Thursday, June 20, 2019

Congratulations Class of 2019!

The end of the school year is always a bittersweet time. Next week, we bid farewell to group of about 100 high school seniors who we have been educating, inspiring and challenging for the past 13 years of their lives. As the Class of 2019 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 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26 in the Harry Tucker gymnasium.

Reflecting back on a busy 2018-19 school year

As the 2018-19 school year comes to a close, I want to take this opportunity to look back on the year that was, and take note of several successful initiatives that were launched this year. 

We expanded the What I Need (WIN) program, which has been greatly beneficial for elementary students, to junior high school students (grades 7-8). The Win program offers additional support to students who need it in English language arts and math. 

Also at the junior high and high school level, we introduced a school mentoring program for all students in grades 7-11. Every teacher and administrator, as well as instructional support staff, agreed to be a mentor to at least one student this year. The purpose of the mentor program is to build personal relationships with students and provide positive supports that will help them feel more connected to school, and in turn, improve attendance and student engagement in learning.

School Based Health Center continues to serve students

Whitney Young began operating a school-based health center in our school district in September. The program currently provides health services to about 60 percent of our students. As mentioned in my previous blogs, the school-based health center is located at Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School, but serves all students, prekindergarten through grade 12, whose parents enroll them in the program. The school-based health center provides immunizations and physicals required for school, and there is never a co-pay or an out-of-pocket cost for any SBHC services! We are hoping to expand the enrollment so that we can provide a health center on-site at Watervliet Elementary School. The health center is possible through a partnership between our school district and Whitney Young Health.

PTECH to begin year two

Eleven of our students recently completed their first year in the Capital Region Pathways in Technology Early High School (P-TECH) program. I am so proud of our students who are on their way to earning both their high school diploma and an associate’s degree from HVCC in information technology through this four- to six-year program (grades 9-14).

About a dozen incoming ninth-graders will enter the PTECH program in September. To prepare for the program, the students will participate in a week-long Summer Bridge program during where they will have an opportunity to get to know their classmates better, meet the program’s business and education partners, and be immersed in fun STEM-based and team-building activities.

On the Move

The Board of Education, upon my recommendation, recently appointed Don Stevens to the position of assistant superintendent from director of curriculum and instruction. In this new role, Mr. Stevens will continue to administer all things related to curriculum, instruction and professional development with added leadership responsibilities.

Also, you may recall in January Kelly Webster moved from assistant principal at Watervliet Jr.-Sr. High School to principal at Watervliet Elementary School ‒ and she is doing a fantastic job there!

In other administrative news, beginning July 1, Michael Foust will become the assistant principal at WES, and David Wareing will return to the assistant principal position at WJSHS and take on the role of Athletic Coordinator. Over the summer, we will hire an assistant principal to fill Mrs. Webster’s former spot at WJSHS.

Farewell to our retiring educators, staff members

It is also a time to say good-bye to this year’s retirees and thank them for their years of service to the district and commitment to our students. Congratulations and best wishes to WHS social studies teacher Scott Burke and technology teacher Joe Facin; WES reading teacher Michaeleen Backus and cafeteria worker Elizabeth Sutherland.

Before they officially head out for a well-deserved summer vacation, I want to recognize our teachers and instructional support staff for the dedication, talent, energy and care they bring to educating our diverse student population. I value your efforts and your commitment to making a positive difference for every student, every day.

Thanks for supporting education

Finally, on behalf of the Board of Education, I thank everyone who took time to participate in the school budget vote and Board of Education election on May 21. I am grateful for the continued community support for our schools.

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.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Appreciating teachers

Teacher Appreciation Week

Around the country, this is National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10). Every student needs and deserves a champion. Our students depend on us to care for them, educate them and challenge them. I am proud to recognize and thank all Watervliet’s educators who not only teach but also care for and serve as role models for students in our schools.

I often remind teachers that although we cannot control the environment that our learners come from, we can be authentic and empathetic while creating a welcoming and nurturing environment so students can succeed during the time they spend with us at school. It is important to keep in mind, too, that the final weeks of the school year can be a restless and hectic time for students. I encourage teachers and staff to continue to be the positive and caring adults that our students can count on for support!

