State operations director pens letter to Tisch, King, vows ‘aggressive legislative package’ to improve education

In a letter to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and outgoing Education Commissioner John King, Director of State Operations Jim Malatras said that Gov. Cuomo will pursue an “aggressive legislative package” to improve education in his state budget, set to be released in January.

Citing poor graduation and proficiency ratings in ELA and mathematics, Malatras called on Tisch and King to “do the right thing for our students” and reform a broken system.

The primary area of focus for Cuomo will be a familiar one – teachers – specifically the evaluation component. In the letter, Malatras poses a series of 12 questions surrounding teacher evaluations he hopes Tisch and King consider, including how only one percent of teachers are rated ineffective and what financial incentives should the state provide to high-performing teachers.

“Let’s reframe the Albany dialogue from what is politically acceptable to what is the best education program for our future,” Malatras wrote.

In November, Cuomo said he would push for a plan that includes more incentives and sanctions that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it. I feel exactly opposite.”

Here’s the text from the letter:

Dear Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King:

As you know, one of most important obligations we have is educating our children. Although over the past four years we have done much to improve public education, we continue to face critical challenges. Although we spend the most per pupil than any other state, we lag behind in graduation rates, only 34.8 percent of our students are proficient in math, 31.4 percent proficient in ELA and only 37.2 percent of our high school students are college ready.

We all can agree that this is simply unacceptable.

Governor Cuomo believes in public education – it can open up unlimited opportunity to our students. But the system must work. Virtually everyone agrees that the system must be reformed and improved.That is why he will pursue an aggressive legislative package to improve public education. Part of the package will be to strengthen one of our most important professions-teaching. While some seek to demonize teachers, Governor Cuomo believes the exact opposite- wanting to reward excellence in teaching and by recruiting the best and brightest into the profession.

As you know, the Governor has little power over education, which is governed by the Board of Regents. The Governor’s power is through the budget process and he intends to introduce the reforms during that process.

Over the recent campaign Governor Cuomo spoke to New Yorkers all across the state that had many questions about why we’ve fallen behind and what we could do to fundamentally improve public education. Therefore, we’ d ask that you consider the following questions Governor Cuomo heard from New Yorkers to help start addressing some of these critical issues in education.

We understand that change is difficult and that there are political realities, but please give your opinion without political filters or consideration of the power of special interests and respond on what you think is best as a pure matter of policy. Leave the political maneuvers to the legislative process so at least the conversation is informed and the public sees what enlightened policy would do.

So, let’s reframe the Albany dialogue from what is politically acceptable to what is the best education program for our future. In essence, what is the right thing to do for our students

1. How is the current teacher evaluation system credible when only one percent of teachers are rated ineffective? The NYC system was negotiated by Commissioner King directly and no one claims it is an accurate reflection of the reality of the state of education in NYC. What should the percentages be between classroom observations (i.e. subjective measures) and state assessments, including state tests (i.e. objective measures)? What percent should be set in law versus collectively bargained? Currently, the scoring ·bands and “curve” are set locally for the 60 percent subjective measures. What should the scoring bands be for the subjective measure and should the state set a standard scoring band? In general, how would you change the law to construct a rigorous state-of-the-art teacher evaluation system?

2. How would you address the problem of removing poor-performing educators when the current 3020-a process makes it virtually impossible to do so? Likewise, how would you change the system in New York City where poor-performing educators, with disciplinary problems, continue to be paid in the absent teacher reserve pool as opposed to being terminated?

3. What changes would you make to the teacher training and certification process to make it more rigorous to ensure we recruit the best and brightest teachers? Do you agree that there should be a one-time competency test for all teachers currently in the system? What should be done to improve teaching education programs across the state?

4. What financial or other incentives would you provide to high-performing teachers and would you empower administrators to make those decisions?

5. Do you think the length of a teacher’s probationary period should be extended and should the state create a program whereby teachers have to be recertified every several years, like lawyers and other professions? What other changes would you propose to the probationary period before a teacher is granted tenure?

