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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, February 19, 2009

Project-based learning thrills Tech Valley kid

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Tech Valley High, the Westerlo School, and a possible bus purchase were up for discussion last week when the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school board met for the second week in a row.

Xena Pulliam was a middle-school student at BKW last year when she submitted her application to spend her freshman year at Tech Valley High School in Troy. At the Feb. 9 school board meeting, Pulliam talked about her first semester at Tech Valley.

“She’s really enjoying the experience,” Superintendent Steven Schrade said this week, “and indicated her hope that the board would continue to provide the funds so she could continue her experience there.”

The innovative high school draws on students from local Board of Cooperative Educational Services, with each participating district sending a student each year. Its programs are meant to serve as models for area schools.

The district is spending $18,000 to send Pulliam to Tech Valley this year, and, after a reduction in tuition, will spend $12,000 if she attends next year, said Business Administrator Timothy Holmes.

Pulliam found out she was going to Tech Valley High last spring, she said.

“The superintendent came to school and pulled me aside in class and told me I was going to be going,” Pulliam said this week. “It was exciting, and the teacher got nervous when the superintendent walked in,” she laughed.

Pulliam wanted to attend Tech Valley High because she thinks it will help her prepare for college, and hopes it will help her get accepted to a good school, she said.

Her mother, Amy Pulliam, is also pleased thus far.

“It’s been a very good experience for her; it’s made her grow up a little bit, and mature with handling responsibilities,” Xena’s mother said. “We’re hoping she attends for all four years, but it’s up to the [school] board.”

At the beginning of the year, Xena was nervous about both the social and academic aspects of the experience, with meeting new people and taking on a different style of learning.

“It’s all project-based learning, so, we do a lot of hands-on stuff,” she said. “We went to the Hudson River and tested the water to see if it was healthy or not,” she said, describing a day in her Environmental Analysis course.

One feature that Pulliam appreciates about the school is the smaller class sizes. “Everybody is a lot closer, and you form better friendships,” she said. “At my other school, I had some close friends, but, here, everybody is really close.”

In addition to Environmental Analysis, the curriculum for Pulliam’s first year includes Global Analysis and Media Explorations (GAME), a combination of English and social studies, Mandarin Chinese, software training, health class, and art classes.

Her favorite, though, is Sustained Silent Reading, or SSR.

“We just read for, like, 40 minutes,” she said, “which is great, since I love to read.”

Westerlo School

Holmes, BKW’s business administrator, met recently with representatives of the Helderberg Christian School, current occupants of the Westerlo School, and discussed the possibility of sharing the costs of certain items on the long list of needed repairs to the building.

The district acquired the Westerlo School when part of the Westerlo district merged with the Berne-Knox district. As BKW enrollment dropped, the school, which had been used for Westerlo Students in the primary grades, was closed. The Helderberg Christian School has since rented the space.

“They discussed a possible arrangement where the district would pay for the materials, and Helderberg Christian would provide the labor,” Schrade said this week. “There was no decision made, but Tim [Holmes] was authorized to investigate that possibility further,” he said.

The school board wanted to raise the Helderberg Christian School’s rent, and then combine that with repairs on the building, Holmes said. “Since Helderberg Christian says it doesn’t have the money to afford higher rent, the idea is for them to provide about $12,000 worth of service by doing these repairs,” he said.

These repairs include water damage to bricks on the backside of the building, though Holmes said that there is “a discrepancy on what’s causing the damage there, but we’re talking about putting new gutters in the building.” Other repairs would fix the pillars at the front of the building, and re-point the chimney.

In selecting these specific repairs, the district has prioritized a much longer list.

The school board has recently discussed selling the school, but, before doing so, the building would require $108,500 worth of repairs, Schrade said in December.

This total, Holmes said in December, includes: repairing brick on the building’s exterior damaged by water and salt erosion, $30,000; repairing the exterior doors, $25,000; repairing the pillars at the front of the building, $5,000; repairing the water-damaged wood trim around the building’s exterior, to be painted or wrapped with aluminum, $5,000; repairing the gutters at the front of the building, $4,000; re-pointing the chimney, $3,000; repairing the gymnasium floor, $3,500: removing an abandoned underground water-storage tank, $8,000; and connecting to the municipal water supply, as requested by the Albany County Health Department, the cost of which could range between $15,000 and $25,000, he said.


Earlier this month, Tammy Krueger, BKW’s assistant director of transportation, recommended purchasing three 65-passenger school buses and two eight-passenger Chevrolet Suburbans for the 2009-10 school year, at a total estimated cost of $369,000.

“That was approved to go on the ballot at the May budget vote,” Schrade said. The board voted 3-1 to place it on the ballot in May. Board member John Harlow was absent, and did not vote; Michelle Fusco cast the dissenting vote.

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