Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday musings: thoughts on giving, receiving

The holidays are a time for giving and I am proud to recognize Watervliet teachers, staff, students and parents for their kindness and their generosity during this time of year.

In December, WES Student Ambassadors organized a coin drive for the nearby Mohawk Hudson Humane Society raising over $500 to help provide food and care for homeless animals. On December 17, the students visited the Humane Society in Menands to present their donation and a gift basket of food, supplies and pet toys. Having a rescue dog myself, this is a cause that is near and dear to my heart, so great job WES!!

Throughout the month, our Junior High Student Council held its annual Adopt-an-Angel program for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, while teachers and staff from both buildings (WES, WJSHS) bought gifts for children of local families in need to help make their holidays brighter. Last week, members of the High School Student Council helped wrap gifts that were delivered to the Watervliet Housing Authority for distribution.

Let’s not forget the gift of music. I had the privilege of attending the annual Winter Concerts performed by student musicians from the junior-senior high school and the elementary school. I applaud our music teachers for the instrumental and vocal training they provide our young talented musicians, but more importantly, for sharing their passion and enthusiasm for music with our students each day. I also commend the student musicians of all ages for their effort and dedication to learning the music, practicing the songs and presenting excellent performances that were enjoyed by family, friends, fellow students and staff.

Looking ahead to 2015

In early January, Gov. Cuomo will deliver his State of the State address and will present his Executive Budget a few weeks later. As our district begins to build the 2015-16 school budget in the months ahead, my administrative team and I will be paying close attention to both of these presentations for information that will steer our budget development process.

Although the state is sitting on a surplus and the Board of Regents has asked the state for an additional $2 billion for education funding, if recent history is any indication, it is likely that our district will once again face a significant budget gap that will be a struggle to close.

Fiscal matters aside for a moment, the State of the State Address may be especially interesting given a recent letter from a top Cuomo aide to the Board of Regents and New York State Education Department leaders that suggests the governor is maneuvering for more control in public education policy.

The letter’s author poses a series of questions to the Board of Regents and outgoing State Education Commissioner Dr. John King in a supposed effort to start dialogue about much needed education reforms. There is no arguing that in education, like most every aspect of life, there is room for improvement. What the governor fails to see is that as educators, we are continuously striving to improve: improve instruction, improve student engagement, improve skills, improve graduation and proficiency rates. Yet, nowhere in the list of 12 questions is one that addresses fair and equitable funding for small city schools like ours. Without sufficient resources it becomes an uphill battle to provide the level of high-quality education our students rightfully deserve—regardless of zip code—and clearly require to be successful in a highly competitive global economy.

Here is a question many school leaders have been asking the governor and legislature for years now: When will public schools see an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA)? With the state now in the black, the GEA—a tactic that has allowed the state to balance its budget by diverting billions of dollars in aid from schools over these past five years—lawmakers must take action this year to end the GEA.

Mr. Groat gets tenure!

Finally, I congratulate Ryan Groat on recently earning tenure as Watervliet Jr.-Sr. High School principal. The Board of Education voted unanimously to grant tenure to Mr. Groat at their December meeting. Mr. Groat has worked tirelessly during the past three years to be an agent of change, an advocate for children, and an educational leader. I join our district’s educators and staff in thanking him for all he does for every student, every day.

Have a peaceful and joyous holiday season!