Tenure granted to five district educators

Five educators were recognized during the April Board meeting for earning tenure. Congratulations to grade 6 teachers Nikki LaBossierre and Anna Marie Magyar, elementary teacher Jennifer Williams, and high school science teachers Hillary Brochu and Cecelia Nicolaescu. Thank you for inspiring, educating and challenging every student, every day!

National Teacher of Year an inspiration to urban educators 

Speaking of teachers, it is inspiring to hear the words of Rodney Robinson, the newly minted Teacher of the Year. His is perhaps the most challenging – but I would bet also the most rewarding – task an educator can have. Mr. Robinson teaches social studies at the Binford Education Center, which is part of the Richmond Juvenile Detention Facility in Virginia. He believes ALL students, including those whose life experiences growing up in an urban environment have been difficult or greatly influenced by trauma and led to poor choices, deserve a high quality education and great teachers. He acknowledges that his students have made mistakes for which they are now paying, but he is committed to ensuring they get the second chance they deserve to overcome their challenges and succeed.

I applaud Mr. Robinson who says that as Teacher of the Year, he will use his voice to advocate for equity in education, which means making sure that all students receive the resources to achieve what they deserve, and cultural responsiveness to recognize the importance of including students’ culture in all aspects of learning. With these two principles, students can be empowered to achieve their goals. Read more about this amazing and dedicated educator

Top 10 students

Time now to recognize the Top 10 scholars of the Class of 2019! Congratulations to valedictorian Jared Sierra and salutatorian Waleed Ahmed, Alexis Dykes, Madyson Sawyer, Zagham Shah, Dylan Fumarola, Mustafa Raza, Dez’Jah Mitchell, Angelina Rodriguez and Hannah Linacre who round out the Top 10.
In addition to their outstanding academic performance, these students contributed to the school community in other ways: leadership, music and athletics. Although their intended college majors vary ‒from accounting to physics, and international trade to nursing – I know these Cannoneers will continue to make us all proud. Read more about the Class of 2019 Top 10

Remember to vote Tuesday, May 21

The annual school budget vote and Board of Education election takes place Tuesday, May 21 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., during which Watervliet voters will consider a $28 million budget for the 2019-20 school year. Under this budget proposal, we are able to preserve our educational programs, services and opportunities for students, and remain within our allowable tax levy “cap” as determined by the state's formula. More about the budget proposal

Every resident of the community 18 and older has a voice in the funding and elected leadership of our school district. Whether you’ve been voting for years or will cast your first ballot on May 21, whatever your opinion may be, I encourage you to vote. I only ask that you learn as much about the proposed budget as possible before you head to your polling location. Please visit the district's budget web page, where you can find details about the proposed 2019-20 school budget and its impact on our schools and community.

End-of-year events

As the end of the school year approaches, I am excited to share some important upcoming dates and events that are scheduled during these final weeks of school:

  • Wednesday, May 8 – Grade 6 Transition Night, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 9 – National Honor Society Induction Ceremony, 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 11 – Junior/Senior Prom, 7-11 p.m., Walk-thru, 6 p.m.
  • Monday, May 13 – Grandparents and Special Persons Night, 6:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 14 – Public Budget Hearing/Board of Education Meeting, 6 p.m. 
  • Thursday, May 16 – Garnet & Grey Spring Concert, 6:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 21 – Annual School Budget Vote/Board of Education election
  • Friday, May 24 through Tuesday, May 28 – No School, Memorial Day 
  • Thursday, May 30 – Spring Sports Awards Night, 6 p.m.
  • Monday, June 3 – NYS Regents Exam, 8 a.m.
  • Thursday, June 6 – Elementary Spring Concert, 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 12 – Senior Varsity Dinner, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 13 Board of Education Meeting, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, June 14 – WES Field Day
  • Tuesday, June 18 – Regents Exams begin
  • Monday, June 24 through Wednesday, June 26 – WES Half Days  
  • Monday, June 24 – UPK celebration, 9 a.m., 10 a.m. 
  • Tuesday, June 25 – Grade 6 Graduation, 9:30 a.m.
  • Wednesday, June 26 – Class of 2019 Commencement, 6 p.m., WHS gymnasium

