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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 16, 2006

Village and town plan to buy historic house for back taxes

By Matt Cook

GUILDERLAND — The fate of an historic Altamont home is unknown as Guilderland and Altamont are set to take joint control of the property.

After passing resolutions at meetings last week, the village and town are asking the county to give them the property at 759 Route 146 for payment of back taxes. Built by Frederick Crounse, Altamont’s first doctor, over 150 years ago, the house sports a state historic marker. It has been vacant for several years.

Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion told The Enterprise that the town and village plan to use the property for community functions—youth or senior programs, for example—or as an information center for town and village residents.

The town and the village are splitting the costs, 50-50, and will be co-owners of the property.

Runion said that, when he first approached the county about the property, the back taxes were about $40,200. The cost will probably increase some by the time the sale is final, he said. Last week, Altamont Mayor James Gaughan estimated it would cost about $45,000.

Gaughan was not available for comment this week.

The federal-style building, just outside the village, appears decrepit from the outside, largely because of a deteriorating front porch. Gaughan described its condition last week as "fair to good." The roof, he said, is in good shape.

Runion wasn’t willing to take a guess on the condition.

"Nobody will be able to get into it until the transfer is complete," he said.

The first order of business, both officials said, will be to inspect the property and determine its suitability for use.

"If the building can be used, we will use the building," Runion said.

If it can’t, he said, it will be torn down.

Although there is a historical marker on the property, Runion said, to his knowledge, the house is not on any historic registries.

Runion has sent a letter to County Executive Michael Breslin informing him of the town’s and village’s intent to buy the property. The county legislature has to turn it over to the town and village by resolution, Runion said.


According to the late historian Arthur B. Gregg, in his book, Old Hellebergh: Scenes from Early Guilderland, Dr. Crounse was born in his father’s tavern in Sharon in 1807. His father, Jacob Crounse, had left Guilderland to seek his fortune in "the West," Schoharie County.

After studying under his cousin, Adam Crounse, a minister and classical scholar, Gregg writes, Dr. Crounse studied medicine with local doctors, and then attended Fairfield Medical College, in Herkimer. Fairfield, which is considered a descendent of the medical school at Syracuse University, was the first institution of its time outside of New York City, Gregg writes.

Soon after leaving Fairfield, Crounse came to Altamont, where he built the house on the corner of Gun Club Road and married Elizabeth Keenholts, the daughter of Frederick Keenholts, a large landowner "and considered the wealthiest man in the district," Gregg writes.

Crounse also built an office on the property, since moved, Gregg writes, in the attic of which lived a servant, a black man, who took care of the horses.

Gregg tells a story about the servant and Crounse, a noted practical joker, Gregg says: "The old darkey had an annoying habit of frequent sprees, which Dr. Crounse and his brother, Dr. Conrad...decided to cure. One night they took the fine articulated skeleton the Doctor owned and rubbed it with phosphorous. It was then hung at the top of the trap door to the attic quarters. At a late hour the darkey climbed the steps, only to meet this glowing skeleton dangling before his eyes. As intoxicated as he was, he let out a yell and ran down the road, remaining away for four days, and it was reported that the ‘treatment’ was successful."

One night during the Civil War, the 134 Regiment came from Schoharie and camped in front of Dr. Crounse’s house, Gregg writes. Crounse stayed up the night, helping the regiment doctor with the sick and wounded soldiers, Gregg writes.

Crounse’s daughter, Mary, wrote letters home to her parents when she left Altamont to attend teachers’ school. Those letters formed the basis of a play written by Rebecca Fishel as part of Altamont’s centennial celebration.

Gregg writes with admiration for Crounse, who, he says, brought more of the region’s inhabitants into the world than any doctor before or since.

"In sickness or in trouble, the panacea was ‘Go see old Doc Fred,’" Gregg writes. "There is something grand and inspiring about his life from beginning to end."

