Thursday, June 20, 2019

Congratulations Class of 2019!

The end of the school year is always a bittersweet time. Next week, we bid farewell to group of about 100 high school seniors who we have been educating, inspiring and challenging for the past 13 years of their lives. As the Class of 2019 prepares to move on from Watervliet High School, I wish them all the best in the next chapter, whether that be college, the workforce, or the military. The WHS commencement begins promptly at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26 in the Harry Tucker gymnasium.

Reflecting back on a busy 2018-19 school year

As the 2018-19 school year comes to a close, I want to take this opportunity to look back on the year that was, and take note of several successful initiatives that were launched this year. 

We expanded the What I Need (WIN) program, which has been greatly beneficial for elementary students, to junior high school students (grades 7-8). The Win program offers additional support to students who need it in English language arts and math. 

Also at the junior high and high school level, we introduced a school mentoring program for all students in grades 7-11. Every teacher and administrator, as well as instructional support staff, agreed to be a mentor to at least one student this year. The purpose of the mentor program is to build personal relationships with students and provide positive supports that will help them feel more connected to school, and in turn, improve attendance and student engagement in learning.

School Based Health Center continues to serve students

Whitney Young began operating a school-based health center in our school district in September. The program currently provides health services to about 60 percent of our students. As mentioned in my previous blogs, the school-based health center is located at Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School, but serves all students, prekindergarten through grade 12, whose parents enroll them in the program. The school-based health center provides immunizations and physicals required for school, and there is never a co-pay or an out-of-pocket cost for any SBHC services! We are hoping to expand the enrollment so that we can provide a health center on-site at Watervliet Elementary School. The health center is possible through a partnership between our school district and Whitney Young Health.

PTECH to begin year two

Eleven of our students recently completed their first year in the Capital Region Pathways in Technology Early High School (P-TECH) program. I am so proud of our students who are on their way to earning both their high school diploma and an associate’s degree from HVCC in information technology through this four- to six-year program (grades 9-14).

About a dozen incoming ninth-graders will enter the PTECH program in September. To prepare for the program, the students will participate in a week-long Summer Bridge program during where they will have an opportunity to get to know their classmates better, meet the program’s business and education partners, and be immersed in fun STEM-based and team-building activities.

On the Move

The Board of Education, upon my recommendation, recently appointed Don Stevens to the position of assistant superintendent from director of curriculum and instruction. In this new role, Mr. Stevens will continue to administer all things related to curriculum, instruction and professional development with added leadership responsibilities.

Also, you may recall in January Kelly Webster moved from assistant principal at Watervliet Jr.-Sr. High School to principal at Watervliet Elementary School ‒ and she is doing a fantastic job there!

In other administrative news, beginning July 1, Michael Foust will become the assistant principal at WES, and David Wareing will return to the assistant principal position at WJSHS and take on the role of Athletic Coordinator. Over the summer, we will hire an assistant principal to fill Mrs. Webster’s former spot at WJSHS.

Farewell to our retiring educators, staff members

It is also a time to say good-bye to this year’s retirees and thank them for their years of service to the district and commitment to our students. Congratulations and best wishes to WHS social studies teacher Scott Burke and technology teacher Joe Facin; WES reading teacher Michaeleen Backus and cafeteria worker Elizabeth Sutherland.

Before they officially head out for a well-deserved summer vacation, I want to recognize our teachers and instructional support staff for the dedication, talent, energy and care they bring to educating our diverse student population. I value your efforts and your commitment to making a positive difference for every student, every day.

Thanks for supporting education

Finally, on behalf of the Board of Education, I thank everyone who took time to participate in the school budget vote and Board of Education election on May 21. I am grateful for the continued community support for our schools.

To our students, teachers and 10-month staffers, please enjoy a relaxing, safe and fun summer! We will do this all again starting in September.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Appreciating teachers

Teacher Appreciation Week

Around the country, this is National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10). Every student needs and deserves a champion. Our students depend on us to care for them, educate them and challenge them. I am proud to recognize and thank all Watervliet’s educators who not only teach but also care for and serve as role models for students in our schools.

