorities before a final state budget is adopted by the April 1 deadline. If the past is any indicator, budget bills presented by the Assembly and the Senate have traditionally included additional funding for schools. I have invited Assemblyman John McDonald to our Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8 to provide an update on the state budget process and share his insight into the school funding picture.

One final thought: Both the Board of Regents and the ECB continue to advocate for the state to fully fund the Foundation Aid Formula, which was designed to ensure that all school districts receive adequate funding. Enacted in 2007, the phase-in of this formula was put on indefinite hold as the state and the country weathered a deep economic recession. The State Council of School Superintendents estimates that as a result of the lapse in implementing the formula, many school districts across the state continue to be under-funded, including our district to the tune of $3 million.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

In the spirit and season for giving

During the month of December, I have been reminded of the giving and generous spirit of our teachers, staff, students and families. Generosity is the elementary school’s word of the month, and the true meaning of that word was demonstrated throughout our district this month. 

Second grade teacher Kim Tallmadge and her colleagues again organized a pajama collection for Scholastic Book Club's Great Bedtime Story Pajama Drive. The drive kicked off with Pajama Day on December 8 where for a $1 donation elementary students got to wear their pajamas in school for the whole day (fun!). Between staff and student donations, the event netted approximately $800, which was used to purchase pajamas. In the meantime, more than 60 pairs of pajamas were also collected during the drive. The nice part is that through this effort, 137 of our own students will receive a wrapped pair of pajamas and a book, plus we will be able to donate over 65 pairs of pajamas to Scholastic for its Bedtime Story Pajama Drive. 
Elementary School teachers and staff participate in a Giving Tree each year to help support the community’s families in need at the holiday time. Faculty and staff select gift tags from a tree, then purchase and wrap the requested items, which are then distributed to local families.While at the Junior-Senior High School, teachers and staff contributed to the Watervliet Housing Authority’s Adopt-A-Family program. My sincere appreciation to everyone whose support is helping to make the holidays brighter and happier for struggling families in our community.

The Junior High School Student Council also organized its annual Adopt-an-Angel for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Funds collected help grant wishes for local kids with life-threatening illnesses.

Many of our students showed generosity by helping others through community service. I visited the Watervliet Senior Center on December 20 where our student athletes from the boys' junior varsity and varsity teams volunteered to serve meals to senior citizens at the center's annual Holiday Luncheon.
Our National Honor Society members served meals at the Capital City Mission in Albany, as they do several times each year.  The students assisted with the set-up, service and clean-up at the mission, which provides meals to the homeless on a daily basis.

Looking ahead 

As the first semester winds down, my focus will pivot to developing the school budget as it does each year at this time. In January,  Governor Cuomo will deliver his State of the State address and his Executive Budget proposal. Using the financial information outlined in the Executive Budget as a baseline, school business manager Keith Heid and I will work together to develop a proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year that is reflective of our commitment to students and the community. The school budget proposal will be vetted by the Board of Education and presented for its approval in April. Then the district's proposed plan will go before city residents for a vote in May 2018.

It is difficult to make any predictions at this point, but given the state’s projected budget deficit, developing the budget could be a dicey process this year. That said, I invite you to attend the February Board of Education meeting (Thursday, Feb. 8 at 6:00 p.m.) when Assemblyman John McDonald will join us to share his thoughts about the state budget proposal and projected aid to schools.

There are also some new and exciting initiatives and programs on the horizon that will benefit our students and schools. I don't want to reveal much information now as the details are being worked out. That said, I will share more on these initiatives in the new year once everything is in place and finalized.

For now, on behalf of the Board of Education and the Watervliet City School District staff and administration, I wish you a joyous, healthy and peaceful holiday season with family and friends. Great things to come in 2018!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Urban Schools Conference proves inspirational & motivational

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Urban Schools Conference in Albany with a team of educators from our schools. The conference, presented by the Schenectady City School District and the Capital Region BOCES, featured diverse speakers and offered breakout sessions on topics relevant for educators – most especially those teaching in urban classrooms.