Crounse died in 1893 and was buried in the Fairview Cemetery. Beneath his name, his grave says only, "Graduated at Fairfield Medical College, 1830."

Academic supervisors serve as teachers of teachers

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Supervisors are responsible for the "scholastic success" of the Guilderland School District, said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress.

In October, the board ratified an agreement with the Supervisory Unit of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association, which applies to nine supervisors. The three-year contract, which begins this school year, includes a 3.85-percent raise each year.

In the first year, salaries range from $75,000 to $95,600.

Several school board members had requested a presentation on the work done by the district’s supervisors, and they were filled in last Tuesday.

A video, produced by the district’s media specialist Nicholas Viscio, showed a typical day in the lives of two supervisors — Demian Singleton, who oversees math and science at Farnsworth Middle School, and Lori Hershenhart, who oversees the music programs in all grades, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Hershenhart talked about her "passion" for music which began with private oboe lessons when she was a child, since the public school in Brooklyn she attended offered none.

"I’m not teaching children so much...I’m mostly teaching teachers," she said of her current post.

Singleton, who said he came from a family of educators, echoed those sentiments. "I don’t think you ever really lose the teacher in you when you become a supervisor," he said.

Both supervisors said they start their days early, at 5 a.m., as they must scramble for substitute teachers if regular teachers have called in sick.

Hershenhart herself will substitute if a teacher can’t be found.

Singleton commented that there is "no such thing as a typical day." He also said of supervisors, "We’re the gatekeepers of a good, solid day."

Supervisors spend a good deal of time evaluating teachers, new teachers more than tenured teachers.

Hershenhart called evaluations "time-consuming but valuable."

She said she also maintains websites for the middle school and high school, and she spends a lot of time answering parents’ questions and concerns.

She attends 60 or 70 events every school year and, during the concert season, is out every night, she said.

Singleton said that administration of state-required tests is now "a significant piece of the puzzle."

A supervisor’s role, he said, is curriculum-based and instruction-based.

A crisis, he said, "creeps its head once in a while" and it is his job to support teachers when a crisis arises, either with a student or in their own lives.

"Sharing and collaboration is the richness" of the music department, Hershenhart said, and it would suffer without a supervisor.

"Areas of influence"

Andress outlines four "areas of influence" in effective supervisory leadership.

The first is influencing a school’s culture. "They find ways continually to create a positive school climate," said Andress of Guilderland’s supervisors.

The second is building and maintaining successful departments. "Supervisors must be skilled communicators who can handle resistance and change," said Andress.

Third is enhancing or improving student achievement, some of which is done by the teacher-evaluation program, said Andress.

Fourth is empowering teachers through professional development.

"They establish...a sense of connection," said Andress, noting that, "so much of teaching is really in isolation."

Patricia Hansbury-Zuent, who supervises high-school English and reading, said that a supervisor is part teacher, part problem-solver, part mediator, part parent, and part visionary.

She went over a 10-item list of supervisors’ responsibilities.

Teacher evaluation, curriculum and assessment, and professional development, she said, are tightly linked and "take up the great majority of our time."

Other duties include hiring; budgeting; scheduling; meeting with parents; communicating with administrators, the guidance office, custodians, the community, and local colleges; participating in activities beyond the school; and networking with other professionals, professional organizations, and the State Education Department.

"Pretty powerful connections can be made," said Hansbury-Zuendt.

She concluded that supervisors must maintain a balance between meeting larger goals and dealing with immediate issues.

"Supervisors are..."

Albert Martino, foreign-language and English-as-a-second-language supervisor for grades six through 12, discussed a half-dozen challenges faced by supervisors. He began each point with a witty one-liner.

"Supervisors are like social workers," said Martino, in discussing the challenge of a changing student population. In the last decade, Guilderland has become more diverse culturally, ethnically, and academically, said Martino; the number of students studying English as a second language has swelled.

"Supervisors are like detectives," said Martino, discussing the challenge of having so many new teachers.