Friday, March 22, 2019

2019-20 school budget development underway

The 2019-20 budget development process is underway, as School Business Manager Keith Heid presented a preliminary look at the budget numbers during the March Board of Education meeting. Mr. Heid reviewed our district’s projected expenditures based on the current academic programs and services we offer. He then recapped revenue estimates, including the amount of state aid we can expect to receive based on the governor’s state budget proposal. As mentioned in my previous blog post, our district could expect an increase of $151,731, or 1.2 percent more, in Foundation Aid under Governor Cuomo’s proposed Executive Budget.

This first look at budget estimates show a baseline budget gap of nearly $650,000 for the 2019-20 school year. That said, I remind everyone, including myself, that these are preliminary numbers, and that the budget process remains fluid as we wait for state budget negotiations to conclude in a few weeks, and we get a final determination on the amount of state aid our schools will receive.

In the meantime, as we move forward with developing our 2019-20 budget proposal, school leaders and administrators will continue to look closely at instructional and department-level priorities to identify areas for cost savings. At the same time, we will make every effort to preserve educational programs and opportunities that address our student needs, while being fiscally responsible to our community and working within the confines of the state’s tax levy cap.

There are two more budget workshops scheduled before the Board adopts its 2019-20 school budget proposal. I encourage parents, staff, students and community members to attend these workshops and learn more about the budget proposal before the public vote on Tuesday, May 21.

The workshops will take place:

  • Tuesday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m. at WES, and 
  • Saturday, April 13 at 9:00 a.m. at WJSHS    

Honoring women in history

This month during the morning announcements in honor of Women's History Month, our high school students have been recognizing one woman each day who has made a significant impact on history. They have honored civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Noble Prize winning scientist Marie Curie, poet Maya Angelou and Susan B. Anthony, a prominent leader in the women's suffrage movement and champion of women's rights, among others.

To borrow a page from their playbook, I thought it would be interesting, as an educational leader and a woman, to pay homage to the first female superintendent of schools in the United States. Like our students, I first had to do some research. After an online search, I learned that the honor of being the first female superintendent of a public school belongs to Phebe Sudlow of Iowa!

In the mid-1800s, Miss Sudlow was a public school teacher in rural Iowa for 12 years before being asked by the school superintendent in the city of Davenport to teach in his schools. Three years later, she was appointed principal. But before accepting the principal position, Miss Sudlow made it clear to the school board that she expected to receive the same salary that would be offered to a man – and she refused to consider working for less. After thinking it over, the school board agreed to her request and she became the first woman superintendent in our country's history.

Not only was she the first woman to earn the title of superintendent, but she also assumed all the responsibilities of school leadership. Equally important, I learned that Phebe Sudlow was a true warrior for equal rights! During a time when male educators dominated the field and earned quite a bit more than women doing the same job, Sudlow led the charge for equal pay for women educators who were teachers during that era. She also became the first female professor in the English Department at the University of Iowa in 1878, even though she had no formal college degree.

Miss Sudlow was a member of a charitable women’s group in the late 1800s, known as the Ladies' Industrial Relief Society in Davenport, that operated an “industrial school” for poor people in the city. There students learned sewing and cooking skills that would help them land good jobs.

Miss Sudlow paved the way for me and other women who are in leadership roles in today’s schools. I hope to pay that forward by inspiring more women in education to follow the path to leadership as administrators in their schools and districts.