While I have attended many seminars and workshops during my 26 years in education, this conference was the most dynamic and engaging professional development I have participated in by far. The keynote speaker ‒ Dr. Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education and Director of Science Education in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University and Associate Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education ‒ delivered a powerful message. In it, he challenged educators to think differently about their practices and approaches to teaching and learning from the student’s perspective, which includes allowing the culture of our youth in guiding instruction.
Dr. Emdin earned a Ph.D. in Urban Education with a concentration in Mathematics, Science and Technology, a M.S. in Natural Sciences, and Bachelor’s degrees in Physical Anthropology, Biology, and Chemistry, and he was awarded the 2016 Early Career Award by the American Educational Researchers Association and 2015 Multicultural Educator of the Year by the National Association of Multicultural Educators.

Other speakers and presenters at the Urban Schools Conference focused on topics including understanding trauma, meeting needs of students, awareness and empathy, cultural responsiveness and building resilience.

The team of educators who attended the conference with me all agreed this was an enlightening and worthwhile experience. Below I share with you their thoughts and takeaways from the event.

Dr. Emdin's keynote address at the Urban Schools Conference was full of "grit," which made every educator who was listening think about their approach to urban students. Teachers have been steadily teaching with the existing model, the way that they learned when they were in school. Dr. Emdin made us all think about the needs of our urban populations facing poverty, broken families, racial tension, and so on. As the conference continued the various sessions focused on instructional practices and suggestions for educators to begin putting Dr. Emdin's words into action. Our team from Watervliet now has the mission of sharing with the rest of our staff about the careful consideration and approach we use with our urban population. ∼Don Stevens, Director of Literacy and Universal Pre-Kindergarten 
I was impressed by the entire conference. There were so many practical strategies shared. Watching Dr. Emdin speak reinforced why I became an urban educator. What really resonated with me was when Dr. Emdin said, "they don't need you to save them, they need you to introduce them to their brilliance on their own terms." Educating urban students is no easy task.  Plain and simple, our students face more obstacles than we do.  Some wake up hungry and go to bed hungry, many uncertain of their future. We can't fix everything and we certainly can't pretend to understand where they're coming from.  We can just help guide them and reinforce the good that they are. It won't happen overnight, and for some, it may not happen at all, but it is our job to show them their brilliance, on their terms.  Kelly Webster, WJSHS Assistant Principal
I felt the conference was motivating. All the speakers were very professional and engaging. I would recommend others listen to Byron Garrett and his ABC's of life. I found it to be quite inspiring.  Dennis Lane, teacher 
I thought the conference was great. I have never been so engaged by a keynote speaker, Dr. Christopher Emdin really hit home when speaking about connecting with students and allowing school to be a free place to express their feelings and emotions. As educators, we need to embrace their culture and welcome the diversity into the curriculum we teach. A real "ah-ha" moment for me was when Dr. Emdin spoke about how we as educators need to just be us when teaching our kids. If we want to be able to connect with our students, we need to show them we aren't just teachers but actual people, too. Once that happens, we will be able to connect and gain trust, and ultimately bring out the greatness within them! ∼ Katelyn McKenna, high school guidance counselor
The Urban Schools Conference was very eye-opening. Dr. Emdin challenged our current practices by reframing how we look at education. He said that the pedagogies of the past won't help our students be successful in the future. ∼ Maria Westbrook, school social worker
I think one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Christopher Emdin was, "if you don't clear the emotional space, you can't learn in the place." This is something I think is essential for us educators to understand. It is vital for us to relate to our students, and for them to feel comfortable first, then they will be in a much better mind to learn. ∼ Kelly Bariteau, elementary school counselor
As a small urban school district, our student population, while not as numerous as our neighbors in Schenectady, Albany or Troy, still faces the same significant challenges. We have children living in poverty, who struggle on a daily basis with hunger, physical or mental health issues. Some face adversities at home that we cannot imagine that affect their behaviors in school and often become barriers to learning.

