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BOE responds to community questions

At its regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25, the Central Valley Board of Education issued a written response to a variety of community questions (see below).

The board also shared its motivation behind a recent resolution requiring school employees to share any statements they wish to make during the public comment at board of education meetings. Matt Shedd, speaking on behalf of the board, said the goal was not to be offputting, but rather to allow the board an opportunity to research answers. The current practice leaves the community without prompt feedback. He said the board hoped the resolution would lead to more meaningful communication.

Board response

The Board of Education would like to address some recent concerns.

Please do not feel as though we have not been listening to your concerns.  We do hear you.  We agree we have not always responded the way you wanted us to and some of the concerns we have not responded to at all so we will try to change that.  Here are steps we are taking.

  1. We spelled out the chain of command. This chain is vital to all your concerns as it puts the people in place that will in most cases have the answers to your questions.  If the link in the chain can’t satisfy your concern, move to the next link in the chain.  If all avenues are not successful, the Board of Education will welcome your concerns.  We will hear you, then we will also have the opportunity to go back and hear all sides.  This is the only way we as a board can make a fair decision having ALL of the facts from ALL sides.  If you have a question on whom you need to address, we will be happy to send you to the appropriate person.
  1. We made a policy to have employees supply us 24 hours in advance of any concerns they may want to bring up at a board meeting. How does this help?  This will allow us to try and address the concerns with the proper personnel for a quicker response.  Possibly even have an answer at the meeting.  This is also recommended for district residents as we hope to accomplish the same results.
  1. We have used your feedback to better inform the community and parents who may not be able to attend board meetings by sending out a newsletter every quarter.
  1. We have welcomed and included parents, teachers and community members for finance, policy, curriculum and transportation committees.
  1. We have offered to meet with small groups to listen to your concerns. We as a board do not feel a public forum is a useful way to accomplish this.
  1. We are going to institute a board discussion period in each meeting so the public will have an opportunity to hear the board discussion as decisions are being made.

It is our job as board members to set goals, it is the duty of the administration team to map out the way we get there.  They are the professionals in education and we trust they will know the best way to achieve our goals.

So, what are the goals?  Our goals are explained through the STRATEGIC PLAN that was developed through a committee of students, parents, teachers, administrators as well as community members.  The Strategic Plan has spelled out the need for rapid and necessary educational changes.   These changes have left some people uncomfortable and in some cases angry.  Even our own individual Board of Education members are not unanimous with some of the changes.  We do all agree that we need to do what’s educationally best for all students.  Over the summer, a team of teachers worked to create a writing handbook for Central Valley.  This will help us determine where our students should be at the end of each grade level.  Our administration and teachers will touch on some of the progress being made during the reports that you will hear at each meeting.

To help our children get to where they need to be, we had to make some unpopular decisions.  The hardest and biggest change we made was the realignment of schools.  We hope this will give the resources students need to succeed by:

  1. Placing all of grade’s teachers in one building. This will allow teachers to now use the same curriculum and teaching strategies.  This will also allow teachers to work collaboratively to implement best educational practices.
  2. Elementary school children receive age-appropriate resources and supports.
  3. Students now enter the next grade having similar classroom experiences, regardless of where they live.
  4. It will save the tax payers over $1,000,000 in alterations that would have been required to keep the grades split. Much of that cost had to do with adjusting the classrooms to meet the state size requirements.
  5. It will allow us to optimize our current staff now and in the future.
  6. It will allow us to empty the Jarvis building during the renovations.

When our principals were asked at a recent board meeting how the realignment was going, their comment was that the children are resilient and made the transition with minimal concerns.  As you can tell by the administrator’s reports, the children are making great strides.  They have made new friends and adjusted to new routines. Most important, we are seeing a dramatic increase in learning in classrooms where teachers are tailoring learning to the individual student. That kind of learning, along with the grade level teacher’s professional development, would have proved to be much more difficult in separate buildings.

Another concern was about the voter approved capital improvement project and the need to invest in our middle school.  During the merger process, it was decided that a middle school containing grades 5-8 was the best education choice for our children.  At a prior meeting, Mrs. Hoskey explained the benefits of having the middle school concept and how it is the best age-appropriate learning environment for the success of our children.  The improvements to Jarvis will allow us to expand the cafeteria to eliminate the need for some students to have their lunch period at 10:30 in the morning. The new Jarvis Middle School will allow us to design more parking as well as a safer way to have our children enter and exit the school. The new Jarvis Middle School will allow us to create an energy efficient building with more efficient heating systems that will repay us back for many years after our incentive aid has diminished. The new Jarvis Middle School will allow us to house some of our BOCES students as well as rent space to other districts for building aid and future revenues.  This is all done at no local tax payer’s expense.

The concern on changing the report cards to a standards-based is a concern between teachers and administrators.  The time frame in which it was implemented was the board issue that has been addressed.  All of the administrators feel as though the new format will help each parent know whether their child has mastered key skills they need to be successful in grade school, college or careers.  This has been an effort between grade level teachers as well as their principals and critical administration.  The board members do not have the expertise to debate on this topic.

