What are you personally looking forward to?
For me, personally, the most exciting thing is to see our staff engaging with the students, and that’s happening across the district at a high level, I believe. I’m looking forward to continuing to build on that and the strength of our staff; not just the instructional staff but everyone that comes in contact with our students. I’m also looking forward to working with our team here to complete that building project on time and under budget; that’s always the goal. I’m just very excited to continue the work that we’re doing, and we’re always looking to make the education that our students receive the very best that we can offer them.
Maria Rice, New Paltz Central School District schools superintendent since 2004
What are your top priorities for 2015?
One is very obvious, which is the capital project. That’s really key, and one of the major issues facing our district right now. And another one is adequately funding our educational programs. There are two things controlling it now; both the budget, because of the tax levy limit, and the revenues, because of state aid. Those are the greatest challenges that we have facing our district right now in order to maintain educational programs and to provide quality facilities.
Looking back at 2014, what do you see as your major accomplishments?
I think that we were very able, by working diligently, to keep our focus on learning and our students. They were at the core of our decisions, whether financial or programmatic, and even with professional development for our staff, which was important because we stayed true to who we are in regard to local curriculum and not just blindly implementing whatever’s on ‘EngageNY.org‘ and looking at those modules. We’ve been able to create rich curriculum based on the Common Core standards that really benefits our children so much better than implementing what we feel are inferior modules. It’s not the standards that are the problem, it’s how people are interpreting them and doing the implementation and creating curriculum.
The other thing that I think is really important, is that we’re constantly, as difficult as the financial challenges are, being mindful of our taxpayers. We’ve always allowed exemptions for taxpayers who have disabilities, or senior citizens, but as soon as the opportunity for the veterans’ exemption came up, despite the fact that there was a lot of pressure from throughout the state from a variety of places not to approve it and to put it off, our board looked at the veterans’ exemption as another way to honor the taxpayers. We were one of the 25 percent in the state that did approve of a veterans’ exemption, and we look at that as another way to give back to the community and to be mindful of their needs.
I’m very fortunate that I have a Board of Education that gets it. They get what the needs of the community are, and they try to balance it with what the needs of our students and our staff are. They support what’s really important and they prove it through their actions and their deeds. They’re always listening carefully and weighing these kinds of issues, and making informed decisions based on what we believe is the core intelligence of our district.
Looking back at 2014, if there anything you would have done differently?
Yes, as a matter of fact. I think community engagement is one of those things that we need to do a little bit better. For example, with the capital project; what I would do differently would be to make sure that we’re very clear in engaging our community during the decision-making process. One of the key things that we really wanted to do [before the vote in October] was to get the message out, get the facts out, to make ourselves available. I can’t even begin to tell you how many presentations we did… as well as even going into the Stop & Shop plaza to talk about the project there. We thought we were really reaching out and meeting the needs of our community members and that they were very well informed, only to find [after the vote] that there were still a host of people who didn’t have clarity about the project. And when we reached out to the community for feedback and said, ‘Tell us what we need to do differently,’ there were a host of different strategies that we had never even thought of, things that we’re already starting to do. So reaching out to the community is key, if you have that constant loop, that interchange.
And not just with the capital project… the board is going to be thinking about whether there is a way to push back the start time for our middle and high school students without negatively affecting everything else in a domino effect. Once we start talking about that, we need to engage the community. They need to know what the board’s thinking is and why. With anything that we do, now and in the future, we have to think of multiple ways to engage different components of our community.
What are you personally looking forward to?
A resolution to our facilities needs. I’m looking forward to just moving forward with all the innovative things that we’re doing in our district. One of the things that we’ve done this past year and will be expanding on in the future is partnering with outside agencies. One of the most supportive is our New Paltz Central School District Foundation for Student Enhancement; they’ve helped to fund projects that enhance the learning of our students at every grade level. And SUNY New Paltz has been partnering with our pre-engineering program through their engineering department; they allow us to go up there and use their 3D printers as part of our architectural design and engineering program. So for free, we got 3D printers to be able to expand our program, and they also provided high quality professional development to our teachers. It’s helping us financially because we’re not paying for these extra things that are having a real impact in our classrooms. So I’m looking forward to expanding these kind of opportunities.