When students across the region return to school this week, they’ll find teachers and staff ready to welcome them back to open classrooms with open arms. Hudson Valley One spoke to officials in local school districts to get a feel for what students and parents should expect.
Kingston City School District
The first item on Kingston City School District (KCSD) Superintendent Paul Padalino’s list was to assure parents that the school bus issues that plagued the district at the start of the school year should be firmly in the past.
“We’ve been keeping obviously really tight watch on our transportation, and obviously you remember last year we had a little bit of a debacle,” Padalino said. “We’re feeling really confident about that. We have all our drivers, all our buses are set and we have backup drivers and backup buses on top of that.”
Padalino stopped short of saying everything would run smoothly, acknowledging that transportation is usually something of a work in progress.
“I know the one thing I always tell parents, and they don’t like to hear it, but those first two or three days of school, the bus is not going to be exactly on time, and the principals know it too,” he said. “If a bus or driver has ten stops and there’s a kindergartner at each stop and a hug and a kiss from mom, it takes a minute. You do that ten times, you’re ten minutes behind. Those kinds of things just happen.”
Padalino added that municipal road work across Kingston may also provide a few hurdles along the way.
“It takes a little while for the drivers to get their bearings and know where they’re supposed to go,” he said. “They do dry runs and everything, but it happens. So that first week of school is usually a little not consistent, but as far as providing the transportation, we are set and ready to go.”
Transportation isn’t the only area the KCSD is looking to improve upon; last spring, athletic fields across the district were unable to handle increased activity due to the closure of Dietz Stadium for renovations. Padalino said the district’s refocused efforts to get the fields ready for the 2023-24 school year are looking fruitful.
“We’re pleased with what’s going on with athletics,” Padalino said. “We’ve got about 700 kids out there and our fields look good. I was out there last night watching our band camp final performance, which was awesome. And the fields look good, so we’re ready to roll with that.
Padalino also touted the district’s new universal meals program.
“It’s exciting, and thanks to (Senator) Michelle Hinchey and her advocacy up in Albany, we qualify for that,” Padalino said. “Every student that comes to school can have breakfast and lunch for free, which is great.”
Padalino said KCSD schools are buzzing with anticipation of the return of students.
“We’ve got 31 new teachers that I met last week,” he said. “They’re here with us for a couple of days for orientation and we’re glad to see these new people coming in.”
Also new is Kingston High School Principal Rachael Scorca, previously an assistant principal at the school.
“She’s got a lot of great new ideas and thinks a little differently about Kingston High School (KHS) than the way it was run in the past,” Padalino said. “I like her vision and I like her energy.”
School begins in the KCSD on Thursday, September 7. One week earlier, Padalino said the anticipation was building.
“We’re just kind of getting that new school year kind of vibe going,” he said. “I feel really good about next Thursday. I feel like we’re ready to roll.”
Also ready to roll is the air-conditioning program at KHS, and with a summer heatwave forecast for the start of school, Padalino said that’s a good thing.
“The entire building’s air-conditioned now, which will be great next week because it’s supposed to be 90 (degrees) all week. It’s been 70 and beautiful, nice and breezy the last ten days, but bring the kids back to school, it’s going to be 90 degrees out.”
Saugerties Central School District
Students in the Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) return for the first day of school on Wednesday, September 6, for the first time as a full day at both the elementary and secondary levels.
Also new is superintendent Daniel Erceg, at least in a full-time capacity, as he ditched the interim tag during the 2022-23 school year.
Erceg pointed to facilities changes in the district welcoming students back, with Saugerties High School having much of its exterior work completed, along with a new parking lot on campus. Other construction projects include new windows in elementary schools, new flooring at Cahill Elementary and the near-completion of a new stage at Grant D. Morse Elementary.
But there’s more to the SCSD this year than building improvements.
“As a district, we’re going to continue with our three goals of student achievement; safety and security; and climate and culture,” said Erceg. “To that end, we’ve added security and partnered with Atlas Security to provide additional layers of security for our buildings.”
As for academics, the district is hoping to continue bringing parents into the conversation.
“We’re going to be focusing on engagement, empowerment and equity this year, and then culture, climate, community,” Erceg said. “It’s going to be kind of a continuation of our past efforts of getting to know the community a little better. To that end, there will be invitation shared with the community to participate in. I’m going to call it a parent workshop, where I’ll be facilitating work with parents to get their perspectives of the district where they see areas of concerns, opportunities for growth and then be taking that information as we prepare for the future.”
Erceg said he’s visited each of the district’s schools as they prepare for the start of the 2023-24 school year.
“I’ve been talking with staff, whether it be teachers, secretaries, administrators, custodians,” he said. “There is a general excitement about what the year will hold and welcoming kids back into our buildings, as always.”
Erceg said that despite his lifelong familiarity with the district and community, he’s got a new perspective as the SCSD superintendent.
“It’s kind of wild, to be honest,” he said. “I grew up in Saugerties, I know Saugerties, but I really want to continue to spend the next couple of months getting to know Saugerties a little bit on a different level as superintendent versus as a community member.”
To achieve that, Erceg plans on spending time in the community.
“I’ve sent letters out to various community organizations, inquiring if they wanted to have me participate in one of their meetings so I can have a little time with them and share the good work that we have going on,” Erceg said. “I’m excited. Students are the most important thing and we’re going to keep working with that.”
New Paltz Central School District
Superintendent Stephen Gratto said the New Paltz Central School District (NPCSD) is looking forward to the 2023-24 school year.
“We hope students, teachers and parents and students are all excited to be back,” Gratto said. “It’s always exciting to have a new school year start with lots of opportunities.”
Gratto said the NPCSD has established four goals for the new school year.
“Improving communication across all constituent groups; examining and improving academic rigor and literacy; addressing student absenteeism issues; and focusing on the health and wellness of our students,” Gratto said. “These newly minted goals will be focused items for the school year and we’ll be working toward them through many different avenues.”
Gratto is at the start of his first full year as superintendent in New Paltz, having come on board at the start of 2023.
“I learned a lot from January to August and now I feel like I know a few things and I think I can start to contribute fully to the fullest extent of my ability,” he said. “My experience has been very positive, and I’m surrounded by good people and parents. And I look at what has been accomplished in the New Paltz Central School District.”
Gratto noted that New Paltz High School was recently ranked by US News and World Report as the 1,298th best out of nearly 18,000 high schools in the nation, scoring a 92.66.
NPCSD schools begin on Wednesday, September 6.
“Every school year is exciting, so it’s exciting to come back,” he said. “I hope people will be ready for the challenge of a new school year. New Paltz is a very positive school district with tremendous support from the community and outstanding faculty and staff. So we believe that our students are excited to come back because they know they’re in a great place.”
Onteora Central School District
Students in the Onteora Central School District (OCSD) return to school on Wednesday, September 6. Superintendent Victoria McLaren said changes to look forward to include universal meals for all students.
“We are very excited to be moving into this school year having all students receive free breakfast and lunch,” McLaren said.
Elsewhere, Onteora is eager to share some of its facility improvements at the start of the school year.
“The middle and high school students are going to see several classrooms that have been renovated over the summer, as well as the cafeteria bathrooms in the middle high school,” McLaren said. “We plan to continue to improve the learning spaces incrementally each summer.”
McLaren said there is already a buzz at Onteora as the district prepares for the start of the 2023-24 school year.
“We are all anxious to welcome our students back into the classrooms and the buildings,” she said. “Sports have already begun and it is always joyful to see students on campus. Our buildings are glowing thanks to the efforts of our facilities staff and many faculty have been in the buildings preparing their classrooms so that they are ready for students to arrive on Wednesday.”