Saugerties begins the year with academic optimism, administrative uncertainty

In a tradition that students say their parents remember from their senior years in high school, seniors gathered at the Simmons Plaza parking lot on Route 9W before school wearing blue and white tie-dyed T shirts. (Photos by David Gordon)

Students across the Saugerties Central School District returned to the classroom this week to begin the 2018-19 school year, an annual rite of passage as old as time immemorial. Lingering summer weather may have smudged the lines a bit, but in Saugerties schools it might as well be autumn. 

While the district is seemingly in a state of flux with the departure later this month of longtime Superintendent Seth Turner, school officials are touting the new school year as one which enhances the educational experience without losing anything in the process. 

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“We were able to maintain existing programs and look at new offerings,” said the district’s Business Manager Lissa Jilek on Tuesday, September 4, one day before the doors were opened to students at all four elementary schools as well as the Jr./Sr. High School. “We’re off to a great start. We had our opening day agenda today. We had a motivational speaker. It was a nice way to kick off the school year. It was very positive, and folks are very pleased with the changes in the facility itself.”

While the district didn’t undergo any major capital projects over the summer, each school building had at least some work done. But one area where the SCSD is looking to continue moving forward is technology. 

“There will be more technology available to the students, and staff as well,” said Jilek. “There will be more Chromebooks available throughout the district. I think there will be at least five in each elementary classroom, and at least two carts in every department, and there will also be some at the library. Technology is always improving, ever growing, so we always embrace more technology. And we will in the future.”

Another change in the district is the arrival of an athletic trainer, Nate Reynaud. 

“That is a huge benefit to students and also to staff,” said Jilek. “He will be working with kids in sports. He will be working with gym teachers and making recommendations. And obviously he will be working under the direction of the Athletic Director (Dom Zarella).”

Mrs. Monroe’s kindergarten class lines up ready to go to their first regular day of school.

One new item that may take some getting used to is the new hourly regulation put in place by the New York State Education Department. Public schools will still be required to provide 180 days of education, but that has also been broken down as 990 minutes over the course of the school year. Districts failing to hit both thresholds could lose a percentage of their foundation aid the following year. 

“It’s complicated,” said Jilek. “It’s very complicated. It [caused us], in the Jr./Sr. High, to look at the minutes in the day in the schedule, and basically reconfigure the schedule to meet those attendance requirements.”

In order to give themselves flexibility in a region where snow days and delays are commonplace, the Jr./Sr. High School has eliminated homeroom, with students expected to report to their first period class at the beginning of the school day. Furthermore, two minutes have been added to each period, increasing the time from 43 to 45 minutes. First period begins at 7:45 a.m., while eighth period ends at 2:08 p.m. School officials said the schedule was arranged not only with new NYSED regulations in mind, but also the complex bus schedules at both the elementary and secondary levels, both of which depend upon one another to function fluidly. 

While the district is looking ahead to snow days, the hot and humid summer weather is still blanketing the Hudson Valley. Jilek said each school in the district is working to minimize the impact in the classroom, with educators asking students to speak up if the heat is too much to bear. 

“It sure is hot, isn’t it?” Jilek said. “All measures are being taken to make sure facilities are safe, and that concerns regarding the heat are being taken seriously. We encourage students to tell their teacher, see the school nurse. Blinds will be drawn, fans are running and air-conditioning where available is working.”

In late June, Turner announced that he was leaving Saugerties in late September to serve as the superintendent of the Amagansett Union Free School District for the 2018-19 school year. Amagansett is a single-school district with fewer than 100 students in grades K-5. Amagansett students move into the East Hampton Union Free School District for middle and high school. 

Previously a teacher with BOCES in Plattsburgh, Turner came to Saugerties in 1997 as a special education teacher in the alternative education program at the high school. In 2000 he became an assistant principal before becoming principal at Grant D. Morse Elementary in 2003. Turner’s current contract was approved in 2015 and runs through 2020. 

Jilek is also leaving in late September to become the business manager in the Highland Central School District. Jilek’s resignation letter was submitted on June 18, the same day that Turner was formally offered the job of superintendent in Amagansett.

Jilek has been the district’s business manager since 2013, having previously served in the same position in both the Cairo-Durham (2007-13) and Catskill (2000-07) central school districts.

The Board of Education is currently exploring its options to fill both administrative positions, but interim officials are likely to bridge the gap until candidates for permanent positions can be properly vetted. The next meeting of the School Board is scheduled for Tuesday, September 11.

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