The recent mass shooting at a High School in Florida that killed 17 people — most of them children — caused Onteora District School officials to review school safety at their February 20 Board of Education meeting at the Middle/High School. Present was Deputy Tom Sharon the District School Resource Officer (SRO), and Lieutenant Wallace Fulford, both of the Ulster County Sheriffs office. Sharon travels between each school within the district and helps with school safety procedures while making him known to students. “I can tell you, your staff is very committed at looking at current practices to improve and strengthen what’s currently in place,” Sharon said. “They’ve been receptive to all my input and we work very well together.” On non-school days he said other local law enforcement are invited into the district to review safety procedures and familiarizes themselves with the buildings.
“I feel like this is really an unprecedented time,” said Onteora Superintendent Victoria McLaren, “but everyone should know that every adult connected to this school is focused on improving safety. Our building safety teams are active and vigilant.” As routine, students practice lock down drills with safety teams and law enforcement, in which the Sheriffs office will announce the drill ahead of time to parents via text messaging or social networks. Lockdowns are not only for school shootings. In the past students were told to remain locked in their rooms while a bank robbery was in progress across the street from the Boiceville Campus. On another occasion at the Middle/High School and Bennett Elementary, students were kept in their rooms due to a traffic accident, which resulted in a medical helicopter landing on the sports field.
“Every aspect of our district is being looked at for improvement,” McLaren continued. “A number of parents have reached out to share concerns and we understand. We are parents, we are relatives, we are neighbors, and we are friends…the fact that this is happening is indeed horrifying, but we are not going to ignore this situation.”
McLaren read a letter that will go out to all parents in the district outlining the safety teams and assured them that employees of the district look after the social and emotional well being of the children. She announced that the district will hold a community forum that will take place sometime in Mid-March.
Also, Trustee Laurie Osmond announced that on March 14, one month from the Florida shooting that took place on Valentines Day, there will be a 17-minute national school walkout at 10 a.m. She also mentioned a March in Washington DC on March 24 titled, March For Our Lives, and a possible March on April 14. “I just want to say that these protest are being driven by students…” said Osmond. “I don’t know how they do it, it’s just an exemplary show of bravery, civic engagement and kudos to them and their teachers who’ve produced these extraordinary students.”
High School Principal Lance Edelman presented results of the High School homework survey, which provided a couple interesting results, though homework itself didn’t reveal any major upsets. A majority of students and teachers participated in the survey, however when it came to parents only a very small handful took part. “Parents didn’t participate as much as we hoped,” said Edelman.
What was most revealing was the majority of students who participate in after school activities. In grade nine, 58 percent of students participate in athletics and 64 percent in extracurricular activities. Grade ten jumps to 68 percent who participate in athletics and 72 percent in extracurricular activities. By grade eleven, 51 percent of students participate in athletics and 71 percent in extra-curricular activities. “It was great when we communicated this to our faculty. We didn’t anticipate seeing the number of students participating in sports and extra-curricular activities and we felt that was important.” Edelman said. “We want our students to be here, to feel as part of our community and this is great.” He thanked the Board for supporting after-school activities in the budget.
By grade eleven, a majority of students or 55 percent have weekend or afterschool jobs.
The majority of homework assigned seems to be in Math with English as a close second. Edelman is not sure why Math brings out more homework. A majority of students in all grade levels believe that homework time was too excessive. “The results made sense,” Edelman said. “Looking at all the characteristics and grade levels we’re not shocked, really by the amount of homework that is being assigned.” As a follow-up Edelman explained that better communication was needed for course work expectations, and better understanding between teacher and student when homework becomes a problem. “We need to be open to what goes on in their lives, they have very busy lives,” he said.
PILOT and budget
Assistant Superintendent for Business Monica LaClair continued building on the 2018/19-school budget. LaClair gave several tax levy increase examples ranging from two-percent increase, to 4.94 percent increase (that would require a supermajority or 60 percent approval by voters). McLaren asked the board to give a “general consensus regarding a comfort level with the tax levy limit.” She said all area districts are seeing a larger than usual levy limit mostly due to the staggering increase of health insurance. Trustee Bennet Ratcliff said, “We all know the song, we are land wealthy and income poor here.” He said people often live in a house assessed at $300,000 but only have a $40,000 income. “I’m having difficulty of us seeing something above three-percent,” he said. Trustees agreed, but asked for more information on how it may affect programs.++