6. What steps would you take to dramatically improve priority or struggling schools schools that condemn generation of kids to poor educations and thus poor life prospects? Specifically what should we do about the deplorable conditions of the education system in Buffalo?

7. What is your vision for charter schools? As you know, in New York City the current charter cap is close to being reached, so would you increase the charter school cap? To what? What other reforms would you make to improve charter schools’ ability to serve all students?

8. Do you support using technology to improve public education, like offering online AP courses by college faculty to high schools students who do not have any such courses now, even though these changes have been resisted by education special interests?

9. What would you do about mayoral control in NYC and do you support mayoral control in other municipalities? What changes and improvements would you make to NYC Mayoral control?

10. There are approximately 700 school districts in New York many of which have declining enrollment. Do you think we should restructure the current system through mergers, consolidations or regionalization? If so, how would you do it?

11. As you know, the appointment and selection process of the Board of Regents is unique in that, unlike other agencies, selections and appointments are made by the Legislature. Would you make changes to the selection and appointment process? If so, what are they?

12. Chancellor, the Board of Regents is about to replace Dr. King; can we design an open and transparent selection process so parents, teachers and legislators have a voice?

Several weeks ago Governor Cuomo said that improving education is thwarted by the monopoly of the education bureaucracy. The education bureaucracy’s mission is to sustain the bureaucracy and the status quo and therefore it is often the enemy of change. The result is the current system perpetuates the bureaucracy but, fails our students in many ways.

Tackling these questions with bold policy and leadership could truly transform public education and finally have it focus on the student as opposed to the bureaucracy.

With Commissioner King’s imminent departure we hope he can give us his best advice now free from external pressure before his departure. I’ve worked closely with Dr. King over the past several years and I want to wish him much success in his new endeavor. On behalf of Governor Cuomo, I look forward to hearing your responses by December 31 so they can be considered in the Governor’s State of the State address.

Sincerely,

Jim Malatras
Director of State Operations

 

Board of Regents seeks $2 billion in school aid

The New York State Board of Regents gave final approval to its 2015-16 school aid proposal calling for an increase of $2 billion in state aid, more equitable funding for high need districts and a reduction of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

“The Regents State Aid Proposal strikes the right balance, driving more money to school districts with the greatest student needs and addressing the Regents’ priorities,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said.

The Regents State Aid Subcommittee considered three possible methods to increase aid to schools. The first focused on Foundation Aid and leaving the GEA untouched. The second focused on full GEA restorations, which raised concerns about an approach that applied primarily to lower need districts.

The Subcommittee ultimately decided on the third approach – a blended “Transitional Operating Formula” – that features a combination of GEA restoration and new Operating Aid.

The State Aid Proposal reflects several emerging policy issues, including:

  • Support for the high quality Career and Technical Education programming that will create new opportunities under the Multiple Pathways initiative;
  • A more coordinated early childhood system that enhances access to high-quality education programs statewide;
  • Improved services for English Language Learners (ELLs); Support for the education of recent immigrants;
  • The need to invest in new instructional materials that reflect college and career ready standards;
  • Professional development for teachers that relies on teacher leaders with proven classroom success to serve as coaches and mentors for their colleagues; and
  • Encouraging regionalization efforts where appropriate.

The state also has a nearly $5 billion surplus due to a one-time legal settlement that the committee recommends using a portion on increasing upstate schools’ access to prekindergarten programs.

The Regents also call for investing capital funds in BOCES Career and Technical Education Centers in order to support the Multiple Pathways initiative.

“School districts across the State will continue to operate within a constrained fiscal environment this year,” Chair of the Regents State Aid Subcommittee James R. Tallon, Jr. said. “At the same time, however, these same districts will continue their efforts to implement more rigorous learning standards in their classrooms. The Regents State Aid proposal offers a balanced approach that will give districts the resources they need to successfully take on these new and existing challenges.”

Governor Cuomo will release his budget proposal in January.

