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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 13, 2007

V’ville wants to "break through the ceiling"
New post proposed, $10K grant for literacy bestowed

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — "We don’t need to bring our kids up to the bar," says the Voorheesville schools superintendent, Linda Langevin. "What we need to do is break through the ceiling."

With that in mind, the school board on Monday heard about two new initiatives to make good schools better. Langevin suggested creating a post next year for a curriculum coordinator. She told The Enterprise the salary would probably be about $50,000. The post, as Langevin proposed it to the board, would be filled by two half-time teachers — one at the elementary level and one at the secondary level.

The other initiative is for a literacy program at the elementary school. Principal Kenneth Lein was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Voorheesville School and Community Foundation for the first phase of the project.

"The biggest piece of it," Lein told the board, "once we get the ‘what’ in place...is to go after the ‘how.’"

Lein envisions a three-phase project. The first phase, he told The Enterprise, "is to develop a building-wide philosophy and a list of best practices for teaching literacy." The grant will pay for consultant Linda Carr to work with the faculty on this.

Voorheesville teachers are already doing "great things" in the classroom, said Lein, but each is not necessarily informed about what the others are doing. This will get them all "on the same page," he said.

A pilot program for assessing children’s progress, apart from the state-required tests, will be started in January, Lein said. "It’s assessment for learning, to help guide us where to go with children," he said, adding it will lead to more individualized instruction. Tiers will be created on how to intervene when children need it, he said.

In the second phase, teachers will continue to work on best practices, he said, and a consistent assessment system will be implemented. "We do very well here...Kids are successful," said Lein, stressing, "This is not a response to improve test scores."

The third phase, he said, will involve a "continuation of a sustained approach to professional development." He explained, "We as a staff take over as the experts."

Lein said, "There’s real excitement here about building a professional learning community."

The second and third phase, he said, will be funded through the budget process.

Data-driven decision making

Langevin said the impetus for having a curriculum coordinator — a first for the district — comes from a desire to make good use of all the different types of student achievement information now available. This began with work by a data coordinator, which is used "to inform instruction," she said.

"The board is interested in value-added assessment information," said Langevin, explaining this "shows where we, as a school, can assist in teaching a student.

"New York State is taking on a growth model next year — one year’s growth in one year’s time," she said. "We’re ahead of the curve. The Capital Region is leading the way."

Voorheesville, like the neighboring district of Guilderland [See "Administrators say: Mapping curriculum builds community," at www.altamontenterprise.com, under archives for Nov. 1], is using curriculum mapping. Langevin explained, "Teachers use computer-based software to input their curriculum and how that applies to the state standards...They can use that information as discussion points and each can see what the others are doing."

The focus this year at Voorheesville is on literacy. Literacy, she said, means reading, writing, listening, and speaking better — four components that are important to every subject. "This is the basis on which our education system is built," said Langevin.

She said of Voorheesville students, "We’re doing better than the state benchmarks. For our kids, who go on to excellent colleges...we want to serve them the best we can...We want to make sure each child is making a year’s worth of progress...with life skills, too."

Langevin went on, "We’ll use the data to see how to better serve every child, whether it’s an exceptionally gifted child or a special-education student." Teachers now look at every student individually to meet his or her needs, she said. "This will take the guess work out of it."

School board members sounded receptive to creating the new post when it was presented Monday night, although they had some questions and debate about details.

"Overall, I think this is the right direction to go at the right time," said board President David Gibson. "We have test results that will provide insight into what teaching techniques work, providing us with tools we never had."

"I support this kind of activity," said Vice President C. James Coffin, concluding, "As board members, we have to look at it as part of the budget process and ask some searching questions."

Principals report

Elementary school Principal Kenneth Lein reported that, out of 542 students, 537 had parents who attended recent conferences with teachers and two others conferred by phone.

"We have parents who care," said Gibson, calling it "a tribute to the community."

Education Week netted 144 visits to the school, the most since a tally was begun in 1991, Lein said. He attributed the high turnout to the fact that there are nine new teachers who people were eager to meet.

Lein also said he was impressed with how students were picking up on the school theme of giving. Student R.J. Bauer, whose family is from Thailand, collected 674 donated toothbrushes, which he will distribute in a "poor section" of Thailand, Lein said, when his family visits there shortly. And, in another initiative, boxes have been filled with hats and mittens.

The school is gearing up for outdoor play in the winter.

The biggest concern, said Lien, with buses and vendors driving near the play area, is rolling balls. "We’ve ordered a number of things that shouldn’t roll," he said, like hacky-sacks, rings to toss, and footballs with tails.

