Board of Education Meeting Summary – Sept. 26, 2017

Gender Participation and Performance in STEM

Director of Science and Engineering Technology Jackie Carrese and Director of Mathematics Bill Wales presented information about student participation and achievement in STEM areas. They discussed national trends that showed the gap between women and men in STEM undergraduate programs and the workforce has narrowed somewhat over the past few decades, but still remains. They discussed district initiatives to engage students in STEM learning, including the Engineering Institute for Young Women. District data shows some courses where there are more female students than males enrolled and others where they would like to see increased female student participation. In terms of results on the grades 3-8 math tests, grades 4 and 8 science tests and Regents and AP exams, male and female students are performing similarly in many areas, and there are some areas where one gender outperforms the other. A series of initiatives, including the ongoing program reviews, new science standards that call for engineering concepts to be taught beginning in kindergarten, and an increased focus on career and technical education, could potentially inspire more female students to pursue STEM courses and careers. Board members thanked Ms. Carrese and Mr. Wales for the information and said they were pleased this is a topic that the district is working on.

Guidance Plan

Nancy Bushee, teacher leader for the Counseling Department, presented the Guidance Plan for 2017-18 that the entire department developed. It draws on new standards from the American School Counselors Association (ASCA) as well as state regulations and standards. Counselors aligned the department mission statement with the district mission and their professional beliefs. It calls for a focus on the whole child, supporting students from kindergarten through grade 12, and helping them integrate effectively into adulthood. Ms. Bushee noted that student to counselor ratios at the elementary level are significantly above national standards. The updated ASCA standards call for: all students to have access to a counselor or, at least, the counseling curriculum; the use of data to inform counseling programs; and a comprehensive school counseling advisory council. Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. said that as the 2018-19 budget process approaches, counseling and mental health will be priority areas. The goal is to ensure adequate social and emotional support for students and provide access to counseling resources such as career awareness beginning in the early grades.

Summer School Report

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lauren Gemmill presented information about student participation in summer school programs. A total of 19 students participated in the district’s first-ever kindergarten readiness program. While district leaders and teachers are still debriefing and monitoring how students who participated are adjusting this fall, early indications are that this is a promising approach to help students transition to school. The K-2 English as New Language program had 33 students, 24 students participated in the regional middle school summer school program, and 70 students participated in the regional high school program. This is a baseline year for the middle school program because it’s the first time the district has participated in the regional program in a few years. As the result of the high school program, one student graduated and 83 percent of students were able to recover credits.

Tenure for Carrie Nyc-Chevrier

The Board approved Dr. Tangorra’s recommendation of administrative tenure for Director of Business and Finance Carrie Nyc-Chevrier. Dr. Tangorra noted that she is a highly skilled school business leader and the district is fortunate to have her. Congratulations, Carrie!

Geothermal System – Potential Legal Claim

As the district undertook the work necessary over the past two summers to remediate the high school geothermal heating and cooling system, the question was raised about the potential for the district to pursue legal action based on the system not working properly. Dr. Tangorra estimated that the district has spent in the neighborhood of $500,000 total on the remediation project and the staff member who has been maintaining the system in recent years. The Board agreed that it would be worthwhile to ask the school attorney to do an initial analysis about the potential of filing a legal claim.

Budget Timeline

Ms. Nyc-Chevrier shared the 2018-19 budget development timeline and approach to the process. In the months leading up to Board deliberations and budget adoption, the administration will present department budgets, staffing and requests in order to more directly reach this part of the process. The requests and recommendations will continue to be informed by principals and department leaders.

Board Procedures

At the Board’s summer retreat, it was decided that a set of Board procedures – covering aspects of Baord operations such as creating agendas, visiting schools and communications – would be a helpful guide for members. The Board reviewed the first series of draft procedures at the meeting. The discussion included how agenda items are added and social media use by Board members. Based on the conversation, Dr. Tangorra will bring a revised draft to the next meeting.

Policy Review

]The Board has been reviewing and updating policies at each meeting as it transitions to a new policy manual. At this point, it has adopted all policies required by law. The next step is to review its remaining policies, those that are not required, to see if they need to be amended, replaced, or repealed. This process began with the “Goals and Objectives” series of policies in its current manual. At the next meeting, these policies will be revisited for potential appeal or revision.

Board Member Report

Board President Rosemarie Perez Jaquith said she attended the recent Planning Board meeting because the community conversation about proposed development has included discussion about the potential impact on the schools.

Ms. Jaquith noted that she has always found it helpful to attend PTO meetings and other parent and booster meetings as a Board member and encouraged her fellow members to attend meetings of the organizations that they serve as liaisons to when possible.

Board member Jennifer Zhao attended the recent Nutrition Committee meeting. There was a discussion about the change to the federal school lunch program for grades K-8 and potentially seeking feedback from parents or students in the future. Based on the work of the committee, some new menu items will be introduced in October. Dr. Tangorra said he is interested in seeing participation numbers increase over time and the program regain a stronger financial position, which will help further improve offerings.

Superintendent’s Report


Dr. Tangorra said that the district’s architect is working on a rendering of a reconfiguration and renovation of the athletic complex at the high school that also incorporates an improved traffic pattern. The architect has also developed a rendering of a renovated Nisk-Art Gallery. The impetus for this work was the Education Enrichment Fund’s request that the district identify some potential projects for fundraising efforts. Dr. Tangorra will share the renderings once they are complete.

The district’s construction manager has indicated that the “punch list” for the Van Antwerp roof project could be completed as soon as Wednesday, Sept. 27, meaning the project is essentially done.

Advisory Council Update

The Environment and Culture Advisory Council (ECAC) and Instructional Program Advisory Council (IPAC) held their first meetings of the year earlier this month. The advisory committees reorganized to form subcommittees around specific areas of focus. ECAC is being co-chaired by Rabbi Matt Cutler and Iroquois Principal Vicki Wyld. ECAC subcommittees are: Diversity, Health (with an initial focus on mental health), and Activities/Events. IPAC is being co-chaired by community member Ron Frank, who helped facilitate the development of the strategic plan, and Middle School Assistant Principal Jessica Moore. IPAC subcommittees include: Enrollment Study and School Configuration; Homework; Pathways; and School Start Times. A message will go out to the community in the near future inviting participation in the subcommittee work.

Hillside Avenue Bus Garage and Shared Transportation

Dr. Tangorra said he is going to organize a tour of the Hillside Avenue bus garage for the Board. The facility serves as a center of shared transportation services. He is gathering data from other school districts to help the continued exploration of expanding regional school transportation services.

Additional Meeting Notes

  • Student representatives reported that student leaders are exploring school-wide hurricane relief efforts.
  • The Board ratified an agreement that extends the contract with the Niskayuna School District Employees Association (NSDEA) through June 30, 2022.
  • The Consent Agenda was approved.