Board of Education Meeting Summary – August 15, 2017

Capital Project Update

This summer’s work at the bus garage is finished and the Van Antwerp roof replacement is expected to be substantially complete the week of August 21. The next phase of the capital project – health and safety improvements across the district – will take place next summer. The geothermal system flush at the high school is complete and indications are that it was successful.

School Lunch Update

The district is returning to the National School Lunch Program at grades K-8. Director Suzanne Wixom shared some posters that are designed to excite students about eating fruits and vegetables. Snack offerings at the elementary school will be consistent across the district and snacks in student vending machines meet federal nutritional guidelines. The food cart at the high school will be up-and-running. The department is in better shape in terms of staffing than it has been in the recent past.

Transportation Update

Families should be receiving their bus information soon, which is about 2 weeks ahead of last year’s schedule. Niskayuna has been a leader in shared transportation services, including sharing a supervisor and space in the bus garage at 1301 Hillside Avenue with Scotia-Glenville. The department is in need of more bus drivers. Recruitment efforts are ongoing.

Curriculum Project Update

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lauren Gemmill highlighted the progress of the ongoing curriculum project and discussed the plan moving forward. At the elementary level, six ELA and six math units developed in 2015-16 were piloted last year. Based on what was learned from that and some focused professional development, the units have been revised and are ready for full implementation across the district this year. At the secondary level, the curriculum work began in core areas in 2015-16 and expanded to other areas in 2016-17. Moving forward, priorities identified through each department’s Program Review will drive the majority of curriculum development. Ms. Gemmill complimented the quality of the curriculum work that has been done and the energy and professionalism of all involved.

Communications Update

Communications Specialist Samantha Tibbitts is now working in the Communications Office with Matt Leon. The overriding communications goal for 2016-17 was raising awareness about the strategic plan. This year’s communications goals will involve engaging the community in more specific elements of the plan, especially instructional initiatives taking place. The district will also launch a new website, a mobile app and an Instagram account this year.

Superintendent’s Update on Advisory Committees (IPAC & ECAC)

In the late spring/early summer of 2016, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr., convened an Instructional Program Advisory Council (IPAC) and an Environment and Culture Advisory Council (ECAC) to help guide decision-making and community engagement in these two strategic focus areas. Last year, IPAC identified two main priorities: a K-8 program that incorporates more interdisciplinary and project-based learning and raising awareness about the variety of real-world learning opportunities currently available to students, including career and technical education. Information about department program reviews will also be shared with IPAC, beginning with the Science & Engineering Technology findings this fall. The Environment and Culture Advisory Council (ECAC) developed the district’s Diversity Goals last year and will be involved with the diversity work that the district has initiated with consultant Dr. Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard. Other topics that will be explored by the advisory committees include student mental health, school start times, prekindergarten, and homework. Additionally, a consultant is conducting an enrollment projection and building capacity study for the district.

Dr. Tangorra said that information gathering in the above areas and community engagement will ultimately inform future program changes and facility improvements. As part of this process, membership of the advisory committees will be expanded this year and subcommittees will be established to work on particular topics.

Tax Rates

The Board adopted the 2017-18 tax levy and tax rates for each of the four towns in the district. The tax levy is the same amount that was publicized during the time of the May vote, a 2.08 percent increase. Tax rates for property owners in each of the towns are based on municipal assessment rolls and state-assigned equalization rates, which are finalized each summer. The tax rates can be found on the website. Tax bills are typically mailed in early September and due by the end of the month.

Facilities Use Plan and Handbook

The Board approved a Facilities Use Handbook that establishes procedures for the use of school facilities by outside groups. An internal audit had recommended the district improve its practices in this area, including a more consistent approach to tracking usage and ensuring that fees cover district costs. A committee discussed the changes needed last year, including the new tiered fee structure. The handbook will provide clarity to staff and outside groups who use school facilities. There was some discussion about centralizing the function of coordinating the use of facilities with outside groups.

Special Board of Education Election

The Board approved an October 10 special election to fill the seat on the Board that was vacated when Patricia Lanotte resigned in July. The individual who is elected on October 10 will serve the remainder of Mrs. Lanotte’s three-year term (through June 30, 2019). Petitions to appear on the ballot are available from the District Clerk and are due by Sept. 11.

School Calendar

Dr. Tangorra outlined the adjustments that have been made to the school calendar in light of information that the State Education Department shared with districts about instructional day requirements. The day before Thanksgiving will now be a day of instruction and the last day of school for grades K-8 in June will need to be a full day. Dr. Tangorra said the adjustments enabled the district to preserve important traditions such as the orientation days for kindergarten and ninth grade students. The calendar allows for three snow days.

Board Policy Update

As part of the Board’s ongoing policy review, the following policies are under consideration: Policy 1510 Board Meetings and Rules (Quorum and Parliamentary Procedure); Policy 5412 Alternative Formats for Instructional Materials; Policy 7616 Update Prereferral Intervention Strategies; and Policy 8260 Update Title I Parent and Family Engagement.

Additional Meeting Highlights

  • The Consent Agenda was approved.
  • The Elementary and Middle School codes of conduct were reaffirmed.
  • Board committee members and school/parent group liaisons were established. (View the assignments.)
  • The Board is considering establishing internal operating procedures, which were discussed at its August retreat.
  • Board member Jennifer Zhao shared some follow-up information about a grant that N-CAP was working to secure for a biking/walking safety event. Although the grant was not received, the process revealed significant interest in this and other funding sources are being sought.