School Board Meeting Summary for February 1, 2017

Hillside Students First: Mindfulness

Hillside Principal Shireen Fasciglione, teachers, and students shared with the Board some of the ways that the school is embracing the concept of mindfulness this year. Mindfulness is being fully present, rather than thinking about the past or what happens next. Dr. Fasciglione said it was identified as a way to help students manage stress and other emotions, focus on their work, and improve overall well-being. Thanks to the support of the Hillside PTO and Niskayuna Education Enrichment Fund, faculty and staff members were able to read about the topic, create professional development opportunities and begin periodically incorporating mindfulness into classroom activities. A recent survey of faculty and staff indicated that faculty and staff members have generally noticed a positive impact on learning readiness and believe mindfulness is good for Hillside kids.

Hillside kindergarten and first grade teachers Allyson Esposito, Christine Mathews, Ellen Moak, Matilda Barry, Kathleen Lynch and Rachel King, music teacher Michelle Sausa-Gatta, and 11 of their students shared with the Board how they have practiced mindfulness this year.

Student Representative Report

Student representatives reported that the recently issued student e-mails are starting to be used more by students, the therapy dogs that were in the high school during Regents week were very well-received, and they are noticing an increase in cooperation among the classes through clubs and student government.

Elementary Program Presentation

Board meetings this year are again featuring 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.

Elementary principals Debra Berndt, Bill Anders, Shelley Baldwin-Nye, Shireen Fasciglione, and Joseph DiCaprio outlined efforts across all five elementary schools to meet students’ social and emotional needs and support their academic growth. They provided an overview of demographic and staffing changes that have taken place over a 10-year period. In that time, total enrollment has been between about 1,720 and 1,830 students, and is currently toward the upper end of that range. Compared with both five and 10 years ago, library media specialist staffing is down slightly, special education teaching positions have increased due to the delivery model, and school counselor staffing has been reduced while social worker and psychologist staffing has grown based on student needs. The principals said that more mental health professional support is needed to address growth in individual behavioral concerns, ensure greater family outreach and support, and provide more early intervention and whole class instruction.

The principals highlighted ongoing work related to Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), the curriculum project, and Response to Intervention (RtI). They emphasized that these are interrelated initiatives designed as a systematic approach to strengthen the focus on student learning and instruction across the elementary level. In this PLC pilot year, each school is using a model that varies somewhat to gain more experience and learn what works. The plan for next year will be informed by data and feedback collected this year. In terms of the curriculum design project, three units of both Math and ELA were piloted this year, and revisions will occur this summer. Teachers also recently attended a professional development session on new science standards. Based on the work of a district RtI Committee, implementation of this tiered approach to instruction and intervention will begin in reading for kindergarten and first grade next year.

In terms of 2017-18 budget planning, the principals requested additional teaching and clerical assistant staffing to support PLCs, an additional 0.5 mental health staffing per building to result in a full-time provider at each school and the restoration of a full-time library media specialist at Birchwood. Two additional classroom sections are anticipated next year to accommodate enrollment growth.

Superintendent’s Report

Strategic Planning

Dr. Tangorra reminded everyone about the Board’s Feb. 4 strategic planning workshop. The focus of the session is to reflect on the progress in the first generation of the plan and to discuss objectives, any adjustments needed, and sharing the work with the community.

Environment and Culture

At the next Board meeting (Feb. 14), members of the Environment and Culture Committee will present a revised district Diversity Statement to the Board.

State Aid – Executive Budget Proposal

Dr. Tangorra told Board members that due to an apparent glitch, Building Aid projected for the district with the Governor’s budget proposal was not accurate and the actual amount will be lower. He and Director of Business and Finance Carrie Nyc-Chevrier currently estimate that the state aid increase the district would receive under the Governor’s proposal represents about 1 percent of the district’s tax levy. Updated information about building aid and payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements (PILOTs) will determine the district’s tax levy limit for next year. When the revenue picture becomes clearer over the coming weeks, the district administration will meet with principals and directors to identify priorities within the resources that are available. The district’s budget development timeline calls for the presentation of the draft 2017-18 budget to the Board of Education on March 14.