SFOS: Gloversville ESD looking ahead to benefits of music expansion

Stories_schoolsThe Gloversville Enlarged School District’s effort this year to ramp up its music program is cultivating many budding musicians, something that is expected to have a positive long-term effect in the district.

The district elementary music program last year consisted of fourth-grade recorder lessons and fifth-grade band. This year, students are getting recorder lessons during their music classes in third grade, and the district has added fourth-grade instrumental lessons.

“We want Gloversville students to be well-rounded, and studies show that students who are engaged in music programs typically do better academically and are more connected to school,” Superintendent Michael B. Vanyo said. “The district has very specific goals for student achievement. We want to increase the graduation rate, increase the number of students reading at or above grade level, increase student performance on state assessments and Regents, reduce absenteeism and reduce course failures. The expansion of the music program is part of the district’s work toward these goals.”

By offering instrumental lessons a year earlier, Gloversville Middle School music teachers anticipate being able to offer a higher level of instruction and opportunities to further expand the band program. “It will be a big difference having two years of experience when they come into the middle school. It will allow us to work more on musicality and less on technique and basics,” said GMS music teacher Elizabeth Sterling.

Gloversville Middle School Band Director Marissa Mazzei said she hopes the changes will result in a further growth, including reinstating a marching band and starting a jazz band at the middle school level. Districtwide, 81 fourth-graders and 78 fifth-graders are taking instrumental lessons this year. Elementary school music teacher Ann Trojan says getting students excited about learning an instrument early can help lead to them carrying it through their school years.

“Starting the students at an earlier age gives them more of a foundation, so they can carry through their middle school and high school careers and even into college,” she said.

This story was submitted by Craig Clark, public information specialist from the Gloversville Enlarged School District.

Reaction to King’s departure from SED

John King is stepping down as education commissioner in order to join the Obama administration. (Photo courtesy: Syracuse.com)

John King is stepping down as education commissioner in order to join the Obama administration. (Photo courtesy: Syracuse.com)

On Wednesday afternoon, John King announced that he was stepping down as commissioner of education at the end of the year to join the Obama administration. Reaction to the announcement has been mixed, which is to be expected. King presided over the education department during what has arguably been its most turbulent period in state history.

He oversaw the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards, an implementation that was often criticized by parents, teachers and state leaders, including Gov. Cuomo. King has served as education commissioner since he was appointed by the Board of Regents in May 2011. Here is some of the reaction from around the state and country.

NYSUT: “We hope he has learned from his stormy tenure in New York”

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch:

“John King has been a remarkable leader in a time of true reform. He spent every moment working to open the doors of opportunity for all our students – regardless of their race, or zip code, or their immigration status. John has transformed teaching and learning, raising the bar for students and helping them clear that bar. In classrooms all across the state, teachers and students are rising to the challenge of higher standards. The positive impact of John King’s work in New York will be felt for generations. We’ll miss his wisdom, his calm leadership and his remarkable courage. But New York’s loss is the country’s gain. He’ll be a powerful force for educational opportunity in Washington.”

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan:

“John is an extraordinary leader who has dedicated his life to improving the opportunities of our young people, as a teacher, a school leader, and a leader of school systems. His passion, his fierce intelligence, and his clear understanding of the difficult but vital work of education change will be an enormous benefit to this Department and to the nation.”

2013 School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals High School Principal of the Year, Carol Burris:

“It is the best early Christmas present I could have hoped for. Hopefully the Board of Regents will take their time and find a commissioner who is able to engage the field and help bring education in New York forward.”

State Senate education committee chair John Flanagan:

“John King is a very talented individual. He is going to be around. He is going to be a player in education policy across the country. I want to work with him and I want to do good things that will respect the role that the state plays in education but at the same time work more closely with our federal colleagues.”

