Unlike municipalities or personal resolutions, the start of a new calendar year isn’t particularly significant for school districts, except perhaps that it’s the midway point of the academic year. Hudson Valley One reached out to local school district superintendents to get their thoughts on 2023 at halftime of the 2022-23 school year, and found that they were eager to look ahead.
Kingston City School District
KCSD Superintendent Paul Padalino said that as 2023 unfolds, the district will continue emerging from the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered schools around the globe in March 2020, sent education temporarily online, and continues having ripple effects even after students returned to the classroom.
“We’re starting to feel normal, but obviously there’s a time that has to elapse for that to happen,” Padalino said. “But I think as we continue to act normally, do the things we normally do, we are getting back to that, at least from in a school setting.”
As with most school districts, the KCSD has focused on trying to overcome learning gaps that occurred during the months that students were learning from home, sometimes asynchronously. Padalino said he was pleased with the district’s response to learning gaps, and looks forward to seeing how much further they can make up for lost learning time before the start of the 2023-24 school year.
“Hopefully we can walk into September saying we feel like we’ve done a really good job with the learning loss piece of this,” he said, adding that while there’s a chance at overcoming learning loss in the near future, the emotional toll of the pandemic may be felt for much longer. “Obviously some of the mental health issues created during the pandemic, we’ll be dealing with those for the next decade.”
But the pandemic has also had an impact elsewhere.
“I really think part of the struggles that we’re having now around bus drivers, around teacher retention, teacher recruitment, even administrator retention and recruitment, a lot of that was kind of a change in society during COVID,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity. We have to learn to be different in how we work with our work with our employees, how we recruit our employees.”
Padalino said the difference has been felt in recent labor negotiations.
“I always used to say negotiation comes down to three things: Time, power, and money,” he said. “But there seems to be a little more than that these days. And not in a bad way, it’s just different. So I think we have to evolve. And when you’ve been doing this for 17 years, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. But I’m working on it.”
The KCSD used federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding toward addressing learning loss and social and emotional wellness, but they’ve also managed to expand and extend student achievement, Padalino said. That should continue to pay dividends in 2023.
“A lot of really good, really hard work went into place to put our ARPA funds into action in a way that really meant something,” Padalino said. “We were very intentional.”
Padalino added that he’s got a good feeling as an educator from Governor Kathy Hochul and Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa. Padalino was a frequent critic of the approach toward education of former Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“I think the new commissioner has been excellent, and I think the new governor has shown a very different attitude towards education than we had with our last friend,” Padalino said. “I think part of our problems with teacher recruitment and retention was the, I don’t want to say vilification, but maybe marginalizing of education and teaching as a profession by some people in the past. And I think the pandemic has changed people’s minds a bit, especially people in leadership, about the real necessity of good quality schools and good quality teachers.
Saugerties Central School District
SCSD Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said that 2023 should bring further clarity to the district as it continues moving into a three-elementary school future. The district closed Mt. Marion Elementary School at the end of the 2021-22 school year, and Reinhardt said the transition once families and teachers knew where they’d be attending school has been smooth.
“The stress of ‘Where are my kids going to school next year,’ ‘Where am I going to teach,’ I think the fact that that is now behind us and our focus is back on teaching and learning, is good,” Reinhardt said, adding that moving past the pandemic has also been helpful. “Our focus now is back on student learning, not on the pandemic, not on the restructure. So now we’re going to have a really nice foundation of where are we academically, socially, emotionally, and then put plans in place to move us forward. It’s exciting to be back talking about student learning and not about external forces that we can’t control.”
Reinhardt also cited movement on the next phase of a $22 million districtwide facilities project that was slowed down during the bid process several months ago.
“The Capital Project will go back out to bid in January,” Reinhardt said. “We did not accept some of the bids that came in kind of high.”
The plans have been revised since the summer, and with encouraging news on inflation, school officials are optimistic they’ll have better luck in the new year.
“We always want to make sure we’re taking care of our facilities,” Reinhardt said. “It’s an investment the community made in us, and we have an obligation to maintain it.”
Onteora Central School District
The OCSD welcomed a familiar face back into the fold in April 2022, as Victoria McLaren became superintendent less than a year after leaving the position for an administrative role in the Highland Central School District.
“As we move through the 2022-2023 school year, I’m looking forward to seeing our students continue to be engaged and active in their learning and their participation in the school,” McLaren said. “Our sports teams, our music program, and our clubs are all thriving. We have incredible faculty and staff that are supporting these young people and our students have a lot of opportunities to follow their passions.”
McLaren credited partnerships with helping give Onteora students many great opportunities.
“Our PTAs and our Booster Club are providing so many events in which our students and families can connect with the school and with each other,” McLaren said. “We value that relationship and partnership and I’m looking forward to seeing it continue to grow.”
McLaren said that work continues on efforts that started even before the COVID-19 pandemic, including those whose importance was made apparent over the past few years.
“We are continuing all of the positive work that was begun prior to the pandemic related to Social Emotional Learning and we are continuing to support our students and families with mental health resources,” she said, adding that health remains an area of focus.
“My current concerns are related to the prevalence of illness in our community,” McLaren said. “We are seeing a significant number of flu and strep throat cases in addition to COVID. This is impacting student and staff attendance. We are encouraging everyone to stay home and consult with their physician when they are not feeling well, but absence definitely affects our schools.”
New Paltz Central School District
Of all the local superintendents, NPCSD’s new district leader Stephen Gratto is primarily looking forward. Gratto, currently in his seventh year as the superintendent of the Schroon Lake Central School District, officially starts his job in New Paltz on January 1, 2023.
Gratto said since he was introduced as the district’s next superintendent during a School Board meeting held in mid-October, he’s visited the district and worked with Interim Superintendent Bernard Josefberg to try and keep up with what’s happening in New Paltz.
“I guess the first thing probably foremost in my mind is the budget season, because the schools in New York State are all facing the same fiscal cliff potentially, where the federal grant money runs out, and we have to create fiscally responsible budgets without the gift of federal monies,” Gratto said.
He’ll also be acclimating himself to a new district, though his experience in Schroon Lake could help provide some answers.
“There’s certainly going be many similarities between my current school and New Paltz in the way they approach things and in the challenges that they are facing,” Gratto said. “For example, my school, a wonderful school is facing many mental health and social emotional concerns for our students after a long time with COVID. And I certainly anticipate that all students and faculty and staff in New Paltz are facing those same challenges. So there will be many similarities.”
But Gratto also acknowledged that there will be differences, and even where it may share similarities to other school districts, New Paltz is also unique in many ways. How unique, Gratto plans to figure out.
“I have a lot to learn,” he said. “It is a different area, it’s a very different community as well as a different school district,”Gratto said. “So I do have a lot to learn about the culture of New Paltz Central Schools. But all of my research indicates to me that this is an outstanding district heading in the right direction. So I’m excited by that.”