School board hears about bullying, BOCES and data breaches

HUDSON–Two parents asked Hudson City School District Board of Education this week what the schools are doing “to make our kids safe” from bullying. Both said they had sons in junior high school whose grades had suffered because of other children bullying them.

“A record number of students want to commit suicide because of bullying. My son has multiple friends whom he’s talked out of suicide,” one parent told the board at its meeting Monday, January 22. She said her 6th-grade daughter has been repeatedly bullied by a 10th-grade boy at the bus stop.

She said that “my son gets in trouble for kissing his girlfriend,” but that school officials let some kids wrestle, calling both fighters “happy.”

“I have contacted the principal repeatedly to the point that he won’t answer my phone calls,” she said.

The other parent not think suspension is a punishment that will deter bullies. He said his son was suspended for fighting back.

“I’ve talked to the principal,” said the father. “Now, do I switch my son to a different school? Or do I get a call from the school saying they’re taking him to the hospital?”

The first parent added, “My son has been failing since 5th or 6th grade, but nobody from the school calls about his grades.” She said they live “on the outskirts of the district” and have no transportation to homework help.

“I’m glad you came,” said district Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier.

“Thank-you for sharing,” said board member Sage Carter.

“There are many things going on” to address bullying, Dr. Suttmeier said, citing the district’s “positive behavior support” and Power of Peace workshops for students and teachers. “When something like this happens, we need names and specifics. We need to be pro-active.”

Also this week, Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino reported that the company the district plans to use for computer operated assessment tests has suffered a data breach. The names, schools, grades, and teachers of 52 students from five schools–none in the Hudson District–were affected, according to the company, Questar Inc. The company has no connection to this region’s Questar III BOCES.

“We aren’t changing what we’re doing,” Ms. Prestipino said. In the upcoming state assessments HCSD students will take 5th grade ELA (English language arts) and 8th grade math exams by computer. The remaining tests will be taken with paper and pencil. The two computer field trials are part of preparation for the as-yet-unannounced year when the state will require all students take all assessment tests by computer only.

The meeting began with presentations by Questar III BOCES, which provides educational services to school districts in Rensselaer, Columbia, Greene, and Rensselaer counties, largely by classes in programs that need specialized equipment and instruction. Most HCSD meetings take place at a HCSD school, but this one took place in Questar III’s building in Greenport.

The meeting began with a tour of the building led by John Gambino, a Hudson High School junior in Questar’s III’s Criminal Justice program, and Danielle Bouton-Wales, director of Career and Technical Education. They showed workshops used by the automotive, building construction, cosmetology, culinary, HVAC, and welding programs.

Most of these programs require students to be juniors or seniors in good standing. Several programs lead to state certification, include internships and may offer college credit. John said his program will give him 12 credits in the Columbia Greene Community College Criminal Justice Department, should he choose to attend.

Culinary students made the meeting room refreshments. Construction students built some holiday huts for Hudson’s 7th Street Park, according to Ms. Carter. After the tour, two Questar III officials—Matthew Sloane, deputy superintendent, and Harry Hadjioanu, deputy superintendent for Business and Financial Services—spoke to the board. Mr. Sloane announced that the BOCES facility is adding two new programs: Heavy Equipment Operation and Maintenance (to take place in Durham), and Health Technician Services. Mr. Hadjioanu said Questar III served 22 “component” school districts. It averages 34-35 HCSD students a year.

Also at the meeting:

• Ms. Prestipino announced the possibility of bringing a one-week summer camp to school grounds. Camp Invention encourages creativity with technology. This summer’s target students are those going into 3rd through 6th grades. Dates and cost are not yet determined

• Dr. Suttmeier said she is studying a two-year kindergarten program

• “We’re shifting our mantra,” the superintendent said. “It’s not just destination graduation. Now it’s destination graduation to occupation”

• Ms. Prestipino said the District is applying for a grant that would include implicit bias training for teachers

• Business Administrator Sharifa Carbon said the district’s deficit “has gone down slightly. But we have to be mindful that we keep sufficient reserves.”

The next meeting of the HCDS Board of Education is Monday, February 12, at 6:30 p.m., at the Hudson High School library. It begins with a public hearing about the planned closing of John L. Edwards Primary School.

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