Friday, March 1, 2013

Students take a stand for our schools

On Thursday, Feb. 28, a group of about 30 high school students—consisting mostly of 10th and 11th graders—teachers and WTA co-presidents Scott Emerson and Peter Strand, teaching assistant Jeff DiPaolo, Board President Mark Scully and I visited the State Capitol.
This field trip was far more than a tour of the Capitol—a building rich with history and amazing architecture that is worth a visit if you haven’t been there in recent years—it was a unique educational opportunity that offered students a personal, hands-on experience with democracy.
Throughout the day, students met with and spoke to Watervliet’s elected officials Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McDonald, and other legislators including Assemblyman Phil Steck and the senate and assembly education committee chairpersons, Sen. John Flanagan and a representative of Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.
I could not be more proud of the way the students conducted themselves and represented our school district and the city. They did an incredible job of articulating their thoughts about the education they are receiving in our schools, and spoke politely and sincerely when sharing their concerns about the significant impact proposed school budget cuts will have on them and their peers.
One of the most productive meetings of the day was with Sen. Flanagan who chairs the NYS Senate Education Committee. He welcomed the students, asked them many questions and listened intently as they voiced their concerns about the potential elimination of Advanced Placement courses and extracurricular opportunities next year. Students discussed the effect this loss will have when applying to college and competing with other students locally and across the state whose transcripts are more diverse and rich because their schools have not had to make such deep cuts. Speaking directly to the students, Sen. Flanagan promised that he and his colleagues in the Legislature would make every effort during state budget negotiations to redirect as much funding as possible back to school districts to help ease the fiscal pressures and reverse the need for reductions in programs and services.
I hope that students learned from this experience that legislators are interested in hearing directly from their constituents—even the younger voices that cannot yet vote—and that it is important to voice your opinions and stand up for what you believe in.
I invite everyone in the community—parents, staff, teachers, students, grandparents and residents—to do the same: write, call, e-mail or even meet with our elected officials and advocate for Watervliet City schools, especially if you are concerned about the academic programs, extracurricular opportunities and support services that are in jeopardy next year.
Next week, the WES PTA is sponsoring a letter-writing event for parents during their meeting on Tuesday, March 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the elementary school cafeteria. The PTA will have materials to make it as easy as possible for you to show your support for our schools.
Other upcoming events that you can attend to learn more about the district’s fiscal challenges and provide feedback that will help us make important decisions as we develop the 2013-14 school budget include:
  • Tuesday, March 12, Board of Education Meeting, 7 p.m.  
  • Wednesday, March 27, Special Board of Education Meeting/Public Budget Workshop, 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, April 9, WES PTA Meeting, Budget Presentation/Workshop, 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 13, Budget Breakfast, 10 a.m. (light breakfast fare courtesy of the Gourmet Foods Class)
Also, remember to check the district website’s budget section for the latest news and information.

We all want what is best for our students and must work together to find solutions to the significant challenges we are facing. Please be an advocate for our schools and for public education in an effort to ensure a quality education for every student every day.