Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holidays a time to reflect

The holidays are often a time to reflect on the year that has passed and look ahead to a new year. 

Recent events have cast a solemn mood over the season—the tragic accident that claimed the lives of two Shen students and seriously injured two others, and the unspeakable violence in a Newtown Connecticut school that has shattered the lives of so many families. These heartbreaking tragedies make us think about and appreciate even more the good in our own lives.

Throughout the past week, I have had the privilege of attending concerts at both the high school and the elementary school, and have been reminded of the talent and abilities of our students from the elementary level through the middle and high school grades. The performances by the Garnet and Grey Band and the Cannoneer chorus under the direction of Mrs. Terry Bradway and Mr. Joseph Bonville, as well as the elementary school band and chorus led by Mr. Jeff Roberts and Mrs. Mary Collett—were outstanding. I applaud our student musicians of all ages for their effort and dedication to learning the music and practicing the songs, and presenting thoroughly enjoyable performances for family, friends, fellow students and staff.

The wrestling team held its annual Teacher Appreciation Night on Dec. 13 to recognize educators who have encouraged and supported the wrestling program and its student athletes. Each wrestler invited a teacher, administrator or other staff member to attend the evening’s matches as the wrestler’s guest. I was honored to be among the approximately 30 educators who were recognized that evening. I thank Coach Dennis Lane and Coach Dan Mueller for taking the initiative each year to organize this event that brings together our staff and student athletes. 

Having worked in the district for several years—as the high school principal and now as the superintendent—I am grateful for all the dedicated and talented educators who work in our Watervliet schools. I know they are commited to ensuring the success of our students—academically and personally—I see it every day. So many of our teachers go above and beyond their classroom  responsibilities, investing additional hours advising extracurricular clubs, coaching our athletic teams, and providing homework and Regents review help. I celebrate our teachers and the gifts of time and talent that they give every student, every day.

I appreciate, too, the parents and community members who turn out to support our students and our schools at events throughout the school year.

Since September, our district has also had the good fortune to have been awarded two state grants that will have a direct and positive impact on education in the years to come. One of the grants will fund professional development initiatives to strengthen classroom instruction and improve student learning. The other grant will help establish new virtual Advanced Placement (AP) courses for students in Watervliet and six other area schools. This grant will also pay exam fees for low-income students enrolled in AP classes, which could help them earn college credit while in high school.

I hope you will take time this holiday season to reflect upon the positive aspects of your lives, and enjoy the most precious gift of all—time spent with family and friends. May you all enjoy a relaxing and peaceful holiday season.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Education's fiscal cliff

You may be familiar with or have heard the phrase “fiscal cliff” quite a bit recently. Journalists and news commentators have adopted this phrase when referring to the nation’s economy and the national debt.

For school districts this phrase is not new. Many districts around New York State—small city schools and rural schools alike—have been heading toward a fiscal cliff for the past few years as the costs associated with education continue to escalate, while state aid and other revenues continue to shrink or disappear.

In the past two years, our school district has been able to avoid the “fiscal cliff” despite significant decreases in state aid and the state’s tax levy cap, which limits the amount schools can raise in property taxes to balance their budgets. When the tax levy cap was introduced, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to deliver mandate relief along with it to help ease the financial burden on school districts and municipalities, however to date, no meaningful mandate relief has materialized.

In Watervliet, we have made some difficult decisions to close fiscal gaps during the last two budget cycles. To balance our current school budget, the district had to eliminate approximately 14 positions, consolidate bus runs, reduce some services—including elementary summer school—and place a few of our athletic teams on hiatus. Still, we were able to keep intact the academic programs we offer students.

This year, as we begin to develop the 2013-14 school budget, if circumstances do not change—and it’s unlikely they will—we will be forced to confront our most difficult decisions, yet. As the leader of this small city school district, I believe it is important for the community to be aware of and prepare for the tough road ahead. It’s time for everyone in our community to give serious thought about what we value most in education, what is vitally necessary to be able to prepare our students for college and 21st century careers, and how best to keep moving forward with fewer and fewer resources.

In the coming weeks, I will be encouraging everyone to advocate for our schools and students and to implore our local and state representatives for a more fair and equitable distribution of state aid. Please look for future blog posts on this topic and updates on our district’s website about how you can get involved.

