BKW board makes 2019 goals

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board members and administrators listen in at a goal-setting meeting. From left is elementary school Principal Annette Landry, board members Randy Bashwinger and Nathan Elble, and Superintendent Timothy Mundell.

BERNE — With 2019 just begun, Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s school board members, administrators, and some residents of the district laid out the board’s goals for the year following a Jan. 3 session discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the district.

The board came up with five ranked goals: the first being student learning and achievement; the next, communication and community climate and engagement; the third, technology; the fourth, safety, health, and wellness; and the fifth, fiscal responsibility and accountability.

The group that met for the goal-setting session included all five school board members, as well administrators Superintendent Timothy Mundell, elementary school Principal Annette Landry, and Susan Sloma, who focuses primarily on special education.

Mundell wrote ideas on a whiteboard as attendees came up with various topics divided into four categories: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, or SWOT, as well as designating these either from within or outside the district.

Numerous strengths of the district were listed, including programs in agricultural and math and science as well as an “awesome student body” and community as well as the newly appointed school resource officer from the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.

Some weaknesses and threats noted were the “summer slide,” in which students’ grades suffer after long breaks from school; declining enrollment; a lack of exposure to technology; and poor communication with the community. It was noted that the district has been seeking to improve on some of these items, such as summer programs to stop the “slide” and introducing more technology to students.

The best mode of communication was discussed. Board President Matthew Tedeschi said people prefer “short, quick” information in social media. Landry said that, at the elementary school, staff are already using social media and the school has an Instagram account.

But board member Kimberley Lovell said social media could be a threat since the district can’t control it. Nathan Elble mentioned cyberbullying as a problem.

Elble also noted that poverty and a lack of activities in the Hilltowns posed threats to the district. Resident Ed Ackroyd asked if the school board would work with local town governments on issues such as internet access and afterschool programs, something board member Helen Lounsbury said the board had done previously with local politicians with little success.

Some of the opportunities mentioned included making more connections with the community, including local businesses and private schools, as well as further connections with Albany County. The district’s capital project was also discussed as a possible source for more opportunities. The $20 million project was overwhelmingly endorsed by residents in 2017 to repair infrastructure in the elementary school as well as to bring new technology and improved security to both campuses.

Opposing views

While agreeing on the goals stated, Lounsbury and Tedeschi disagreed over the way they would be addressed, with Lounsbury suggesting more detailed goals and Tedeschi recommending details be left to the administrators.

“What we needed to do is put the framework out … ,” he said. “If we have nine statements underneath technology, for example, or student learning, it’s too many … .”

“It depends on what they are,” said Lounsbury.

“... They should not come from us because we’re not the boots-on-the-ground people that have to operate in the system day after day. You come at this from a different perspective because you were a teacher, and I get that,” Tedeschi continued.

“Not just that, I was on the board for 17 years,” said Lounsbury, referring to her previous time on the board before leaving and later running successfully for reelection two years ago. “And the perspective you come from is ‘Let them do it.’ We’re the people that are speaking for this community.”

Lounsbury added that she believed that the board should set out the amount of money district departments can spend. Tedeschi countered that several other districts lay out goals in the manner he was suggesting, with the board defining goals and the administration carrying them out.

Lounsbury said not everything she was suggesting would be used but was a “wish list.” She also said she was disappointed others did not follow suit in preparing their suggestions, though she said this was because of her background.

“I set goals for U.S. Department of Ed.; I set goals for New York State; I set goals for Berne-Knox Westerlo,” she said. “I have experience in this area, which I think is being totally, totally disregarded.”

“Not at all,” said Tedeschi.

Lovell and Elble said that they came with ideas prepared to elaborate on them further in the meeting.

Tedeschi reviewed an example of goals set out by another district that was presented in a seminar and amounted to a paragraph of text, noting that it was “a little light,” but connected to the school’s “core beliefs.”

“It’s the same five things you want year after year,” he said.

“There’s some similarity,” said Lounsbury “So, why don’t we move and pick our next topic?”

Mundell mentioned some topics the district wants to improve and add to, including afterschool programs and student achievement. Mundell doesn’t want to tie student success to test scores or other data.

“I don’t think we should pigeon-hole students to a number,” he added, however. “I don’t think we should pigeon-hole adults to a number.”

Mundell also said that he would like the district to be part of a new initiative known as “cultural competence” that would address issues related to race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and disabilities, and that he would like staff to have “cultural competence training” next year.

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