Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ready for new school year to begin!

Outside and inside our buildings, I am seeing sure signs that summer is drawing to a close: coaches and students hitting the athletic fields for fall sports practices and a steady trickle of teachers stopping in to organize their classrooms in preparation for the new school year.

Our doors will open and classes will begin at Watervliet City Schools in just two weeks. On Tuesday, Sept. 8, we host our traditional opening day for staff. Then on Wednesday, Sept. 9 we will welcome students from UPK to grade 12 for the 2015-16 school year. The beginning of a new year is full of anticipation and excitement as both students and educators alike have an opportunity to create a positive and productive year of learning, growing and achieving.

As the Watervliet community and our school district begin to move past the unsettling events that unfolded earlier this summer, our students—particularly those at the junior-senior high school—still may be struggling to absorb and make sense of the senseless and troubling circumstances that have impacted the city.

For this reason, it is extremely important during the opening weeks of school and throughout the coming year that we provide an environment in which our students feel safe and cared for in addition to academically inspired and challenged. Upon returning to school, I ask teachers and support staff to consider ways that you can contribute to the positive, educational atmosphere conducive for teaching and learning.

State assessment results

In the meantime, it is equally important to move forward with the task of educating students and ensuring that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary for college and career. With the release of the grades 3-8 New York State assessment results in August, our teachers and building leaders now have the baseline data needed to hit the reset button and begin again to implement instructional practices that help support student growth.

I am proud to report that among Capital Region schools—aside from Menands—our school district had the lowest percentage of students opting out of state tests. According to the State Education Department, on average, “20 percent of eligible test-takers did not have “a recognized, valid reason for not participating.” In communities around the state, these tests have been the source of debate among educators and parents alike. I maintain the low opt-out rate in our district demonstrates the great trust and respect our parents have for our educators.

In the bigger picture, our students’ test scores saw little movement from the year prior. Highlights occurred in grade 5 where 31 percent of students achieved proficiency on the math test, that represents an 11 percent increase from the year before; and in grade 8 where 31 percent of students earned proficient scores on the English language arts exam, an increase of 8 percentage points from 2014.

To better support growth across-the-board, our teachers will continue to work with instructional coaches to implement best practices in the classroom and students who are struggling academically will receive additional support to help them succeed.

Welcome new staff

My administrative team and I are excited to welcome approximately 20 new staff members in 2015-16. We are fortunate to have a talented group of enthusiastic educators and support staff joining us this year. Each promises to bring fresh ideas and innovative instructional strategies to our schools that will complement the experience and skills of our veteran teachers and staff. Some familiar faces will be found in new spaces this year as a few teachers have accepted new grade level assignments within our buildings.

Throughout this coming year, I invite parents to seize every opportunity to become active participants in their children’s education. I strongly encourage parents to be informed about their child’s academic progress by regularly checking the Parent Portal and keeping the lines of communication open with their child’s teachers. Please attend school events and activities with your child as well to show them that their education is important to you.

Finally, many thanks to our custodial staff for their hard work this summer and all they have done to get our buildings ready for a successful first day of school on September 9.

I look forward to a rewarding school year and to sharing in the academic and personal accomplishments of our students and our educators. Enjoy these final weeks of summer vacation!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Moving past broken trust … to begin healing

The events of the past few weeks involving the Watervliet Police Department have been difficult and challenging for the school district, for our school families and for the community as a whole. The unsettling news of broken trust and alleged criminal activity has shaken our confidence in those who are sworn to protect and serve the community and uphold the law.

As I said from the outset, the charges against Joshua Spratt, a Watervliet police officer and the district’s former School Resource Officer, are deeply upsetting, and if true, are an egregious and unforgivable betrayal of the trust we all placed in him. As the superintendent of schools, I have taken personally the events that have unfolded in recent weeks because our families entrust educators with the safety and well-being of their children. I want to reiterate and to reassure our students, our parents and our staff that district officials followed proper procedure by reporting to Mr. Spratt’s superiors at the Watervliet Police Department the rumor that began circulating about his interactions with students.

This alarming incident has been a learning experience for us all, and that is why on opening day for staff this year, I have invited state law enforcement to speak to faculty and staff and review the appropriate protocol for reporting an allegation, however implausible it may seem, when the safety of our students is involved.

In the meantime, the investigation into Mr. Spratt and other members of the Watervliet Police Department is ongoing. District officials and I remain in contact with the Albany County District Attorney’s Office and the New York State Police. We have and we will continue to fully comply with the law enforcement agencies conducting the investigation.

I strongly encourage parents, students and/or staff who have concerns to contact me at any time. I again remind parents, students, staff and community members who may have information that may be relevant to the case to contact State Police investigators at 518-782-3211.

With classes starting in a few short weeks, our focus is to move past this troubling incident and help our students begin the new school year on a positive note.