Back to school

New Paltz art teacher Mary Rappleyea gets help from her daughter Maggie unpacking art supplies. (Photo by Mookie Forcella)Phil Clayton and inspector John Miller on one of the New Paltz buses. (Photo by Mookie Forcella)

Late last week, teachers and principals went back into the classroom in both Highland and New Paltz. As you read this story, children and parents have already picked out those new notebooks, cool pens and groovy markers to gear up for the start of the school year.

Changes coming in New Paltz and Highland have a lot to do with the new state and federal regulations coming into play as President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program ramps up.


Hurricane Irene’s less-than-welcomed appearance last week also had a bit of impact on the public schools.

Kids and parents will notice that lesson plans and how teachers are teaching has changed a little bit, but according to New Paltz Superintendent Maria Rice, that has a lot to do with Race to the Top.

“Throughout the year, we’re going to be looking at the new core standards,” Rice said.

State of New York Board of Regents rolled out their version of the “core standards” earlier in 2011, mandating that school districts throughout the state fall into line. Those standards attempt to unify what kids in various districts in the state, and throughout the U.S., are expected to know and what they’re expected to do. The hope is that this will prepare them for college or the workforce.

For an award-winning, celebrated district like New Paltz, those federal mandates could seem to come into conflict with a system that’s running at peak performance. Superintendent Rice, and the past several iterations of the Board of Education, have been pretty united over their criticism of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind legislation.

Rice stressed that no matter what changes come to curriculum because of the new standards, parents shouldn’t have to worry.

“Our major goal is to stay focused on student learning,” she said. “We do not want our students to become a test score.”

She added: “We are committed to maintaining New Paltz’s identity.”

Those new standards from the feds also mandate some new ways that the district measures how well teachers teach. The superintendent said they’re working to implement those new job performance review procedures.

In New Paltz, no major construction took place over the summer at the school buildings. However, Hurricane Irene brought some nasty surprises to town. While the school buildings themselves were pretty much spared, the district office flooded out almost entirely.

Carpets will need to be removed to make sure mold doesn’t spread in the New Paltz Central School District’s central administrative headquarters. While that’s a pain for the superintendent and her staff members, “there’s no children coming here, so that’s not a major concern.”

Some minor storm-related flooding occurred at the middle school in the sixth-grade wing and at the high school in the boiler room. Superintendent Rice said that those issues should be resolved before the kids even step into the classrooms. ++


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