Uncontested: Two incumbents, one newcomer run for three seats on Guilderland school board

 

GUILDERLAND — Two long-time incumbents — Barbara Fraterrigo and Gloria Towle-Hilt — are running for re-election to the Guilderland School Board, and a newcomer, Kelly Person, is running to replace Teresa Gitto, who is retiring after one term.

The posts are at-large and unpaid, each with a three-year term. Voters will cast their ballots on May 21 at the same time they are deciding on next year’s $102 million school budget and on a $31 million capital project. Polling is at the district’s five elementary schools.

The candidates were asked about their relevant backgrounds and reasons for running as well as for their views on these four issues:

— Inclusion: Following state directives to include students with disabilities in general-education classrooms, Guilderland has adopted a co-teaching model with a general-education and a special-education teacher working together, with allotted shared planning time. This model is expensive. For example, co-teaching is being expanded to the eighth grade, for which $244,500 is budgeted next year to pay for three special-education teachers.

How well is this model is working? It is currently in place in ninth, 10th, and 11th grades, as well as in the district’s elementary schools. Should other models be used? Are you in favor of expanding co-teaching to all grades? Why or why not?

— High school start time: For decades, the school board has discussed starting the high-school day later. The district uses a tiered bus system that delivers high school students, who biologically require later sleep times, to school before elementary or middle-school students. Research shows delayed start times in high school can reduce tardiness, sleepiness in the classroom, disruptive behavior, anxiety over academic pressure, sports injuries, and automobile accidents. Guilderland has kept its current schedule to mesh with BOCES programs and Suburban Council sports schedules as well as to allow students time for after-school jobs. The district created a research team, which delivered its findings to the school board last December.

When should high school start and why?

— Capital project: Last October, a $42.7 million project to upgrade all seven district schools — intended primarily to increase technology and safety and meet maintenance needs — was narrowly defeated. The school board reduced the project by 28 percent to $30.9 million and set the voting date for the state-wide budget vote, May 21.

What were some of the items that were hardest to cut from the pared-down capital project? Are you in favor of the reduced capital project? Why or why not? If it’s defeated again, what course should the district take?

— Budget: The school board has unanimously adopted a $102 million budget, for 2019-20 for voters to decide on May 21. The levy was kept just under the state-set limit. Some board members wanted to add items to a draft.

Do you support the budget? Would you have liked to see anything added or subtracted? If the budget were voted down, what course should the board take? What would you say to residents who say, “I don’t have any kids in the schools, so why should I pay so much in school taxes?”

 

 

 

Barbara Fraterrigo

Barbara Fraterrigo — who has been on the school board since 1997 — has a joint degree in biology and chemistry, she said, and a minor in teaching.

She not only values the sciences but also has always loved sports, she said: In high school, she played softball, field hockey, and basketball. “Hated the rules for basketball,” she said. “Half-court.”

In her day, girls’ teams were restricted to playing on a half-court. “It took forever for the powers-to-be to change those rules,” she said. She believes she and other young women could have done much more, had they been allowed to play under the same rules as the boys. Today, she said, women’s basketball is just as exciting as men’s.

Despite how far girls’ sports have come, she still sees shades of the needlessly different treatment that female players struggled under in her day. She gave as an example girls’ lacrosse: Across New York State, she said, girls’ lacrosse teams have different regulations — “they’re not allowed to check, and all these other things” — and they are not required to wear helmets and other protective gear.

Their not having to wear helmets “just bothers me no end,” she said. “The balls fly just as fast with the girls,” she said. As a result, she said, the whistle is “going off every 15 seconds,” making games “really sort of boring.”

Fraterrigo is running for the school board again, she said, because “I just really enjoy serving my community in that fashion, and I feel that with the experience I’ve had, I have a lot to offer both the students and the community at large.”

She works as the business manager for the ophthalmology office of her husband, son, and daughter, all of whom are eye doctors. She and her husband, Philip Fraterrigo, have five children, she said, “and 15 grandkids.” They live Ableman Avenue, in the house where they raised their family.

For 30 years she has also served on the board of trustees for the Guilderland Public Library, and is currently running for re-election as a trustee.

On co-teaching, Fraterrigo said, “Every child should be given the opportunity to reach their maximum potential.”

The preliminary information that the school board has received from the administration, according to Fraterrigo, is that the co-teaching model is helping students, “and not hindering what you would call your ‘high flyers.’” That was her main concern at first, she said, that the curriculum not be “watered down” and that the kids in all tiers “are all profiting by this experiment.”

