Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Great expectations for new school year!

The days are becoming shorter, the temperatures are starting to cool, and student athletes have returned for fall sports practices – all signs that summer is inevitably coming to an end. These eight weeks seem to fly by more quickly with each passing year. It seems like yesterday we were celebrating as the Class of 2016 graduated, and now here we are – preparing to greet the Class of 2029 next week as we welcome back all students and staff to school!

I hope you were able to relax, have fun with family and friends, travel, read a good book and rejuvenate for September during the summer break, and are now as ready and energized as I am for the start of school!

State test scores reveal some progress in math, little movement in ELA scores

Over the summer, the New York State Department of Education (SED) released the results of the grades 3-8 English language arts (ELA) and math state tests that students took in the spring. The Times Union published an article recently analyzing the results among schools in our region. Not surprisingly, small, urban districts, like Watervliet, were among the schools with the lower scores and the least improvement. See SED website for complete state assessment data

It is important to remember that state assessments are not the “be all, end all” measure of student success. The tests are one measure that educators can use to identify which skills students have mastered and other skills that require additional time and effort to learn. Despite showing some progress – our elementary math scores were up – as a whole, our results indicate that student performance on these tests remains below state averages for proficiency in ELA and math. While I know the 2016 test results are not reflective of the hard work and dedication of our teachers and staff, the lack of tangible growth in our scores represents a need for improvement district-wide. We must continue to identify and embrace instructional practices that are showing results and build on them. At the same time, we must recognize and discard ineffective strategies because to continue repeating practices that fail to engage students in learning, and yet somehow expect favorable results, is simply not acceptable. Our students deserve better.

I believe that educating children is one of the most important (if not the most important) responsibility we have as a society. I also believe wholeheartedly that teaching is the most noble of professions. My expectations for the coming school year are that we will work smarter, harder and even more collaboratively than we have since I first joined the district as high school principal 12 years ago. All of our students have the ability to learn and must be given every opportunity to succeed.

Our most important task is supporting their success. We can do that by prioritizing students’ needs in the decisions we make and committing to delivering a rigorous education and relevant experiences that will prepare all Watervliet students for college or for the workforce. I expect everyone – teachers, teaching assistants, bus drivers, support staff, food service workers, administrators – to bring their A-game for every student, every day. If you commit to inspiring, educating and challenging every student, every day – they will be engaged, they will learn and they will achieve.

Sharing responsibility for student success

To be successful, students need support from both home and school. A strong partnership between schools, parents and families can make a positive difference in a child’s education. I strongly encourage parents to be involved in your children’s education from day one of prekindergarten through the day your child takes his or her final Regents exam in high school. I invite parents to reach out to your children’s teachers, building principals or myself to let us know how we can best help you. If you are not currently registered for an account on the Parent Portal, please sign up for one today. The portal offers parents online access to a secure site with personalized information about their children’s academic program and progress, including class schedules, assignments, attendance, report cards and more.

Administrative changes find familiar faces in different roles

I am excited to introduce some key administrative changes at both buildings and the district level this year.
All three changes involve promotions from within our school district ranks. Loida Lewinter has stepped into the role of elementary principal after serving as the assistant principal at the junior/senior high school for the past two years. Two former teachers have moved out of their classrooms and into leadership roles, as well. Fourth-grade teacher Kelly Webster is now the assistant principal of the junior/senior high school, while grade 6 teacher Don Stevens has taken the position of Director of Literacy and Universal Prekindergarten. I am confident these changes will make for an engaging and productive year and as we move forward

Our district will welcome a number of new teachers and staff members this year, following the retirement of several veteran teachers last year. My message to new teachers and to experienced educators is the same:
We are all responsible for setting the tone for the school year. We can and we must set higher expectations and standards for behavior and academics in our classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, and athletic facilities. I remind newer teachers to keep up with your certification requirements and commit to working hard to achieve tenure. Never be afraid to ask for help if or when you need it.

My sincere thanks to our maintenance staff for the work they have done this summer inside and outside of our schools to prepare the buildings and grounds for a successful first day of school on September 7.

Lastly, I want to express that it is truly an honor for me to welcome back our students and their families as another school year is set to begin. On behalf of Watervliet’s teachers, staff and administrators, we look forward to a successful and rewarding school year for all.