What can Chenango kids (and parents) expect when they head back to school?

Evening Sun Staff Reports

Afton

Wednesday can’t come soon enough for Afton Superintendent Betty Briggs.

“We look forward to an exciting and successful year for all students, and look forward to seeing everyone on the 8th,” Briggs said.

The district has some new things in store for students this year, including a new schedule in the high school, a new website and several new teachers.

The high school schedule change – from the semestered, block scheduling model the district was using – was prompted by suggestions the state would be eliminating January Regents exam. While the tests were not eliminated this year, it is believed to be only a temporary reprieve and Afton’s school board decided to move forward with the change rather than wait another year.

“We are very excited about the change back to an 8 period per day schedule,” the superintendent reported. “We think the students will like it.”

The district recently debuted its new website, www.aftoncsd.org.

“We hope to be offering much more information to students, parents and community members,” said Briggs, who invites people to check out the site.

And as for staff, the superintendent said there will be several new faces this year. Those additions are 4th grade teacher Trevor Beams; Spanish teacher Michael Benedict; French teacher Andrew Wright; and Middle School Science teacher Michelle Polcaro.

Afton was fortunate enough not to have to cut teaching positions last year, but they did lose several teacher’s aides. Briggs said the district is adjusting to these changes.

While Afton will not be adding new programs this year, they will be incorporating a number of ideas into the school curriculum from “Rachel’s Challenge,” which will be coming to the district on Sept. 13. The powerful program about kindness and compassion is inspired by the life and writings of Rachel Scott, the first victim of the shooting at Columbine High School.

“There will be presentations for the students in all grade levels and an evening performance for parents and families,” said Briggs. The community presentation will take place at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13.

Bainbridge-Guilford

According to Bainbridge-Guilford Central School District Superintendent Karl Brown, there is one goal for the district which outweighs all others – students will meet their expected graduation outcomes.

Brown stated while B-G’s graduation rate has been significantly higher than the state average, there is “always room for improvement.”

An important aspect of this, according to Brown, is “finding ways to put every minute of time to its best use” and that the “delivery of Academic Intervention Services will be revamped where necessary.”

In addition, Brown stated the district intends to improve special education support by making an already good system of support even better through greater district collaboration.

“We are looking for ways to better address the ever-present problem of bullying because it causes some students to feel that school has no place for them,” said Brown. “Every staff member, administrator and board member will create a personal goal that will help foster the school community.”

As to the school district’s building project, Brown reported work has progressed over approximately 50 days this summer, and while there will “still be some work to complete” as school begins, the buildings will be “operational and safer than before, due to asbestos removal, improvements in security and the replacement of bathrooms and other infrastructure items.”

“Students and parents should not expect any significant changes in their joint academic experience,” added the superintendent, “and while the number of teaching positions was reduced to meet declines in enrollment, and to adjust to budget constraints, we will continue to offer an excellent education and achieve positive results despite budget difficulties.”

Gilbertsville-Mt. Upton

Students returning to the Gilbertsville-Mt. Upton campus this year will be welcomed by several new classrooms, sports fields and other improvements as the district wraps up its $9.2 million building project.

“We’ve finalized our capital project. We have a number of new classroom additions and renovations,” said G-MU Superintendent Glenn R. Hamilton.

Students will also be adjusting to a new eight period day instead of five, after the district abandoned semester scheduling as New York State considers eliminating the January regents.

“Obviously there is the reason, and the fear, that the state was going to be dropping the January regents. We brought in an expert on school scheduling and he suggested we take this path now. Although it looks as if there may be a January regents this year, schools across the board are being asked to take a harder look at scheduling in 2012 because there won’t be a January regents by then,” said Hamilton.

The superintendent said school administrators and teachers had a busy summer preparing for the changes in scheduling with many having to move into new rooms.

The building project was approved by voters Dec. 12, 2007 and created about 8 new classrooms, adding approximately 1,600 more square feet added to the facility.

The project involved new lab science stations, upgraded technology, improved safety and will help teachers coordinate lessons, he explained.

After sharing a space with the chorus, band members will now have their own room designed specifically for instrumental music allowing both programs to practice at the same time, said Hamilton. Besides the band and chorus, he said the new availability of space would help simplify a number of scheduling conflicts.



