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Superintendent's Message
Massena Central School Board of Education Update
April 29, 2016

The Board of Education Meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 5, 2016 will begin at 6:30 pm in Room 314 of Massena High School.  It is anticipated that the Board will go into executive session at 6:30 pm to discuss such topics as personnel on the agenda prior to the regular meeting. 
There will be a public hearing on the 2016-17 school budget at 7:00 pm.  Members of the community are welcomed and encouraged to attend.
Public Hearing on the 2016-­17 School Budget
Attached to the Board agenda is the presentation on the 2016-17 budget which we will show at the public hearing on Thursday.  We are also putting the finishing touches on the budget newsletter which will be distributed to all households in the district.  Below are some key facts about the proposed budget:
  • The tax levy will remain at $14,258,588 for a 0% increase.
  • The 2016-17 MCS budget will increase by $1,253,432 or 2.5% to $51,244,859 from $49,991,427. 
  • The recommended designated fund balance is $2,500,103 or $268,853 less than the 2015-16 budget. The use of reserve funding in the budget will be $50,000.  Lowering the designated fund balance increases the District’s long term financial stability. 
  • A Capital Reserve will be established if the voters approve of the fund in May.  This reserve will assist the District in preparing for a capital project and lowering the costs of bonding for same.  We are recommending an initial deposit in the fund of $2,250,000.
  • The administration is recommending additions/restorations in the budget to improve our services in 2016-17.  These proposed additions are listed in the presentation.
  • The community will vote on including a student as an ex officio member of the Board of Education.  This will enhance communication with our student body and build leadership for those who join the Board. 

Public Relations and Social Media
One of our District goals this year is to “Improve communication with our school community”.
To accomplish this goal we have used the services of BOCES communication specialist Rebekah Grim who has created a social media presence for the District with Facebook and Twitter.  She has also improved the webpage and assisted us with special projects such as the budget newsletter.  At the Board meeting, Rebekah will provide an update on our work to date and goals for the future.  I have attached the Board Goals Progress to the agenda which includes information about work completed on this important initiative.
Update on Strategic Planning Team
At the Board meeting, we will provide an update on the Strategic Planning process.  I have attached the notes from the two days of meetings on 4/19-20 where the team of parents, teachers, students, Board members, administrators, and community members met together at the Chamber of Commerce building.  Currently, we are gathering data such as kindergarten readiness and students taking college credit courses which the group believes is important to measure our success.  This information will be shared at the second set of meetings on 5/12-13 along with information about school consolidation. 
Title VII Grant & Services
One of our District goals this year is to “Work with Tribal Council to implement the Title VII program including the engagement of a liaison and enhancement of cultural sensitivity training.”  Considerable work has been done in this area including the training of our staff on the impact of historical trauma and the commencement of a high school class on Mohawk culture.  On Tuesday, Evelyn Fiske and I will hold a meeting at Akwasasne to discuss the progress of our Native students and plans for educational supports.  We will share the results of this meeting with the Board along with other developments this year in regard to our collaboration with the Tribe.
rSchool Today Calendar System
The District is in the process of expanding our use of the rSchool Today Calendar System which is currently being used for athletic events only.  Our goal is to create a common calendar which will have all district events listed for ease of access.  It will also create an electronic building use process where school employees and community members can request use of facilities without the traditional paper trail.  We believe this will create a more efficient system and better communicate the events occurring at the school.  AD Tim Hayes has led this effort and will provide an update to the Board at the meeting.
Transportation Report
One of our District goals this year is to “Enhance communication, training, and capacity within the Transportation Department.”  At the Board meeting on Thursday, Transportation Director Allen Rowledge will update the Board on progress toward meeting this goal.  This includes the refresher course presented at the Staff Development Day on 4/29.
School Auction
The District has a number of items which are no longer being used and can be sold at auction.  This equipment and material has been gathered, inventoried, and inspected by local auctioneer Kip Blanchard.  A list of these items has been attached to the Board agenda.  The Board will need to declare these items unneeded before they can be sold or disposed of if no buyers are interested.  A resolution has been added to the Board agenda. 

Other News

Teacher Appreciation Week

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops". ~Henry Brooks Adams
May 2-6 is Teacher Appreciation Week.  I hope everyone takes the time to reflect on the important work that our teachers do day in and day out to guide the lives of our students.  I continue to be amazed by their dedication and commitment to excellence.

Update on Stephanie McKeel

We heard some great news today that over the weekend Stephanie McKeel received her long awaited pair of lungs and had surgery to implant them yesterday.  The next couple of days are critical and I ask for all of your thoughts and prayers for Stephanie and the McKeel family.