Drama Club production of Aladdin Jr was pure magic

Finally, I cannot overstate how proud I was sitting in the audience for the WJSHS Drama Club’s performance of the musical, Aladdin Jr., last Friday night. I was incredibly impressed with the level of talent of the cast members and the skill of the stage crew. It really was magic! Congratulations to all the students involved, including:

  • ShaQuan Jenkins, Aladdin
  • Jah’Nye Griffin, the Genie
  • Leigh-Amber Loeper, Princess Jasmine

And the entire cast and stage crew: Mark Pompey, Taleea Watkins, Jahan Malloy, Steffanie Mammoser, Anisa Parsons, Kahlysa Parsons, Tyler Beauregard, Jared Sierra, Olivia Jones, Jade Chastin, Emma Macie, Daryn Curry, Paige Grimmick, Jaelyn Sharpe, An'Twanaizja Uptegrow, Paige McCulloch, Megan Polaro, Mikayla Caminiti, Abby Zawistowski, Camryn Reedy, Kevin Cecchetto, Kendryek Flynn, Melissa Mayo, Mimi Kaurejo.

Bravo to club advisers Ms. Becker and Mrs. Brochu for your hard work to make this happen. I look forward to seeing what the Drama Club has in store (or on stage) next year!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Equitable aid, sustainable programs are top priority for 2019-20 school budget

On Saturday, Jan. 26, I joined my superintendent colleagues at the Capital Region BOCES for a breakfast with legislators to discuss our priorities as leaders of public school districts.

Once again, our top priority is to make sure that districts receive adequate and equitable state aid to help sustain valuable programs and services and make it possible for schools to meet our students’ needs. We have asked that our elected officials consider the needs of students and the sustainability of school programs as they begin state budget negotiations.

As our own school budget development process gets underway, our focus remains the ability to preserve valuable programs and services for students in a fiscally responsible manner. This will be especially challenging minus adequate state funding, and working within the confines of the state’s tax cap.

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented a state budget proposal that includes a $956 million school aid increase for 2019-20. Under his proposal, overall school aid would total $27.7 billion, which represents a statewide increase of 3.6 percent.

For Watervliet, the governor's proposal would result in a 1.2 percent increase, or $151,731 more, in Foundation Aid than what we received in the 2018-19 budget cycle.

The bulk of the state aid increase is in two major categories: $338 million in additional Foundation Aid, which is the primary source of funding for everyday school operations, and $619.7 million to reimburse districts for designated expenses such as transportation, construction and BOCES services.

When factoring in those expense-driven and other aid categories, Watervliet would receive a total increase in aid of $487,345, or 2.5 percent.

Also under the governor’s plan, the state’s Property Tax Cap law would become permanent. Adopted in 2011, the law limits growth of local property taxes, including those for local school districts, to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Final tax levy limits for school district are also subject to a number of variables. For Watervliet, every 1 percent over the allowable limit would equal approximately $69,000.

The executive budget proposal is the formal beginning of budget negotiations between the governor and the New York State Legislature, with a final state budget due on or before April 1. The Board of Education will then adopt the proposed 2019-20 school budget on Thursday, April 18. The public will vote on the school budget Tuesday, May 21.

In the meantime, we have scheduled three budget workshops for the following dates:

  • Thursday, March 14: Board of Education meeting, 6:00 p.m., WJSHS administrative conference room
  • Tuesday, April 9: PTA meeting, 6:30 p.m., WES cafeteria
  • Saturday, April 13: Budget Breakfast, 9:00 a.m., WJSHS administrative conference room

Parents, teachers, staff, students and community members are invited to attend any or all of these workshops to learn more about the proposed school budget and share your thoughts during the budget development process.

Stay tuned for more information on our proposed 2019-20 school budget in the coming weeks.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Much to be grateful for heading into 2019

December has been a whirlwind at WCSD! As we approach the holiday break, there is much to be grateful for heading into 2019. 

