Marystephanie Corsones, Onteora Central School District Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, presented new state standards at the Board of Education’s December 19 meeting at the Middle/High School. Changes to the standards came about following protests in 2015 when students refused to take state tests. As a result are there now fewer tests and the hope is that they align better with curriculum. Testing has decreased from three-days-to-two, Corsones said, and new curriculum standards are unfolding slowly. “Our goal is to have quality assessments that are not 100 questions long, because we’ve seen fabulous examples where I can cover six standards in one question, and that is not an easy things to do. However it is doable. So that’s our goal to start, to make people aware of that process.” In 2016 the State introduced a five-year phase-in goal of updated standards in English Language Arts (ELA), Math, Science, and Social Studies. One example is that beginning this school year, grade-five Science will introduce robotics and there will be more of an emphasis on engineering. In the Elementary grades, literacy curriculum is focused on reading/writing workshops, interactive reading and writing, and independent reading.
Testing aside Corsones said, “The other initiative that we are supporting…which I’ve spoken about on our opening day, is promoting our children’s social, emotional, civic and academic skills,” she said, “by focusing on teaching tolerance, civility, celebrating diversity, understanding how we need to create a culture that supports multi-cultural education and what that looks like.”
SUNY Ulster pitch
Dr. Alan Roberts, President of Ulster Community College, presented highlights on the success of SUNY Ulster and what it has to offer. According to EDsmart an educational statistic-gathering tool, SUNY Ulster is ranked number five out of 121 two-year colleges in New York State. According to the U.S. Department of Education, SUNY Ulster is one of three SUNY Community Colleges listed among the top 100 public two-year colleges in the United States.
He noted that most students graduate with no debt. “If you are coming to SUNY Ulster, you are going to be with a top quality Ph.D. with maybe 15 to a class, you are going to get to know that individual.” Enrollment is up by seven-percent, though, Roberts noted, among community colleges enrollment is decreasing.
Trustee Rob Kurnit asked if that was a targeted trend mainly among rural community colleges. Roberts said, “Every community college in the country is in decline and they’re anticipating that it will continue for the next three-four years.” He is not sure why, however in New York State with tuition free programs at SUNY two- and four-year colleges, it drives a wedge among the entities. “I thought there were some nuances to it that don’t make it clearly free as reported,” Kurnit said.
Roberts agreed, “I could give you a list of eight or nine things that make it challenging for students. We had 2700 kids, and we had 60 that qualified for it (the tuition free program) and some of them qualify for [less tuition.] But if you take that [lower tuition] you have to follow the guidelines of the scholarship, which means you have to take 30 credits, you can’t take a winter class or summer class because you have to pay for it and if you don’t make the 30 credits you have to pay back (all of the) tuition.”
Roberts goal is to launch a President’s Challenge Scholarship program at Onteora where college bound students are sponsored. Rondout Valley School district launched and tested the program and Roberts aim is to expand in other school districts. Other expansion items in the works include a location in southern Ulster County, a prison program with Shawangunk Correctional Facility, and Capital projects.
Dress code consistency
Trustees approved a dress code policy that included new wording on gender-neutral clothing. The addition states, “Administration and enforcement of the dress code will be gender neutral and consistent.” Trustees debated at length what the word, “consistent,” meant in the language — if it meant among schools or students dress. School Board President Kevin Salem said, “Consistent means that it would be applied consistently to individuals.” Trustee Bennet Ratcliff explained that hats at the Middle School are prohibited, while allowed in the High School and that this is considered inconsistent since students share one building. “We need to spell out what is consistent because this might mean consistent in each student but not consistent school to school, or building to building,” said Ratcliff. It was decided that trustees want school officials to collaborate and make sure the dress code makes practical sense in a gender-neutral way from school to school. An additional passage was inserted in the policy that states, “Students dress and appearance must be applied consistently in accordance with the district code of conduct.” This is in the event school officials don’t understand.