The nation-wide graying or balding of teachers, he said, in a reference to his own head, has led to a growing shortage of math, science, technology, and foreign-language teachers. Finding qualified candidates takes detective kills, said Martino.

"Supervisors are like office managers," said Martino in discussing clerical assistance. Such assistance provides a critical link, he said.

"Their help and skills with data collection is invaluable," said Martino.

"Supervisors are like game-show hosts," said Martino, discussing the challenge of increased testing.

The tests require much preparation, he said, and supervisors must divine where the tests will be given and when, what the optimum test environment is, who will take the tests, who will get help, and who will score the tests, and how.

"Supervisors are ubiquitous,": said Martino, discussing the demands beyond the school day.

Supervisors attend athletic events, music concerts, and art shows, he said. They also attend classes to further their own education and they give workshops to teach others.

"Supervisors are like magicians," said Martino, in discussing the challenges of budgeting.

When desks fall apart, he said, supervisors find a way to borrow them from other rooms. When enrollment in a class is too high, they help the teacher design effective lesson plans, he said.

Martino concluded, that, as Guilderland supervisors meet these challenges, "Students will continue to get the finest education of any school here in the Capital District."

The other supervisors besides Hershenhart, Singleton, Hansbury-Zuendt, and Martino are: Lynn Wells, supervisor of language arts, reading, and social studies at Farnsworth Middle School; Julie Fitzgerald, high-school social studies supervisor; Michael Piscitelli, high-school math and science supervisor; Sheila Elario, art supervisor district-wide; and Wayne Bertrand, director of health, physical education, and interscholastic athletics. He is aided by Larry Gillooley, assistant director of health, physical education, and interscholastic athletics.

Teacher aides get 3.98 percent average raise for six year

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — After being at impasse, the teachers’ aids at Guilderland now have a six-year contract that gives them an average salary increase of 3.98 percent per year.

The school board recently ratified the contract that runs from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2010.

The former contract expired on June 30, 2004. "So, in a sense, this is a six-year contract, covering 2004-05 retroactively," said Susan Tangorre, the district’s director of human resources.

Talks had begun with a different human resources director, John Sole, and a different negotiator for the aides, she said.

"It was a transition for both the union and the district," said Tangorre. "They were at an impasse. I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we just sit down and chat"’"

So the negotiators met informally rather than going to arbitration and negotiations reopened in January of 2005, said Tangorre.

The Guilderland Teacher Aides, which has about 50 members, is affiliated with the National Education Association of New York. The unit president is Shirley Carpinello.

Many of the aides and monitors are part-time workers, some working as few as two hours a day. Some are cafeteria monitors, others are front-door greeters, still others are hall monitors.

"These folks support our students in non-academic settings," said Tangorre. "They are the only group of people that see every child every day; we’re assuming everyone eats lunch every day," she said with a chuckle.

Tangorre went on, "They spend a lot of hands-on time with the students and with the public."

Asked what the major sticking points had been, Tangorre said, "As it often is, it’s about money...and about making people feel that they’re valued."

She went on, "Unfortunately, we can’t always give people as much money as we would like or they would like."

The aides and monitors are paid on a 15-step system, with new workers starting on the first, lowest-paid step. An aide who works five hours a day at step 1 in the current year earns $7.69 an hour, which would be $7,459 for the year, Tangorre said.

At the other end of the scale, the most senior workers, on step 15, would earn $12,163 this year, working the same five hours a day, she said.

Those who work 20 hours a week or more also qualify for health-insurance benefits.

Relative to other comparable school districts, Tangorre said, the Guilderland wages are "below the average."

The new contract, for the first time, offers "loyalty incentives," said Tangorre.

As a first-time incentive, a worker who has been with the district a year and comes back for a 13th month gets a $200 bonus. After three years, there is also another bonus, for $400, for the 37th month, she said.

"I know it’s not much, but it’s a thank-you for staying with us," said Tangorre.