Although we bid a fond farewell to WES principal Loida Lewinter, I am excited that WJSHS assistant principal Kelly Webster will step into the leadership role at the elementary school. Over the past two years, I have watched with pride as Mrs. Webster has grown into a knowledgeable and capable school leader. She will transition to the elementary school in early January. For those who don’t know her, Mrs. Webster served as a fourth-grade teacher at WES for several years before becoming the assistant principal at the junior-senior high school. While assistant principal, she made instant connections with students and served as an adviser for the Character Education/No Place for Hate program. She also collaborated with teachers and staff to launch a new student-mentoring program this year. I have no doubt junior-senior high school students and staff alike will miss her cheerful and energetic nature, yet I am more than confident she is the perfect choice to lead Watervliet Elementary School. Read more about Mrs. Webster's appointment to WES principal

District awarded prekindergarten grant 

Earlier this month, I learned that our grant application to begin a prekindergarten program for 3-year-old children was approved by the State Education Department. This is exciting news for the district! Having the ability to offer a high-quality early childhood education will prepare children for kindergarten and plant the seeds for success throughout their school years. For this program, our district has partnered with Achievements, a community-based organization that currently operates several prekindergarten programs in the former Maplewood School. The program will serve 14 3-year-olds and is expected to begin in late January. Read more about the new prekindergarten program 

Additional funding for Food is Fuel

Our friend Bill Sheehy of the Watervliet Civic Center recently shared the good news with me that the elementary school’s Food is Fuel program will receive an additional $5,500 thanks to the annual Backpack Heroes campaign. Backpack Heroes is a partnership between CBS 6, Fidelis Care and the Regional Food Bank that raises funds to support the backpack program, which helps alleviate hunger by providing children with backpacks full of nutritious and easy-to-prepare foods each Friday so they have food to eat during the weekend. You may recall that Watervliet Elementary School served as a site for one of the four live telethons hosted by CBS 6 News anchor Liz Bishop in the fall. I thank Fidelis Care, CBS 6 News and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York for their support of Watervliet’s children. I also applaud Mr. Sheehy for working tirelessly on behalf of the city’s children and securing enough food from Hannaford to provide 30 students at WJSHS with food for the weekend.
Watervliet Civic Center Executive Director Bill Sheehy and 6th grade teacher Nikki LaBoissiere work the phones during the Backpack Heroes telethon at Watervliet Elementary School in October.

Watervliet elementary and district staff, Fidelis Care representatives and CBS 6 News anchor Liz Bishop with the tally of the total amount raised during four Backpack Heroes telethons. 

Making holidays bright

Finally, I thank our student athletes for their community service. A group of fall and winter sports athletes recently visited the Watervliet Senior Center to serve the holiday lunch. It was heartwarming to watch the students interact with the seniors, and I felt a deep sense of pride hearing so many positive comments from the seniors about our students. Great job everyone!

Up next: school budget development begins

Looking ahead to the first few months of the new year, my focus will turn to creating the school budget. Governor Cuomo will deliver his State of the State address and his Executive Budget proposal in January. Using the fiscal data from the Executive Budget as a baseline, school business manager Keith Heid and I will work together to develop a proposed fiscal plan for the 2019-20 school year that is mindful of our commitment to students and the community. The Board of Education will provide input on the budget proposal and will then adopt the plan in April. The district's proposed plan will go before city residents for a public vote on May 21, 2019.

Please enjoy happy, healthy and restful holidays celebrated with family and friends! I wish you all the best for a healthy and successful 2019!

Monday, November 26, 2018

The power of human connection in education

I recently read an article about the 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year in the New York State School Boards Association online newsletter.

After reading it, I shared this inspirational story with the educators in our district because it speaks to the power of human connections and the importance of building relationships and trust with our students.

Alhassan Susso teaches social studies at the International Community High School in the Bronx. The State Education Department chose him as New York’s top educator from a field of 200,000 this fall because of his innovative ideas that have empowered his students to succeed. In addition to teaching his regular classes, Mr. Susso developed a special course that takes place an hour before the school day begins. This course helps his students – most all of whom are immigrants – prepare for their futures by building leadership, communication and fiscal planning skills. Despite some initial skepticism by administrators, Mr. Susso’s before-school program has proven effective for students, as illustrated last year when every student who participated in the course graduated, and 97 percent enrolled in college. Read the NYSED Press Release: 2019 NYS Teacher of the Year

What set Mr. Susso apart is his powerful story of overcoming the odds to achieve success. He emigrated to the United States from a small country in West Africa at the age of 16. He battled a debilitating eye disease that could have left him blind, and the heartbreak of losing his younger sister to an illness after she was denied a visa to the U.S. to receive medical treatment. Rather than allow these circumstances to defeat him, he persevered. After finishing high school, he went on to earn both his bachelor’s and masters’ degrees and pursue a career in education where he has become an advocate for social emotional learning in schools.