In the meantime, I encourage Watervliet residents, families and staff members to contact Governor Andrew Cuomo and our other elected state representatives Senator Neil Breslin (who is on the NYS Senate Education Committee), Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, and NYS Senate Education Committee Chair Senator John Flanagan, with your concerns and questions. Below are links to their web pages where you can submit your messages electronically.

Contact Governor Andrew Cuomo
Contact Senator Neil Breslin
Contact Assemblyman Canestrari
Contact NYS Senate Education Committee Chair, Senator John Flanagan

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thank you for service to schools, community

Next week marks School Board Recognition Week in New York State (October 29 - November 2, 2012), and I want to publicly thank our school board members, President Mark Scully, Vice President Chris Chartrand, Jeffrey Clermont, Jennifer Donovan and Matt Ethier for working tirelessly on behalf of our students and our schools.

School board members are district residents—elected to three-year terms—who are responsible for making decisions at the local level about what is best for our students and for the community. The five members of our school board serve voluntarily and are often called upon to make tough decisions and confront the numerous challenges we face in public education today.

School board members are true advocates for our students—they attend numerous school functions and provide financial stewardship and leadership to ensure that our mission of educating every student, every day is achieved in a safe and healthy environment. Our board generously volunteers their time and energy to improve the education we offer to Watervliet’s students while also considering and balancing the concerns of local taxpayers.

When I think of the district’s most recent accomplishments—our new athletic facilities being recognized as an outstanding project in a national architectural magazine, the state grant we have received to improve teacher and leader effectiveness in our classrooms—behind all of it is the unwavering support of our school board.

During the October 16 Board of Education meeting, I read a Proclamation from Governor Andrew Cuomo, which commends board members for their many hours of volunteer service to elementary and secondary public education as they continually strive for improvement, progress, and excellence in education. The proclamation states, “The members of New York's local school boards respond to the educational needs of the communities they serve, and in doing so, these leaders help strengthen our state’s educational system and improve future prospects for our children.” Read the Executive Chamber Proclamation

I ask that when you see our school board members out in your neighborhoods next week or any time, that you join me in thanking them for their dedicated leadership in public education and their continuing service to children, our schools and the community. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

New challenges, higher expectations

September was a busy—and a successful—month at Watervliet schools. 

Students, teachers and staff have settled into their daily routines and continue to work hard heading into the second month of the 2012-2013 school year. Parents and students seem to have adjusted well to the transportation changes and new drop-off and pick-up procedures at Watervliet Elementary School. Principal O’Brien and I thank everyone for their cooperation and their patience during the opening days of school. 

Turnout for Meet the Teacher Nights at both schools was outstanding and gave teachers the opportunity to get to know parents and share information about academic programs and expectations for learning. The connection between home and school has always been important to student achievement, and will continue to become even more essential as schools face new challenges and mandates year after year.   

Speaking of new challenges and mandates, this school year brings with it several new challenges for students, faculty and administrators alike. Most notably, schools in New York State are mandated to implement a new evaluation system for teachers and principals as a requirement of the federal Race to the Top initiative. Watervliet’s Annual Professional Performance Review—or APPR—plan was approved by SED on Sept. 11, making us among the first districts in the area to receive state approval. The new APPR process is very different from past practice, in that for the first time ever, a portion of the evaluation—40 percent—is tied to student growth and achievement on state exams. In addition, the new APPR has required teachers, principals and other school administrators to participate in ongoing training, develop new student assessments, and work together to create student and building-wide learning targets or goals.

This year, parents will also hear a lot about Common Core Learning Standards, which have been adopted by most states across the country, including New York. The standards are part of a national effort to provide a clearer understanding of what students are expected to learn at each grade level and better prepare them for college or the workforce. The Common Core Learning Standards replace the learning standards that were in place for the past decade and as a result, Watervliet teachers and school leaders have been working to revise the district’s curriculum and rewrite lesson plans to reflect the new standards.

The Common Core Learning Standards and the new APPR will increase the number of assessments your children take this year. The assessments are needed for the school district to have baseline data that will enable us to target academic growth over the course of the school year. Although these assessments will not count toward your child’s overall grade, they are still important.

As an even higher level of expectations is placed on our students, teachers and administrators this school year, I thank everyone for your continued cooperation and support. If you have questions about APPR or Common Core Learning Standards, my door is always open. I also encourage you to keep the lines of communication open with your children’s teachers and building principal.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome to a new school year!

I am excited and eager to begin my first full year as superintendent of Watervliet schools.

