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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 1, 2010

Longer school day planned for elementary students

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Come September, elementary students may be in school 15 minutes more each day if the school board here adopts a recommendation from its transportation committee.

The proposal, as outlined by Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders, would maintain the current three-tiered bus system. The high-school day would still begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:25 p.m. The middle-school day would start and end five minutes later than the current 8:40 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. day, and the five elementary schools would begin 10 minutes earlier, at 7:50 a.m. and end five minutes later, at 2:05 p.m.

Teachers were already contracted to work the extra 15 minutes, but the problem lay in re-arranging the complex transportation schedule so students could be in school for the extra time.

In addition to “stretching the boundaries of the transportation day,” Sanders said, the proposed plan would also save the district about $3,500.

Other proposals considered by the committee would require more buses and would therefore bring significant increased costs.

The school board is slated to vote on the plan at its April 13 meeting.

In 2006, a committee considered the shape of the school day, and 20 minutes were added to the elementary school day for the 2007-08 school year.

Another 25 minutes for teachers were added this school year, bringing the elementary school day in line with the length of the day at the middle school and the high school.

Since transportation couldn’t be arranged to get the students to the schools for the added time, teachers used the time for grading, planning instruction, and conferring with colleagues.

“Teaching doesn’t just happen,” Demian Singleton, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction, said earlier. “It is planned, monitored, reflected upon. Teachers continually respond to students’ needs and evaluate student performance.”

Changes had to be made in the teachers’ contract in order to accommodate the longer workday. Some board members last June expressed frustration that they hadn’t realized, during negotiations, that teachers were being given more planning, rather than instructional, time.

“For that huge increase in salary, we thought we were getting student teaching time,” said board member Barbara Fraterrigo in June when the board discussed the matter.

School board members pushed to re-align transportation to get the elementary students in school for more time.

Board member Gloria Towle-Hilt, who served on the transportation committee, said last Tuesday that spending the money for an outside consultant to work with the committee had been worthwhile since it validated what the transportation department had been doing.

The district hired Tyler Technologies, Inc. for $9,040, Sanders told The Enterprise.

“This puts to bed for me something that was always percolating,” said Towle-Hilt.

An earlier committee had looked at research on sleep patterns and concluded it would be healthier if high-school students could go to school later. Sanders noted that would affect athletic practices and games at the end of the school day.

School board President Richard Weisz concluded that, unless Section II changed its sports schedule or another parallel road to the congested Route 20 were built, there are no other options to consider.

“Physiologically, it is better for high-school students to go later,” said Fraterrigo. She said the board had asked the school’s athletic director, Wayne Bertrand, to “plant the seed” for a schedule change with Section II. Fraterrigo said she would like an update on the matter.

Special-education study

The board was divided on an ad-hoc committee’s proposal to hire the Futures Education Group for $45,000 to review the district’s special-education programs.

School board member Julie Cuneo, who had served on the ad-hoc committee, recommended waiting until the fall to evaluate special-education services since proposed budget cuts would bring about drastic changes in the current program.

“It’s going to be two different programs,” Cuneo said.

Although Superintendent John McGuire said timing was a critical element for the consultants, not enough board members wanted to suspend the rules and vote on the matter at their March 23 meeting.

“Can we use the money to fund the study but start the study in the fall?” asked Towle-Hilt.

“I think we’re shooting the committee in the foot,” said Denise Eisele, who added it was wasting the committee members’ time to disregard their recommendation.

“When we asked for this study, it was before John McGuire resigned,” said board member Colleen O’Connell. McGuire is retiring on July 1.

The evaluation, O’Connell said, should be left up to the next superintendent. She also felt that the recommendation from the ad-hoc committee wasn’t detailed enough.

Cuneo said that an internal review would be useful before hiring an outside consultant. Teachers, she said, were “enthusiastic about dialoguing.”

“I think we’ve left out some important pieces in rushing,” Cuneo concluded.

Board member Emilio Genzano said that staff would be participating in the evaluation. “You need a baseline,” he said. “You’ll get a report on what we have today.”

“These are difficult economic times,” said McGuire, describing Guilderland’s special-education services as one of the board’s most difficult and most volatile programs, costing millions of dollars annually, and serving “our most vulnerable children.”

Each year, he said, the special-education program costs $8 million to $9 million dollars, about 10 percent of the district’s budget.

“This needs to be done now,” he said.

McGuire went on to praise the work done by the Futures Education Group, which is based in Massachusetts. “They have found cost savings in the vast majority of districts in which they’ve worked,” he said.

 Eisele said that decisions about special education could be gut wrenching and emotional, and that an independent, objective evaluation is needed.

Towle-Hilt said she was concerned about the timing, noting the study is to take 12 weeks. “This is a very tense time for our staff,” she said.

Weisz noted that, without cuts in the special-education budget, it would have gone up 11 percent. “We just can’t do it,” he said, stating it is important to see if “we are as efficient as possible.”

The board will make a decision on the consultant at its April 13 meeting.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the board:

— Heard from Singleton that the state’s board of Regents opposed the State Education Department proposal, which Singleton had outlined for the school board on March 9, to eliminate Regents exams to save funds;

— Heard from O’Connell, who heads the board’s search committee for a new superintendent, that board members should consider hiring an interim superintendent in case a new one can’t be in place in time;

— Appointed the Bonadio Group, as recommended by the board’s audit committee, to provide independent audit services for the next three years with the option to extend the agreement for two more years if mutually agreeable. The Bonadio Group will be paid $20,000 in 2010, then $20,500 in 2011, and $21,000 in 2012;

— Recertified, as required by the state, the district’s shared decision-making plan;

— Adopted policies on racial harassment, student health services, and video cameras on school buses;

—         Learned that an Elementary Art Show will be held through April 30 at the Guilderland Public Library;

—         Heard that Melissa Abbasi, a sixth-grade teacher at Farnsworth Middle School, is one of six recipients of the Honoring Earlier Educators Award. Yunjee Kang, who now attends Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire nominated Abbasi, her middle-school teacher, for the award;

—         Learned that six teams qualified for the 2009-10 Winter Scholar/Athlete Award, meaning each team maintained an average of 90 percent or higher — girls’ basketball, ice hockey, girls’ and boys’ cross-country skiing, boys’ swimming, and gymnastics;

— Approved 25 change orders on the building project, adding a total of $89,106 to accommodate unforeseen conditions encountered during construction;

— Gave conceptual approval, as requested by the town, to lower the speed limit on Presidential Way, a road located near Farnsworth Middle School;

— Heard congratulations for Guilderland High School students Noah Rubin, Greg Barber, Ved Tanavde, Matt Walsh, and Kyungduk Rho who took part in Moody’s Mega Math Challenge 2010. They submitted a solution to a problem about the 2010 Census, working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 7;

— Learned that freshman Zubin Mukerjee qualified for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination, held March 16, by scoring in the top 5 percent nationally on a qualifying exam. The AIME is a three-hour exam with 15 questions. The contest ultimately leads to selection of a United States team, which competes in the International Mathematical Olympiad;

— Learned that Will Wang, a Farnsworth Middle School student, earned a perfect score in the sixth-grade Math Olympiad, a first in the over 18 years the school has been part of the competition. Wang will receive the Dr. George Lenchner medallion from the national headquarters, which only 34 out of 150,000 participating students received last year. The top eight Farnsworth students in this year’s Olympiad were: Will Wang, Bill Dong, Eric Pasquini, Sean Hourihan, Youngjun Kim, Alex Selsley, Salil Chaudhry, and Michael Zhu; and

— Met in executive session to discuss a personnel item.

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