The school also purchased 23 Epson Brightlinks. The technology is an interactive projector that broadcasts a large computer interface in front of the class that is manipulated by instructors using a specially designed pen. The teachers can highlight or cut text, play movies and have students use the pen to engage in a number of educational programs. The school had about 17 of the devices from Brightlink and a competitor brand called SMART Board, in 2009.

The school’s entire driveway and parking lots have also been resurfaced with blacktop and there’s a new sporst field, complete with an announcement booth and bleachers.

The school is expecting 34 new kindergartners to start Wednesday after graduating 36 seniors in June. G-MU will have between 458 and 470 students in total attending the 2010-2011 school year, said Hamilton.

Greene

Greene Central School has been a beehive of activity for the last week, as contractors scramble to complete the district’s capital project and teachers race to set up classrooms for the start of the fall semester.

“We’re ready and raring to go,” said Superintendent Jonathan Retz, who assures the district will be ready to receive students on Wednesday.

Those students will be in for a treat, according to the administrator, since they will be returning to fully renovated facilities.

“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in such a short period of time,” he said.

Some of the most visible improvements are the new Middle School entrance and renovated offices at the Intermediate and Primary Schools, which will allow greater control over who enters the buildings, thus alleviating safety and security concerns. The Intermediate School also has a new gymnasium.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Retz said.

There are plenty of behind the scenes improvements as well, such as new heating systems in each building. Retz said the geo-thermal system at the high school/middle school is already making a noticeable difference in the temperature of the building, and should have an impact on utility costs as well.

“We anticipate some significant energy savings,” he explained.

According to the superintendent, a few punch list items remain. Contractors will have a presence onsite to address these odds and ends, he said. But that won’t be the end of construction. The district is looking to do a second, smaller project with the money they have remaining from the main project, which is significantly under budget.

“There are things we feel need to be done,” he reported, explaining that the district hopes to have design documents for the Phase II project to the New York State Education Department this fall.

In addition to the newly revamped facilities, there will also be some new faces greeting students when they return this week. They include a new High School Principal, Jim Walters, and CSE Chair Tim Calice. Other staff adjustments were made using existing staff to compensate for positions reduced during the budget process.

All in all, Retz said there is an air of excitement around the district, as everyone prepares for the school year to begin.

“We’re ready to go on Wednesday,” he said.

Norwich

Having successfully addressed the budget issues which impacted each and every school district in Chenango County this past year, Norwich City School District Superintendent Gerard O’Sullivan said he expects great things from both students and staff for the 2010-2011 school year.

“We’re going to have a great school year and we have an excellent and dedicated staff,” stated O’Sullivan, who added higher levels of student achievement wouldn’t surprise him. “That’s our business and we do it well.”

An increased focus on technology, as both a teaching and learning tool, and staff development were also high on O’Sullivan’s list of priorities, along with increasing the level of student literacy and honing math skills.

As to the current building project, O’Sullivan said, “we’re in great shape” and “the facilities are in great condition.”

“All work should be wrapped up very shortly,” O’Sullivan reported. “The community should be very proud.”

Another source of pride for the community, and O’Sullivan himself – the district’s autism classrooms.

According to the superintendent, the program, which the district began planning for two years ago, was a success at Gibson Elementary during the 2009-2010 school year and will also be offered at Perry Browne Elementary this year.

“These are highly involved students with disabilities and we’re fulfilling our obligation to provide education to all of the students in our district. We have a good staff who are doing a great job,” he added.

Although changes have been made to the Student Management Center, O’Sullivan said the goal is the same – keep students in school so that they can “continue to earn credit” and, ultimately, graduate.

O’Sullivan reiterated his goal of increasing the use of technology within the educational system and said he believed the upcoming year will be a successful one.

Otselic Valley

In addition to the many challenges faced by the Otselic Valley School District in the upcoming year, primarily due to the district’s budget woes, new Superintendent Richard Hughes said he faces unique challenges of his own as a first-time superintendent.

The former principal at Delhi’s Delaware Academy, who’s also acting as the Georgetown Elementary School principal this year, said he’s fully prepared to accept those challenges and is looking forward to a successful 2010-2011 school year.

