Saugerties school board talks graduation rate, pre-K

School board president Robert Thomann

July, the first full month of summer break for Saugerties students, is also the beginning of the next school year. The school board wants to set the tone for the 2017-2018 school year.

Board president Robert Thomann and vice-president James Mooney were unanimously re-elected by their fellow trustees. Raymond Maclary and Paul VanSchaack were not in attendance.

Thomann said setting district goals were among the top priorities for the school board. He hoped to spread out reviewing them at the board’s meetings. But first, Thomann said, superintendent Seth Turner and his administration had to figure out the best way to follow through.


“We’re still waiting to see an action plan from the administration on how they intend to implement those goals,” Thomann said. “We want to set priorities so we feel we can accomplish something every time we meet.”

According to Thomann, all the district goals have something in common. “Everything is tied to academic achievement,” he said. “We want to see students reach their full potential. And obviously you want the maximum amount of students to graduate.”

The district’s four-year graduation rate fell from 80 percent to 78 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Deputy superintendent Lawrence Mautone explained that information, contained in the district’s annual report card, was not the whole picture. “The district report card is one piece of data that people can look at,” Mautone said. “It compares our district and schools to others in the district, county and state, and also breaks the information down into subgroups which can be useful in making quick comparisons. Some people may find this very useful and interesting, while others may not.”

Thomann said that an attempt to unravel one aspect of the district’s report card was a priority. “In the school report card there’s a discrepancy between graduation and the amount of students who attend four-year colleges,” he said. “It’s hard to tell if that’s economics, or we’re not setting a curriculum for them that they can work on to achieve a secondary education. That’s one of the things we want to take a look at, to see if there’s something else we can do to have more kids go on to college.”


Pre-K and graduation rates

The reorganizational meeting discussed a possible state grant to fund a pre-kindergarten program for district students. “It’s geared toward universal pre-K,” said Thomann, “but we’d start out with finite numbers and look at kids who are at risk of having difficulty as they go through school.”

The Lawrence M. Cahill and Mt. Marion elementary schools have a higher prevalence of students who would best be served by a pre-K program. “It kind of spreads out [across the district], but both of those schools have greater instances of those populations, so it makes sense to look at those schools,” the school board president said.

With regard to graduation rate, a pathway to success in college, the idea of a pre-K program, and pretty much everything else, Thomann said, the school board needed to figure out how better to involve the district’s main constituents, not only by disseminating information to them but also by getting their thoughts on pressing issues.

“I think we have to do more to reach out to the community, and to get student input too since they’re the ones the school system is serving,” he said. “If you go to a board of ed meeting, it’s sparsely attended unless there’s a hot-button issue for that month.”


Cold pizza and cans of soda

Last year’s school board retreat, which Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, said was a violation of New York State Open Meetings Law, was one hot-button issue that surfaced. Freeman said a discussion of policy, whether informal or not, would likely be a matter of public interest not be done behind closed doors.

Thomann and other trustees disagreed, describing the retreat in the high school’s board conference room as more of a team-building experience where policy discussion was not on the table.

“It’s officially called that when you don’t have a public meeting,” Thomann said last year, noting that it was held for four hours on a Thursday night. “Retreat makes it sound like you’re going to a hotel someplace and staying for a couple of days,” he explained. “It’s really just four hours at the end of the day when people have already worked a full day, so you’re there kind of as a labor of love to figure out how to do the best job you can. It’s cold pizza and cans of soda.”

Thomann said this year’s retreat would follow a similar path. “We want to look and see where we are with the goals we’ve set for ourselves as a board, which is part of an essential evaluation process to make sure we’re being as effective as we can,” he said.

A reorganizational meeting swears in recently elected trustees beginning their three-year terms. Incumbents Krista Barringer and Damion Ferraro have been through the process before, but Susan Gage was sworn in for the first time.

The next meeting of the school board is scheduled for Tuesday, August 8.