Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Student-centric goals to support learning, drive success

This week marks the first full month into the 2016-2017 school year, and it’s good to see that students, teachers and staff alike have settled into their daily routines. In each classroom that I have visited in the weeks since school began, I have witnessed a high level of student engagement and professional behaviors as educators work to build relationships with their students. Moving forward, my hope is that we continue to build on that energy throughout the school year!

Parental support

It has been a busy four weeks, with four Meet the Teacher Nights ‒ from the UPK to grade 6 level and the grades 7-12 level ‒ all of which were very well attended by parents. The administrators, teachers and I were pleased to see such a strong turnout at all grade levels. Research shows that students whose parents are involved do better academically and socially, regardless of income or background, so we welcome and encourage parents to continue to be active partners in your children’s education throughout the year.

District Goals

Members of the Board of Education and I met during the summer to review goals that will continue to guide our priorities and our work as a district through the end of the 2018 school year. These goals help support our mission, which is to inspire, educate and challenge, every student, every day!

As you will see, students are the focus of our four district goals:

  • Students will have the opportunity to challenge themselves socially and intellectually based on their individual needs. 
  • Students will be afforded the opportunity to participate in a rigorous Common Core aligned curriculum.
  • Students, parents, teachers and community members will have the opportunity to support outcomes for student success.
  • Students, parents, teachers and community members will continue to foster a safe, supportive, and positive school climate.

Several programs and new initiatives our district has taken to help reach those goals are outlined in the following paragraphs.

Pivot Program
To provide ninth-graders the skills necessary to successfully complete high school and prepare for the challenges of pursuing a college education or entering the workforce, we offer the Pivot Program. Now in its second year, this grant-funded program extends the school day for all 9th grade students three days a week. In addition to strengthening academic skills, the program introduces students to careers by hosting guest speakers, and a job shadow experience, and students also have opportunities to visit several college campuses throughout the year.

For students who are struggling academically, we have Response to Intervention (RtI), an important educational strategy designed to close achievement gaps and help all students succeed, especially struggling learners, students with disabilities and English language learners. RtI is a process of providing high-quality instruction/intervention matched to student needs that helps prevent small learning challenges from becoming significant obstacles to learning.

Watervliet ExTRA
To provide additional academic support for students in kindergarten through grade 8, the curriculum office has been busy planning the implementation of our new ExTRA program, which begins this first week in October. ExTRA, which stands for Extended Time Raises Achievement, extends learning time and opportunities for kindergarten through grade 8 students by providing academic support and enrichment during the school year and summer months to reinforce classroom instruction, strengthen skills and raise academic achievement in literacy and math. The Watervliet ExTRA program offers a morning academic reading club for grades K-2, as well as after-school academic help and enrichment activities/clubs for grades 3-8. In addition to academic/homework support, the ExTRA program will feature project-based learning activities and clubs like robotics, Odyssey of the Mind, drama, art and intramural sports. Next summer the district will offer a summer academic program for students entering grades K-8. ExTRA is funded by an Extended School Day/School Violence Prevention grant through the New York State Education Department.

Independent Living
We have launched a new Independent Living class this year that will help prepare our special needs students for life after high school. The Independent Living course was created this year to provide Special Education students the skills needed to work towards earning their Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential. To exit school earning this credential, students must demonstrate achievement of commencement level knowledge and skills relating to the CDOS learning standards in the areas of career development, integrated learning and universal foundation skills.

Operation Graduation
To encourage high school seniors to stay focused and on track for a successful final year of high school we have Operation Graduation, a system that identifies those students who are at risk of not graduating either because of poor attendance, behavioral issues, or low academic achievement. In this program, teachers, administrators and other staff members serve as mentors for at-risk students providing the support they need in and out of the classroom to graduate.

Recognizing school leaders

Finally, October is National Principals’ Month! As a former principal and assistant principal, I am acutely aware of the challenges and the rewards inherent in this job. I appreciate our school leaders for their hard work and their tireless efforts on behalf of our students and our school community. Our principals are dedicated instructional leaders who value and encourage ongoing professional growth for our teachers, believe strongly in high academic standards and are committed to creating a supportive and responsive learning environment for our students.

My sincere thanks to these five individuals for their time, their talents and their dedication: principals Ryan Groat and Loida Lewinter, and assistant principals Kelly Webster, Michael Foust and David Wareing. They truly embody a school culture that inspires, challenges and educates every student, every day!