Throughout the summer my leadership team and I have been preparing for the 2012-13 school year, and are looking forward to welcoming back students, teachers and staff and to again have our buildings bustling with teaching and learning.

During the summer, I received word from the State Education Department (SED) that the Watervliet City School District and our schools are in “good standing.” Earlier this year, the federal Education Department granted New York State a waiver to certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, and granted permission to calculate and communicate student progress differently. As a result of this newly implemented state accountability system and because of the hard work and collaboration of our teachers, support staff and the individualized instruction they provide, Watervliet’s students achieved adequate progress on state tests.

This is good news. Now, we must do all we can to move forward and maintain our “good standing” status, which could prove particularly challenging this year in light of significant changes in public education including the implementation of new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and a new evaluation system for teachers and principals.

With the new standards, SED will make changes to English language arts/literacy and math exams designed to assess student performance in grades 3-8. Also beginning this year, students’ scores on state assessments will be part of the teacher and principal annual professional performance review. The combination of these two factors will make state testing especially intense this year for both students and teachers.

State and federal regulations, unfunded mandates and increasing expectations continue to increase the challenges for our schools. We must all work together—parents, teachers, school leaders and staff—to support and prepare our students to be successful in college, career and in a competitive 21st century workplace.

I encourage parents, teachers, students, staff and the community to stay informed about our district’s challenges and our successes through the different communications channels we offer including our website, School News Notifier (SNN), Facebook and Twitter, and also WVLT, Watervliet Housing Authority's cable access channel. 

We must continue to rise to the challenge, and educate every student, every day to the very best of our ability. Welcome back everyone, let’s make this another great year!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reflecting on 2011-12

As I reflect back on the 2011-12 school year and my first six months as superintendent of schools, I am proud of all we have accomplished as a district, especially in this era of significant changes in education.

This year, school districts across New York were required to develop budgets within the limits of the state’s new property tax levy cap law. Achieving this was especially challenging for small city school districts, like ours, because of inequities in state aid formulas and disbursement. We were able to rise to the challenge and passed the school budget by a 71 percent margin—thanks in large part to the spirit of cooperation and team work in our school community and the support of the greater community.   

Watervliet’s teachers and administrators invested a great deal of time this past year preparing for the implementation of the state’s New Common Core Learning standards, which will take effect this coming school year. Many, many hours have been spent working to make sure that our curriculum reflects the new standards.

In addition to the new standards, in 2012-13 New York’s schools must enact a new more rigorous system for teacher and principal evaluations or risk losing state aid. Fortunately, Watervliet is on track with its new evaluation process and was one of only a handful of schools in the immediate Capital Region—and 164 districts across the state—to submit its Annual Professional Performance Review plans to the State Education Department (SED) on time.

Despite the changes and challenges before us, Watervliet schools continued to focus on our mission: to inspire, educate and challenge every student, every day! I wanted to share with you a list of just some of what we accomplished this year and should all take pride in. 

2011-12 accomplishments:

October 2011: WHS Athletic Hall of Fame inducted one championship team and nine athletes, coaches.

November 2011: Three Watervliet City School District teachers achieved National Board Certification – a voluntary credentialing process widely considered to be the "gold standard" for teaching excellence.

December 2011: The community approved an $18.9 million facilities renovation project by a vote of 234-30. The district will now move forward with renovations that will improve the learning environment and enhance the athletic fields, including the addition of a track.

January 2012: A video project produced by junior high school students and teachers won a grand prize of $2,500 in the Blueshield of Northeastern New York healthy video contest.

February 2012: Watervliet Junior-Senior High School music teacher Theresa Bradway was named a WNYT Channel 13 Top Teacher.

February 2012: Mayor Michael Manning chooses Watervliet Jr.-Sr. High School as the site to deliver his 2012 State of the City at Watervliet Jr.-Sr. High School.

February 2012: The Watervliet Teachers’ Association ratified a new contract by an overwhelming margin, and agreed to changes that will save the school district nearly $4 million over the length of the five-year deal.

March 2012: Watervliet Boys’ Basketball standout Jordan Gleason was selected for WNYT’s Boys’ All Star team!

March 2012: Watervliet High School junior Ailayia Demand was named to the Times Union Small School Girls' Basketball All-Star Team for the third time!

April 2012: Two Watervliet City School District unions—administrators and support staff—agreed to health insurance changes that will result in nearly $100,000 in savings.