As urban educators, we must be cognizant of this reality and its impact on students. It is imperative that we adjust our mindset and find ways to meet our students’ needs and improve outcomes. This can be a daunting task, but I know we are all up to inspiring, educating, challenging and supporting every student, every day!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Importance of kindergarten attendance cannot be overstated, Food for Fuel program in the spotlight

In the interest of increasing children’s learning opportunities, last year our district joined with Cohoes to ask our elected officials to sponsor legislation to lower the mandatory age for school attendance from six to five years-old in our respective communities. Gov. Cuomo signed the bill into law in early September, which coincidentally is National School Attendance Awareness Month.

The path to academic success begins early. Research has determined that kindergarten students who attend school regularly outperform their peers by first grade. Conversely, children who are frequently absent in kindergarten show lower levels of achievement in math, reading and other fundamental skills during first grade. That same research shows that youngsters who continue on the path of chronic absence -- defined as 18 or more days in a school year -- through first grade, are less likely to read proficiently in third grade. That is why it is so important for all of us as a community to build good attendance habits from the start in an effort to support student success in the long term.

According to Attendance Works, the effects of poor attendance are most evident among children from low-income households who need more time in the classroom to master reading and are less likely to have access to resources outside of school to help them catch up. We see that in our district where  children are entering school with highly diverse levels of academic readiness. By lowering the compulsory attendance age to five, our hope is that our youngest students will attend school more consistently and our families will recognize the importance of kindergarten and its role in providing the foundation essential for school success in later years. (Attendance Works is a national organization dedicated to improving the policy, practice and research around attendance.)

As educators, we understand that kindergarten plays a pivotal role in preparing children for school and for learning. I applaud Assemblyman John McDonald and Sen. Neil Breslin for recognizing this, and I thank them for their support of this legislation to make attendance mandatory, as it will ensure 5-year-old children receive the educational benefits that early learning programs provide.

Lights, camera, Food for Fuel!

In addition to being school attendance month, September is also Hunger Action Month. With 75-80 percent of our student population qualifying for free- and reduced-price school lunch, we know that many of our students lack access to regular meals when school is not in session.

In an effort to alleviate hunger for our students in need, last year we joined forces with the Watervliet Civic Center to launch the Food for Fuel program, which provides backpacks filled with nutritious food for the weekend to elementary students referred by teachers or other staff members. Funding for Food for Fuel was obtained with grants and donations from United Way Greater Capital Region, Walmart, SEFCU, J,M, McDonald Foundation, Kinderhook Bank, Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust and the Watervliet Teacher's Association.

This week, our Food for Fuel program was the focus of Backpack Heroes, a month-long fundraising initiative sponsored by CBS 6 and Fidelis Care that supports the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in its effort to combat weekend hunger for students in local communities, including our Food for Fuel program.

A CBS 6 news crew along with venerable news anchor Liz Bishop interviewed several of our students, parents and staff members about the benefits of the Food for Fuel program. [Go to CBS 6 news video] CBS 6 and Fidelis Care also organized a live phone bank at the elementary school to raise money for the Regional Food Bank. The event, which was broadcast live on Channel 6, was a huge success -- raising $10,000.

I could not be more proud of our Board of Education members, teachers, staff and administrators who volunteered their time working the phones. I especially thank Don Stevens, Geraldine Ferris and Civic Center Director Bill Sheehy for their behind-the-scenes work with CBS 6, Fidelis Care and the Regional Food Bank on this important initiative. My gratitude to CBS 6 and Liz Bishop as well for visiting our school and highlighting this program.

To help combat hunger year round, I encourage you to visit the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York website to learn how you can help the organization take action against local hunger through volunteering or donating.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Our challenge: engage every student in learning

The sun is setting earlier, the air is a little crisper, and student athletes have returned to the track and the field for fall sports practices – all signaling that summer’s end is near. I hope you were able to relax, have fun with family and friends, travel and rejuvenate over the summer break, and are now as ready and energized as I am for the start of school!

