New York State School Boards Association

Counting the ways we love BOCES

by Sandra Ruffo

On Board Online • September 18, 2017

By Sandra Ruffo
Area 4 Director

Each of us entered school board service with a strong interest in young people and a desire to provide them with the best possible educational opportunities. As we pursue that ongoing goal, we cannot overstate how much our school districts rely on the services provided by our regional BOCES, which touch the lives of all of our students and so many adult members of our communities.

BOCES represent New York State's commitment to the idea that all children can learn. With services and support from BOCES, school districts are in a much better position to provide each student with an educational program appropriate for him or her, including special education and career and technical education. BOCES trainers come to our schools to help our teachers learn how to teach to new standards and use new technology. Our districts rely on BOCES to provide us with secure computer systems, fill our need for substitute teachers and give our employees affordable health coverage. Our local employers rely on BOCES to meet the demand for technical skills in fields such as welding, nursing and computer-aid design and respond rapidly to changes in business requirements.

BOCES stands for Board of Cooperative Educational Services, and the word "cooperative" is important. It means that there are economies of scale. BOCES enable rural districts and other component districts to meet a wide variety of students' needs without incurring costs that would be astronomical without a shared services arrangement.

As NYSSBA Area 4 Director, I represent four outstanding BOCES in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier portions of the state, including Broome-Tioga (BT) BOCES (where I serve as board president). In this article, I will reference programs in these four BOCES to provide examples of the breadth and scope of programs provided by our state's 37 BOCES.

More than 5,500 businesses statewide are partners with BOCES in career and technical education. These include auto dealers, high tech manufacturers and hospitals, just to name a few. BOCES continually create new programs in response to industry demands.

For example, Onondaga-Cortland-Madison (OCM) BOCES has a two-year course in Media Marketing Communications that is embedded in WCNY, a public broadcast station in downtown Syracuse. Juniors and senior OCM students work side-by-side with WCNY staff on projects involving TV, radio, social media, web and print platforms. They also earn up to 18 college credits through on-site instruction from Onondaga Community College. Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga (TST) BOCES has a class called Exercise Science and Sports Conditioning, open to juniors and seniors. As society places a greater focus on wellness and as the "Graying of America" is happening, this program is timely. It explores various physical fitness-related career paths, including personal trainer, recreation therapist, sports management, physical education teacher and coach. Students become personal training-certified at the conclusion of the two-year program.

Opportunities for high school students to pursue a college degree while in high school arise in both component and BOCES settings. P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) is offered at BT BOCES with students earning an associate's degree from SUNY Broome in either computer technology, engineering technology or health studies while working toward their high school Regents diploma.

Skills USA, a career and tech organization active in BOCES throughout the state, provides students with the opportunity to master a technical skill as well as improve soft skills such as cooperation, team building, communication and leadership. Students compete on the regional, state and national level to demostrate their expertise in a particular trade.

TST and Cayuga Onondaga (CO) BOCES have FFA chapters. Formerly called Future Farmers of America, FFA has evolved to encompass agricultural science, entrepreneurship, engineering, business, veterinary medicine and more. Similar to the Skills USA chapters, these student-led organizations provide students with leadership opportunities, build character and promote citizenship and volunteerism.

Special education services are a significant part of BOCES, serving students with various degrees of developmental disabilities. The individuals who work in these areas are highly trained in providing the specialized care required to meet the needs of this student population.

Indeed, special education is another area in which there is constant innovation. BT BOCES is a model site for MOVE (Mobility Opportunities Via Education), a program focusing on developing mobility and motor skills and more actively engaging multiple disabled students in their environment. This is a dynamic process which moves students from bean bags and wheelchairs to independence, thereby giving them the ability to sit, stand and walk, and enhancing their dignity. It greatly improves the overall quality of life for the students through the use of innovative techniques and extensive staff training. One of the MOVE students, previously wheelchair-bound, walked in with her classmates at a graduation ceremony and got a standing ovation.

Project Search is a collaborative effort between BT BOCES, Lourdes Hospital, Catholic Charities and the state OPWDD (Office of People With Developmental Disabilities). Students with moderate disabilities who have been in 12:1:1 classroom settings (with one teacher and one aid per every 12 students) are given workplace experience in their last year of school. Students are accepted through an application and interview process, and they develop strong skills for competitive employment in the workforce. It has been highly successful in placing students in appropriate employment opportunities upon graduation.

Many BOCES offer New Visions, which are non-traditional, academically rigorous programs available to highly motivated, college-bound seniors. The classes are embedded in area-specific settings aligned with professionals connected within the field. The programs typically involve partnerships involving business, law enforcement, higher education, engineering, health and medicine, and law and government. For instance, a New Visions Environmental Science Program is offered by OCM BOCES at Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortland. The classroom is nearly 430 acres of forest, fields and streams. Topics of forestry, fish, wildlife, maple production, environmental issues and outdoor recreation are explored.

In all CTE programs, students receive an opportunity to identify their passion and career direction. Some students learn that they would prefer to pursue other careers. Both are outcomes that have value for the student.

BOCES Regional Summer School provides both remediation and enrichment opportunities. One option for remediation includes Online Credit Recovery. CO BOCES sponsors a summer Robotics Stem Camp that combines education with fun, and BT BOCES sponsors a STEAM camp in partnership with the Eastern Southern Tier STEM Hub, Lockheed Martin and Binghamton University. Techapalooza is a hands-on, fun career exploration camp offered by TST BOCES for students in grades 6-8.

BOCES also offer an extensive array of ongoing professional development opportunities provided to staff throughout their areas. TST BOCES is actively involved in Critical Friends Training for Administrators. It brings committed professionals together for the purpose of improving individual practice through an innovative, collaborative group process.

Long-range planning is an important aspect of every BOCES operation. When new demands arise, BOCES "turn on a dime" to create and initiate new programs. For instance, when the gas drilling frenzy took center stage in the Southern Tier, BOCES developed new training programs relevant to the gas drilling industry.

BOCES adult education programs enhance our communities as well. Training programs for adults are critical when businesses downsize, leaving many people unemployed and without a marketable job skill set. BOCES network with employers to seize the best training opportunities. Recently, the Raymond Corporation in Greene was in need of employees trained in MIG Welding Steel Plate. They reached out to BT BOCES, which was able to create a program to provide job training for this specific welding expertise.

Let's not forget non-instructional services. One valuable one is the Solid Waste and Recycling Service provided by TST BOCES for itself and 16 component districts. It is the only BOCES in the state to offer this service. Refuse and waste recyclables are transported to landfills and recyclables are sold on the open market to generate revenue used to lower overall program costs for participants.

As the new school year begins, every school board member should appreciate how BOCES are an invaluable resource. While every BOCES is unique in its scope and specific services, one commonality is that each has a dedicated, diverse and highly qualified staff - including outstanding district superintendents - with a passion for excellence in public education. Our school districts, our students and our communities all benefit from their professionalism.

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