May 2012: The Watervliet High School Spring Blood Drive was a huge success; collecting 86 pints of blood, and exceeding its 77-pint goal.

May 2012: Watervliet voters approved the $23.1 million budget for the 2012-13 school year by a margin of 234 to 95.

May 2012: Twenty-two (22) Watervliet High School students were inducted into the National Honor Society.

June 2012: Watervliet High School senior Amelia Walker—a student in the BOCES Career & Technical School’s Computer Network Technician program—was named Capital Region BOCES Career and Tech Center Student of the Year.

June 2012: More than 100 Watervliet High School seniors received their diplomas in June; and more than 95 percent of the Class of 2012 plan to continue their education at either two- or four-year colleges in the fall.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Staying focused in the final weeks

The fourth quarter is always the most challenging for students as the warm, sunny days remind us that summer break is a few short weeks away. The last days of school can be an exciting and emotional time of year, too, as high school seniors prepare to graduate and begin the next phase of their lives whether they plan to attend college, join the workforce, serve in the military, enroll in trade schools or follow another path.

But first, students at the junior-senior high school must get through Regents week and final exams, which are quickly approaching. These exams can often make or break your final grade, so it is especially important to remain focused on learning and preparing for these tests during these final weeks of the school year.

The junior-senior high school offers Regents review classes to ensure that students are well prepared. I encourage students to attend the review classes and to seek extra help from teachers if you need it. (Information on review classes will be posted when available on the high school’s Web page.)

For students, study tips can be found on the guidance Web page:

For additional study and test-taking tips visit:

I also want to congratulate the Class of 2012. Approximately 96 percent of this year’s graduates are planning to pursue higher education next year, and have been accepted at such esteemed two- and four-year colleges and universities as: Alfred University, Buffalo State, Butler University, Cazenovia College, Clarkson University, Hartwick College, Hofstra University, Hudson Valley Community College, Iona College, LeMoyne College, Quinnipiac University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Russell Sage College, Schenectady County Community College, St. John Fisher College, St. John’s University, Siena College, The College of Saint Rose, The University of Colorado (Boulder), Western New England University, numerous SUNY schools and others.

I encourage students to stay focused, stay positive and make these last weeks count. Let’s finish the 2011-12 school year strong!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thank you for your support

Thanks to the overwhelming support of the Watervliet community, our proposed $23,136,179 school budget for 2012-13 passed with a 71 percent approval rating, 234 to 95. I thank everyone who took the time to go to the polls on May 15 and vote.
You may recall that we began the budget development process earlier this year faced with a $2.3 million deficit. By the end of March, we were able to reduce the budget gap to $1 million thanks, in large part, to the collaborative efforts of teachers and staff who agreed to changes in health insurance plans that will result in significant savings over the next several years. I thank our faculty and staff for their spirit of cooperation during these tough fiscal times. It is an honor to work with such dedicated professionals every day.
We sought community feedback to help guide our decision making and while difficult cuts were made to balance the budget, with your input, the reductions we made have minimal impact on students and keep our academic program intact. I thank everyone who participated in those efforts including parents, teachers, residents, students and the PTA.
I am grateful to everyone who e-mailed, wrote or called our local representatives in the state legislature and advocated on behalf of our schools.
I also want to thank the Board of Education for its leadership throughout the budget process and recognize longtime school board member Frank McGrouty, who did not seek re-election this year, for his years of service to our school district and our students. I congratulate Jennifer Donovan on her re-election to the board and I welcome newly-elected board member Matthew Ethier. I look forward to working with you in the coming years.
We will no doubt face challenges again next year—inequitable state aid funding, increased unfunded mandates, more rigorous accountability for teachers and administrators—but right now, I am proud to be serving the students of this district and the Watervliet community.  
Thank you!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Congratulations to the top students of the class of 2012

Congratulations to Amanda Iannone-Judge and Alysa Chartrand, who, I am proud to announce, have been named the Class of 2012 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

Soon after Amanda and Alysa were told of their accomplishment, I took the opportunity to sit down with both girls to personally congratulate them and to hear their reflections on what have been four extremely busy years at Watervliet High School.

In talking with these top students, a common theme ran through our conversations. While their records make it clear that they have taken advantage of many extracurricular activities, sports, employment opportunities and more, they spoke primarily about the teachers who made a difference in their lives.

