Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Welcome Back!

Hard to imagine that summer vacation is winding down, particularly with the 90-degree weather that we are experiencing this final week! I hope everyone has enjoyed the summer and has had a chance to relax, rejuvenate and have some fun in anticipation of the upcoming school year.

I am eager to welcome back our teachers and staff, and most especially our students, as I begin my seventh year leading the Watervliet schools.

I recently read an interesting article on equity, a word that seems to have risen to the top of the lexicon for many educational leaders these days. In the article, Jonathan Raymond —  the author and former superintendent of a large urban school district in California —  asks an important question: "Do we even know what equity really means?"

The author defines equity and equality, and then explores the difference between the two. In the article, Raymond explains that equality is simply the ability to treat everyone the same way, but that equity demands more — it requires empathy. He goes on to say that equity can only be achieved when we put every child first, not just the academically proficient child, the well-behaved child, or the child with helicopter parents — but every child.

I shared the article, Equity is Empathy in Action, with teachers and staff, and I would encourage everyone to read this powerful piece. Read: Equity is Empathy in Action

Here in district, we have had a productive, busy and exciting summer integrating new opportunities for students – some that I believe will help address the issues of equity.

School-Based Health Center opens at WJSHS

The Whitney Young School-Based Health Center at Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School has been approved by the state Department of Health and is officially up and running for the school year!

This new partnership between our school district and Whitney Young Health will help ensure the basic healthcare needs of our students are met. Having a school-based health program on-site will provide access to quality health care for students of all backgrounds. From an educator’s perspective, any steps we can take to improve children’s health and that will help reduce the time that students spend away from the classroom is a positive endeavor.

The Whitney Young school-based health center is located in the nurse’s office on the first floor of the junior-senior high school. Health services will be available to any student enrolled in the district who has submitted the required paperwork. Visit the Whitney Young Health website to download a health questionnaire and parental consent and enrollment packets. Parents, please be sure to return the completed forms to the main office of your child’s school.

We look forward to working with our Watervliet families in an effort to keep students healthy and in school.

WHS site of new PTECH East Campus 

Thirteen of our district’s incoming ninth-graders participated in a week-long Summer Bridge program that kicked off the new Capital Region Pathways in Technology Early High School (P-TECH) program.

Our students are part of the inaugural class of the Capital Region P-TECH, a four- to six-year program (grades 9-14) focused on engaging students in hands-on, project-based learning to be successful in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Students who successfully complete the program can simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in the growing field of information technology at no cost to them or their families

During the summer bridge program, incoming students had an opportunity to get to know their classmates, meet the school’s business and education partners, and take an active role in developing the new school’s culture at the two PTECH sites: Watervliet Junior-Senior High School (P-TECH’s East Campus) and Mohonasen High School (P-TECH’s West Campus).

The new P-TECH High School partners area schools with Schenectady County Community College, Hudson Valley Community College and area and national businesses. It is funded through a New York State Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) grant. PTECH graduates are often first in line for a job with industry partners in the growing field of information technology.

Other support programs continue

The Watervliet ExTRA program extends the school day for elementary and junior high school students in need of additional academic support. The ExTRA program offers after-school homework help and enrichment activities designed to build upon and reinforce classroom instruction, improve student learning and raise academic achievement in literacy and math. Enrichment opportunities feature STEM robotics, drama and art.This program is made possible with funding from a New York State Education Department Extended School Day/School Violence Prevention grant.

Pivot is another grant-funded program that is exclusively for ninth-grade students. It provides the foundational skills necessary for students to successfully complete high school and better prepare for the challenges of pursuing a college education or entering the workforce. PIVOT is an academic, credit-bearing course required for all grade 9 students.

We will also continue with the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) this school year that allows us to provide school meals – breakfast and lunch – at no charge to every student, regardless of income.  Our Food is Fuel partnership with the Watervliet Civic Center will also continues to provide elementary students with a backpack of food to take home for the weekend and on holiday breaks.

Summer retreat brings changes

During our administrative retreat this summer, our team engaged in a thoughtful and serious conversation about academic performance over the last few years, as well as our goals and initiatives moving forward. As a result, some changes in roles and responsibilities have occurred.

Kirsten DeMento has become the Director of Educational Programs and Accountability, as well as the Director of our Universal Prekindergarten program. Don Stevens now serves in the capacity of the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development.

Change is rarely easy, but, I truly believe the changes made will serve our students better, especially those in need of additional academic support.

Speaking of change, at the end of last year and over the summer, some long-time teachers and staff members retired, while others moved on to new challenges and opportunities. All the best to our retirees: Alice Bulmer, Kelly Creaser, Dennis Robinson, Lori Sand and Jennifer Swyer. In the meantime, we welcome a strong group of talented new educators and support staff this year.

I also want to recognize our maintenance staff for the time and energy they put in these last few weeks to get our buildings and classrooms ready for the return of students and staff. Thank you!

To our new and our returning students — remember it's a brand new year, everyone begins with a clean slate — I encourage you to make the most of the opportunities that are offered.

Enjoy this final weekend of summer vacation! I look forward to welcoming back teachers and staff on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and greeting our students and families for the first day of the 2018-19 school year on Wednesday, Sept. 5.