Future Ready Schools Conference

This weekend, Duane Richards, Cathy Donahue, Sarah Boyce, and I attended a summit in Montreal for schools who are seeking to improve their technology support for teachers and students.  Over the two day conference we attended several workshops on Google applications, ipads, Chrome books, and many other innovations. It was exciting to learn new ways that we can spark student interest and better prepare them for a world driven by the latest technological creations.  We left with many ideas to collaborate with staff for improvement in this critical area.
Albany Update

The following is the latest update from Albany as presented by NYSCOSS Deputy Director Bob Lowry.

School Aid
It has been a while since I have written. As promised in one of my messages right after the state budget passed, I did post a spreadsheet on our website which produces an easy to read School Aid run for any district. Here is the link.
In the week after the budget passed, I spoke about the state budget on Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter and onCapital Tonight with Liz Benjamin.
One issue that we still seek guidance on is what are allowable uses of the Community Schools set-aside within Foundation Aid for districts affected by that requirement, including whether districts may use that aid to continue a position or activity begun in prior budget. At this point, however, we do not have answers.

A major unresolved issue from the budget is the threat to districts of losing aid if they are unable to negotiate and gain State Education Department approval by September 1, 2016 for an Annual Professional Performance Review plan in compliance with the changes to that law enacted in 2015 (section 3012-d of the Education Law). No changes were made to APPR through the budget.
Under the latest interpretation, districts missing the deadline would lose two years of aid increases, those for both 2015-16 and 2016-17.
We will continue advocating for relief from the aid penalty and will continue making the case that the section 3012-d requirements are flawed. We have emphasized that students would be hurt more by their districts' loss of state aid than by having their teachers evaluated under a plan previously approved by the state under the prior law. 
We joined with five other statewide groups urging that districts be given the option to evaluate their teachers and principals using a plan approved under either 3012-c or 3012-d without loss of aid. Many superintendents also argue that further action to amend or repeal 3012-d is a necessary step toward quelling opt-outs from state assessments.
As part of our advocacy, we also conducted a quick survey on district efforts to meet the September 1 deadline (the State Education Department requested submission of proposed plans by July 1 in order to facilitate timely review but the aid loss kicks-in only if a district does not have an approved plan by September 1).
Including superintendents who said their district’s plan has been approved or been submitted to SED, 40 percent responded that their districts were very likely to meet the deadline and 17 percent answered somewhat likely. At the other end, 7 percent answered very unlikely and 9 percent responded somewhat unlikely. Twenty-seven percent said there was a 50-50 chance they would meet the deadline. Superintendents in regions south of Albany tended to be more pessimistic.  Forty-one percent of superintendents responded to the survey.
We also asked for open-ended comments on the progress of efforts to comply. Some superintendents reported their unions attempting to use the potential aid loss as bargaining leverage; others said that both sides sadly see the work as a pure compliance exercise, with no benefit to teaching or school leadership achievable given the defective state framework.
We shared some of the findings with state budget negotiators; no information identifying individual districts or superintendents was given.
Earlier, in an August 2015 survey, we asked superintendents what effect they anticipated the section 3012-d changes would have on efforts to improve the quality of teaching. Sixty-three percent of superintendents responded that they were anticipating a negative impact (33 percent expected a significant negative impact); only 11 percent foresaw a positive impact. 
This survey was conducted before the Governor's Common Core Task Force report was released and before the Regents adopted the transition regulations creating a moratorium on the use of Common Core-aligned state assessments in the evaluations. One state official contended that we would find less negative views of 3012-d now.
We may need to conduct another APPR survey  to support our advocacy in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.

State Senate Special Election
The April 19 presidential primary made New York State the center of the political universe for a time. A special election was also held that day to fill the State Senate seat vacated by the felony conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. 
The apparent victor is Democrat Todd Kaminsky, currently a member of the Assembly. As of election night, he held a lead of 780 votes; there are about 2,700 absentee ballots to be counted. The Republican candidate, Christopher McGrath, would need to receive about 64 percent of the absentee votes in order to overcome his election night deficit. Reportedly, however, most of the absentee ballots were requested by registered Democrats.
If Mr. Kaminsky's lead holds, 32 of the chamber's 63 seats would then be held by Senators elected as Democrats and 31 held by Republicans. However, one of the elected Democrats chooses to align with the Republicans and five have joined to form the Independent Democratic Conference, which also aligns with the Republicans. So the Republican-led coalition would still retain a working majority of 37 seats. 
No one is expecting a change in control of the Senate in what remains of the 2016 regular session of the Legislature. But the apparent outcome would increase leverage for the IDC and its leader, Bronx-based Senator Jeff Klein.
Looking ahead, State of Politics observed, "... the fight for control of the Senate will head into the general election in a presidential election year that traditionally draws out more Democratic voters," adding that while Democrats enjoy an enrollment advantage, the Republican Senate campaign committee is far head in fund-raising, with $2.2 million on hand, compared to the Democrats' $537,087. The post goes on to profile some of the expected key races in the fall.

