Board Meeting Summary – Sept. 12, 2017

Student Representatives

Students were joined by Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. at Starbucks in early September for a meeting to discuss Student Forum this year. They are encouraging 9th graders to become involved. There was a discussion about the possibility of returning the Activities Fair to its prior format, with all students attending at the same time at the end of the day. Student Congress is discussing hurricane relief efforts for Houston and Florida.

Board Orientation

The Board and Dr. Tangorra are working to formalize Board Procedures. As part of this, Dr. Tangorra will establish a Board member orientation process. He noted that there would be a new Board member after the Oct. 10 special election. He will go through the orientation process with the full Board once the new member is in place.

District-Wide Safety Plan

Director of Student and Staff Support Services Deborah Marriott, who also serves as the district’s safety officer, said there were very little changes to the District-Wide Safety Plan this year. The District Safety Team met in late August. The Board approved the plan. The district and school plans will be submitted to the State Education Department as required.

Partnership with Wisdom International Education Group

The Board approved a partnership with the Beijing-based International Wisdom Educational Group. Board members and Dr. Tangorra noted that it was a significant effort to reach this point, including considerable work on the part of the school attorney. There was little precedent for such a relationship. Wisdom operates Montessori schools at the elementary level in China and is seeking the district’s assistance as it expand to grades 7-12. The partners envision year-long teacher exchanges and short-term professional development opportunities and student exchanges. Dr. Tangorra emphasized the importance of working with Niskayuna teachers to establish a process that will enable those interested to potentially travel to China to work with Wisdom.

Board Policy Review

As part of the ongoing process to update its policy manual, the Board adopted the following policies: Policy 1510 Board Meetings and Rules (Quorum and Parliamentary Procedure); Policy 7616 Update Prereferral Intervention Strategies; and Policy 5412 Alternative Formats for Instructional Materials. Previous policies were repealed. Additionally, the Board approved minor updates for a series of policies it had previously adopted as part of the policy review.

Board Member Report

Development – Board President Rosemarie Perez Jaquith and member Jennifer Zhao attended recent town Planning Board meetings where proposed development in the community was discussed. Public comment at the meetings has included concerns about potential impact on the schools, including the need for space, taxes and traffic and walkability. It was noted that a district enrollment and facilities capacity study is being conducted this year.

High School Traffic – A concern was shared about traffic and safety issues at the high school, particularly in the morning when middle school students arrive for music. The administration was asked what it would take to move middle school music out of the high school and back to the middle school level. This question will be researched. The situation improves when an adult from the high school is present to direct traffic. Someone will be there as much as possible. However, the area was not designed to handle the volume of cars that use it on a given morning.

Principal and Library Funds – Some recent PTO meetings have included discussion about designated Principal and Library funds being managed through the PTOs, which presents some challenges. The Audit Committee will consider this topic.

Oct. 10 Special Election – There are three candidates seeking the open seat that will be the subject of an Oct. 10 special election. The ballot drawing was held on Sept. 12. This is the order the candidates will appear: Brian Backus, Noney Grier, and Christina Calabrese. Note: The PTO Council has scheduled a Meet the Candidates Night for Monday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. in the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium.

Superintendent’s Report

Transportation – Dr. Tangorra said the Transportation Department had a strong start to the year if the number of calls his office received last year versus this year are any indication. He read from a handwritten note that a parent sent thanking the Transportation Department for excellent service and recognized the driver of Route 31 (Glencliff) for how he greeted kindergarten students on their first day – including by giving them Route 31 hats!

Opening Day – Dr. Tangorra told the Board that he shared the strategic plan as he welcomed back all staff at the Opening Day meeting and many people have reported that they appreciated the update.

Orientations – Dr. Tangorra said that the kindergarten visitation days on Wednesday and Thursday of the first week and the freshman orientation program again went very well. These help students in both grades make these transitions. He said this underscores the importance of preserving these days in the school calendar.

Human Resources – Establishing human resources processes and procedures is a focus of Director of Student and Staff Support Services Deborah Marriott, who began with the district this summer. She has started to redesign the district’s employment applications so that they provide necessary information in a user-friendly format. A next step will be to establish a consistent hiring process for the different types of positions in the district, beginning with coaches. She will also be working to develop formal entry procedures for new employees.

Superintendent’s Goals – Dr. Tangorra outlined his goals for the 2017-18 school year, which are aligned with the strategic plan. The superintendent’s goals serve as the basis for the superintendent’s evaluation, yet Dr. Tangorra said it was important to share them publicly. The four goals that he presented are below:

(1) Facilities Plan: The superintendent will develop a facilities plan which will support and enhance teaching and learning. Dr. Tangorra noted that a study of enrollment projections and facilities capacity is underway, and said part of this goal will involve an evaluation of the current grade-level configuration.

(2) Human Resources: The superintendent will oversee the development of sound operation procedures.

(3) Partnerships: The superintendent will advance partnerships with third parties in our community. Collaboration with the Town of Niskayuna and the JCC will be enhanced.

(4) Environment: The superintendent will develop a comprehensive plan to address diversity and anxiety in our community. Dr. Tangorra said part of this goal will involve a collaborative effort to investigate the practicality of altering schools start times and reviewing homework practice.

Each goal was presented with supporting objectives. The document Dr. Tangorra shared can be found on BoardDocs.