High Achievement New York, a coalition of businesses, educators and parents supportive of Common Core:

“During his tenure as the New York State Education Commissioner, John King stayed laser focused on a clear goal: promoting and implementing high standards for every child in every classroom.Improving a system is never easy. But together with Governor Cuomo and the Board of Regents, Commissioner King did more than anyone to advance higher standards and end the failed policies of the past that left too many students, especially low-income and minority students, unprepared for college or careers. “We wish Commissioner King best in his new, national effort and look forward to working with the next Commissioner and the Regents to ensure the continued implementation of the Common Core standards– so every one of New York’s kids has an equal shot at success. We hope the Regents will select a new Commissioner who is equally passionate about high quality academic standards and excellent instruction in every school.”

 

John King stepping down, to join Obama administration

State education commissioner John King will be stepping down at the end of the year to serve as a senior adviser to U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan.

“I’m humbled and honored to have the chance to work with President Obama and Secretary Duncan,” King said in a statement. “Their extraordinary leadership is helping students all across the nation get better prepared for college and careers. I’m excited to become part of that team.”

In a statement, Duncan called King an “extraordinary leader.”

“His passion, his fierce intelligence, and his clear understanding of the difficult but vital work of education change will be an enormous benefit to this Department and to the nation,” Duncan said.

King has served as education commissioner since he was appointed by the Board of Regents in May 2011. He oversaw the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards, an implementation that was often criticized by parents, teachers and state leaders, including Gov. Cuomo.

“In classrooms all across the state, teachers and students are rising to the challenge of higher standards,” Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. “The positive impact of John King’s work in New York will be felt for generations. We’ll miss his wisdom, his calm leadership and his remarkable courage.”

The Board of Regents is moving quickly to identify King’s replacement. A search committee will commence next week, according to Tisch.

In the interim, state law requires the executive deputy commissioner, Elizabeth Berlin, to fill the position until a permanent commissioner is named.

Update (8:00 a.m.): According to Jessica Bakeman of Capital New York, executive deputy commissioner, Elizabeth Berlin will share responsibilities of commissioner’s position with deputy commissioner Ken Wagner. SED declined to explain why Berlin will be sharing responsibilities, rather than assuming them herself.

 

POV: Those Who Can…

Points_viewThis Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in his 27th year as a principal. You can read more from him at his blog “Moore Perspective.”

I was just enrolled in my MEd. program at St. Lawrence and was sitting in my first class.  This program would not only result in a Master’s degree in Educational Administration, it would also serve as the basis for my NYS certification as a building and/or district administrator.  And like teaching, you need the certification to get an administrative job!  The professor seemed to be a really nice guy, but like most college professors he had no practical experience as a building principal.  I cannot be positive of that fact, but I’m pretty sure it’s accurate.

I don’t remember specifically what we were talking about but Dr. Williams (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) uttered the age old cliché in response to a colleague’s comments.  He stated, “Well you know what they say.  Those who can do, those who can’t teach.”  And, of course, he snickered about it.

Well, me being me, I said, “You should finish the saying.”

He looked at me quizzically and asked what I was referring to.  So, I said, “The full saying is those who can do, those who can’t teach, and those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”

I’m not really sure what he thought, the rest of the class loved it, and everybody had greater insight into who I was.

Needless to say I find the quote insulting and as far from the truth as most such sayings are.

I’ve worked with a multitude of professional educators over the course of 38 years in my career.  For a good number of them education was a second career; they had started down a different career path and found that it wasn’t really what they wanted to do.  The majority of educators I have known and interacted with knew from the beginning that they wanted to teach.  They have committed themselves to educating children, a conscious decision on their part based on their thoughts, beliefs, dedication to learning, desire to influence children’s development, or any of a wide range of reasons.  I can honestly say, believe it or not, I have not met any educator who went into education for the summers off.  I realize that’s a common belief of the non-education populace, but it has not been my experience at all.

And, I have worked with many educators who could have pursued whatever career path was desired and done well.  They had the abilities and personal characteristics that would have served them well in any line of work.  Many easily could have gone on to own their own businesses, or rise to lofty positions in big industries, or developed products that became everyday items.  The talents I have seen in people are as wide spread and as impressive as those you would observe in any field, any career path, any business.

