New Leb school board reviews discipline data

NEW LEBANON–At the school board meeting last week district officials presented data required by the state from all public schools on violent and disruptive incidents in schools as well as on incidents of harassment and bullying.

Each school district must submit Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports (VADIR) on an annual basis, a requirement that has been in place since the year 2000. More recently the state adopted and then amended the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), which “seeks to provide the state’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function,” according to the state Education Department.

The law explicitly targets bullying and discrimination, and VADIR data list disruptive incidents, such as assault, harassment, and possession of drugs or weapons. Consequences vary depending on the severity of the student’s behavior. School districts can also face consequences if the rates are too high.

In the 2014-15 school year the Junior/Senior High School reported seven incidents that met the state standard requiring Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports. The Walter B. Howard Elementary School reported 45, a number Principal Andrew Kourt attributed to younger students still adjusting to the classroom environment.

The elementary school has been conducting monthly safety drills and Principal Kourt talked with each class about “reporting to someone that is safe.”

Junior/Senior High School Principal Matthew Klafehn spoke with students in his building about “reporting to ensure the safety of yourself and others, especially in light of all that has done on in the world in recent times.”

Superintendant Leslie Whitcomb described “a crying need to reduce excessive reporting.” Currently, Superintendant Whitcomb argued, discipline incidents must be reported four different ways, and financial reporting is also mounting. “I don’t feel like I’m in education, I feel like I’m in reporting and compliance,” Ms. Whitcomb said.

She hopes that with the federal No Child Left Behind Act coming up for reauthorization next year, there will be an opportunity to reduce testing and get back more local control in schools.

At the meeting, Ms. Whitcomb outlined some of her long-term goals in education. She hopes to make it easier for teachers to get dual certification, which would benefit districts like New Lebanon with a smaller staff.

Other news from the November 18 board meeting:

  • New Lebanon science teachers Kara Sokolowski and Ben Long reported on their summer professional development with Questar III BOCES. Ms. Sokolowski worked with a geo-chemist from RPI analyzing sediment from Lake George to study climate change. Mr. Long worked with a microbiologist studying spinal bacteria. They were awarded small grants to spend in the New Lebanon science department
  • The district external audit is complete. There is a $231,000 capital reserve and New Lebanon will work to improve timelier budget transfers and reconcile inner fund transfers
  • Career and financial management students at the high school were given mock interviews by local business owners and created their own resumes and cover letters as part of the school’s effort to improve career readiness
  • High school students from the Environmental Club attended the Youth Climate Summit at the Wild Center at Tupper Lake to learn about the effects of climate change. They drafted a three-part action plan for the high school that includes making a presentation for other students, cleaning up the courtyard, and changing the cafeteria trays from Styrofoam to plastic
  • The foods class took a trip to Abode Farm in New Lebanon, where they got vegetables to prepare foods they’d never tried before, like turnip fries, for a community Thanksgiving that happened last weekend
  • High school students have an upcoming field trip to the Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

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