Summer reading

Summer vacation offers time to catch up on reading, whether it be reading for pleasure or reading to learn. Just as our students were given a reading assignment this summer so was the district’s leadership team. Although students typically get to select which books to read, my administrators and I all read the same book:“Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement” by Eric Jensen.
As any student will tell you, reading assignments do not end after the final word on the last page has been read. There is typically a report or a project associated with the book. Same holds true for my administrative team, whose assignment is to collaborate throughout the school year to develop and present professional learning opportunities for teachers and staff based on the strategies outlined in the book.

The leadership team agrees that this is an important initiative because over the past several years the percentage of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch has grown in our schools. The increase in poverty is not unique to Watervliet. According to a Sept. 2015 report by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC), the number of people living in poverty has risen across the Capital Region, with children making up a majority of the increase.

Poverty and the achievement gap

The same CDRPC report indicates that despite similar attendance rates, students in urban schools lag behind their suburban and rural counterparts with respect to test scores and graduation rates. That is not surprising given the mountains of research on poverty and its effects on learning. I share the data below as two examples of the research:

  • A March 2014 report "Poverty: The Effect on the Whole Child" by Save our Schools, Inc. found that 40 percent of children living in poverty are not prepared for elementary learning.
  • The US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics suggests that by the end of 4th grade, African-American, Hispanic and low-income students are already two years below grade level; and by the time they reach the 12th grade, they have fallen four years behind.
The question becomes, how do we change this? In his book, Jensen, a former middle school teacher, says that to persuade kids who face adversity on a regular basis to graduate, we must keep them in school. To accomplish this, our classrooms need to be relevant, engaging and nurturing places where kids feel safe and respected. The author emphasizes engagement as a key factor in motivating economically disadvantaged kids to stay in school and on track to succeed, while adding that it benefits all students regardless of economic status, as well.

For these reasons, we have chosen to focus professional learning for staff on increasing engagement in our classrooms. All teachers – kindergarten through grade 12 – will have an opportunity to read the book during the school year and participate in small and large group activities and discussions on the themes and strategies described in this book.

As educators, we have the power to make positive differences in the lives of our students. I ask you to challenge yourselves every day by asking, “Am I doing everything in my power to make sure that my students are engaged in learning?”

Free school breakfast/lunch extended to WJSHS students 

We have an opportunity this year to address another known barrier to learning: hunger.

Following the success of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) at the elementary level this past year, we applied for and received approval to expand the CEP to Watervliet Junior/Senior High students beginning in September 2017. That means every student – prekindergarten through high school – will be eligible for free school meals: breakfast and lunch. Students participating in after-school extracurricular programs will also receive afternoon snacks free of charge.

The CEP is a national program, overseen locally by the State Education Department, that allows eligible high-needs schools to serve breakfast and lunch free of charge to all students, regardless of family income. We first implemented the program at the elementary school level, which was successful in raising participation rates for lunch by about 11 percent and breakfast by 27 percent.

The provision, authorized under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, permits eligible schools, like ours, to provide meal service and after-school snacks to all students at no charge. Our district qualified for the CEP based on the number of students who are eligible to be directly certified for free school meals.

I have asked administrators and staff to encourage students to participate in the free school meals program because when students are hungry, they struggle to learn. By offering healthy, well-balanced meals at no charge, we can alleviate the distraction that hunger creates and allow every student, every day to focus on learning.

Welcome back Cannoneers!

Nothing says back-to-school like a Friday night “under the lights!” If you’re ready for some football, I invite you to come out and support Watervliet's varsity football team as they kick off the 2017 season with the first home game on Friday, September 1 at 7:00 p.m. vs. Taconic Hills. Go Cannoneers!

