Deputy’s ‘Squad’ helps Hudson boys do better in school

HUDSON–A performance-improvement group for junior high boys and the complete absence of physics courses in Hudson High School highlighted the Hudson City School District (HCSD) Board of Education meeting November 19.

The meeting began with a junior high curriculum workshop, which included a presentation by School Resource Officer Zach Sohotra, who mentors a group of junior high boys for the purpose of improving their grades, attendance and behavior.

Deputy Sohotra graduated from Hudson High School, became a deputy at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and has been stationed at the Hudson Junior/Senior High campus since last spring. There, he started hanging out at the basketball court with students, and soon talked with Junior High Principal Derek Reardon, and his then Associate Principal Alyssa Sabbatino, about how to decrease suspensions and truancy. After consultation with teachers, they identified 12 boys whose “behavior impacted their academics” and wrote to their parents asking permission to include their sons in a group that Deputy Sohotra “would mentor and work with during the school day,” according to Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement April Prestipino. The group calls itself the Sohotra Squad.

The Sohotra Squad began meeting twice weekly last spring and continued once a week during the summer. They have behavioral goals. They discuss problems and how to deal with them.

“It gives the kids a chance to be part of solving their problems,” said a teacher.

Summer activities included field trips, such as fishing (in a pond in outgoing High School Principal Antonio Abitabile’s yard), golf and hiking. Future field trip destinations, administrators said, may include college campuses–even if for a sports game—to help get them used to college as a worthy goal.

Short term results have been positive. Deputy Sohotra reported that when his group started, its members were failing multiple subjects. But by the end the school year, almost all of them passed their grade level. In the first quarter of this school year, compared with the last quarter of last school year, they had fewer disciplinary referrals, fewer absences, fewer suspensions and better grades.

Two more students joined the squad this school year.

The Sohotra Squad is one option for students who could benefit from or want to join a character-building group. Additional options for boys include My Brother’s Keeper, which has its own activities and rules. The junior high also has a group for “at risk” girls.

On another topic, in the public forum section Doug O’Conner, the father of two HCSD students, said, “It came to my attention that there’s no physics being offered. I think physics is an important subject. Are there arrangements for students who want to take physics?”

Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier said that a handful of students had expressed an interest in physics.

“Are they studying physics?” persisted Mr. O’Conner.

“No,” answered Dr. Suttmeier.

“There’s a shortage of physics teachers everywhere,” said Ms. Prestipino.

“It is something we’re always looking to do,” said Dr. Suttmeier. “How we’re able to do it” is the question. “Maybe it will be distance learning. Maybe it will be with a college.”

Also at the meeting:

• Sharifa Carbon, HCSD’s business administrator since late 2015, has received tenure, Dr. Suttmeier announced

• Dr. Suttmeier thanked AVID Coordinator Jen Clark and AVID teacher Mollie Zucker for “sticking with the students. It’s not easy”

• The board accepted a donation from Big Lots of $2,133.55 worth of school supplies

• Physics teachers are not the only thing in short supply. Board member Sage Carter mentioned a lifeguard shortage: “We’re not competitive in what we pay lifeguards,” she said.

The lifeguards at Hudson High School pool are “younger than the other lifeguards,” said Board member Linda Hopkins. “They work here until they’re old enough to work for a place that pays more”

• Still under discussion is how to let members of the general public hold events at the pool, Ms. Carter said. One proposal has been to call such events “private swim sessions” instead of “pool parties,” limit them to an hour and a half, and restrict where else in the building people may go

• Ms. Prestipino reported that this year the HCSD could have six Odyssey of the Mind teams: two for primary grades, two for grades 3-5, and two for grades 6-8.

The December meetings of the HCSD Board of Education will take place Tuesday, December 3 and 17 at the Hudson High School library at 6:30 p.m.

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