According to Hughes, the decision to take on the elementary school principal position was a way to save taxpayers dollars while making the current situation “more efficient.”

As the new superintendent, Hughes said his goals are simple – evaluate the concerns and ideas of the community, staff and students in order to “get everybody focused and headed in one direction.”

“I believe this will be a great year and I’m excited for it,” stated Hughes, who added he “did a lot of research on the district” prior to accepting the position. “The people, the community and their friendliness are a big reason why I chose Otselic Valley.”

In a change from the 2009-2010 school year, Hughes reported Otselic Valley Schools would be returning to a “traditional” schedule, versus last year’s semester-style format.

“There are more benefits this way for our district and this will meet our students’ needs much better,” said Hughes. “We’re prepared and ready to go.”

Oxford Academy

Oxford is ready for the challenges ahead, according to the district’s top administrator. Despite budget cuts, changing state standards and adjusting its administrative structure, Superintendent Randy Squier said the school will continue to concentrate on providing students with a quality education. In fact, they’re striving to get better at it every day.

“We’re not going to be satisfied standing still,” said Squier.

As a result, this year they will work to revamp the curriculum to meet the state’s new, more rigorous core standards; continue to refine their assessment of student performance; and improve their academic intervention process.

At the same time, the district will be adjusting to a new administrative structure. Forced to reduce two administrative positions, the remaining administrators have all had to assume additional duties. For Squier, that means pulling double duty as both superintendent and primary school principal.

There is also staff turnover to which Oxford must adjust. Included in the staff changes will be the return of some “familiar faces,” according to the superintendent. Those returning staff members include Primary School reading teacher Karen Seldon; science teacher Kathy Nabinger; former third grade teacher Lisa Halsteter, who will be teaching first grade; and the recently retired special education teacher Mary Smith, who will return part time to teach at the Middle School.

“We’re glad to get some people back with experience,” Squier commented.

There will be new additions as well, such as High School Guidance Counselor Kris Kaschak, Middle School Counselor Kelly Stark-Spence and agriculture teacher Crystal Aukema.

“We’re confident we have the people in place to get it done,” the superintendent reported.

Oxford and other districts which employ semestered, block schedules dodged a bullet this summer when New York State decided to administer January Regents exams for one more year. Next year, however, will be another story, which has prompted Squier and his staff to take a proactive approach. They have created an “ad-hoc task force to look at all options,” he explained. The goal will be to develop a schedule which would eliminate the reliance on the January Regents by early in the second semester.

That’s not to say high school students won’t see any changes in their schedule this year. Even before uncertainty surfaced about the semestered scheduling, Oxford was already taking a hard look at its block model. The result is the addition of a “skinny” period near lunchtime for students to have band, chorus, study hall or take a half credit elective course.

Sherburne-Earlville

The Sherburne-Earlville Central School District is coming off a busy summer of construction and renovations at the primarily 1970s era Middle/High School building.

When the approximately 800 students arrive on Wednesday, they will be greeted by energy efficient new windows (which hadn’t been replaced since 1981), shiny maroon lockers, a refinished stage floor and various new classroom and office features.

There will be changes made up to the last minute today and tomorrow. As the Middle/High School’s front entrance isn’t expected to be complete until Sept. 24, District Superintendent Gayle Hellert said she would be placing a call on Tuesday to parents who drive their children to school to tell them where exactly to drop them off. School buses will pull up at the auditorium entrance.

All renovations at the Sherburne-Earlville Elementary School are complete and students will be transported or delivered as usual. Elementary students number approximately 650.

Amidst the hustle of activity last week, teachers, who report on Tuesday, had access to their classrooms to begin setting them up for students. Twenty-two administration, faculty and support staff members retired from the district this year, with a large number of them coming unexpectedly over the summer. One administrator, 10 new teachers, three new bus drivers, five new custodians and three new typists have been hired.

Voters approved a $28,975,880 million budget for the 2010-2011 school year, a 3.73 percent increase from the prior year. The budget originally reflected a loss of up to seven staff members, including four retiring teachers who were not replaced.