Asked about other changes in the contract, Tangorre said there is a change in the use of personal days. Workers are granted five personal-leave days a year, as distinguished from sick days. Under the new contract, Tangorre said, "If you don’t use those days, it would allow you to roll them over to sick days....In the end, if you stay with the district for 12 years, it’s an incentive at retirement that allows [payment for] the accumulation of days."

Asked if there is a shortage of or demand for aides and monitors, Tangorre said, "There really is....How many people want to come to work two or three hours a day every day in the middle of the day""

She said the state makes no educational requirements for aides or monitors. "There’s no academic piece at all," said Tangorre, adding that, at Guilderland, "Certainly, we’re looking for people with a high school diploma."

She concluded of the district’s aides and monitors, "Some people just really like kids and want to be here. I’m amazed at how loyal some people are."

The Birdman of Westmere Elementary brings the outdoors inside

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — In the old days, children who didn’t behave in class would sometimes be sent into the hallway of the school as punishment.

That wouldn’t work at Westmere Elementary. Entering the bird-watching corridor feels more like walking into paradise.

"It adds peace and calmness and tranquillity to our school," said Robert Whitman, the school’s enrichment teacher.

The bird-watching station was his idea. He had had his first-grade students watching birds and said, "I’m always looking for things the whole school can benefit from."

The sounds of birds chirping, scolding, and calling to each other outside can be heard inside the school hallway. Microphones are mounted outside along the top edge of the building and speakers inside magnify the sounds. The sound system was paid for with enrichment funds from the school board, said Whiteman.

He got the idea from the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, Mass..

"When the birds are in the bushes close by," said Whiteman, pointing to those just on the other side of the glass, "you can hear the black-capped chickadees tapping seeds open. You can even hear their wings flutter."

The line between indoors and outside is blurred not just by the noises but by the scenery, too.

Whiteman had admired murals done by local artist Amy Radley at the Four Corners Luncheonette in Delmar and got her to paint wildlife murals around the six large windows facing the school’s courtyard.

The realistic paintings, mostly in pastel tones, camouflage the cement-block walls with scenes of local birds in their natural habitat.

A regal-looking crested blue jay reigns from a birch tree. An egg-filled nest nestles next to one corner of a door while a goldfinch perches on the other corner. A downy woodpecker pecks at a tree trunk next to the windows.

Under the row of windows, a chickadee sits in a berry bush while a gray squirrel crouches on a stump nearby. On the far side of the windows, a bright red cardinal stands out against a dark green fir tree.

The murals were paid for by the Giggling Gardeners Club and by the graduating fifth-grade class, said Whiteman.

"Bringing the outdoors in"

He has learned by trial and error, Whiteman said.

"The first season, we mostly fed the squirrels," he reported with a grin.

To outwit them, Whiteman talked to experts at Five Rivers Environmental Center in New Scotland. They recommended building a platform feeder for the squirrels; it worked. They left the bird feeders alone, he said.

"Their frequency and numbers have decreased this year," said Whiteman.

In addition to the platform feeder, which some of the birds use, too, there are seven feeding tubes and a small, clear feeder stuck directly to a window.

The station also features a heated birdbath.

The feeders are stocked with four different kinds of seed: black oil sunflower seed; a mixture of millet, cracked corn, and sunflower seed; nyger thistle seed for finches; and cracked corn, which is placed on the platform feeder and on the ground.

At first, Whiteman said, he had placed the feeders too close to the windows and the birds were frightened away by the activity inside.

He has conducted bird-watching workshops for each class and a display near the windows identifies different types of local birds.

The Westmere PTA is currently sponsoring a Courtyard Brick Drive to raise funds to further enhance the courtyard with the bird station and a second courtyard on the other side of the same hallway. Engraved bricks are on sale for $25 each through April 10. Families or individuals can put their names or other words on the bricks, which will be used to pave pathways in the courtyard.

