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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 15, 2007

Academy awards for v-ville students"

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Transitioning from the top of the totem pole to the bottom can be difficult, says high school principal, Mark Diefendorf, referring to a student’s move from middle school into high school.

In Voorheesville, the middle school and the high school are in the same building, but, the environment is very different, Diefendorf said.

School "becomes more serious" when you reach the ninth grade, Diefendorf told The Enterprise. "You’re on the clock as far as transcripts are concerned."

The middle-school students are taught by a team of teachers in four core subjects – English, math, science, and social studies.

In an effort to "keep kids connected," Diefendorf is proposing what he is calling a ninth-grade academy. The academy would help provide effective teacher-student interaction, Diefendorf told the school board at Monday’s meeting.

In December, Diefendorf had presented a more involved plan but cut it back so it would cost less. This time, the school board was more receptive and has goal of including it in next year’s budget to start in the fall.

The high school classrooms are arranged by subject area, he said. He is hoping that the ninth-grade academy might have a centralized location where all ninth-grade classrooms will be.

"I really want to see encouragement of collaboration" crossing over into various content areas," Diefendorf told The Enterprise.

He said that his main focus with the program is connection. "We want to prevent the attitude of students being disenchanted with school," he said.

Continuity and links between various subject areas, Diefendorf said, "makes school more relevant."

Keeping kids connected

The new program would incorporate advisory classes as part of the ninth-grade curriculum.

The classes would give students overviews of what is expected of them in high school, teach them time-management skills, and involve them in discussions, Diefendorf explained.

The advisory periods might bring in older students and representatives from school groups such as Students Against Destructive Decisions, National Honor Society and Natural Helpers, generating discussion on issues of diversity and tolerance, he said.

The class would "provide a little time when the students could be free from content," Diefendorf told The Enterprise. It also allows the teachers a chance to "engage with students outside of the classroom."

The teachers would supply the students with a "safety net" to help encourage and stimulate the students’ involvement within the school, he said.

The class would also give students more of a chance to interact with adults, he pointed out to the school board on Monday.

The concept has created a lot of enthusiasm, Diefendorf said. "It really energizes the teachers."

"It’s exciting to bring new things into the school," he told The Enterprise.

The increased interaction and accessibility between students and teachers, Diefendorf said, "provides for an early warning system for kids who may be in jeopardy."


Another aspect of the proposal would help ease increasing burdens on the guidance department. The staff currently consists of four guidance counselors and a psychologist, who divides her time between the middle school and the high school.

Diefendorf is requesting that the board consider hiring a half-time social worker, who would "provide services to our at-risk students."

Voorheesville has "never had a social worker assigned to this district," Diefendorf told The Enterprise. "There is an increasing demand on our guidance staff and psychologist."

Most schools of comparable size to Voorheesville have both a social worker and a psychologist in addition to their guidance department staff, Diefendorf said.

The social worker would deal with the high-risk students, who generally take the most time, he said. The social worker would help the district to deal with potential problems proactively as opposed to reactively, Diefendorf told the school board.

The goal is to try to minimize the number of students becoming disconnected, Diefendorf told The Enterprise. "It is our job to see that all students do well."

Other business:

In other business, at its March meeting, the school board:

– Heard from Barbara Blumberg, a middle-school guidance counselor, who addressed board member Richard Brackett, asking him if he had anything to say to her. He said that he did not.

Blumberg later told The Enterprise that Brackett had on two occasions made "slanderous assertions" about her, once to another staff member, and once to a district parent.

"The only way to stop bullies is to confront them," Blumberg told The Enterprise. She said that, after researching district policies, she could find nothing governing board-member behavior, other than that they should "lead by example."

Brackett, when The Enterprise asked him about the allegations, replied, "I have no comment. I will not discuss this."

– Approved three out-of-town field trips. The Key Club will attend a convention in Monticello, N.Y. from March 16 to 18, at a cost of $189 per student. Sixth-graders will travel to New York City to the American Museum of Natural History on Friday, May 11, at a cost of $45 per student. Robert Streifer’s Spanish 5 class will also travel to New York City on Tuesday, May 22, at a cost of $56 per person plus meals;

– Approved contracts for health services with the South Colonie Central School District, the Bethlehem Central School District, and the Guilderland Central School District.

Fifteen students residing in Voorheesville attend schools in the South Colonie District, health services will cost $420.79 per student; eight students attend schools in the Bethlehem district, services there will cost $631.47 per student; and eight students attend schools in the Guilderland district, services will cost $507.63 per student;

– Accepted the retirement of three longtime district teachers. Janice Wysocki, a math teacher, will retire June 30, after 35 years; Richard Freyer, a high school science teacher, will retire June 25, after 36 years; and Linda Spina, an elementary school teacher, will retire on June 30, after 32 years;

– Announced that a special meeting will be held on Monday, April 23, at 7:30 a.m. to conduct an election for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services board members and to vote on the BOCES administrative budget;

– Approved the purchase of one 60-passenger bus, and three Suburbans for a maximum cost of $207,470. The bus will replace a 13-year-old bus; two of the Suburbans will replace two older cars, and one will replace an older vehicle that will be transferred to the operations and maintenance department;

– Approved the standardization of small vehicles for the transportation of students to Chevrolet Suburbans, allowing the district to bid jointly on vehicles for 2007. A unified fleet would be more cost-efficient and would save mechanics time. Bidding will be conducted by the cooperative bidding service at BOCES, in which the district is currently a member;

– Approved the purchase of music lockers to store instruments, at a cost of $9,500 plus shipping;

– Announced that a draft of the 2007-08 school calendar will be posted on the district website. The board will consider Jewish holidays when making the final adjustments;

– Announced that a special meeting to review budget numbers will be held on Monday, March 26, at 7 p.m.; and the regular board meeting will be held on Monday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m.;

– Announced that the Parent-Teacher Association will hold a meeting on April 19 with members of the school board, who will answer questions on the elementary school construction project. The meeting will be held in the elementary-school cafeteria at 7 p.m.; and

– Entered into executive session to discuss current litigation and the employment history of particular individuals.

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