Alysa credits her math teacher, Mr. Berin, for her interest in pursuing math as her college major. Although she’s eyeing a future as a math teacher, Alysa says her favorite class at Watervliet was social studies. She says Mr. Emerson brought “something to the classroom that just makes you want to go to his class.”

For Amanda, Mr. Parisi made physics enjoyable and Mr. Dievendorf taught her to think for herself. In Spanish class, she says, Ms. DiSalvo taught her more than a language.

Studies show us that good teachers matter most in a child’s education and speaking with Amanda and Alysa made it easy to understand why.

I asked the girls what advice they had to offer younger students.

Amanda, despite her impressive list of activities, said she would have gotten involved earlier in extracurricular activities.

“Don’t take it for granted. It goes a lot quicker than you might expect. And try to have a little bit of fun along the way,” she said.

Alysa agrees with Amanda in encouraging students to engage in extracurricular activities.

“I think it’s really important. It just keeps you going,” she says.

Congratulations again to Amanda and Alysa and to all the graduates of the Class of 2012. The Class of 2012 Commencement is set for Friday, June 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the Watervliet High School Harry Tucker Gymnasium.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Everyone will be doing more with less

As many of you know from reading this blog and the district’s website, our school district is weathering a second straight year of decreased support from the state. Even after the Legislature restored some school aid, we were still left with a $1 million dollar budget gap to close. As a result, we will all be doing more with less next year.

Despite these challenges, the sense of community in Watervliet remains strong. I know this because as a community we’ve come together and made some tough decisions in recent weeks and I want to thank everyone who has contributed their time, effort and ideas to the development of the 2012-13 school budget.

  • Thank you to the Board of Education for your continued support of our teachers, staff and administration throughout this difficult and challenging budget process and for assisting with a letter-writing campaign to our representatives seeking additional state aid.   

  • Thanks, too, to the Watervliet Teachers’ Association (WTA) for negotiating in good faith to move to a new high-deductible health reimbursement account (HRA) that will save the district $500,000 next year—and a projected $3 million over the next five years. The WTA was also responsible for spearheading the letter-writing campaign to our state representatives to request fair and equitable aid for our schools.  

  • I am also grateful to the Watervliet Support Staff Association (WSSA) and the Watervliet Administrators’ Association (WAA) both of whom opened their contracts and agreed to make the new high-deductible HRA part of their health insurance plans, which will save the district $95,000 next year.

  • I appreciate the efforts of students and teachers who attended the Rural and Small City Schools Forum in February in Albany to advocate on behalf of our schools for more equitable distribution of state education funding.

  • Thank you to Mayor Michael Manning for the letters he wrote to Assemblyman Ron Canestrari and Senator Neil Breslin supporting Watervliet schools.

  • Finally, I thank the public for participating in the process by attending the community budget forums, sharing their concerns, asking questions and presenting ideas—including the suggestion to eliminate or consolidate bus routes, which will result in approximately $77,000 in savings that will allow us to retain one of the seven teaching positions that was up for elimination. 

None of this has been easy. The difficult choices we made in recent weeks required a lot of careful thought and input from many different perspectives. In the end, the reductions we have proposed in the 2012-13 budget will have a minimal impact on our number one priority: our students and educational programs.

The Board of Education will adopt the 2012-13 school budget on April 17. Please plan to attend the Public Hearing on the school budget on Tuesday, May 8 and remember to vote on Tuesday, May 15.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Difficult choices ahead

I am not usually one to look a gift horse in the mouth—after all receiving an additional $203,624 in restored state aid is certainly better than receiving nothing at all. 

But to be honest, as superintendent of a high needs, small city school district, I had hoped that with the school aid restoration, Watervliet would have received a more equitable allocation. Even with the additional aid, our schools still face a daunting $1.05 million budget shortfall. This shortfall is the result of rising costs and the significant decrease of $1.5 million in state funding we endured this year. Unfortunately, it now appears the only way left to close this gap will be to reduce staff and program.

Every district across the state—many less needy or some even considered affluent— received additional aid under the recent state budget agreement. And while, I don’t begrudge those other districts, I must question how our state legislators can say that the aid restoration was fair and equitable to small urban and rural districts—and the students who would benefit most from the additional funding.

While I’m disappointed in the end result, I am proud of the valiant efforts made by Watervliet’s faculty, staff, students, Board of Education, and community members during the past few months on behalf of our district, including a letter writing campaign, trips to the State Capitol to advocate for our schools, sending e-mails and making phone calls to our state representatives.   