And those people chose to teach.  They didn’t move to education when the college science or math courses got too difficult.  They didn’t suddenly realize that pursuing a career in business would be a long road, and ultimately one they didn’t want to spend time following.  They didn’t pass on law or medical careers because there are no jobs in those fields.  They wanted to teach.

It doesn’t matter what school you consider, the teaching staff is made up of very talented individuals, people who are committed to applying their thinking, creating, doing to educating kids.  Indeed, those who can, teach.

And that’s my perspective.

Cuomo announces new education appointments

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday three new education appointments to his administration.

Elana Sigall – Deputy Secretary for Education
Jay Quaintance – Assistant Secretary for Education
Paola Therasse – Program Associate for Education

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced new education appointments within the administration, building on the administration’s diverse team to achieve the Governor’s bold education reform agenda.

“It is an honor to welcome these new members of my administration, and I commend them for their commitment to public service as we continue to develop and implement reforms to New York’s education system,” Governor Cuomo said. “These individuals have a wide array of experience in education, including as teachers in the classroom, and such experience will be invaluable in improving student performance across the state. These individuals are dedicated to improving the lives of New Yorkers, and I am confident their proven records of success will be an asset to this administration as we keep moving New York forward.”

Elana Sigall serves as Deputy Secretary for Education. An attorney, professor and former teacher, Ms. Sigall previously served as Chief Policy Officer of Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners at the New York City Department of Education, where she designed, launched, led and managed a number of new offices and programs and oversaw their hundreds of employees. She is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and at Columbia University School of Law. She also has held a number of public and private sector education policy and legal counsel positions for more than two decades. Ms. Sigall earned her A.B. from Princeton University and J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Jay Quaintance serves as Assistant Secretary for Education. With 20 years of teaching and administration policy experience in higher education, Mr. Quaintance most recently served at the State University of New York as Assistant Vice Chancellor and Assistant Provost for Community College Policy and Planning and, previously, as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges. In these roles, he provided system support to the 30 SUNY community colleges for the implementation of the SUNY strategic plan, including coordinating efforts to advance many of SUNY’s critical initiatives to ensure student access, completion and success. His policy work focused on improving outcomes of college readiness, reducing remediation, and workforce and workplace development as well as academic program review and alignment. Mr. Quaintance has an M.A. in Rhetoric and the Teaching of Writing and a B.A. in English from New Mexico State University as well as a certificate in Basic Mediation from Albany Law School.

Paola Therasse serves as a Program Associate for Education. Ms. Therasse most recently served as a general and special education teacher within the New York City Department of Education, responsible for designing, planning and implementing English Language Arts, math, reading and social studies lessons for groups of varying skill levels based on Common Core State Standards. She also developed, wrote and implemented Individualized Education Programs for children identified as special needs students. Additionally, Ms. Therasse has held a number of public sector jobs, having worked for the New York State Senate Finance Committee and the New York State Assembly Corrections Committee. She received a M.S. in Education from Mercy College and a M.A and B.A. in Criminal Justice from SUNY Albany.

SFOS: Schuylerville eighth graders learn from Korean War veterans

Stories_schoolsEighth-grade students at Schuylerville Middle School got a firsthand lesson in history on Wednesday, Nov. 12, when a group of local Korean War veterans visited to share their stories and memories of the war, which is often referred to as “the forgotten war.”

The presentation was part of the Korean War Veterans Association’s Tell America Program, which encourages veterans to travel to schools to give students a better understanding of the Korean War and its consequences.

“We don’t usually teach about the Korean War and communism until the spring, but for years I’ve wanted to do something around Veteran’s Day,” social studies teacher Christine Huestis said. “I was excited to work with the Korean War Veterans Association to bring this eye-opening presentation to Schuylerville.”

Eight veterans of the Korean War visited Schuyerville CSDEight veterans from Adirondack Chapter 60 were on hand to share their personal accounts and answer questions about the war. Paul O’Keefe, a Korean War veteran from Schaghticoke, served with the 24th Infantry Division, the first U.S. soldiers called to South Korea to fight with Republic of Korea troops. He told students about the harsh conditions his troops experienced.