A key part of Mr. Susso’s story for me was when he credited his success to the support of a teacher in high school whose encouragement made him feel safe and secure, and allowed him to thrive.

His story reminded me of our English as a New Language (ENL) students. Last spring, I listened as they shared the struggles they have had to overcome to get here. Some are refugees from war torn countries who have seen and lived through unspeakable tragedy. I also think of the challenges that many of our students face every day: hunger, broken homes, poverty, addiction.

It’s quite possible that we have an Alhassan Susso or two in our midst! That is why it is so important— and I will continue to remind teachers and staff every day — that the support of just one caring adult can make a world of difference for students who are struggling to succeed personally or academically.

We must practice patience, have empathy, and continue to set clear expectations that will empower students to believe in themselves and the value of education.

Search underway for new principal 

It is with mixed emotions that I share this other news: Elementary school principal Loida Lewinter has decided to step down from her position in January to spend more time raising her family. Mrs. Lewinter has been an outstanding school leader, who first served as the assistant principal at Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School before becoming the elementary principal in the 2016-17 school year. On behalf of the Board of Education, our faculty and staff, I wish Mrs. Lewinter all the best and hope she knows how much her leadership will be missed. Read Mrs. Lewinter’s Letter to Watervliet Families

In the meantime, we have started the process for finding a new elementary principal, which includes considering qualified internal candidates. I can assure you that our priority is to hire the best fit for the elementary principal position — one who will inspire, educate and challenge every student, every day.

Holiday reminder

With Thanksgiving now behind us, it is important for all of us to remain mindful that although the December holidays are an exciting time for most of us, that is not always the case for our student population. For many of our students, the holidays can be a time filled with great uncertainty and anxiety. As a result, some students may act out. I want to remind you that the best gift you can give them is your patience and compassion.

Thank you all in advance for caring about our students and recognizing how this can be a challenging time of year for them.

Finally, please be sure to mark your calendars for these upcoming December events:

  • Saturday, Dec. 1 – WES PTA Breakfast with Santa, 8:00 a.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 3 – WHS Student Council Holiday Food Drive kicks off, runs through Dec. 15
    Jr. High Student Council Adopt an Angel, runs through Dec. 21
  • Wednesday, Dec. 5 – WJSHS Garnet & Grey Winter Concert, 6:30 p.m., Jr. High Student Council Cookie Bake-Off Sale, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, Dec. 6 – Capital Region BOCES Pathways in Technology Early College High School (PTECH) Open House for Grade 8 Students/Parents, 5:30 & 7:00 p.m., WJSHS
  • Saturday, Dec. 8 – City of Watervliet Tree Lighting, 5:00-6:30 p.m., Veteran's Park
  • Wednesday, Dec. 12 – WES Winter Concert, 6:30 p.m.
  • Friday, Dec. 14 – WES Holiday Movie Night, 6:00 p.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 24 – Wednesday, Jan. 2, Holiday Recess
Please remember during the holiday season to focus on the positive, and enjoy the most precious gift of all—time spent with family and friends. Happy, healthy, peaceful holidays to all.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Attendance is mission critical to student success

We are about over a month into the new school year now and students and staff have settled nicely into the daily routine.

A top priority in our learning community is to make sure that our students have what they need so they can stay focused on learning. As educators in a small urban district with high needs, we are committed to taking steps to overcome the barriers to learning that persist for many of our students.

That said, in order for students to learn, grow and succeed academically, it is important that they consistently attend school, and arrive in their classrooms on time every day. While our district’s average daily attendance looks good on paper – hovering in the 94-95 percent range ‒ my administrative team and I have been taking a deeper look at individual student attendance and are noticing a troubling trend. More than 40 students in the junior-senior high school have missed three or more school days since the school year began ‒ just five short weeks ago. If this continues, it is a given that some of these students will be categorized as chronically absent, and this may jeopardize their ability to graduate or be promoted to the next grade level.

