School Board Meeting Summary for Dec. 13, 2016

Congratulations to our 2017 National Merit Scholar Semifinalists

Prior to the meeting, a reception was held to honor the six Niskayuna High School seniors who are 2017 National Merit Scholarship Contest semifinalists, a prestigious distinction based on PSAT scores. Congratulations to: Elisa Abraham; David Buhrmaster; John Hess; Jad Jacob; Eleanore Lee; and Michael Zhou. These students are among the top 16,000 in the nation and the top 990 in New York. The stellar 8th Grade Jazz Band, directed by Phil Pandori, presented two musical selections as part of the reception.

Student Representatives Report

Student Representative Mariah Mizbani reported that Study Circles with area schools have concluded and helped generate ideas for school activities focused on diversity issues. She and fellow Student Representative Cassidy Beauchemin recently met with School Social Worker Allison Nunez to discuss the results of N-CAP’s student survey that were released earlier this month.

Operations & Maintenance Program Presentation

Board meetings this year will again feature presentations from each academic level and area of operations as a prelude to the formal budget development process. The purpose of this is to discuss needs and priorities well in advance of budget decision-making.

Director of Business & Finance, Carrie Nyc-Chevrier, who has been overseeing Operations & Maintenance while the district searches for a full-time director, said the department is focused on ensuring the health and safety of students and staff, maintaining clean and safe learning environments, and compliance with a variety of state laws and regulations. She highlighted accomplishments and priority work from the past year, including reconfiguring space in certain areas to meet program needs. The most pressing priority for the department is filling the director position, and the district is continuing to work diligently through the Civil Service process to find the right individual for the position as soon as possible. Additional challenges include aging vehicles and equipment. Priority projects for the coming year include the flush of the high school geothermal system that is slated for this summer, inspecting chimney lines in certain buildings and addressing any issues, and re-grouting tile under the pool bulkhead. Ms. Nyc-Chevrier said that additional high school custodial staffing would be a 2017-18 budget priority and that a review of maintenance staffing needs would take place once a new director is in place. She and Dr. Tangorra commended O&M staff for stepping up in the absence of a director, including Shawn King and Dave Ormsbee for providing leadership in this interim period.

Seal of Biliteracy

Director of Social Studies, World Language, and English as a New Language Marie Digirolamo shared the World Language Department’s plan to offer students a new “NYS Seal of Bilteracy” credential. This would be available to high school students who meet certain criteria demonstrating they are fluent in English and either a world language or their home language. The credential would be part of student transcripts and could be included in resumes and college and job applications. Criteria include completion of level 5 language courses, a home language project and scores on English Regents and Checkpoint B exams. Mrs. Digirolamo said that 138 students are currently eligible for the Seal of Biliteracy. She said the department saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate the value of biliteracy, highlight the district’s commitment to study of language and culture, and reinforce for students that becoming fluent in multiple languages is a significant achievement that can lead to future opportunities. Mrs. Digirolamo and the committee of World Language, ENL, English teachers and school counselors who developed the Seal of Biliteracy plan were commended for their work.

Superintendent’s Report

Partnership in China

Dr. Tangorra provided an update on the exploration of a partnership with the Beijing-based Wisdom Education Group, which operates K-6 Montessori schools in China. Wisdom is interested in the district’s assistance as it develops a middle and high school program. At the organization’s invitation, Dr. Tangorra and International Scholars Program Director Ed Alston traveled to Beijing in November and made good progress toward a partnership. Parameters of the agreement under consideration include: Wisdom having access to the district’s middle and high school curriculum and assistance in locating and recruiting American teachers to teach in China, including year-long visits by Niskayuna teachers; support for the district’s International Scholars Program, including Wisdom providing qualified candidates for the program each year; support for Niskayuna students interested in long-term study abroad opportunities in China; cultural exchanges similar to existing district partnerships in Span, France and Germany; and other opportunities for professional development and cultural connections. Wisdom would incur all expenses related to Niskayuna teachers traveling to China. Dr. Tangorra and Board members noted that the idea of having Niskayuna teachers spend a year teaching in China raises a variety of issues that need to be worked through.