Over the course of the next several weeks, many difficult decisions will have to be made and I pledge to provide open, timely communication to the Watervliet community, regardless of how bad the news may be.

Despite diminishing resources, we will continue to educate every student, every day to the very best of our ability.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Time running short for state aid restoration

Shortly after I became superintendent eight weeks ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his executive budget proposal for 2012-13. Since that time, I and many others have attempted to raise awareness of the devastating impact the governor’s state aid proposal would have on Watervliet and other city school districts like ours.

It appears that lawmakers are nearing a final deal and may soon adopt an early state budget. While we can’t be certain what will happen over the next few days, it appears members of the state Senate and Assembly are attempting to restore at least some aid to school districts.

I want to thank state Assemblyman Ron Canestrari and state Sen. Neil Breslin for listening to us over the last several weeks. I encourage anyone in the Watervliet community who has not already done so to make it known to our elected state leaders how you feel about education. The decisions made in Albany in the coming days will be critical for Watervliet and could save the district from making deep teacher and staff cuts to the detriment to our academic program.   

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to address some 900 students and teachers who gathered in Albany to advocate for more education funding for small city and rural school districts. Approximately 20 Watervliet students attended this forum together with Mr. Emerson, Mr. Strand and Mr. Dipaola.

Yesterday, I received a letter from Peta Evens, a student council member and student representative who sits on the Watervliet Board of Education, who attended the forum, which I believe was an important educational opportunity as well as a platform for advocacy.

In her letter, Peta says the forum taught her that she can help make a difference.  

“As co–president of the student council, it is my job to represent the needs of all of the students in Watervliet. I really feel that I did that when I attended the forum. I am hopeful that our efforts, the efforts of all of the people in Watervliet and elsewhere in the state, will lead to our district, and other districts, just like ours, getting the state aid money that we need,” Peta says in her letter. “This trip taught me that even though I am just a teenager, I can stand up for what is right and that I can make a difference.” 

Peta is one of our outstanding students who have taken advantage of the many advanced and college-level opportunities here at Watervliet High School that help our students to get accepted into competitive colleges. I thank Peta, and all who attended the forum, for their effort in helping to make sure that the school district receives the necessary funds to continue programs such as these. I also thank the hundreds of teachers, parents and students who have taken the time to write their elected leaders. You can download a sample letter here if you, too, want to write your representative.

Also, please remember the district has one more public budget forum scheduled for tonight (March 14) at 6:30 p.m. at the Watervliet Elementary School cafeteria. The forum will begin with an overview of the state's Property Tax Levy Cap presented by Questar III BOCES State Aid and Financial Planning Service.

Regardless of what may happen in the coming days, the budget will continue to be a topic of discussion at board of education meetings and a public budget hearing will also be scheduled in advance of the May 15 vote.

Your feedback is always welcome as we move forward in the budget development process.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Call to action; community budget forums to begin

Tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 28, the Watervliet City School District will begin a series of community forums designed to share information and gather feedback regarding the development of the 2012-13 budget.

In my last post, I discussed the inequitable distribution of state aid and how it hinders the efforts of school districts like Watervliet to provide the same opportunities other students in wealthier districts have. As a new superintendent, I promised my fight had only begun.  

By attending Tuesday’s forum, you too can join the fight by learning all you can about our budget and asking questions – of both the school district and our elected lawmakers in Albany.

I truly believe that public advocacy for equality in education spending is essential as we fight for students and their right to a top-notch education. In the video below, Dr. Rick Timbs, the executive director of the Statewide School Financial Consortium, urges all school district stakeholders to speak with one voice seeking equity.

I urge you to watch the video and attend at least one of our upcoming forums. Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Watervliet Junior Senior High School Administrative Conference Room.

Other opportunities to learn about the budget include a Budget and Breakfast Forum scheduled for this Saturday, March 3. There, residents can learn about the 2012-13 budget, share ideas and enjoy a light breakfast prepared by Mr. Gaddy’s gourmet food and nutrition class at the high school. The breakfast forum begins at 10 a.m. in the high school cafeteria.

Also, on March 14 at 6:30 p.m. the Watervliet Elementary School PTA and UPK are sponsoring a 2012-13 Budget Q & A in the elementary school cafeteria. The Q and A will begin with an overview of the state's Property Tax Levy Cap presented by Shelly Levings, director of state aid and financial planning for Questar III BOCES.