"Anything that’s round won’t go out there," Lein said, adding that a stream also runs nearby.

New signs will be posted and vendors will be kept away from the play area during the hours children are out, Lein said.

Wind and chill as well as ice had kept students in this week, he told a parent who wondered why they hadn’t been out. "They’ll be out very soon," he promised.

Michael Goyer, the supervisor of transportation and building and grounds, said that, even on some sunny days, students won’t be allowed out if mechanics are working on required state inspections of the school buses.

In giving the middle-school report, Theresa Kennedy lauded the junior class for a gingerbread-house-building contest it hosted that "really engaged the kids in team work."

High school Principal Mark Diefendorf described last week’s winter sports pep rally and said the students beat the faculty in the traditional tug-of-war, employing a traditional technique. As 20 staff members appeared to be winning against 20 students, "a swell of students came out of the stands and easily won," said Diefendorf.

On a more serious note, he said that teachers will meet for two hours on Tuesday to review student progress, focusing on ways to help at-risk or struggling students.

Other business

In other business, the school board:

— Accepted a donation of $800 from the Voorheesville Community and School Foundation for the Odyssey of the Mind program. Cindy Morrison, a parent co-coordinator for the program, said over 50 students and 20 advisors were participating this year, more than twice as many as last year. One team is from the middle school and nine are from the elementary school;

— Heard from Nancy Ruck that the foundation’s gala this year will honor Ed Clark, who is retiring from public service after serving as Voorheesville’s mayor for 17 years and New Scotland’s supervisor for six years;

— Heard from Vice President C. James Coffin, who serves on the negotiating committee, that the issues had been narrowed in negotiations with the teachers but there are "a couple of major issues outstanding." The contract with the teachers’ union expired last June and the teachers have since been working under their old contract, Langevin told The Enterprise Tuesday. Coffin concluded, "We’re moving ahead on it";

— Postponed voting on a revised policy on disclosure of wrongful conduct. Board member Timothy Blow reiterated the objection he had raised in October. "If someone has wrongful conduct, whether its school-related or not, it should be brought to the attention of the school district," he said. Coffin reiterated the opposing view: "There are certain limits on what you can do," he said. "Our responsibilities have to be circumscribed." Blow said that out-of-district conduct, such as an arrest for drunk driving or child abuse, should be included in the policy. Superintendent Linda Langevin said, "If anyone is arrested, their fingerprint clearance" is halted and the district is informed the next day. Board President David Gibson reviewed the major changes proposed for the policy, which is posted on the district website : In addition to adding a "serious instance of school-related wrongful conduct," the policy says employees "shall" rather than "should" report such conflict, making it an obligation to report, and it adds inappropriate personal behavior to the list of wrongful conflict as well as adding protection for whistleblowers;

— Heard from parent Laura Minnick who had addressed the board last month asking about the district’s plans for dealing with children who have allergies. Because some kindergartners have severe peanut allergies, the school has been providing snacks to children in that half-day program and Minnick was concerned how the rest of the school would be restricted. Sarita Winchell, assistant superintendent for business who serves on the district’s safety committee, said state guidelines on handling food allergies are expected in June. In the meantime, she said, the school is following recommendations from the State Education Department and wiping down a cafeteria table for students with allergies to eat at. "When we get the guidelines, we’ll develop specific rules and procedures for our school," said Lein. "I would hope we’d seek some input from 98 percent of the populace," said Minnick, referring to those without allergies. She urged that a policy be in place before the next school year;

— Approved a Medicare Advantage program through the Capital District Physicians Health Plan that, Winchell said, will reduce premiums for Voorheesville retirees and reduce costs for the district while offering some added benefits such as for eye glasses, hearing aids, and physical therapy. "It wipes out that middle-man paperwork," said Winchell. Cathy Fiero, president of the teachers’ union, said the union’s concern had been, "What happens if the plan goes away"" The retirees could then go back to the district plan, she said, calling the new program "a good thing";

— Appointed Thomas Gladd as chair of the social studies department at $2,250, in addition to his teacher’s salary. Patrick Corrigan had stepped down as chairman to become associate principal at the high school;

— Appointed Christopher Curro as a high-school social studies teacher. He will earn $55,670, pro-rated as he begins work Dec. 11. Curro described himself as "a long-time teacher" and said he would teach economics, psychology, and global studies;

