Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New beginnings: pivotal transitions and the new school year

Summer 2013 has been a busy time marked by physical transformation in our schools, as well as administrative changes to begin the new school year.

I am eager to welcome back students and staff to school next week and am excited about new developments that have taken place in recent weeks that will strengthen our ability to provide every student the high-quality education they need and deserve.

Aside from the many visible renovations in our buildings and construction of a new athletic field, the most significant change students, staff and parents will notice as the new school year begins on Wednesday, Sept. 4 is the administrative changes occurring at both buildings.

With the release of the New York State assessment results in August, we now have the baseline data needed to hit the reset button and begin again to move the district forward, implement best practices and demonstrate continued student growth.

In the weeks since, it became clear that to accomplish our goals and meet our top priority—preparing students from pre-K through grade 12 for college and careers in a global economy—we would need to be proactive in our effort to maximize the strengths of all administrators, teachers and staff across the district.

With that in mind, longtime WJSHS high school assistant principal David Wareing will serve this year as the assistant principal and UPK director at WES. Literacy coordinator Suzanne Guntlow will assume the role of assistant principal at WJSHS, and will continue to facilitate professional development for teachers that focuses on strengthening students’ literacy skills and improving performance at the junior high school level.

Reading, writing, listening and speaking skills are the foundation for student success in all subject areas, which is why I firmly believe this shift in administrators, particularly, having Suzanne on site at WJSHS as a member of the administrative team and as a resource for her peers, is in the best interests of our students.

Principals Ryan Groat and Terri O’Brien will continue to lead WJSHS and WES, respectively, while Michael Foust will remain as the district’s athletics coordinator and serve in the new title of Dean of Students.

Our district welcomes a new School Resource Officer (SRO) this year, Watervliet Police Officer Josh Spratt. He takes over for Sgt. Mark Spain whose dedicated service over the past six years made a significant and positive impact on the lives of students and staff. School administrators and I look forward to working with Officer Spratt and continuing a strong, collaborative partnership that enhances student safety and promotes smart choices and positive behaviors in our school

Deeds and expectations
I recently attended a conference during which New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King Jr. spoke at length about making sure our “daily deeds match our expectations.”  I encourage all teachers and staff to make every effort possible this year to make sure that our daily deeds align with and achieve our mission to educate, inspire and challenge every student, every day.

I invite parents to become more involved with your child’s schools and encourage the community to become our partner in education. We must all work together to support our community’s young people and increase their opportunities for success. 

In preparing to begin my third year as superintendent of schools, it continues to be an honor working with such talented and committed administrators, educators and support staff, and serving this community and its children.

I also want to recognize and thank our maintenance staff for the enormous amount of time and energy they put in these last few weeks to get our buildings and classrooms ready for the return of students and staff. Your teamwork has been nothing short of amazing!

I look forward to the beginning of a productive and successful school year—until then enjoy these last few lazy, hazy days of summer!

Friday, August 9, 2013

NYS test results

The State Education Department (SED) released the results of the state English language arts and math exams on August 7.

Earlier this year, SED officials had cautioned school leaders, teachers and parents in Watervliet and around the state of a probable decline in test results. That is because for the very first time this spring New York’s students took tests based on the new more rigorous Common Core learning standards. SED officials based the prediction on research and the experience of other states that had previously implemented and tested students on the new national learning standards. Those states, in fact, reported a decline in tests scores after preliminary testing; consequently, SED fully anticipated the same would occur with results in New York.

As the scores are reported in the media and digested by parents and educators, it will be important to keep the following in perspective:

First, state education officials emphasize that with the new standards come increased expectations. A drop in scores is not indicative of our students’ abilities to learn or our teachers’ abilities to teach. The state tests administered in the spring are the first our students have taken based on the new Common Core learning standards. These results will be used to establish a new benchmark from which to measure student performance in future years.

Second, the 2013 test results should not be compared to results from last year or prior years because students are being tested on new, more rigorous learning standards that reflect more complex skill sets and concepts and require different strategies for approaching questions and solving problems. As in years past, the state assessments will have no impact on students’ grades; the results are used mainly to determine whether students require additional help with math or literacy skills.

Finally, while educators, parents and students naturally tend to place importance on state test results, these scores essentially represent a snapshot in time. The greater purpose of education is to make sure that students have the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to live successful and productive lives.

As educators and students continue to transition to the Common Core standards, we remain committed to preparing our students to be college and career ready—and to honoring our mission to educate, inspire and challenge every student, every day.