A study by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium found that students who missed two to four days in September were five times more likely than those who missed fewer than two days to be chronically absent for the year. Chronic absence is defined as missing at least 10 percent – or 18 days – of school over the course of an academic year for any reason. This includes both excused and unexcused absences.

According to the Children’s Aid Society, chronic absence is associated with low academic achievement, and is a strong indicator that those students may eventually drop out of school. It also undermines teaching and learning for all students when teachers must redirect their attention to meet the needs of chronically absent children once they return to school.

Here are some other sobering facts about the impact of absenteeism on students and learning:
  • Students with lower preschool attendance have lower kindergarten readiness scores (University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research).
  • Students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to read proficiently in third grade (Applied Survey Research & Attendance Works, April 2011).
  • By 6th grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school (Baltimore Education Research Consortium).
  • 9th grade attendance is a better graduation predictor than 8th grade test scores (University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research).
  • Students who live in communities with high levels of poverty are four times more likely to be chronically absent than others often for reasons beyond their control, such as unstable housing, unreliable transportation and a lack of access to health care (The National Center for Children in Poverty).
In an effort to reduce absenteeism and remove other barriers to learning, we have started a school mentoring program for all students in grades 7-12. Every teacher, administrator and most instructional support staff have been assigned two to three students to build personal relationships with and provide positive supports that will help our students feel more connected to school.

Although the mentor program just started, already WJSHS Assistant Principal Kelly Webster reports that it is making a difference. She says:
“There have been several instances this week of staff contacting me when they heard their mentee may be in trouble, or need assistance in school or outside at home. Together we have been able to solve several problems, help get students the supplies they need and more. Our staff continues to amaze and inspire me. I thank them for their dedication to our students. The impact of this program in such a short time has been phenomenal.” 

WYH School Based Health Center up and running

Poor health or undiagnosed conditions can also create barriers to learning for students living in poverty. Lack of adequate health care often may cause students to miss school. As mentioned in my previous blogs, we now have a school-based health center that is up and running at Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School. The new health center is a partnership between our school district and Whitney Young Health that provides services on site to students in our schools. School-based health services include primary medical care, dental care, mental/behavioral health, and health education and promotion. Students can be treated for common illnesses such as the flu or strep throat, or chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes. It is open to every student in the district from kindergarten through grade 12, but to be eligible to receive services parents must complete a registration packet for their child(ren). I strongly encourage parents to take advantage of this program. Download an application packet

Backpack Heroes returns to WES 

Another well-known barrier to learning is hunger. When students come to school hungry, they cannot fully focus on or engage in learning. All of our students receive breakfast, lunch and an after-school snack at no charge through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). We also offer the Food is Fuel backpack program that provides our elementary students a bag full of food each weekend of the school year. 

I thank everyone who assisted with the Backpack Heroes Phone-a-thon on Oct. 4 at Watervliet Elementary School. Members of the PTA, WSSA, WTA, WAA, the Board of Education and the community joined Liz Bishop from CBS 6 News and representatives from Fidelis Care to raise money for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY. Our youth cheerleaders also contributed to the effort with an on-air cheer encouraging everyone watching to donate.

Our Food is Fuel program assists more than 60 elementary students and their families by providing a bag full of food every Friday to help alleviate hunger for children over the weekend. Last year, we were able to feed 70 families through this program. Because we received less funding this year, the success of the Backpack Heroes Phone-a-thon is even more critical as we try to make up that loss of funding and provide a Food is Fuel backpack to all students who need it.


Finally, October is National Principals Month. I greatly appreciate our school principals and assistant principals – Ryan Groat, Loida Lewinter, Kelly Webster, David Wareing and Michael Foust – for their leadership and their commitment to and support for students and staff alike. I am proud to work alongside such dedicated leaders. Please join me in thanking them for all they do for every student, every day!