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Rumble of Thunder—Brainstorming the future

Photo of Dr. HughesMarch 21, 2016

It’s been way too long since I posted a blog. Time for me to get back to posting my thoughts and happenings at Central Valley.  Below is a letter sent to staff to chat about things we are working on to improve what we do, educate our Thunder.  As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns you might have at either rhughes@cvalleycsd.org or 315-894-9934.

I hope everyone is enjoying the official start of spring. As with spring, we are and will be seeing changes in weather along with the return of flora and fauna. Of course, change as a topic seems to cause more stress and conjecture than any other topic—especially when accompanied by stories and rumors. I figured the best way to alleviate some of the stress over the unknown was to provide some updates on what we are looking into and how those changes might affect everyone.  Please understand this is a 30,000 foot view and is not about specifics.  Specifics can only be discussed on a case by case basis as not one scenario can fit each and every person, just as one method does not work for each and every one of our Thunder. Multiple or personalized approaches are necessary.

Bus runs

Let’s start off with some information on scheduling. One of the first and continuing comments I hear about scheduling, especially from our teachers, has to do with our busing.  Mr. Francisco and our crew do a great job of getting our Thunder to school and home on a daily basis. The problem we have is that each of our four buildings all start around the same time, 8 a.m.  That requires all students P-12 to be transported on the same bus runs, no matter how far they live from school, and then to have each bus run make multiple stops, sometimes to every single building. This is the reason our students are almost all dropped off at the elementary schools by 7:35 a.m. then they must wait 25-30 minutes in the halls before class starts. For some of our students, they get on a bus around 6 a.m.  By the time school starts, a number of our students are waiting close to two hours from pick up until learning actually begins. We have to change this.

To fix this issue, we have been working with our transportation and business departments in conjunction with Versa Trans (our transportation software company) on different routing.  The option we are trying to finalize is double routing.  Districts such as New Hartford and Whitesboro, amongst many others, do this. Double routing is just that, each route would have two runs to transport students. If we move to double routing, our longest time a student on the bus goes from over 100 minutes to about an hour.  And that is for the longest runs to the farthest points in our district.  This allows students of different ages and locations to be transported at different times but requires school start times to also differ.  As of right now, we are running models using a 7:30ish start time for CVA and Jarvis while Fisher and Barringer Road would start around 8:30ish. What is critical is that the difference in start and end times vary by about one hour. This allows a driver to go out and complete a bus run before coming back to then take the next group of students on the same bus run. This will provide our students with less time on our buses and more time with their families and other activities. CVA and Jarvis would have to start first so that all of our CTE, VP-Tech and Special education BOCES students would be able to get all the time they deserve and need in class.

Bell schedule

Less time on buses is one way to gain precious time for our students within the day.  The other is how we structure our school day. First, we are trying to provide a breakfast rotation at the elementary schools before students enter the classroom. With our free breakfast and lunch program, we have had a huge increase in the number of students eating. If we can create a breakfast rotation that includes both hot and cold meals with learning such as i-Ready and other digital learning, we can give our elementary teachers quite a bit of valuable classroom time back and not have students sitting and waiting in the halls.

We are also looking at ways to get students the time they need with our learning experts, our teachers. As will be shown by the upcoming adoption and release of Central Valley’s strategic plan, we have a very large number of students who receive AIS services across all grade levels and a significant number of high school students that repeat courses with often little gain.  For instance, changing our bell schedule at CVA will allow us to target students who need our help sooner while also giving our teachers more time in the classroom with our Thunder. Changing the day from a 9 period day of 40 minute periods that includes a lunch to a 7 period day with a 30 minute lunch would add approximately 1600 minutes to each class over the course of the year or 40 more classes compared to the 9 period day. In combination with double bus routing, we would be able to create a true afterschool period, acting as an 8th period, where students could get the help they need when they need it and be able to ride a bus home at both CVA and Jarvis. The new schedule would still allow each CVA teacher to have 6 periods of teaching, 2 periods of preparation and a lunch as per our contract. After looking at a number of schedules provided by the guidance department, none of our students would experience a reduction in the number of credits our students have earned towards graduation.

Courses

If we want to have a more positive impact on our Thunder and to prepare them better for their postsecondary lives, we have to have an aligned effort to do so.  Transportation routes and the bell schedule are a couple of ways to do so. Another way is through the courses we offer. Much of our work will be to create and constantly hone a viable and rigorous P-12 curriculum. How we build sequences of courses and ingrain critical skills is a significant portion of that. During the merger process, there was discussion and plans to create career clusters. This also could be considered an academy model. The foundation for an academy model is grounded in offering alternative pathways, not only for graduation, but for an Advanced Regents diploma. A five-unit sequence in art, music or technology can be used to meet the requirements for an Advanced Regents diploma. It is critical that we give our Thunder the opportunity to start a sequence of their choosing at the middle school level.  To accomplish this, we are going to offer the first elective in a sequence, such as Studio in Art and/or Drawing, Design and Production, at Jarvis. We are nowhere near the first school to do this, so it is definitely doable. What it will take is for us to work together and overcome the fear associated with change. As of now, there aren’t any true electives at Jarvis, but for some reason a rumor has spread that electives will be decreased and even eliminated at not only Jarvis, but also CVA.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  What we must change is that our courses, including electives, are aligned and rigorous, otherwise we are just putting our students through courses for the sake of getting them through courses for credit.

STREAM

Another rumor making the rounds is that we are getting rid of STREAM.  Again this is incorrect. Right now STREAM is truly only taking place in 6th grade. The idea behind STREAM was to use projects and research to support learning. Some have the mistaken idea that STREAM classes only involve project-based learning.  Learning solely based on projects is not possible as there must be a foundation of knowledge before projects can be used to apply the learning. How can we expect students to choose between a STREAM and a traditional path at such an early age? Even the members of our 6th grade STREAM team have explained how difficult it has been to realize the vision of project-based learning.  It’s best for us to reset and work together to improve all learning for our Thunder.

Instead of choosing between STREAM or traditional, we want to combine the best of both worlds for all students.  This is simply good instruction and puts the focus back on student learning.  With this new fully collaborative approach, all students would gain crucial experience in critical thinking, research and application of learning through projects.

So what does this and more all mean? Change is inevitable but it should not be feared, it should be welcomed.  Change means we are working to do the best we can…working to get better each and every day. Why is it important to get better each day? We have the responsibility to do everything we can to help our Thunder reach their full potential. We also have the ability to improve and do a better job of reaching each and every student.  What matters to me and the Board of Education is that we work to get better for ourselves and for our students.  Each one of us, myself included, has room for growth.  If we work hard, focus on professional growth and good teaching, our potential is limitless. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will be the Central Valley that was dreamed of with the merger. It will take time and hard work but we can get there…we will get there…together.

Dr. Hughes
Superintendent