CRARYVILLE— The May 21 meeting of the Taconic Hills Board of Education began with the acknowledgment of Nadine Gazzola, who was elected last week to a vacant seat on the board. Ms. Gazzola was present in the audience but will not take her seat on the board until the conclusion of the school year at the ends of next month. She will serve a five-year term.
Board members Harvey Weber and Clifford Campbell were also re-elected. They will serve three- and five-year terms, respectively.
The Board of Education room was packed when Taconic Hills Faculty President Matt Fuller addressed the board during the public comment section of the meeting. Mr. Fuller was concerned that the school is “going toward an elitist type attitude.”
“The last five years we haven’t been doing so great,” he said, attributing this in part to “haphazard” implementation of new ideas from the faculty.
Mr. Fuller also expressed concern for the kindergarten art program. And he told the board, “We’re living in a science, technology, engineering, and math world,” but said that the school has lost its focus on these areas. Students, he said, “would be better off watching 30 minutes of the Discovery Channel.” He said if the board does not act, “We’re going to start calling state ed,” a reference to the state Education Department, and the Office of the State Comptroller.
Sandra Gardener then gave the school’s report card for the 2012-13 school year. According the report card, enrollment at the school continues to decrease. “School lunch went down two percentage points, which is good,” Ms. Gardener said.
The sixth grade class in the last school year appeared to have particularly low test scores in several subjects, which Ms. Gardener attributed to that class being the first to experience major structural changes in the curriculum, including having only one teacher teach math.
The seventh grade class also had the lowest test scores in math in the county. Board member Robert Piper noted that, while these scores were low, only about a third of students in the state were proficient in math at that grade level.
School Superintendent Neil L. Howard responded, saying, “The target keeps moving,” adding, “Standards keep going up.”
Ms. Gardener also described students’ performance on the Global History and Geography Regents exams as “an area of real concern.” Only 40% of students were passing this test. She said that generally, “the weakness is with writing.”
However, Ms. Gardener noted that students tend “do quite well” on the Living Environment Regents Exam. She also said, “Our graduation rates looked really strong, they’re going up.”
Ms. Gardener said that the school received “red exes” in two areas, indicating that students “are not making adequate yearly progress.” The first area was elementary and middle school math for special education. The second was high school math, specifically among white students. “You don’t have the same expectations for the white group as for other groups,” she said.
This statistic provoked board member Anna Skoda to say, “I think we should sue the state. I’m grouchy.” She went on to say, “We should be like Khrushchev and slam our shoe on the table.” The link to this report card can be found at taconichills.k12.ny.us.
Also at the meeting:
•Dr. Howard thanked the audience for approving the budget, but noted a low turnout
•The superintendent also said that summer enrichment registration is online and easier to use. Mr. Piper said that as the price of enrichment programs went up, enrollment went down.
Mr. Howard responded by saying, “I do not think we’ll have terrific enrollment.”
•Dr. Howard asked students in the room to cover their ears as he discussed the Yik Yak app, which has raised concerns about online bullying. The app, a computer or smart phone application program, allows anonymous posts. The school has responded by creating a “geofence” around the school of 1.5 miles, which will block students from viewing or posting on Yik Yak when they’re at the school
•Board President Kevin Maisenbacher reported that the school has “officially declared an impasse” in negotiations with the Taconic Hills Support Staff Association. At issue were salary increases, health insurance coverage, schedules, drug testing, and outsourcing of certain contracts. Parties on both sides are now “awaiting the appointment of a mediator.”
•The board heard the cafeteria audit described as “glowing.” Taconic Hills meets nutritional standards 100% of the time, which auditors said is incredibly rare.
•A report on disciplinary issues from Junior and Senior High School Assistant Principal James Buhrmaster concluded that “it’s a small population of the school who create the majority of the problems.” He went on to say that “81% of our students are not really a problem at all.” Mr. Buhrmaster said that serious incidents are down, but he noted that he has seen an increase in reports of bullying. He believes that this a good thing because it means that bullying is getting reported more often.
•The obstacle course event raised $800.
•Teachers Bradley Boyles, Jennifer King, Samantha Krueger and Shana Smith, as well as Mr. Buhrmeister, were all recommended for tenure. The candidates were asked to stand and received a hearty round of applause.
•The school will receive a $6,000 grant from the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund for a media server.
•There were three student presentations: one from students who participated in the Elementary School Animal Club Legislative Lobby Day; one from the Gay-Straight Alliance/Diversity Club; and one from students who participated in the Euro Challenge.