— Appointed Brent Pierce as head varsity wrestling coach at $3,395, and Al Pailley as assistant varsity wrestling coach at $2,507. Pierce had been the assistant coach. (See related story in the sports section);

— Approved the following appointments for extracurricular advisors — Teal Vivaqua for winter cheerleading at $1,227; Kelly McHale and Jeanne Young as co-advisors for National Honor society at $329.25 each; Jennifer Wademan as yearbook advisor at $1,368; and Wayne Manchester as middle-school drama club advisor at $918;

— Also appointed Manchester as performing arts center manager at $2,250;

— Appointed Shawn Kelly as a building and grounds maintenance worker at $15.39 per hour. He had been a custodial worker;

— Appointed Robert Maliszewski as a building maintenance mechanic at $20.09 per hour. He had been a maintenance worker;

— Appointed Michael Sloman as a teaching assistant;

— Appointed John Neri as a lifeguard for the learn-to-swim program at $8.50 per hour;

— Approved a field trip to Yale University for 30 students in the Model United Nations program at a cost of $200 per student. High school Principal Mark Diefendorf said the club has close to 60 members and, since Yale limits the size of the delegation to 30, Voorheesville students make trips to competitions at Brown and Cornell as well. Yale’s program is the most competitive, he said, while Brown’s is a good learning experience and Cornell combines elements of both;

— Approved membership in the New York State School Boards Association for 2008 with annual dues of $6,295;

— Approved paying James Hladun $8,700 to direct Voorheesville’s adult education program. The program is breaking even, Winchell said. "People are very interested in recreation," she said, naming aerobics and dancing courses;

— Declared two Chevrolets obsolete — a 1989 Caprice with 107,428 miles, and a 1993 Suburban with 153,349 miles;

— Heard from Goyer that power will be shut down on Dec. 26 as part of renovation work at the elementary school; and

— Went into executive session to discuss negotiated agreements. Langevin said later that no action was taken. The board was discussing upcoming negotiations with non-instructional employees and with administrative staff; contracts for both groups expire at the end of June, 2008, she said.

150 feet above cemetery
Cell tower to rise from grave

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — With a split vote, the planning board here last week granted a controversial special-use permit to T-Mobile to build a 150-foot cell tower at the New Scotland Cemetery.

The planning board also unanimously granted two special-use permits to Cellco Partnership with Verizon Wireless, and Bradford Realty to extend the use of existing towers.

Opponents to the tower construction at the cemetery noted historical features of the cemetery and nearby Presbyterian church, on New Scotland Road, the town’s oldest church, and suggested a conflict of interest between Louis Neri, the attorney for the town’s zoning and planning boards, and the contractor used to build the tower.

At a packed public hearing in October, proponents of the cell tower had said it would improve reception and help the cash-strapped cemetery association.

"This is an extraordinarily inappropriate location for a cell tower," Daniel Mackay told the planning board last Tuesday. "If we approve a cell tower at this location, we’ve...opened a door for cell towers...at any location in town."

Mackay said that Neri had "aggressively" questioned him at a previous public meeting.

"There may be a conflict of interest for Mr. Neri. The contractor is the son of his business partner," Mackay said.

Planning board Chairman Robert Stapf allowed Mackay, who arrived too late for the public hearing, to speak to the board before it voted. Stapf said that the board had hired special counsel to handle the cell tower issue, and that Neri "has nothing to do with this project."

The board voted, 5 to 2, to grant the permit with Beth Stewart, Stapf, Lorraine Tuzzolo, Cynthia Elliott, and Robert Smith voting in favor. Charles Voss and Kevin Kroencke voted against the proposal.

"My objection is to the height at 150 feet," Kroencke said. "There may be a need for it, but I don’t see it at 150 feet. I’m not in business to see you make as much money [as possible.]"

Voss said that he is known to others as a resident of the "tower town." He suggested that flag or phone poles be used as stealth towers for cell services.

"I don’t think the applicant has proved the need for coverage," Voss said. He recalled that, at an earlier meeting, cell phones in the room had three to four bars of service available. He said that he would not vote in favor of the permit "to suit the competitive needs of the applicant."

Smith said that 39 television towers have been erected in his "backyard" near Thacher Park.

"No one complained then. Cell phones are here to stay. If there’s an accident, I hope someone can call," Smith said. "I didn’t want to see the roads paved...but I can’t ride my horse out here anymore because all of you moved in. And, that’s OK."

Attorney Jacqueline Phillips Murray said that, because New Scotland south road, where the cemetery is located, is a county road, the Albany County Department of Transportation asked that 12 feet of blacktop be put down at the entrance, and that the access road be improved with crush and fill gravel.