In the meantime, enjoy this final full week of summer vacation! I look forward to welcoming back teachers and staff on Tuesday, Sept. 5, and greeting our students and families for the first day of the 2017-18 school year on Wednesday, Sept. 6.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Best year yet!

WHS seniors on Superhero Day
From the little superheroes marching in the annual WES Halloween parade to the “superhero” seniors marching into their final classes this past week, I am reminded of how exceptionally fast this year has gone by.

As I shared during the most recent Board of Education meeting, I consider this school year to be one of the best in my 12 years in the district, five as superintendent. The administrative team has been working so cohesively and consistently toward achieving our long-term goals. In particular, the work accomplished to implement Response to Intervention (RtI) at the elementary and secondary grades has been remarkable. RtI uses a tiered approach to identifying and supporting students with learning and behavioral needs through routine screening and high-quality instruction to reinforce academic and social development. The administrative team’s efforts to introduce the extended day or ExTRA program also has been extraordinary. This grant-funded initiative is helping increase academic achievement for struggling students in grades K-8 through before- and after-school support, enrichment activities and a summer learning program.

Our district completed an in-depth review and analysis this year of our special education program with assistance from CASDA, the Center for School Improvement at the University of Albany's School of Education. Much credit to Special Education Director of Programs and Pupil Services Janelle Yanni and her staff for the intense work they have done to reflect on what has been working, while also resolving to make changes that will better support learning for our special needs students.

I am especially proud of first-year administrators, UPK and Literacy Director Don Stevens and WJSHS Assistant Principal Kelly Webster, who have brought a new energy and enthusiasm to our buildings.

Board of Education transitions

Dr. Caplan with Mike Hartkern and Mark Scully
During our final Board of Education meeting of the 2016-17 school year, we recognized outgoing Board President Mark Scully and board member Mike Hartkern for their service to our schools, students and community.

Mark has served on the school board for the past 15 years and during his tenure, he has been rock solid. He has seen the district through a series of building projects that have vastly improved our buildings and facilities, and never shied away from making tough decisions when called for during challenging fiscal times. Mark is the consummate gentleman, educational supporter, advocate for children, staff and our schools. He is epitome of all a school board president should be. I, personally, will miss his leadership and his friendship.

I also wish nothing but the best to Mike Hartkern who served one term (three years) on the board. With two young sons attending WES, I am certain that he will remain highly engaged in our schools and community.

In July, I look forward to welcoming and working with two new board members, Steve Hoffman and Mary Beth Whited who won election in May, as we continue to move the district forward.

Congratulations Class of 2017

The end of the school year is such a bittersweet time. In fewer than two weeks, we will bid farewell to group of about 100 students who we have been educating, inspiring and challenging for the past 13 years of their lives. As the Class of 2017 prepares to move on from Watervliet High School, I wish them all the best in the next chapter, whether that be college, the workforce, or the military. The WHS commencement begins promptly at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 22 in the Harry Tucker gymnasium.

Speaking of our soon-to-be graduates, it is with much pride that I recognize Evan Tambolleo and Brianna Johnson for earning top honors as valedictorian and salutatorian of the Class of 2017, respectively. Evan is graduating with a 98.9 grade point average and plans to study industrial engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) this fall. Brianna, who is graduating with a grade point average of 96.5, plans to attend Johns Hopkins University to study biomedical engineering/pre-med. Both students are National Honor Society officers and were involved in a number of extracurricular activities throughout their school careers. I have no doubt they will be highly successful in their future endeavors!

Farewell to our retiring educators, staff members

Lastly, I thank this year’s retirees for their years of service to the district and commitment to our students. Congratulations and best wishes to WHS social studies teachers Bryan Satterlee and John Grill, WHS art teacher Beverly Lavick; WES teachers Kathi Grill and Mary Sennett; and WES teaching assistants Julia King, Tess Newbury and Karen Corey.

To our students, teachers and 10-month staffers, please enjoy a relaxing, safe and fun summer! We will do this all again starting in September.