To address the issue of low morale in the schools, we have been looking into agencies that will come in to the school to help us find the root of the problem.  Dr. Hughes has announced that he plans to meet with every single employee to allow them to address their concerns.  This will take some time but we are working on it.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, the Board of Education is 100 percent behind our teachers. They are the lifeblood of education. We have provided more professional development than ever in the former districts of Ilion and Mohawk. We have focused that continued education and training in critical areas such as curriculum development and the effective use of technology.  We are learning strategies to reach the current generation.

Central Valley is failing to meet New York’s requirement for minutes spent in physical education for k-4.  Dr. Hughes has asked Mr. Rich to chair a committee to try and develop a schedule to include the proper time requirements and all specials.

In an exit poll at the last budget vote, there was an overwhelming response that the children spent too much time on the bus and waiting in the halls prior to beginning class.  In some cases, it was over an hour and a half and in most cases, bussed students had to wait 25 minutes in a hall for their school day to start.  Under the hard work of the Transportation committee and the bus garage, we are happy to say that it is unusual for any student to be on a bus for an hour.  To make this happen, it was necessary to split the start times of the schools.

It is common practice that school boards renew a superintendent’s contract annually.  This has always been a practice in the past.  With all that was going on with the realignment, the former board neglected to do so on Dr. Hughes’ anniversary.  The former board discussed the renewal of the contract and felt it to be in the best interest of the district to include the newly elected members in this decision.  A superintendent is evaluated based off of his or her performance to the goals that were mapped out at the beginning of the year.  Dr. Hughes exceeded all goals placed for him.  Based off of his performance of his goals, the majority of the board awarded him with the extension.

We have not found evidence of any of retribution nor of any refusal for a meeting by Dr. Hughes.  We agree all stake holders should feel as though they can express their concerns without fear of retribution and believe they should be able to have the opportunity to meet with whomever is in their chain of communication.

We would like to take some time to address some of the positive changes that have been happening in our schools.

One-to-one personal devices and wireless network upgrades at Jarvis and CVA have made 21st Century learning possible. Students are using technology to research, write, and collaborate. We no longer have to rely on soon-outdated textbooks; current information is immediately available via the Internet. Makerspaces provide students with areas to imagine and physically build solutions to complex problems. Central Valley students are gaining skills they will use in manufacturing, the trades, software development, or any other career they choose to follow.

Under the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision, Central Valley students eat breakfast and lunch for free in our buildings. It allows our students to focus on learning rather than their hunger. Central Valley qualified because of our high poverty rate. It is unfortunate, but that is an economic reality. As our schools and community improve, we hope that we will no longer need this level of assistance.

Central Valley and the United Way have collaborated to begin Ready for Kindergarten (R4K). The program is funded by the United Way as a means of ensuring all children have the basic skills that will make them successful when they begin school. Research shows that children who start behind their peers seldom make up that learning gap. R4K sends a school liaison into the community to find children and to get them needed services to eliminate that gap before they begin kindergarten. The program and partnership with the United Way would not have been possible without the realignment of our elementary schools due to funding.

CVA launches its NNDCC/NJROTC program this January. This Navy for-credit class focuses on citizenship, patriotism, and life skills. It includes three academic classes, one uniform/drill day, and one physical fitness day each week. Although it introduces students to the organization and concept of the military, it is not a recruiting organization. In other area schools, high school graduation rates hover around 100 percent for program participants.

Central Valley is committed to the purposeful and effective use of data. The term “data” evokes a negative response from many people, especially those concerned with state assessments. Central Valley uses data as a benchmark—a measure of student progress. Data allows a teacher to know exactly where a student is at any time in his or her learning. It allows the teacher to tailor learning activities to best meet the needs of that individual student. Data is never used alone as a measure of student progress. It is simply one tool each teacher uses to make certain every student is learning and is on track for the next level or grade. Our school resists the use of student scores as the sole measure of a teacher’s effectiveness. Just as a number cannot measure the complete child, a number cannot measure a teacher’s value. It is an important tool, but it can never tell the entire story.

Central Valley is embracing New York’s changes to “Pathways to Graduation.” This recognizes that students are individuals and that a one-size-fits-all education is not practical. Not everyone is headed to college to become a doctor or software engineer. Our first pathway will be in the arts. Students will complete basic state requirements in ELA, math, science, and social studies, then will complete graduation requirements in music and art. The New York State Education Department will offer other pathways. Central Valley will include these pathways based on student interest and district resources.

The merger promised no personnel reductions in the first year. The goal over time, however, was to become more efficient in the use of our staff. We kept that promise. After four years, no Central Valley employee has lost his or her job due to cuts. Overall class sizes remain unchanged. We are working to reduce our staff by attrition (not filling a retiree’s position) and by reassigning staff based on certification and student needs.

We are aware of the many changes that have been made.  We also know there is much more work that has to be done.  The merger was approved because of the greater opportunities for our students.  We are constantly looking for ways to make it work not just for our current students but for our future students.  In order for this merger to be successful we have to be constantly evaluating our methods on improving.