Onteora Central School District students will participate in the National Student Walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 14, for 17 minutes. The Walkout will honor the 17 victims in the Parkland, Florida High School mass shooting and bring to attention the need for safety in schools. At its March 6 Board of Education meeting at Woodstock Elementary, a handful of students and community members attended the meeting to show support of the walkout but also expresssed concern about safety. In a separate interview, district Superintendent Victoria McLaren said there would be no repercussions for the disruption to the school day and that school officials will provide a secure venue for students to express themselves. “The administration is working with the students to create a safe environment,” she said.
“I would say the students have worked very hard on this,” School Board President Kevin Salem said. “This is a student led thing.” The walkout will begin at the 10 a.m. bell time when students are changing classes. “I’m not trying to be political about this, but I will say that they’ve done an incredible job at recognizing their own differences of opinions,” Salem said, “as have the teachers and administration, and I think the end result is everybody recognizes the importance of school safety.”
Because school is in session, people from outside the immediate school community will not be permitted to participate. “This is on the school grounds, we can’t have people that we are not familiar with,” said McLaren. “That is a very unsafe environment given the current mood.”
During public commentary parent Durga Bernhard voiced concerned that the Onteora district lacked safety. “I came up with a wish list of security measures,” she said. “My main focus is keeping a prospective shooter out of the school.” This wish list included one entrance only with a metal detector and security guard, bulletproof locks on all the doors, one way turnstiles at exits, and a select few faculty to be trained to carry weapons.
Senior student Olivia Ingalsbe disagreed. “I don’t want to cause dispute with anyone but I do firmly believe the United States Government must adjust to changing times.” But, she said, “I think Onteora has done a really good job at making students feel safe.” She continued, “I think it’s important that while we address safety issues, that we don’t go overboard. No student wants to feel like they’re going to a jail cell because that’s not what a school is.”
Good academic standing
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Marystephanie Corsones presented the 2016/17 school report card results which stated that, overall, the district is in good academic standing with some notable changes. The ten-year trend of economically disadvantaged in the district has increased from 27 percent in 2007/08 to 44 percent in 2016/17. Every school in the district has had an increase of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. All test assessments show students are proficient, performing at or above state level. Common Core standards are alive, however goals have slowed. Corsones said the State, “took a step back and they addressed what was developmentally appropriate but also what’s appropriate for the 21st century.”
The number of students opting out of tests continues to remain high, even though the tests themselves have changed through teacher input. The graduation rate throughout the Onteora District is 87 percent, compared to State average of 82 percent. This includes students in programs outside of the district and special education students placed outside of the district due to of more challenging educational needs. The graduation rate specifically at the High School is 94 percent, an increase from previous years. One driver of this increase is that 100 percent of students with disabilities are graduating, compared to 57 percent in 2017. Of economically disadvantaged students, 88 percent graduated. The district continues on a decline in enrollment to 1248 students currently enrolled, compared to 1407 in 2014/15. The rate for attendance at a two or four year college is 82 percent.
In other district news:
Middle School principal Jennifer O’Conner presented the homework survey completed by students, teachers and parents. Overall a majority of students in grades seven-and-eight spend 30-to-60 minutes on homework and usually complete it during afterschool homework help or in study hall. Most students find homework as fair, with it given occasionally on weekends.
March 2 was the last allowable snow-day (out of seven) where school was closed. Any additional snow-days used will be cut into spring break.