Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill claimed “steady progress” as she presented the 2012/13 Onteora Central School District school report card at the June 17 Board of Education meeting at Phoenicia Primary School. Overall test scores show that the district is in good standing with an 87 percent graduation rate compared to 80 percent at the State level. Passing test levels in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math continue to dip since the new Common Core test standards, but overall the district ranks above State averages. In Grade eight 56 percent of students passed in ELA by scoring at level three and four, and 41 percent passed in Math. “Although these scores are shocking to look at, overall we’ve been making steady progress,” McGill said.
Secondary level English after four years of instruction shows 84 percent of students pass and 87 percent pass in Math. The scores include special education and economically disadvantaged students.
Onteora continues to creep up with a high poverty rate of 37 percent utilizing the free and reduced lunch program. Saugerties School district ranks just above, at 40 percent. Special education at Onteora additionally continues to have a higher than average classification of students, at 17.6 percent compared to State average of 13.1 percent. Saugerties and Rondout School districts have a higher rate of classified students at 19 percent.
McGill voiced caution for when the 2013/14-school report card is released, citing student/parent protests over the significant amount of test taking. “I just wanted to share with you for next year, because we’ve had a number of students opt out in third-through-eighth grade assessments,” she said. “This last year in 2012/13 we had 95 percent participation. This year, we’ve had significantly less than 95 percent so I don’t think we will be able to make general statements about making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) because we will not be having a representative sample of students for the assessments.”
School officials and newly elected trustee Gideon Moor presented findings from the primary school planning committee that recommended smaller class sizes, when compared with 1984 standards that are still in place. The new proposed recommendation for Kindergarten and first grade is for a desirable range of 15-18 students. Grade two is 16-19 and grade three 18-20 students. The 1984 standards recommended Kindergarten having 18-through-22 students and grades-one-through-three having 18-25 students. Board trustees suggested these recommendations be put into place before the start of the new school year, so classroom changes, if any, could be made. Moor led the charge earlier in the current school year, alerting the board to inconsistent and sometimes overcrowded classrooms. “There is a huge volume of research supporting the importance of class size,” he said. A survey on class size was sent to the school community and Moor said it was received well by professionals and parents. He is hoping the results will be made public. “Again there was a consensus of opinion among our professionals in the district that small class size matters a great deal.”
In other findings, Phoenicia Primary School Principal Linda Sella said a pre-kindergarten subcommittee found inconsistencies in learning levels with children entering Kindergarten. “We did discover that there is a gap in services between the east and west end of the district,” said Sella. On the west end of the district about 33 percent of incoming Kindergarten students have had no pre-school and on the east end it’s approximately 11.5 percent. Sella said the committee is looking into recommending an incoming kindergarten summer school. “We are getting that information out to parents and getting feedback, so the likelihood of having a small (summer) class, we will probably solidify by the end of this school year,” said Sella. District officials are also seeking Grant funding for expanding Universal Pre-Kindergarten.