Nutrition Update

A Nisky Nutrition Committee has been working on raising awareness about the importance of nutrition this year and identifying potential changes in the district’s Food Service Program. A presentation from the committee at the Jan. 10 Board meeting focused on cafeteria snack offerings and the prospect of re-entering the National School Lunch Program. A preliminary review of re-entering the national program shows that that federal reimbursements could help offset at least some of the Food Service Program’s current operating deficit. This would result in some menu changes and new requirements. It is only being considered at the elementary and middle school levels. The district is currently working to gain a better understanding of the timing and requirements associated with re-entering the federal program. Dr. Tangorra expects to make a recommendation to the Board at an upcoming meeting.

The superintendent also shared with the Board a list of current snacks that meet the district’s Wellness Policy and those that do not. The latter will be discontinued. The list also identified potential new snacks sold by district vendors that meet the policy. The Board passed a resolution charging the Nutrition Committee with developing a recommendation to the Board for a healthy snack list to be followed consistently in the elementary and middle schools.

Transportation Cooperative

Dr. Tangorra reported that the shared transportation cooperative that the district participates in has been awarded two state grants to further the exploration of shared transportation services in the region. This includes funding for design work to expand cooperative efforts at the district’s Hillside Avenue transportation facility, such as shared maintenance space. The process also involves Capital Region BOCES. This is the third year that the district has worked with area school districts to share select out-of-district bus runs, leading to increased efficiency and cost savings for all.

Potential Partnership in China (Wisdom Educational Group)

Dr. Tangorra said that a draft agreement with the Wisdom Education Group has been shared with the Board for continued consideration. An update and potential action is anticipated at a future meeting.

Niskayuna & Schenectady High School Partnership

On Thursday, Feb. 2, Niskayuna and Schenectady students who have formed a partnership between the two high schools this year participated in a clothing drop-off in Schenectady.

Administrative Position Interviews

On Thursday, Feb. 2, first round interviews were held for the Special Education Director position. Interviews for the Director of Facilities opening are scheduled for early next month.

Interim Director of Special Education Anthony Albanese

Anthony Albanese was officially appointed as the district’s Interim Director of Special Education. He began in the district on Jan. 18. He brings extensive experience in educational leadership, special education and students services to the district as the search for a permanent director is conducted.

Policy Review

The Board is reviewing policies at each meeting as it transitions to a new policy manual. It adopted Policy 7110 Comprehensive Student Attendance, Policy 7360 Weapons in the School and the Gun-Free Schools Act, and Policy 6110 Code of Ethics for Board Members and All District Personnel.

A first read was conducted for Policy 8260 Title I Parent Involvement and Policy 8271 Internet Safety – Internet Content Filtering. A first read means that those policies are under consideration and will likely be discussed and acted upon at a future meeting.

Board Member Reports

Board President Rosemarie Perez Jaquith attended the Hillside PTO meeting, where members of the Nutrition Committee were also present.

The December meeting of N-CAP included a discussion about the results of the student survey released this fall related to drugs, alcohol and mental health. The idea of engaging the Booster Club in this conversation was suggested.

N-CAP will share the Community Mental Health Needs Assessment at a public meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. in the High School’s Little Theater.

Board member Pat Lanotte will attend a second meeting on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on March 9 at Capital Region BOCES. She recently participated in a Q&A to help potential future school superintendents gain insight into the search and interview process from a Board member. It was sponsored by the New York Council of School Superintendents (NYSCOSS).

Additional Meeting Notes

  • The Consent Agenda was approved as presented.
  • Dr. Tangorra noted that he was recently encouraged by the Education Enrichment Fund (EEF) to identify specific projects in the schools that the EEF could work to raise funding to support.
  • The Board met in executive session to resolve a personnel matter and a contractual issue.