These public budget forums are just one way you can help. Recently our board of education members and the Watervliet Teachers’ Association began a letter writing campaign to our elected representatives in Albany. Hundreds of letters have been collected already. You can download a sample letter here to mail to your representative.

Senator Neil Breslin
Albany Office
172 State St.
Room 413, Capitol
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2225

Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari
Albany Office
LOB 926
Albany, NY 12248

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leading in Times of Scarce Resources and High Accountability as a New Superintendent

As I reflect upon my first three short weeks as Superintendent of Schools in the Watervliet City School District, the first thing that comes to mind is that not all communities are created equally!  I am quickly discovering the real inequalities plaguing education. As a building principal in the Watervliet Jr/Sr High School for the past seven years, I was visible, held students, staff, teachers, administrators and myself accountable for student achievement. 

None of that has changed. What has changed is the realization of having to do more with less. The fiscal crisis facing small city, urban school districts today, with the new property tax levy cap, increasing unfunded mandates, and the increased level of accountability for teachers and administrators is daunting. While I am doing all that I can to remain fiscally responsible to our tax payers of the city of Watervliet, and provide our students with a rigorous and relevant education that they are entitled to, while ensuring it is being delivered by highly qualified teachers, “tightening our belts,” is an understatement.  The inequitable distribution of state aid to needy schools is a puzzle I cannot seem to put together. I do not understand the justification of holding and/or cutting funds to schools that are already “in need.”  Money does not buy an education, however if something is a mandate that costs money, and a district greatly depends on state aid to fund mandates, when the money is not appropriated, how does a school district meet an unfunded mandate?  I am uncertain if I do not know the answer to that question because I am still green, or is it rhetorical?  The lack of state aid to low income school districts will only perpetuate the ever growing achievement gap between the schools that “have” and the schools that “have not.”

It saddens me that students in needier districts may not be afforded the same educational opportunities students from more affluent districts are, simply because of their zip code. I find it difficult to look into the eyes of students who are in advanced placement classes or college in the high school courses, knowing that next year, and years to follow, there is a strong possibility we will not have the funds to offer these accelerated programs. It is concerning to me that this community may be divided over students with special needs receiving costly services they are entitled to due to mandates, while mainstream students are denied people and programs because cuts have to come from somewhere, and the reality is, there is no money flowing from anywhere. Highly qualified teachers, some of which are Nationally Board Certified teachers, administrators and support staff who have “fire in their belly” and a passion for teaching and learning, stand to lose their jobs because now that we have cut away all of the fat…this leaves nothing to abolish but people and programs.

I am honored to lead the Watervliet City School District, even in these tough economic times, and I take my responsibilities extremely seriously.  I believe it is my duty to ensure every child in this district has the same opportunities other students in wealthier districts have. I will exhaust all possibilities and opportunities to help level the playing field and fight for the students in this district to be afforded a top-notch education, complete w/ 21st century technology that will prepare them with the skills they need to be college and career ready. My fight has only just begun!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Moving forward!

I welcome, with great pride, the opportunity to lead the Watervliet City School District in an effort to continue moving the district forward and sustaining the enormous strides we have made in my seven years with this district.
I will continue to serve all of Watervliet, remaining visible and accessible both within the educational community as well as the community at large.  I encourage parents of our students to become as actively involved as possible in your child’s education. Think of education as a three-legged stool: the child, the family, and the school district. All parts are equally important in educating the “whole child.”  

In these tough economic times, with the high level of accountability that has been placed on educators as well as students, we must accomplish more with less, maximize our resources--thin as they may be--and take a very close look at what we value and what is really working for the students in our school district.  

Parents, community members, teachers, staff, administrators and students must become familiar with terms such as “tax levy cap,” state aid, unfunded mandates, APPR, and a whole list of terms that affect our students' education and tax payers.  I believe in being fiscally responsible and developing a budget that will provide our students with the necessary resources--people and programs--essential to educate and prepare them to be college and career ready, while not placing the burden of the entire budget on the backs of local tax payers. 

Safe schools that are conducive for teaching and learning are as important as putting the most highly-qualified teachers in front of every student, every day. It is one of the district’s priorities to stay current with the technological needs of students as well as provide adequate professional development opportunities for educators to stay current in their practice.  

In order to fulfill our mission statement and our obligation to our students, we must not accept just being “good,” but instead, strive for excellence, for every student…every day.