I often remind teachers that although we cannot control the environment that our learners come from, we can be authentic and empathetic while creating a welcoming and nurturing environment so students can succeed during the time they spend with us at school. It is important to keep in mind, too, that the final weeks of the school year can be a restless and hectic time for students. I encourage teachers and staff to continue to be the positive and caring adults that our students can count on for support!

Tenure granted to five district educators

Five educators were recognized during the April Board meeting for earning tenure. Congratulations to grade 6 teachers Nikki LaBossierre and Anna Marie Magyar, elementary teacher Jennifer Williams, and high school science teachers Hillary Brochu and Cecelia Nicolaescu. Thank you for inspiring, educating and challenging every student, every day!

National Teacher of Year an inspiration to urban educators 

Speaking of teachers, it is inspiring to hear the words of Rodney Robinson, the newly minted Teacher of the Year. His is perhaps the most challenging – but I would bet also the most rewarding – task an educator can have. Mr. Robinson teaches social studies at the Binford Education Center, which is part of the Richmond Juvenile Detention Facility in Virginia. He believes ALL students, including those whose life experiences growing up in an urban environment have been difficult or greatly influenced by trauma and led to poor choices, deserve a high quality education and great teachers. He acknowledges that his students have made mistakes for which they are now paying, but he is committed to ensuring they get the second chance they deserve to overcome their challenges and succeed.

I applaud Mr. Robinson who says that as Teacher of the Year, he will use his voice to advocate for equity in education, which means making sure that all students receive the resources to achieve what they deserve, and cultural responsiveness to recognize the importance of including students’ culture in all aspects of learning. With these two principles, students can be empowered to achieve their goals. Read more about this amazing and dedicated educator

Top 10 students

Time now to recognize the Top 10 scholars of the Class of 2019! Congratulations to valedictorian Jared Sierra and salutatorian Waleed Ahmed, Alexis Dykes, Madyson Sawyer, Zagham Shah, Dylan Fumarola, Mustafa Raza, Dez’Jah Mitchell, Angelina Rodriguez and Hannah Linacre who round out the Top 10.
In addition to their outstanding academic performance, these students contributed to the school community in other ways: leadership, music and athletics. Although their intended college majors vary ‒from accounting to physics, and international trade to nursing – I know these Cannoneers will continue to make us all proud. Read more about the Class of 2019 Top 10

Remember to vote Tuesday, May 21

The annual school budget vote and Board of Education election takes place Tuesday, May 21 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., during which Watervliet voters will consider a $28 million budget for the 2019-20 school year. Under this budget proposal, we are able to preserve our educational programs, services and opportunities for students, and remain within our allowable tax levy “cap” as determined by the state's formula. More about the budget proposal

Every resident of the community 18 and older has a voice in the funding and elected leadership of our school district. Whether you’ve been voting for years or will cast your first ballot on May 21, whatever your opinion may be, I encourage you to vote. I only ask that you learn as much about the proposed budget as possible before you head to your polling location. Please visit the district's budget web page, where you can find details about the proposed 2019-20 school budget and its impact on our schools and community.

End-of-year events

As the end of the school year approaches, I am excited to share some important upcoming dates and events that are scheduled during these final weeks of school:

  • Wednesday, May 8 – Grade 6 Transition Night, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 9 – National Honor Society Induction Ceremony, 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 11 – Junior/Senior Prom, 7-11 p.m., Walk-thru, 6 p.m.
  • Monday, May 13 – Grandparents and Special Persons Night, 6:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 14 – Public Budget Hearing/Board of Education Meeting, 6 p.m. 
  • Thursday, May 16 – Garnet & Grey Spring Concert, 6:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 21 – Annual School Budget Vote/Board of Education election
  • Friday, May 24 through Tuesday, May 28 – No School, Memorial Day 
  • Thursday, May 30 – Spring Sports Awards Night, 6 p.m.
  • Monday, June 3 – NYS Regents Exam, 8 a.m.
  • Thursday, June 6 – Elementary Spring Concert, 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 12 – Senior Varsity Dinner, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 13 Board of Education Meeting, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, June 14 – WES Field Day
  • Tuesday, June 18 – Regents Exams begin
  • Monday, June 24 through Wednesday, June 26 – WES Half Days  
  • Monday, June 24 – UPK celebration, 9 a.m., 10 a.m. 
  • Tuesday, June 25 – Grade 6 Graduation, 9:30 a.m.
  • Wednesday, June 26 – Class of 2019 Commencement, 6 p.m., WHS gymnasium

Friday, March 22, 2019

2019-20 school budget development underway

The 2019-20 budget development process is underway, as School Business Manager Keith Heid presented a preliminary look at the budget numbers during the March Board of Education meeting. Mr. Heid reviewed our district’s projected expenditures based on the current academic programs and services we offer. He then recapped revenue estimates, including the amount of state aid we can expect to receive based on the governor’s state budget proposal. As mentioned in my previous blog post, our district could expect an increase of $151,731, or 1.2 percent more, in Foundation Aid under Governor Cuomo’s proposed Executive Budget.

This first look at budget estimates show a baseline budget gap of nearly $650,000 for the 2019-20 school year. That said, I remind everyone, including myself, that these are preliminary numbers, and that the budget process remains fluid as we wait for state budget negotiations to conclude in a few weeks, and we get a final determination on the amount of state aid our schools will receive.

In the meantime, as we move forward with developing our 2019-20 budget proposal, school leaders and administrators will continue to look closely at instructional and department-level priorities to identify areas for cost savings. At the same time, we will make every effort to preserve educational programs and opportunities that address our student needs, while being fiscally responsible to our community and working within the confines of the state’s tax levy cap.

There are two more budget workshops scheduled before the Board adopts its 2019-20 school budget proposal. I encourage parents, staff, students and community members to attend these workshops and learn more about the budget proposal before the public vote on Tuesday, May 21.

The workshops will take place:

  • Tuesday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m. at WES, and 
  • Saturday, April 13 at 9:00 a.m. at WJSHS    

Honoring women in history

This month during the morning announcements in honor of Women's History Month, our high school students have been recognizing one woman each day who has made a significant impact on history. They have honored civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Noble Prize winning scientist Marie Curie, poet Maya Angelou and Susan B. Anthony, a prominent leader in the women's suffrage movement and champion of women's rights, among others.

To borrow a page from their playbook, I thought it would be interesting, as an educational leader and a woman, to pay homage to the first female superintendent of schools in the United States. Like our students, I first had to do some research. After an online search, I learned that the honor of being the first female superintendent of a public school belongs to Phebe Sudlow of Iowa!

In the mid-1800s, Miss Sudlow was a public school teacher in rural Iowa for 12 years before being asked by the school superintendent in the city of Davenport to teach in his schools. Three years later, she was appointed principal. But before accepting the principal position, Miss Sudlow made it clear to the school board that she expected to receive the same salary that would be offered to a man – and she refused to consider working for less. After thinking it over, the school board agreed to her request and she became the first woman superintendent in our country's history.

Not only was she the first woman to earn the title of superintendent, but she also assumed all the responsibilities of school leadership. Equally important, I learned that Phebe Sudlow was a true warrior for equal rights! During a time when male educators dominated the field and earned quite a bit more than women doing the same job, Sudlow led the charge for equal pay for women educators who were teachers during that era. She also became the first female professor in the English Department at the University of Iowa in 1878, even though she had no formal college degree.

Miss Sudlow was a member of a charitable women’s group in the late 1800s, known as the Ladies' Industrial Relief Society in Davenport, that operated an “industrial school” for poor people in the city. There students learned sewing and cooking skills that would help them land good jobs.