“We lived like animals,” O’Keefe said. “The temperature on winter nights would drop to 40 to 50 degrees below zero and there were days when we didn’t have any food.”

Roger Calkins, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, talked about his experience aboard a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, discussed the price of the war in terms of casualties, and shared a recent satellite image that shows North Korea as almost completely black at night, in contrast to the bright lights of neighbor South Korea. Calkins said he was honored to speak to the students and appreciated the questions they asked.

“It’s a real gratifying experience to see that young people are so interested and want to know what happened. We really appreciate that,” Calkins said. “It makes you proud to be an American.”

The students seemed to appreciate having the personal stories to go with what they had learned in class.

“The war was a lot bigger than I thought and it was interesting to hear about it from people who were actually there and lived through it,” eighth-grader Collin Edwards said.

“It’s something I won’t forget,” eighth-grader Claire Barton said. “I learned about the Korean War in social studies, but what these veterans went through is something you can’t capture in a textbook.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, O’Keefe provided students with a definition of a veteran and reminded them that freedom is not free.

“A veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount of up to and including his or her life.”

This story was written by Stacey Rice, communications specialist for the Schuylerville Central School District.

SFOS: Unadilla Valley students sharpen critical thinking skills during student-centered learning projects

Stories_schoolsA peek inside of Karen Ramirez’s home and careers and technology classes at Unadilla Valley reveals a host of seventh grade entrepreneurs. A visit to her classroom shows students in aprons juicing different fruits, tasting their creations with large wooden spoons, and then writing in a notebook.

Some students seem pleased with their results (a wide smile always gives it away) and others acknowledge the results with a pensive look and head back to the juicing machine.
Groups comprised of four or five students have been busy throughout the fall creating a juice drink, naming it, building a box for it, recording the recipe, picking the right advertising, and marketing the product.

“One student works on building skills as they build the package, and other student does the advertising and creates a 30-second radio commercial or a jingle,” Ramirez said.
“The last person in the group focuses on marketing where they complete a 10-question survey that focuses on people’s likes or dislikes. They then gear the rest of their project on the results.”

SCLRamirez’s project doesn’t resemble cookie cutter instruction (think students regurgitating facts), rather, it focuses on “student-centered” learning, which isn’t just a buzz word related to the Common Core Learning Standards, but a growing way of life at Unadilla Valley. Teachers cover topics more in-depth than they did years ago with an eye on cultivating critical thinking, analysis and investigative skills.

“As teachers, we give them the parameters of the project, back away, and allow them as a group to brainstorm together and come up with solutions and a final outcome on their own,” Ramirez said.

“If their juice is sour, I ask what they need to do to change it. I guide the learning, but I don’t tell them how to do it. They have to come up with it on their own, and they do if you give them time to think about it.”

Seventh grade student Mark Hine – whose focus and concentration were evident as he mixed his juice – said he appreciated the learning benefits of the project.

“This teaches us how to put things together and gives us a chance to learn from our mistakes. It makes you think harder, and you work more so you don’t make as many mistakes,” he said.

Lecturing Less
District leaders at Unadilla Valley aren’t trying to lessen the load on teachers, but they are striving for a classroom that features student-led instruction about 50 percent of the time.
Secondary school principal Frank Johnson said instruction at Unadilla Valley mirrors the Common Core shifts in ELA/Literacy and math.

“Our teachers work hard on lesson planning and assessments. We’re getting away from retrieval and recognition to more analyzing information, doing investigations, and comparing and contrasting. Those represent higher level thinking skills,” he said.

“The bare bones of it are that teachers introduce the topic, such as what it’s like to have your own apartment, and have the students do the reading and investigation (think conducting web research or reading consumer resources articles about entrepreneurship). The students who do the work will learn more.”

Helping students hone their critical thinking skills isn’t a new concept either.

