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.