Another worry she had initially, she said, was how teachers would be able to handle having children of so many different levels in the same classroom. But the addition of another teacher into the classroom helps a great deal, she said.

Co-teaching is “very, very expensive,” Fraterrigo said, but she believes it will allow children at all levels to thrive. “I’m totally supportive of it.”

She said about inclusion, “This is based on modern-day theory, and they’re giving it a shot, because the theory is, it will benefit all the children at all the levels. I’m open to that,” Fraterrigo said.

Of the capital project, she said, “I am just so hopeful that the people will realize the need for the items that are there. Just as in a home, if you don’t maintain your buildings, it’s just going to cost you more in the future.”

The results of allowing buildings to deteriorate, she said, are simple: “Then people don’t want to move into your district, and your property values fail.”

The district has, for years, she said, had an ongoing system, “whereby big-ticket items are handled about every five years, so the debt level stays about the same, and as your debt is reduced with one building project, you pick up this new one.”

Her hope is that voters will recognize the need for the safety items and the physical items that make up the capital project — “the minimal things that are in there right now” — and will “pass it with overwhelming support,” she said.

Nothing in the original plan — before it was pared down — was superfluous, Fraterrigo said.

“In the surveys we got back, people were concerned about safety,” she said. Two years ago, Superintendent Marie Wiles announced the results of an online survey, to which over 1,000 people responded. A majority of all groups — community residents, parents, and students — listed “safe, secure buildings” as their highest priority.

“People don’t realize, like our phone systems were so old — I mean, having something that happens in your school, and your communication system is down, then there’s no way to alert parents, no way to alert other people in the building, there’s no way to alert the administration, and it was basic items like that, that we just have to get done,” she said.

“Children are precious,” Fraterrigo continued. “We should keep them safe to the extent that we can.”

She supports the $102 million budget proposal “100 percent,” Fraterrigo said. To those who, like herself, are paying school taxes despite not having children in the school system, she would say that society benefits from an educated populace. “One of the things that this nation has always prided itself on,” she said, “is public education for our kids.”

The board is very much aware of the financial constraints that some people have, and tries to do all it can, she said, to create extra tax savings for groups such as veterans or the elderly. “We do what we can, within the constraints of the budget and the law, to help people,” she said. “But on the other hand, we still have to educate the children.”

Many school districts, Fraterrigo said, are now mulling over earlier start times for their high schools. “The research is just undeniably positive as to making the start time for your high school later than we have it,” she said. Fraterrigo is a member of the research group looking into this issue in the district.

Fraterrigo wonders if it wouldn’t be possible to flip the start times for elementary and high schools. “The majority of young kids are up and ready to go early in the day,” she said., adding that the limited research that has been done on how younger kids learn suggests that their best learning times are early in the day and that their ability to learn begins to fade in the afternoon.

Guilderland’s high school day starts at 7:30 a.m., and the elementary school starts 20 minutes later, at 7:50 a.m.

She acknowledged that this could require adjustments on the part of parents, in terms of childcare arrangements and even their own work schedules. There are many things people would have to adapt to, she said, but also long-term benefits.

Other nearby school districts are also looking into the subject seriously, she said, naming Bethlehem and East Greenbush as examples.

Some school districts, such as Glens Falls and Schenectady, have already pushed their high school start times back, she said, but the difference is that those are “walking districts,” where most students either walk to school, take public transportation, or are driven by parents.

If a change could be made on a Suburban Council level, Fraterrigo said, “Your BOCES schedule and your athletic schedule would be on a par.”

But somebody’s got to start it, she said.

 

 

Kelly Person

Kelly Person has three children, with a fourth on the way. The older two children are twins in kindergarten in Guilderland Elementary School. She said “probably the number-one reason” that she and her wife, Melinda Person, bought their home on Nott Road in 2012 is because of the school district.

Person, 41, is also a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, who has “spent a lot of time in Antarctica and Greenland,” she said. She works at the Division of MIlitary Naval Affairs in Latham as an administration officer for active-duty service members.

She also works, on some weekends “and whenever needed” at the Stratton Air National Guard base, which supports the work of the National Science Foundation in Antarctica and the Arctic by airlifting in all of the supplies and equipment the scientists use.

She has spent a lot of time, she said, in Antarctica and Greenland. For 14 years, she sat behind the pilot on flights there, serving as navigator.