District leaders at Unadilla Valley know that preparing students to succeed in a global economy in the rapidly changing 21st century requires helping them develop essential skills. They know the future students will grow up in differs drastically than it did 25 years ago.

In line with the shifts, teachers in the district instruct students to read more-nonfiction and work with primary source documents to develop a hypothesis on an issue and make claims using the information they’ve researched.

“We’ve been doing this for the last three years,” Johnson said. “Kids can do complex work.”

Lessons in Learning
Student-centered learning at Unadilla Valley stretches across the district and involves every subject. Algebra and geometry teacher Danette George actively tries to shift away from walking around her classroom and lecturing, to facilitating more group work and collaboration.

During an algebra lesson on applying inequalities (think 2x + 3 < 7), George wrote a list of problems on her iPad and connected it to big screen. She split the students into groups and assigned each group a few problems.

As the students worked on the problems, she walked around helping those who needed it. When the students solved the problems, they then taught the students in the other groups how they found the answers.

George said if students can teach what they’re learning, they tend to remember more.

“By the end of class, we had the entire worksheet done,” George said. “In class the day before, we went over the skills they would need to solve the problems.

“During lessons like that, I feel like I can actually talk to every student in class one-on-one. It buys me more time to get to a student who’s struggling or needs more help.”

Biology/living environment teacher John Jackson also embraces group projects and students testing their hypotheses. He often splits students into groups, assigns each a role, and monitors the group.

He said during a lab on an abnormal growth on a plant stem, students made a hypothesis about what happened to the planet and subsequently tested it.

“I teach them a scientific method,” he said. “Once the students see the bump in the stem, they figure out why it’s there and slice it open to verify if they were right or wrong.”
Sophomore McKayla Brown praises the student-centered learning approach and its hands-on qualities.

“When we learn from others, we learn from their perspective and we get more ideas, instead of just the one from the teacher,” she said.

“If you read about it, you usually forget, but if you do it, you remember it better.”

Of course, student-centered at Unadilla Valley doesn’t always involve groups. And it’s not without hints of creativity.

On just the second day of school, Will Rexroat asked his engineering design students to build an airplane out of some basic materials he gave them. The student whose airplane flew the farthest would be the winner. He also let students express their creativity and the freedom to design whatever he/she wanted.

“I’m teaching the design process and the thinking that goes behind engineering this year, so I wanted to see what the students already knew,” he said.

“It was more realistic for the world of engineering because there were no right answers, there were just better ones.”

This story was written by Christian Czerwinski, communications specialist for the Unadilla Valley Central School District.

Smart Schools Bond Act passes, Cuomo re-elected

Voters approved the Smart Schools Bond Act on Tuesday, which will provide each school district with funding for new educational technology and infrastructure improvements. The proposition passed with 62 percent of the vote.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also won re-election, garnering 54 percent of the vote, making him the first Democratic governor to win re-election in New York since is father, Mario Cuomo, won in 1990.

Cuomo first proposed his Smart Schools Act in January during State of the State address. The money that school districts will receive for technology upgrades will be determined by a formula tied directly to the state aid that each district receives. The money must be spent on equipment laptops, desktops, tablets, infrastructure upgrades and high speed broadband.

The money would also be eligible for the building or renovation of pre-kindergarten classrooms, high-tech school security features or to replace classroom trailers in overcrowded schools.

“The next step now in our journey is to reinvent our classrooms with new technology,” Cuomo has said. “We must transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow.”

The bond act was met with some skepticism by some, who cited fiscal and more long term concerns.

“They’re assuming a box full of iPads that some school buys next year are still going to be useful and not obsolete in 2022,” president of the Empire Center E.J. McMahon said. “Nobody believes that.”

“The interest the state would pay annually on $2 billion, approximately $150 million, could have been used to increase current aid to schools for software and hardware purchases,” executive director of the State Association of School Business Officials Michael Borges said.

School districts will now have to submit technology plans to the state on how they will spend their share of the money.