G’town school board hears defense of Common Core

GERMANTOWN—The Board of Education of the Germantown Central School District heard a strong pitch from Superintendent Susan Brown for additional spending last week, and voted to approve it.

At its October 9 meeting, the board said yes to a late bus on Mondays and yes to increased time for the network systems engineer.

Two late buses were already scheduled each week, even though the budget allowed for three; the money-saving effort was unpopular with teachers.

“Teachers overwhelmingly want [a third bus] for all after-school offerings, said Mrs. Brown, former principal of the Germantown Elementary School. “All kids should be able to engage in those activities,” which include tutoring, sports and music, among others.

The additional cost is $14,000. Since the original contract was for three days a week, it does not need to be rebid.

The network systems engineer was increased from three days to four, for an additional $19,000. The district has only one person to implement new technology, along with its security measures, and three days a week was “not working,” said Mrs. Brown.

In other business, the board heard four presentations.

James Baldwin, superintendent of Questar III BOCES, brought the board up to date on BOCES initiatives and answered questions about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). When Andrea Provan objected from the audience that CCSS was never “piloted—no one’s tested the test except our children—” Mr. Baldwin replied that trial assessments had been administered. “It feels like implementation is quick, but it was years of work by the National Governors Association.” Former president Bush and President Obama both encouraged implementation of CCSS, he said, although it is still a state decision.

Board member Tammi Kellenbenz, who teaches social studies at Catskill High School, asked what the district needed to do to assist its teachers with the new standards.

Mr. Baldwin agreed that the change in standards was a “challenge.” In this case, he said, the “implementation period is very short.” The first wave, he said is understanding the standards. Then the district moves on to curriculum and lesson plans.

“Because so much attention was paid the Annual Professional Performance Review [APPR], we were distracted from the core work, which is the Common Core State Standards,” said Mr. Baldwin. “Now teachers are reacting to the CCS out of frustrations they have with the APPR.”

“What we tried to do in this region, and what I’m most proud of that the district superintendents did here,” he added, “is rather than just comply with the new standards, take advantage of an opportunity to transform what’s happening in the classrooms. CCSS doesn’t have to take away creativity from teachers; in fact, the new standards encourage creativity.”

Andy DeFeo of Questar III outlined two new initiatives: moving the BOCES center in Troy and attaching it to a K-12 district system, and moving Tech Valley High School to the College for Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany. The first of these will bring Questar III programs right into a school system, he said, and conversely, attach integrated academics to the Questar III system.

Nicole McCollum reviewed with the board state testing results. In short, Germantown results were in line with results statewide: about 31% of Germantown students tested as “proficient” in English Language Arts and Mathematics, the same as the statewide average. That is, tested for the first time on Common Core standards, most Germantown students—like most New York State students—tested “below” or “well below” proficient, in each grade level.

Common Core standards have started in the fourth grade, so “as we move forward, the gap will close,” Ms. McCollum predicted.

Mrs. Brown then presented the board with a plan for phasing in the CCSS curriculum. In New York State, she noted, Regents tests have measured student achievement for 148 years. Today the reality is that Germantown students will be tested on Common Core standards. “Last year was a baseline test, and results are low,” she said. “The new bar is high. It’s a start-over, a new game.”

Typically, implementing a new curriculum takes three to five years, she said. “But we have the talent, and we’ve done this before.” A District Planning Team has been formed, as a central clearinghouse for school committees and communities. The DPT will develop a district improvement plan with input from all.

“We’ve been given our mission,” said Mrs. Brown: “improve student achievement and graduation rate. Everyone in our school and in our community wants 100% in both.”

 

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