She is running for the board because she wants “to keep the level of public schools at the quality they are, for all the children in Guilderland,” she said.

She grew up in Poughkeepsie and came to Albany to attend the University at Albany. She enlisted in the Air National Guard in Schenectady while in college and has stayed in the area ever since, for 23 or 24 more years, she said

About inclusion, she said, “My extent of experience with co-teaching and the inclusion model has been when I’ve been to board meetings and listened to the testimonials of the superintendent during budget preparation and the teachers I’ve seen come and talk about it.”

From her viewpoint, it seems to be a great program, Person said, adding that it seems to be working well, based on the testimonials of co-teachers.

“I’m interested in learning more about expanding it into different grades … hearing what it would take to expand and how that would benefit the children.”

The school district’s teachers seem to think, she said, it’s the best way to go.

“It’s a shame that the capital project was defeated in October,” she said, “because I think there were a lot of really important things included within the bond vote, a lot of things that have been deferred for other years.”

Person is happy about the process the school board took, of re-evaluating the entire project, dividing items within the bond project into various levels of priority and putting only items deemed to be highest priority into the pared-down capital project.

“Looking at the exit polls, it seemed people had some serious issues with the cost to the taxpayers,” and she hopes the board’s work on scaling the amounts back will bring a different result.

“I don’t like cutting out any kind of safety issue or security issues,” she said. She said she wished it had passed in October and is upset to see it scaled down.

She hopes, she said, that in the next two or three years, the district will be able to get to some of the items given second or third priority.

“Finding the money for things in a budget is challenging,” she said. “We’ll have to work on the rest as the years come.”

She also hopes that the annual budget will pass. Historically, she said, budgets “do pass OK in Guilderland.”

She said that the board is doing its best to keep the budget under the state-set levy limit. “So hopefully it will all be passed,” she said.

Person said that the school board’s job is to “make sure our schools are what the community wants them to be, and that they reflect our community.” So, she said, it’s wise to speak with community members to get input on what they are able to support and what they are willing or not willing to support.

She is beginning to hear from residents — while she collected signatures on petitions and also while she is out in the community, whether at a sporting event, a children’s music class, or in some other situation.

“I think that investing in our children through the schools builds a good community. Having good schools makes Guilderland a desirable community to live in, whether you have children or you don’t have children,” Person said.

She is excited, she said, about working with the board to keep Guilderland schools strong.

She called the start-time issue a “fantastic topic” that she looks forward to learning more about. She doesn’t really have an opinion either way at this point, she said, but looks forward to hearing from parents and teachers and to beginning to consider the research that has been done and to think about where to go from here.

 

 

Gloria Towle-Hilt

Gloria Towle-Hilt and her husband, the late Robert Hilt, both spent their careers teaching at Farnsworth Middle School, she in social studies, and he in English. She started teaching at Farnsworth, she said, in 1971.

“The district supported us in many ways,” she said. At one point, she and her husband both had an opportunity to go to Zambia to teach, and the district allowed them to take a one-year leave of absence, which it then extended for another year.

“My daughter was born there,” she said. Towle-Hilt stayed out another year with her child, and then had a second child.

An opening then came up at Farnsworth and, as Towle-Hilt had a friend who offered to care for her children, she returned to Farnsworth, where she worked with Alan Fiero to build the beginning of the enrichment program, she said.

Since she was there from the school’s earliest years, Towle-Hilt, who lives on Standford Drive, had “an outstanding experience of building the whole middle-school educational experience,” she said.

After taking teacher training, she offered to work with at-risk kids, and helped put together a team called “the Cluster” that worked with a group of 12 seventh-graders and 12 eighth-graders who had been deemed “unmotivated” by counselors. These were students who counselors believed would not make it through graduation “if something wasn’t done.”

Towle-Hilt and the rest of the team, which included a full-time counselor, met with parents twice a week at night. The team offered confidence-building and team-building activities that included overnight field trips to the Adirondacks. Towle-Hilt also began bringing students, once a month, to the soup kitchen in downtown Albany where she volunteered, which she thought might make these children feel that they were important.

She still hears from students in this program, she said, many of them now parents, asking, “Can I come back with my kids?”

The program of volunteering at the soup kitchen continues at Farnsworth. It has been open now to the whole student body, Towle-Hilt said.

She retired from teaching in 2007 and “before I was even out of the classroom, I was elected to the school board.”