Miss Sudlow paved the way for me and other women who are in leadership roles in today’s schools. I hope to pay that forward by inspiring more women in education to follow the path to leadership as administrators in their schools and districts.

Drama Club production of Aladdin Jr was pure magic

Finally, I cannot overstate how proud I was sitting in the audience for the WJSHS Drama Club’s performance of the musical, Aladdin Jr., last Friday night. I was incredibly impressed with the level of talent of the cast members and the skill of the stage crew. It really was magic! Congratulations to all the students involved, including:

  • ShaQuan Jenkins, Aladdin
  • Jah’Nye Griffin, the Genie
  • Leigh-Amber Loeper, Princess Jasmine

And the entire cast and stage crew: Mark Pompey, Taleea Watkins, Jahan Malloy, Steffanie Mammoser, Anisa Parsons, Kahlysa Parsons, Tyler Beauregard, Jared Sierra, Olivia Jones, Jade Chastin, Emma Macie, Daryn Curry, Paige Grimmick, Jaelyn Sharpe, An'Twanaizja Uptegrow, Paige McCulloch, Megan Polaro, Mikayla Caminiti, Abby Zawistowski, Camryn Reedy, Kevin Cecchetto, Kendryek Flynn, Melissa Mayo, Mimi Kaurejo.

Bravo to club advisers Ms. Becker and Mrs. Brochu for your hard work to make this happen. I look forward to seeing what the Drama Club has in store (or on stage) next year!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Equitable aid, sustainable programs are top priority for 2019-20 school budget

On Saturday, Jan. 26, I joined my superintendent colleagues at the Capital Region BOCES for a breakfast with legislators to discuss our priorities as leaders of public school districts.

Once again, our top priority is to make sure that districts receive adequate and equitable state aid to help sustain valuable programs and services and make it possible for schools to meet our students’ needs. We have asked that our elected officials consider the needs of students and the sustainability of school programs as they begin state budget negotiations.

As our own school budget development process gets underway, our focus remains the ability to preserve valuable programs and services for students in a fiscally responsible manner. This will be especially challenging minus adequate state funding, and working within the confines of the state’s tax cap.

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented a state budget proposal that includes a $956 million school aid increase for 2019-20. Under his proposal, overall school aid would total $27.7 billion, which represents a statewide increase of 3.6 percent.

For Watervliet, the governor's proposal would result in a 1.2 percent increase, or $151,731 more, in Foundation Aid than what we received in the 2018-19 budget cycle.

The bulk of the state aid increase is in two major categories: $338 million in additional Foundation Aid, which is the primary source of funding for everyday school operations, and $619.7 million to reimburse districts for designated expenses such as transportation, construction and BOCES services.

When factoring in those expense-driven and other aid categories, Watervliet would receive a total increase in aid of $487,345, or 2.5 percent.

Also under the governor’s plan, the state’s Property Tax Cap law would become permanent. Adopted in 2011, the law limits growth of local property taxes, including those for local school districts, to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Final tax levy limits for school district are also subject to a number of variables. For Watervliet, every 1 percent over the allowable limit would equal approximately $69,000.

The executive budget proposal is the formal beginning of budget negotiations between the governor and the New York State Legislature, with a final state budget due on or before April 1. The Board of Education will then adopt the proposed 2019-20 school budget on Thursday, April 18. The public will vote on the school budget Tuesday, May 21.

In the meantime, we have scheduled three budget workshops for the following dates:

  • Thursday, March 14: Board of Education meeting, 6:00 p.m., WJSHS administrative conference room
  • Tuesday, April 9: PTA meeting, 6:30 p.m., WES cafeteria
  • Saturday, April 13: Budget Breakfast, 9:00 a.m., WJSHS administrative conference room

Parents, teachers, staff, students and community members are invited to attend any or all of these workshops to learn more about the proposed school budget and share your thoughts during the budget development process.

Stay tuned for more information on our proposed 2019-20 school budget in the coming weeks.