School Board Meeting Summary for Jan. 10, 2017

Iroquois Students First: Original music takes flight

Iroquois Music Teacher Dee Steeley and three students shared how the 8th Grade General Music classes are using a program called “Noteflight” to incorporate technology into the music curriculum and help students create original compositions. Noteflight is a user-friendly program that allows students to write music on staff paper on a computer screen and then – with the click of a button – hear it played back instantly. This allows all students to actively engage in the composition process and helps teachers gauge student progress in a timely manner. Students Ava Fallone, Rachel Schmidt, and Jeffrey Huang described the creative process with the Board and played their original compositions using the program. As people were entering the meeting earlier in the evening, Ava played some songs on her guitar, including one that she had created in class.

Student Representative Report

Niskayuna High School students are excited that they now have school e-mails, an initiative that took effect after the holiday recess. Student representatives and others are discussing the recent results of the youth behavior survey conducted by the Niskayuna Community Action Program (N-CAP) with social worker Allison Nunez and Kristin Sweeter from N-CAP.

Middle School 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.

Iroquois Principal Vicki Wyld, Van Antwerp Principal Luke Rakoczy and Middle School Assistant Principal Jessica Sanderson said the district’s middle school program is focused on balancing the academic and developmental needs of young adolescents. They shared enrollment and class size information, which shows that the current average class size for 8th grade at Van Antwerp is nearing 30 and combined 5th grade enrollment at VA’s feeder schools of Craig and Hillside would result in class sizes of 30 next year as it currently stands. Ideas discussed for addressing middle school class sizes include additional staffing and a more formal class size management plan, including the potential for some form of flex zones. (This conversation has started with a committee that includes middle school parents and teachers.) The principals provided information about staffing levels, which showed that total faculty is up slightly from last year, but still lower than 2009-10, which is the year before changes to the middle schedule and ongoing fiscal challenges affected staffing.

The principals said that budget additions made for this year have provided valuable support and helped meet student needs. These include the reinstatement of a full-time assistant principal position shared between the two schools, additional teaching staff to address math class sizes at VA and recent English as a New Language (ENL) requirements, and an increase in clerical support at Iroquois to strengthen student supervision. They said that additional staffing is needed to create reasonable class sizes, increase student support, and improve the middle school program overall. Their priorities include having a full-time social worker at each school, returning to having a full-time librarian at each school, and restoring a flexible instructional period in the middle school schedule, beginning with grade 6 in 2017-18. The overall request calls for an increase of approximately 7.5 full-time equivalent positions.

Nisky Nutrition Committee

A Nisky Nutrition Committee comprised of Director of Business & Finance Carrie Nyc-Chevrier, Food Service Director Suzanne Wixom, Rosendale Principal Joseph DiCaprio, and elementary parents and teachers began meeting this past summer. Committee members provided the Board with an update on the work to date. They have sought to build enthusiasm and raise awareness about the importance of nutrition among students this year with a “Wellness Wake-up Call” on morning announcements in the schools. The committee has been looking at student snack options. It would like to provide more whole foods as snacks and eliminate those with the least nutritional value. The committee has also been reviewing school lunch menus, and suggested that the district examine whether it would be financially advantageous for just the elementary level to re-enter the National School Lunch Program and receive some federal reimbursement. In terms of changing food service offerings, considerations include price points for families, the financial impact for the district, and kitchen facilities. Board members and those on the nutrition committee agreed that next steps include reviewing the costs associated with changing some of the snack offerings and exploring a consistent approach to snacks at the elementary schools. The district will also study the ramifications of having just the elementary level re-enter the federal program.

Enrollment Projections/Pupil Capacity Study

Dr. Tangorra asked for feedback from the Board on a proposal he had requested from a consultant to develop district enrollment projections and conduct a pupil capacity study. Board members said that it will be necessary to understand the methodology that will be employed, the degree of confidence in the projections, and how the approach will differ from the last set of enrollment projections done for the district. Board members also suggested looking at the accuracy of projections that the consultant has done for other districts. Additionally, Dr. Tangorra and Board members agreed that it is important to communicate the purpose of the study to the community at the outset of the process. It will be done to gather information to inform future plans. This is important given the housing development that is taking place in the district, the number of program planning initiatives that are underway and the long-term capital improvement planning that will be taking place. Dr. Tangorra said that while the goal of the study is not to identify any building configuration changes, the information is necessary to be open to all possibilities to ensure there is adequate space for existing and future programs.

Partnership in China

As the district and the Beijing-based Wisdom Education Group continue to explore a partnership, a representative from Wisdom will be visiting the district on Jan. 24. That afternoon, he will meet with faculty members and recent retirees interested in learning more about Wisdom and potentially being involved. Specific details will be announced in the near future. Dr. Tangorra said that the process of developing the partnership is moving forward and school attorneys have been reviewing the draft partnership agreement.

Strategic Plan

Dr. Tangorra noted that it was almost exactly a year ago that the Board presented the strategic plan that it had spent the previous fall and early winter developing. Since that time, he has shared the plan widely in the community and in our schools, emphasizing its three areas of focus: curriculum & programs; environment & culture; and partnerships. Dr. Tangorra said it is a good time for the Board to come together to reflect on the progress that has been made and see if any adjustments to the plan’s objectives and target timelines are needed. The Board will hold a strategic planning workshop for this purpose on the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 4, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

N-CAP Survey Report

Dr. Tangorra said that the N-CAP survey findings related to student mental health were the most bothersome aspect to him of the survey results that were released last month. In light of this, he and Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lauren Gemmill will meet with Kristen Sweeter from N-CAP, school social worker Allison Nunez and school counselor Anita Andersen in the near future. This will be followed by a discussion about next steps related to student mental health needs with students who have also been working on this issue. Separately, Ms. Gemmill said that health teachers had been in touch with N-CAP about the survey results and are pursuing some curriculum work based on needs identified through the survey. Dr. Tangorra emphasized the importance of the district’s partnership with N-CAP.

Policy Review

The Board is reviewing policies at each meeting as it transitions to a new policy manual. It adopted Policy 7131 – Education of Homeless Children and Youth and repealed former Policy 4343 Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

First readings were conducted for Draft Policy 7360 – Weapons in the School and the Gun-Free Schools Act and Draft Policy 6110 – Code of Ethics for Board Members and All District Personnel.

The Board is continuing to review Draft Policy 7110 – Comprehensive Student Attendance.

Elementary Enrollment

Current enrollment, including class sections and sizes, was shared with the Board as it is each month. In response to a question about elementary sections that are near district guidelines, administrators noted that the district continues to monitor class sizes and utilize the management plan as needed when new students enroll. As the flex zone plan is phased in over time, it should help provide more flexibility. It was also noted that a committee has been formed to explore ways to balance enrollment and class sizes at the middle school level through either a more formal management plan or flex zones.

Additional Meeting Notes

  • The Board approved a resolution related to bond anticipation notes for the capital improvement project voters approved in December. District leaders continue to work with financial advisers to identify the most advantageous approach to financing the work.
  • The Board approved an agreement with Transfinder that will enable it to update the maps that are used in its bus routing software, which is a significant project.
  • The Consent Agenda was approved as presented.