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Some high-poverty schools post jumps in scores; reasons unclear

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

New York’s student test scores are telling more stories this year.

Here is one of the more encouraging ones: some schools saw remarkable improvement in their students’ results, despite high rates of poverty.

At Watertown’s North Elementary School, for example, the percentage of students with scores showing ELA proficiency rose by more than 14 points, while the percentage of students proficient in math jumped by 32.4 points. More than 70 percent of the school’s students live below the poverty line, according to State Education Department data.

NYSSBA used “matched student” data to compare test results for the same individual students who took the tests last year and this year.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to raise the achievement level in a building where there are not a lot of additional resources available for our students,’’ said Watertown Superintendent Terry N. Fralick.

Passion for history lands teacher on YouTube, new H2 TV network

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Buffalo social studies teacher Keith Hughes calls his video camera his “second classroom.”

Tens of thousands of viewers have seen one or more of the 200-plus videos posted on his YouTube channel, HipHughesHistory, over the last five years or so.

“Learning should be fun, focused and free,” Hughes declares in a video invitation to students, life-long learners and other prospective viewers he playfully refers to as “the cray-cray on the Internets.” (Cray-cray is slang for “crazies.”)

With his black-framed hipster eyeglasses and whacky-yet-intense presentation style, Hughes could inspire comparisons to comedians Drew Carey and Lewis Black. Exclamations of “Giddyup!” punctuate his remarks, and an oft-repeated catchphrase – “Where attention goes, energy flows” – doubles as a slogan for his educational philosophy.

Hughes, 42, began reaching a new audience this year through his participation in a nationally televised program called United Stuff of America. The show is produced for the H2 network, an affiliate of the History Channel, by Leftfield Pictures, best known for the popular show Pawn Stars.

President's Commentary - Making sense of the Common Core

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By Lynne L. Lenhardt
NYSSBA President

Select the best choice below to complete the following statement: The Common Core Learning Standards are ________.

A. Necessary to give our students the best chance of succeeding in today’s hyper-competitive global marketplace.

B. Ruining our schools and unfair to students.

Although the vast majority of school board members I’ve talked to seem to believe the better answer is A, we all know intelligent, caring people who believe that B is correct.

One’s answer can depend on what you think of when you hear the words “Common Core.” Personally, I think “high standards.” But others may think “testing” or even “corporate conspiracy.”

Chester schools launch wireless initiative with Chromebooks

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By Merri Rosenberg
Special Correspondent

In school technology, it’s the ultimate upgrade: moving to a wireless world, with personalized devices that enable students to learn about almost anything from almost anywhere. The ideal system would enhance teachers’ ability to customize instruction and communicate with students and parents seamlessly.

One district that has taken a bold step in expanding student access to technology is the 1,000-student Chester school district in Orange County. This fall, students in grades 8-12 will have take-home Chromebooks. Other students in certain grades have access to Chromebooks in classrooms.

Chromebooks – laptops made by a variety of manufacturers that run Google’s Chrome OS as the operating system – cost about $250, noted Edward Spence, the district’s director of instruction and technology and a former IBM staffer. That’s cheap compared to laptops at $400 to $500 or iPads, at about $600.

Cuomo signs ‘last’ lever voting extension

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By Julie Marlette
Deputy Director of Governmental Relations

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation to extending school districts’ authority to continue the use of lever voting machines for one year.

“The bill was one of NYSSBA’s highest legislative priorities and its passage came after an intensive advocacy effort,” said NYSSBA President Lynne Lenhardt. She said she expects this to be the final year that such an extension is approved.

After passage of a law requiring use of the optical scan machines, county governments purchased them with federal funds. The result of the county purchases was that school districts had no such federal funds available to purchase the optical scan machines.

While some school districts have made arrangements with their county boards of elections to use new optical scan voting machines, many districts have been denied the use of county-owned machines or asked to pay high fees. 

