The Saugerties Central School District’s Board of Education recently adopted its district goals for the 2019-20 school year, and though it represents three areas of focus, it all begins with the first: Student achievement.
According to a single-page summary of the goals, the district “is dedicated to educating the whole child and will work to engage all stakeholders in the school community in advancing student achievement through promoting flexible, innovative, and meaningful programs that challenge each student to reach their full potential.”
“We want to see that students are engaged and are provided the opportunities to learn,” said School Board President Robert Thomann. “So that was really the driving force. That’s why we went with student achievement first.
Within the larger goal of student achievement are areas of focus like raising the four year graduation rate above 90 percent, clarifying the journey toward graduation for all district stakeholders, defining grade level success in all content areas for all grades, ensuring educational practices are culturally sensitive, and establishing instructional strategies that are most likely to find success with the district’s students.
The four-year graduation rate for the SCSD was 88 percent in 2019, five points over the average for public high schools in New York State. But Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt is among those in the district who would like to see those numbers rise, and a focus on consistency in how the district educates its students.
“I think the most important thing is we have to look for consistency across all of our curriculums,” said Reinhardt, adding that improving the graduation rate has to begin with the youngest students in the district. “Are we being consistent with our elementary schools, K-6, which gets them ready for middle school, which then sets them on track when they get to ninth grade, which helps them meet those expectations in four years? As an administration, we have to create this culture that this is a K-12 solution. That’s how you raise those numbers.”
Reinhardt said that the district’s curriculum should be culturally sensitive enough to give its students a feeling of connection.
“We know that if we make the students feel like they are part of the curriculum, they are going to be more engaged in the learning,” he said. “So if you can take every opportunity in your curriculum to make it about the students that are in front of you, they’re going to be more engaged. If you’re talking about curriculum and they can’t superimpose themselves, they’re learning about something that’s not attached to them.”
But Reinhardt also acknowledged that the higher the graduation rate goes, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep going in that direction and to stay there as well.
“It ebbs and flows,” he said. “So I like the analogy of almost like a diet: The hard thing is to get there and then how do you put those structures in place so it maintains? We have to make sure that as we hit our thresholds we are putting things in place so the system’s become self sustaining. And I think that’s the key.”
The second of the three-tiered goals is “Culture, Climate, and Community,” which is positioned as a partnership between the school district and the community it serves, with an emphasis on transparency, enhanced communication, shared decision-making and the cultivation of local input. Thomann said the creation of the district goals itself is an example of this area of focus.
“The process for developing these district goals was an exercise in decision making,” Thomann said. “It wasn’t a traditional workshop behind closed doors where we came out with a task. We welcomed input from many different groups. It’s something that I would like to see with greater tendency in the future…You don’t want to just rely on your own instincts even though the public elected you to represent them. You want to take their pulse to see what the community thinks.”
The third focus of the district goals is on safety and security, which includes physical safety and emergency preparedness, as well as fostering an environment that’s socially safe for all students. While school officials declined to comment on specific safety measures so as to keep them from being studied by those who might wish to circumvent them, they did say the district would increase its vigilance about keeping certain doors locked, requiring visitors to any school campus to wear an ID badge, and ensuring all safety protocols are followed to the letter and reviewed often.
Reinhardt said school safety is an integral piece of the learning puzzle, and that goes beyond campus security: Students in the SCSD should feel safe from bullying or prejudice as well.
“If a kid feels safe, if a kid feels respected, they’re going to be here,” Reinhardt said. “Their attendance is going to be better, their engagement is going to be better, and their achievement goes up.”