Once complete, the new Middle/High School entrance will be more open than was the previous stairway configuration. Out front, an electricity grid under the sidewalks and entryways will melt snow and ice in winter. The district worked with Sherburne Electric to install solar panels to provide energy to a new geothermal system and electricity.

In addition to the entrance, much of the construction is ongoing in the library and courtyard, both of which had never been renovated and both of which are expected to be completed on Sept. 17. Once school starts, workers will move into second shift, but hallway and ceiling work will continue during working hours unless sound become a distraction.

“If it’s too noisy, they will begin at 3:30 p.m.,” said Hellert.

Most of the library’s main book collection is currently in storage in the basement area, but a classroom has been designated as a makeshift library space complete with computer stations, books, references and materials.

“It’s going to minimal for a couple of weeks, Hellert said.

On the exterior, all of the trim that used to be blue is now maroon, including the front entrance lettering. In keeping with the district’s wishes to keep and refurbish the old rather than purchasing new, they are being repaired and repainted.

Student athletes have participated in a soccer tournament, football scrimmages and, this weekend, will host a field hockey tournament at the school’s field. Athletic directors and coaches say the new scoreboard and concession stands/bathroom are being well received.

Construction underway is the second phase of a $25.2 multi-year capital building project. It includes a geothermal heating and air conditioning system, upgrades to classrooms, Middle School administration/guidance suite, High School administration suite, home and careers, library, music suite, food serving area, technology, swimming pool, main entrance, auditorium entrance/lobby, exterior site work, new windows, and generator.

Unadilla Valley

Unadilla Valley Superintendent Robert Mackey hopes students will find few differences from last year despite the district’s budget being reduced 3.15 percent and more than 20 staffing positions eliminated.

“All the same educational programs we offered to last year’s students will again be available this year,” said Mackey.

Mackey explained students may notice other effects of a contracted budget, including fewer sport offerings for the JV and modified levels and some staffing rearrangements to adjust for the reduction in teachers.

“The staff has been in all summer preparing for this coming school year. I really can’t commend them enough,” he said.

Though in challenging financial times, Mackey said the students at the school were continuing to perform better academically over the last few years, a positive trend he credited to the teaching staff.

“We’ve had college credit classes for a while that we’ve offered through SUNY Morrisville like calc, pre-calc. Right now we’re in the process of submitting an approval through Syracuse University so our psychology course can also offer dual credit for high school and college,” he said.

Also in the special education department Mackey explained the school had facilitated a new program designed to aid students with autism.

The district will continue organizing its daily classes in semestered blocks, but Mackey said a committee is being organized with the aid of High School Principal Frank Johnson to look at changing the practice.

“We’re continuing with semestering this year, but we’re also looking for an alternative option heading into the 2011-2012 school year. The state has made it very clear schools should look at options because the January 2012 regents will most likely be eliminated,” he said.

A change in security will perhaps be the most immediately noticed difference when students arrive Wednesday, as the school goes from having one secured entrance to three.

Last year visitors had to enter through the building’s main entrance near the district office and sign in at a desk in the front lobby. This year parents and students can enter through the main doors stil, but also through the Elementary and High School-Middle School entrances. At each, the second set of security doors will be locked and visitors must enter through a side office door and sign in, explained Mackey.

The school will be welcoming at least 63 kindergartners after graduating 73 seniors earlier this year. The entire UV student body numbers 883 pupils.

Mackey said he expected some lecture changes for grades 3 to 8 since state regulators adjusted the proficiency exams, claiming they were repetitive and too easy earlier in the year.

“I think the test will change, I think standards will be raised but I have no doubt our students and teachers can successfully adjust their curriculum,” he said. “It’s something we are aware of and giving attention to.”

Mackey also said some of the recent economic challenges had positive effects in increasing understanding and communication between teachers, administrators and support staff.

“I’m optimistic our communication with staff is better. We’ve improved working together with the board and administrative team,” he said.

“I also think people have the reality of the economy still in mind but the initial shocking part is over. There will be some bumps still, with people raising concerns over class sizes, but we’ve responded well to a lot of very unpredictable changes that are beyond our control. Our students’ learning is constantly in mind and the staff has made excellent growth here in the last few years with student achievement.”

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