Yet, given the potential benefits for the district on many fronts, the Board passed a resolution in support of continuing to pursue the partnership. Key next steps include working with the Niskayuna Teachers Association to develop the process by which teachers could travel to China and for a legal review of the agreement with Wisdom as it reaches a more formal stage.

Diversity Statement

Dr. Tangorra shared a draft district Diversity Statement developed by the Environment and Culture Committee. This committee includes community leaders representing several faiths; parents, faculty and administrators. The committee was convened over the summer based on conversations that had taken place at Student Forum last year. Environment and Culture is also one of three pillars in the District Strategic Plan. Committee members believe that developing a district Diversity Statement is an important initial step in its work and a subcommittee developed the draft over the last few months. Board members endorsed the idea of a diversity statement and indicated the draft was a strong start. They suggested making it more concise and more clearly defining how it would be used. Dr. Tangorra will share the feedback with the committee as it continues its work. The draft Diversity Statement is on BoardDocs.

Instructional Program Advisory Council and High School Start Times

Dr. Tangorra provided an update on the Instructional Program Advisory Council. IPAC, as it is called, is rooted in the District Strategic Plan and charged with developing a vision for the future of programming in the district. Over the last several months, the group has had wide-ranging philosophical conversations and now it is time for its work to become more concrete. Dr. Tangorra said that an emerging area of focus is the need for students to have access to new educational or training opportunities and pathways into careers through their high school education. He said the high school is doing extremely well preparing students for college – and this should continue – but there is a need for earlier exposure to variety of opportunities that exist and the skills that will prepare students for them. This means that IPAC’s work has implications for educational programming and opportunities at all academic levels and facility needs. As this conversation unfolds in the district, he said it could also impact the length of the school day and the ongoing conversation about high school start times, which would need to be addressed in the context of broader planning. Dr. Tangorra said he recognizes that there are some significant, transformative ideas that are beginning to be discussed, but that no decisions have been made.

To further IPAC’s work, its next meeting will be held at Tech Valley High School. Committee members will learn about the school’s project-based academic program through a student-led tour. The Board and District Leadership Team are also included in the Tech Valley visit.

Director Openings

The Board accepted the retirement of Director of Student and Staff Services Mark Treanor at the end of this school year, and noted that Mark would be missed very much. This means that there are three director openings to be filled: the director of student and staff support services; the director of facilities; and the director of special education, given last month’s news that Lynne Rutnik will become the superintendent of Lake George in January.

The district is currently seeking an interim special education director. Current timelines call for appointing a permanent special education director to start in April and a director of student and staff support services to start in July.

Dec. 6 Capital Project Vote

Dr. Tangorra thanked everyone who took the time to vote on Dec. 6. Efforts to inform the community about the capital project vote included a districtwide mailing, four public information sessions; information on school signs; and coverage in local newspapers. The exit survey conducted on Dec. 6 indicated an awareness of the need for regular investments to maintain and update district facilities.

Also at the meeting, the Board approved a contract with Saratoga Project Management to manage the project as it moves through the design, approval, bidding and construction phases. Bill McMordie of Saratoga Project Management told the Board that plans for the work slated for this coming summer – the Van Antwerp roof and select roof repair at the bus garage – would be filed with State Education Department in the near future to keep the project on track.

Smart Schools Bond Act

Dr. Tangorra said that the district will be using a portion of its Smart Schools Bond Act funding to upgrade security cameras throughout the district. District leaders, architects and Ed Alston III will be finalizing the plan in the near future for this initial use of Smart Schools funding.

Board Policies

The Board is reviewing policies at each meeting as it transitions to a new policy manual. At the meeting, it held a first reading of Policy 7110 – Comprehensive Student Attendance and Policy 7131 – Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

Consent Agenda

The consent agenda was approved as presented at the meeting.