The goal is to sell 350 bricks. A display in the school’s front lobby has pictures of the sold bricks piled in a paper wheelbarrow, indicating that 50 have been sold so far.

When the project is complete, Whiteman said, the courtyard with the feeding station will also have a "teaching garden" and the courtyard on the other side of the hallway will have an outdoor reading space near the library and a place where kindergarten classes can set up water tables.

Whiteman also hopes to be able to find funds to pay Radley to create a mural on the other side of the hallway, surrounding the windows there.

"We’re bringing the outdoors in," said Whiteman.

"A new culture"

But, as he unlocked the door to step outside, it was clear Whiteman was entering another world. Rabbit tracks could be seen, coming right up to the door, in the freshly-fallen snow.

Whiteman lifted the top off a silver barrel and scooped seed into a yellow cup, flinging it across the ground. He was coatless in the cold, winter air, but seemed unperturbed by the freezing temperatures.

"Chickadee-dee-dee!" he called, and called again. Miraculously, the silence was broken by several calls of "chickadee-dee-dee!" from the nearby bushes.

The barren branches came to life with the fluttering of little wings.

With encouragement, Whiteman let loose with the calls of other common birds.

"Everyone knows the crow," he said. "Caw! Caw! Caw!"

The blue jay" He let out a harsh cry: "Jay! Jay! Jay!"

Whiteman held out his hand, palm flat, filled with seed, fingers curved upward.

"I’ve never actually had a bird eat out of my hand, but they’ve come close," he said.

He stepped back inside just as a class of children filed by the window on their way to somewhere else. With his encouragement, the students turned to look at the world outside.

"Kids will see me in the hallway and tell me the count for chickadees," said Whiteman. "One class saw a hawk out here...

"There’s a new culture emerging in the school. People are talking about the birds they’ve seen or heard. You can hear it quite a ways in the hallway."

For seniors: Miller plans eight units now

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT — Altamont may get some senior housing sooner than most people expect.

Developer Troy Miller, of Altamont, is planning an eight-unit senior complex on vacant land across Park Street from the post office.

"I’ve lived here my whole life and I know the need for senior housing is huge," Miller said.

Miller bought the property, a 16,000-square-foot parcel of land, from Thomas and Sarah Ketchum about six months ago, he said. In the early nineties, the village designated that land for senior housing, and it remains the only land zoned specifically for that purpose, Miller said.

Another developer, Jeff Thomas, has, for the past couple of years, been planning a much larger senior complex—72 units—just outside of the village, on Brandle Road, called Brandle Meadows. Though there has been a lot of interest from area seniors hoping to move into Brandle Meadows, the project has gotten bogged down in litigation over drawing water from the village water system and a village well also planned for Brandle Road.

Thomas has also said he intends to build a senior housing complex in the Hilltowns.

Miller hopes his project will develop smoothly. He’s been working with the village to ensure that, he said.

"I sat down with the zoning administrator and we went through the entire zoning law and we tried to put together a project that doesn’t require any variances," Miller said. "So, we’re just trying to stay within the rules and make it quick and simple."

The Park Road complex will be a two-story building made up of eight 800-square foot apartments, each with one bedroom.

"The building will have an elevator and will be set up special for seniors," Miller said.

The housing will be attractive to elderly people who want to live close to stores and services, Miller said.

"It fits in well with Altamont as a walking community," he said.

Miller said he hasn’t decided yet what he is going to charge his tenants.

"It’s up in the air," he said. "I’m not really sure what the process is going to be as far as the village."

To help pay for $2.5 million worth of planned improvements to its water system, Altamont is currently considering charging a hookup fee of $2,500 per unit. Thomas has strongly opposed the fees, saying they are unfair to him and to seniors.

If the proposal is passed, Miller’s project will be subject to the same fees.

The Altamont Planning Board will hold a public hearing on Miller’s plan at Village Hall on Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. The plans are available at the village offices during normal business hours.

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