The planning board asked for landscaping, including shrubs between trees, to shield the property from view.

More towers

The board granted a special-use permit to Cellco Partnership and Verizon Wireless to extend the cell tower located near the municipal water tank at Woods Hill Road. Michael Cusack of Cellco asked the board to allow a 15-foot extension on the 95-foot tower. The extension will make room for 12 panel antennas and a four-foot lightning rod on top, bringing the tower to a height of 110 feet.

"Cellular technology is a line-of-sight technology," Cusack said. He said that the hilly, steep terrain in New Scotland limits cell coverage, and that a position on smaller "stealth" towers would not help.

Stapf asked if the tower proposed for the cemetery could be used, instead of an extension to an existing tower.

"It’s a matter of physics. It’s not negotiable. It hits the land mass. That facility does not work for Verizon Wireless," Cusack said. He said that a reduction in the height of antennas will decrease service.

Town engineer Keith Menia, of Stantech Engineering in Albany, said that, according to Clough, Harbour, and Associates, Cellco will need to make minor structural improvements at the base of the tower to keep the tower in compliance with new codes.

A group of neighbors asked the board to deny the extension request for aesthetic reasons, but the board said that the 15-foot extension would not significantly affect the community.

The extension will allow cell phone coverage to Clayton A. Bouton High School, the board said, where gaps now exist.

"Parents can’t be in contact with their kids," board member Beth Stewart said. "I think it’s for the greater good of the community."

In addition to modifying the base of the tower before a building permit is issued, Cellco must repair or replace the existing stockade fencing around the tower.

The board also granted a special-use permit for a tower owned by Bradford Realty at Tower Lane 3, off Pinnacle Road. Eight antennas will be added to the tower.

Animal applications

The planning board granted Karen G. Weiss a special-use permit to allow horse boarding and riding lessons at 229 Countryman Road. The board gave a negative declaration according to the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, stating that the proposed use would not adversely affect the environment.

The board also granted a special-use permit to Deborah Longtin of Cedar Grove Road to operate a dog kennel with up to 25 dogs.

"I’m not going to be a puppy mill," Longtin said. "I’m looking to show. It’s a hobby kennel."

Longtin has a 40-foot by 60-foot structure on the site. The board said that she should put the proposed dog runs at the rear of the structure, and place solid screens between the runs to minimize barking. The board also said that waste must be disposed of in a garden compost bin at the far end of Longtin’s property. Operating hours should be between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., the board said.

Other business

In other business, the planning board:

— Tabled a request by Marjorie and John Waldman to construct a pond on a Normans Kill Road lot until the Waldmans have more information about construction. The pond would be adjacent to Vly Creek. Marjorie Waldman said that the pond would be used to keep water from her home downslope from the lot.

Kroencke reminded Waldman to contact the Cornell Cooperative Extension Center for pond literature.

"They’ll design it for you," Stapf said;

— Scheduled a public hearing for January for Wendy and Thomas Detwiler’s request to create a non-profit organization called Eagle Ridge Youth Ranch to allow disadvantaged students to work with horses. Thomas Detwiler said that each of 10 students per lesson would be teamed with his or her own horse and adult trainer. The project requires the construction of an outdoor riding arena and wind shelters for horses. The Detwilers own 30 acres on Straight Lane.

Detwiler said that his tack room is in the basement of his home on the property. His home bathroom would be the sole sanitary facility. Board members equated the number of trainers and students there at one time to that attending a family birthday party.

The program would run from 3 p.m. to dusk in the spring, and from 9 a.m. to dusk in the summer, Detwiler said;

— Sent a favorable response to the zoning board of appeals for a variance request from Emre Tozser, who wants to subdivide a parcel on New Scotland Road into three lots. One of the proposed lots has an existing structure that does not meet current setback requirements;

— Scheduled a public hearing for David and Kim Raylinsky Jr. to allow them to keep sheep on 3.2 acres on Indian Fields Road, which is zoned for residential and agricultural use.

"My wife and I are tired of cutting the grass," David Raylinsky Jr. said. He said that he will fence the area. They may also put chickens or guinea hens on the property, he said; and

— Scheduled a public hearing for a request by James Olsen of Olsen’s Nursery to add 1,296 square feet onto each of two plastic-covered green houses. Olsen also requested the addition of two 816-square-foot hoop-type plastic-covered cold houses, and an 864-square-foot framed cold storage building.

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