She is “very much in favor” of the inclusion model, as a former teacher, she said. Guilderland has always supported heterogeneous classes, she added, saying that, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, she would have students of all abilities in her classrooms, often with a number of teachers who would “push in” to help certain students for parts of a class period.

Even back then, she said, visitors to her classroom weren’t able to identify the children who were designated as needing special education, because, she said, they were woven into the fabric of the classroom. “We’ve always done that at Farnsworth,” she said.

“I think this model is so much better for the kids,” she said of co-teaching. Having a general-education and a special-education teacher adds “such a great dimension to the classroom,” including relationships and mutual understanding that the board hears are being built in co-taught classrooms.

Towle-Hilt was “very disappointed” when the capital project did not pass. She said she thought the facilities committee, including community residents, that worked on it did “an excellent job.”

She was concerned, she said, about the way “erroneous information” in the form of an anonymous flyer came out in the last few days before the vote, and board members had no time to refute it.

“But I had to respect the vote,” she said. “It was heartbreaking to see some of the things go.”

Facility improvements have been made in past years on a five-year cycle, Towle-Hilt said. Every five years, a facilities committee is formed that goes through the district’s buildings to identify all the items that need immediate attention. “So every five years, we’re doing our due diligence in keeping these buildings safe and up-to-date,” Towle-Hilt said.

Towle-Hilt most regretted having to cut from the capital project upgrading and changing the way that classrooms are set up. This would have included reconfigurable furniture and technology that encourages collaboration.

“We have to educate the public that this is no longer a luxury,” she said.

Many classrooms in the country are still set up the same way they were when Towle-Hilt was a child, she said, with desks in rows, facing the teacher. The desks and tables in Guilderland classrooms are often clustered to facilitate a more modern approach to teaching and learning, “but we always have to be thinking forward, toward the future,” she said.

Another item she said she was sorry to see taken out was a consultant who would have been hired to help develop a long-range plan. The board has been talking for five or six years about the need for developing a long-range plan, she said. This year, the communications committee, of which Towle-Hilt is a member, had proposed budgeting $40,000 for a consultant to help formulate a vision and steps to achieve it, but it was voted down.

Towle-Hilt said she supports the proposed $102 million budget “100 percent.”

Like Fraterrigo, Towle-Hilt also pointed that she is now a resident who pays school taxes but does not have any children in the schools. In terms of what she would say to voters in that situation, Towle-Hilt said, “I firmly believe the entire community benefits from having an excellent school system.”

The parents and students in Guilderland, with its excellent school system, she said, create an environment throughout the community that feels good and feels safe. “I feel good about this environment, I’m proud of the town I live in, I enjoy the services that are provided … My paying my taxes benefits me. Even though I’m not sending my kids there, I’m living in this community.”

As to start times, Towle-Hilt said, “We’re not done. There’s still going to be more reporting. And I respect the research that’s been done.”

She said, “I think we accept the fact that high-school students need to start later than 7:30.”

The problem, she said, is the implementation.

“For us, being a district that’s so large, I think there’s going to be real obstacles regarding how to do it,” she said.

She attends the New York State School Boards Association conferences every year and is heartened to see other area districts, including Niskayuna and Bethlehem, talking about later high school start times.

Middle-school students, she said, could start earlier than they do. Farnsworth starts at 8:45 a.m. Towle-Hilt spent decades serving on a committee trying to get that school day to start earlier, she said. “We had so many plans,” she said, “but every time, we got nailed at the end. We just couldn’t get there.”

To increase the fleet of buses would be expensive, she said.

Towle-Hilt supports continuing to look into the issue of an earlier start time for the high school. “Maybe we’ll come up with a solution,” she said.

More Guilderland News

  • In November 2019, Albany Country Club proposed changing the zoning of 549 acres from Rural Agricultural to Country Hamlet for a 290-unit development consisting of 100 single-family homes, 100 townhomes, and 90 multi-family units.

  • Craig Turnbull, the owner of Bull & Basil Wood Fired Pizza, moved to Voorheesville about a year ago, and has been cooking at various farmers’ markets and breweries in the area ever since. He is now considering the opportunity to turn Bull & Basil into a brick-and-mortar business, he told the Guilderland Planning Board this week.

  • The Guilderland committee for police reform assembled arrest records according to race and found that a much higher percentage of Blacks than there are Black residents in town were charged. This is largely due to arrests of out-of-town suspects made at Crossgates Mall, according to Police Chief Daniel McNally. The public is encouraged to read the draft and respond.

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