District outlines vision for the future

This fall, district leaders have been sharing a vision for the future of education in Niskayuna that is based on the strategic plan and informed by the work of stakeholders over the last three years. The vision is a central part of the capital project planning that is underway. It highlights the direction of district programs and student services in many areas and aspirations in others.

The vision includes:

  • Deeper learning experiences that promote problem-solving
  • Cross-curricular (interdisciplinary) learning and teamwork.
  • Off-campus learning experiences and community service.
  • Flexible spaces that enable hands-on activities.
  • Every student has a trusted adult at school.
  • Increasing faculty and staff diversity.

Dr. Tangorra presented the vision to the Capital Project Community Advisory Committee on Oct. 15 and at the Board of Education meeting on Oct. 16. He is also sharing it at a series of PTO meetings and with faculty and staff, community organizations and business and industry partners. View the current schedule of presentations

The vision is based on work that has taken place to implement the Board of Education’s strategic plan. This includes the Instructional Program Advisory Council (IPAC) and Environment and Culture Advisory Council (ECAC), which have staff and community participation, and the academic program review process that involves teams of teachers and administrators and was developed by the District Curriculum and Assessment Council (DCAC).

“We are moving toward this vision by investing in professional development, curriculum, and social and emotional support,” said Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. “We also need to make sure that our facilities match the programs and services we are committed to providing our students and that they need for success in school and life.”

Facilities needs are one aspect of the program review process, in which a department team establishes K-12 needs and priorities for its academic area after a year-long review. So far, the Science & Engineering Technology, Art & Design, and World Language departments have gone through the process. Each identified the need for more real-world projects and interdisciplinary activities but cited a lack of flexible space for groups of students to work as a team or engage in hands-on learning.

New science learning standards emphasize the “doing of science and engineering practices” beginning in elementary school, Director of Science & Engineering Technology Jackie Carrese told the Capital Project Community Advisory Committee in November. Her department’s review noted that elementary classrooms are not ideal for this type of hands-on learning, and that not all labs at the middle schools and high school are adequate.

The three department’s program reviews led to a variety of other curricular and programmatic initiatives and recommendations. All departments will go through the process within the next four years.

Capital project committee is underway

The Capital Project Community Advisory Committee began meeting in August and is charged with helping to shape a long-term facilities improvement plan that addresses the program vision, outstanding infrastructure needs and capacity. Enrollment is projected to increase in the coming years, while 90 percent or more of existing space is already being utilized at each level.

This year, the committee is working closely with a district consultant examining other potential program delivery options, including school configurations. The consultant’s charge is to identify doable options based on the program vision and anticipated enrollment increase. The study is expected to be complete by June 2019.

The advisory committee will ultimately provide facilities recommendations to the Board of Education. The Board will determine the final scope of a capital improvement plan for a public vote. The current timeline calls for a proposal to go before the community in the fall of 2020.

Dr. Tangorra said the overall goal is to reach a point where facilities needs are addressed at regular intervals, keeping debt levels stable and schools well-maintained.

“I compare it to painting one side of the garage each summer,” he said. “It is likely to take a greater upfront investment to reach that point, but we are focused on bringing forward a long-term plan. This is all about the sustainability of a high-quality education in Niskayuna and protecting the investment taxpayers make in their schools and their community.”