Hooray! Hudson School District loses ‘Focus’

HUDSON–The state Education Department Education has ended the designation the Hudson City School District “focused,” meaning the state no longer identifies the district as “substandard” and now considers its performance “normal.” Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Suttmeier announced to new designation to the Board of Education at its meeting Monday, February 23.

The meeting also covered identity theft in the ongoing phishing crisis, a shortage of nurses and substitute teachers, closing voting sites in Livingston and Stottville, and the possibility of student debit cards tied to grades.

Focused is the label the state currently uses for districts and schools where educational outcomes fall short of minimum thresholds. Since the 2003-04 school year, the Hudson district has had that label, according to a presentation Dr. Suttmeier and Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino. Over the years the labels signifying inadequate educational achievement have varied and were applied to the whole district and specific schools. One building cited for “not meeting standards” was the Greenport School, which closed in 2009. Focus status was the most recent term.

Dr. Suttmeier, who joined the district in 2006 as a building administrator, said this week, “One reason the district went in focus was its low graduation rate,” adding that focus status lasts for three years.

But in January, Dr. Suttmeier received a memo: “Congratulations! The NYSED has not re-identified you as a focused district.” Since then, she and Ms. Prestipino had “been sitting on the information.”
The High School graduation rate has increased from 59% for the class of 2012 to 71% for the class of 2014 and a higher rate for 2015. And in spring 2015, it climbed out of the designation fiscally distressed.

David Kisselburgh, vice president of the school board, thanked Dr. Suttmeier and Ms. Prestipino for their work to lift the HCSD out of stigmatizing categories. Ms. Prestipino attributed much of the improvements to the students: “They care about the school!”

The administration and school board celebrated with cake and balloons brought by Dr. Suttmeier and Ms. Prestipino.

Earlier in the meeting Business Administrator Sharifa Carbon announced that the district had received unwelcome news. “This morning we got information that somebody opened a retirement account” in the name of an unsuspecting district employee. This was the 14th individual affected since a bogus website with Dr. Suttmeier’s picture and contact information elicited personal information about to employees who responded. Since then, some district employees have attempted to file their income taxes only to be told they had already done so. Married couples seem the main target. Malicious websites that lure people into revealing financial and other exploitable information, a process known as phishing, have also targeted other nearby districts.

Dr. Suttmeier said the district has contacted both the FBI and local police about the situation. Meanwhile, as soon as the scam came to light, district office staff came in on a Saturday and used phone, email and letters to notify all potentially targeted individuals.

In other business this week:
•The district needs more nurses and substitute teachers, and Dr. Suttmeier said an obstacle that Hudson pays less than nearby districts. The nurse shortfall “is becoming a very, very serious matter,” she said. Three candidates recently turned down offers, with starting salaries of $32,000 for 10 months. “We have tried Columbia Greene Community College” and come up dry. If the district cannot find another registered nurse, it will settle for a licensed practical nurse, but RNs can perform more services than LPNs and  overseeing LPNs would divert RNs’ attention from caring for students.
“We lack substitute teachers every single day,” said Ms. Prestipino. Those qualified seem to go where the money is higher. And with so few certified-teacher substitutes, the district “relies on non-certified” substitutes, though state law limits them to 40 days a year. Dr. Suttmeier broached the idea of having all substitute teachers in the county receive the same stipend, depending on qualifications, regardless of district
•The Dr. Suttmeier said the school district has five election districts for school-related elections and referendums. But the county Board of Elections is considering consolidating them into three, possibly by closing the sites in Livingston and Stottville. The district is under mandate to install new electronic voting machines, and it will be “very expensive to run five polling stations with the new machines.”
As the district prepared to introduce the new machines, it held its February 9 referendum with paper ballots
•Representatives of Grades Count, a start-up company seeking to reward students who achieve high grades with merchandise discounts, invites the district to serve as a pilot to initiate and test their program, to make a music video promoting it, or both. The representatives included two Hudson High School graduates: Shawn Delaney (class of 1998) and Matt Nabozny (class of 2001). Dominick Cioffi, the founder, explained that the program would give a debit card to participating students ages 10 through college. The board will study Grades Count’s written material.
The next School Board meeting will be Monday, March 14, at 7 p.m. in the Hudson High School library.

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