Regents Meetings
The Board of Regents met last week, its first meeting under the leadership of former Bronx school superintendent Betty Rosa as Chancellor, following the retirement of Merryl Tisch from the board.
At the first full board meeting Chancellor Rosa announced the creation of a new work group on research and evidence-based practice. The new group will be led by former superintendent and Council Executive Committee member Judith Johnson. Regent Johnson told Chalkbeat NY, "It’s the answer to the question often raised by the public, ‘How did you arrive at this policy?’ And so we need to be able to answer it.”
Here are some of the major presentations from the two days of meetings: The second item (ELA and Mathematics Standards, etc.) summarizes work to date on reviewing the Common Core Learning Standards, state assessments, and APPR evaluations and outlines planned actions to come. 
The APPR section explains that, beginning next spring SED will create committees of stakeholders, practitioners and other experts to recommend options for assessments and other evaluation components that could be used in the future.  In fall 2017, SED will present findings and recommended next steps to the Regents. After a time for further input, the outline states, "The proposal for a new evaluation system will be brought to the Board in the spring of 2018." The moratorium on using state-provided growth scores expires after the 2018-19 school year.
It is not clear whether this outline envisions that the Department will be proposing changes to the APPR law, requiring approval by the Legislature and Governor, or merely components of a system within the structure prescribed by the law enacted a year ago (section 3012-d).
Individual Regents remain skeptical of the current professional evaluation system and reviewing research on the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations will be a first project of the new work group led by Regent Judith Johnson.
POLITICO New York reported this reaction from the Governor's Office:
“While certain Common Core-aligned tests will not be counted for several years to address the botched Common Core implementation, the evaluation law remains intact,” Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever told POLITICO New York in an emailed statement. The state education department, she said, should work “with the districts to implement evaluation systems that can improve educational opportunity for our students instead of protecting the bureaucracy that has failed them for so long.”
A more common reaction from people I speak with, including superintendents, is that changes to the APPR system are needed before the 2018 target date cited in the Regents presentation.
Poverty Simulation
On Friday, the Junior High was the center of an exceptional educational opportunity for our staff and further collaboration within the Massena community.  Principal Burt Peck and former Hermon-Dekalb Superintendent Ann Adams organized a poverty simulation where participants acted out authentic roles of people who struggle with the lack of essential resources. Many members of our community including Mayor Tim Currier took part in the program.  The purpose of the program was to:
  • Create a deeper understanding and awareness of the circumstances of individuals living in poverty
  • Open a dialogue about the often unseen world of poverty and its implications
  • Provide empathy and much necessary momentum for action within the school community
It was clear from the debriefing after the two hour event that it helped to enhance understanding of the struggles that many of our families have in supporting their children while dealing with the challenges of being poor.  Congratulations to Mr. Peck and his staff for organizing this important event.  Plans are now under way to share with all of our staff in the year ahead.
Here is a Courier Observer article about the poverty simulation.
St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES News
News From NYSED:
  • The Board of Regents recently approved an emergency rule that allows students to appeal to graduate with a lower score on a Regents examination.
  •  Here is a memo on the changes to the Commissioner’s Regulations that govern the appeal.
  • As outlined in the memo, this change goes into effect with this year’s upcoming June Regents Exams.
  • For more information on this and other graduation requirements—including a link to the new appeals form to be used to graduate with a lower score on a Regents Exam—please see our General Education & Diploma Requirements web site.
Summer Professional Development
  • Summer professional development plans are nearly finalized. We are still working on a couple of additional opportunities, including one for administrators.
  • Please encourage your staff to sign up for sessions in My Learning Plan as soon as possible. We suspect a few of the sessions will close quickly!
PD Resources Save the Date Upcoming PD Sessions
  • Instructional Leadership in Mathematics Webinars for Administrators Developing Number Sense/Mental Math Abilities (5/02)
  • Instructional Leadership in Mathematics Webinars for Administrators-Number Talks/Number Strings (5/05)
  • Instructional Leadership in Mathematics Webinars for Administrators- Math Fact Fluency Activities/LEGOS in the Math Classroom (5/09)
PD in Other Areas: Other Learning Opportunities Upcoming Events
5/2—Facilities Committee Meeting—4:30 pm—Madison Elementary School; APPR Negotiations with MFT—6:00 pm—CAB
5/4--Jefferson Elementary Spring Concert--7:00 pm
5/5—Finance Committee Meeting—5:30 pm—HS Student Affairs; BOE Meeting—6:30 pm—HS Room 314; Madison Elementary Spring Concert--7:00 pm
5/10JW Leary Junior High Spring Choral Concert--7:00 pm--HS Auditorium
5/11National Honor Society Inductions--7:00 pm--HS Auditorium
5/1213—Strategic Planning Meetings—8:00 am-3:30 pm—Chamber of Commerce
Last Updated: 5/10/16
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