SED awards $9.2 million to reduce local testing

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The State Education Department is awarding some $9.2 million in federal Race to the Top money to 31 BOCES-led consortiums and individual school districts to help them find ways to reduce local testing and develop alternative methods of assessing student progress.

Grant recipients will work during this school year to identify tests that do not contribute to teaching and learning, including those that were introduced as part of local Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) teacher and principal evaluation plans, SED officials said. The recipients also will look for alternative assessments already in use – or develop new ones – that can be used for APPR purposes.

The grants are part of an initiative that SED calls “Teaching is the Core.”

In general, state education officials say, the tests targeted for elimination or replacement would be locally selected “multiple choice only” tests, which may include commercially-produced exams that originally were identified by SED as acceptable measures for use in APPR plans.

Contraband cupcakes: USDA’s new rules for school food

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By the New York State Association of School Attorneys

About 17 percent of children between the ages of two and 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To combat this alarming statistic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has enacted the “Smart Snacks in School Rules,” which took effect on July 1.

Any school that receives funding under the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program is required to comply with the new nutrition standards in the 2014-15 school year – that’s about 90 percent of the schools in New York State, according to the State Education Department (SED).

The Smart Snacks in School Rules represent a regulatory attempt to improve the overall nutrition environment in schools by addressing foods sold throughout the school day, consistent with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Prekindergarten: A worthwhile investment in our children’s future

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

Every year, the state Board of Regents, based on recommendations from the Regents State Aid Subcommittee (which I chair), presents a state school aid proposal to the governor and Legislature for consideration during the budget process. While the final word rests with the governor, Senate and Assembly, the Regents create a broad framework and advocate for its adoption.

Aside from recommendations for general operating aid, we have shaped recent proposals (especially last year) around a series of strategic investments and multi-year targets that would have long-term impact on the success of our students. Early childhood education, long a Regents priority, was a major component of last year’s proposal, including a commitment to universal prekindergarten (UPK).

Research shows pre-K is a great investment. It results in significant cognitive gains compared to students who do not attend pre-K. 

Utica embraces challenges of serving refugee students

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Walking down a school hallway in Utica, it’s easy to overhear students speaking Karen, a language of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), or any of several other native languages – Spanish, Burmese, Arabic, Somali, Bosnian, Nepali, Vietnamese, Russian, Ukrainian and more.

Utica school officials estimate their students speak more than 40 languages, if dialects are included. At least 15 percent of Utica’s roughly 10,000 students speak a language other than English at home – a higher concentration of non-English speakers than is found in New York City schools, according to State Education Department data. That makes Utica of the most linguistically diverse school districts in New York.

Statewide, some 8 percent of students were classified as having “limited English proficiency” in 2012-13, the most recent year for which SED has figures available. More than three-quarters of those 214,000-plus students attend schools in the Big 5 cities (New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers and Syracuse) and the Brentwood district on Long Island.

Use your annual building condition survey to identify ways to improve school security

On Board Online • September 1, 2014

By Thomas V. Robert

School safety is a ubiquitous concern, but it often gets repressed from consciousness absent the panic and angst that accompanies a tragic event. As a school board member, you have accepted the responsibility to keep your guard up and to advocate persistently for the safety of students. One way to improve safety is to recognize and resolve deficits in the design of your school buildings.

State-mandated annual Building Condition Surveys (BCSs) can provide a good starting point for schools to improve the security of their buildings and grounds. While these surveys exist to assess the general condition of occupied spaces and major site systems, they can also be used to evaluate how well the design of buildings contributes to overall safety.

While working for the State Education Department for two decades, I reviewed thousands of school projects, many of which presented the same security issue: Buildings were not originally constructed with a secure entrance vestibule. As such, many lacked a controlled access lock, a camera and security film – all inexpensive and easy-to-install safety measures.  A BCS can identify such issues and be used to get recommendations for retrofit options.

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