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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 24, 2007

"The Good Manners Project" awes as it informs

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — How do words become art"

The children at Westmere Elementary School know how.

Hundreds of them worked individually to create a collective work of art. Each student made a poster that answered the question, "How do you show good manners""

"If people drop, pick them up," says one.

"Never bite," says another.

"Don’t fake," says a third.

"Raise you hand," says a fourth.

"Do not spread rumors," says a fifth.

"Flush the toilet," says a sixth.

"Obviously, he didn’t edit the responses," said art teacher MaryK Weeks.

Graphic designer Nick Acemoglu supervised the project. Weeks saw the work he did for his bachelor’s degree in fine arts, "The Good Manners Coalition," and thought it would be a perfect fit with Guilderland’s anti-bullying campaign.

"It was all about treating people with respect," Weeks said. "I talked to him and see if he would come work with us."

He did. The district’s bullying prevention program sponsored Acemoglu as an artist in residence.

"He made giant magnets of fonts to show the students how to use fonts and spacing for an impactful message," said Weeks.

The kids played with the shapes and spaces. Each selected a type font and Acemoglu printed out the letters from his laptop computer.

The fonts ranged in style from formal and Gothic to playful and funky.

The students then arranged their letters in ways that best expressed their message. The individual posters — all with black letters on a white ground — were copied to form "The Good Manners Project."

The installation transformed a classroom.

"People say it looks like heaven," reported Weeks as she stood in the midst of the white wonderland of thoughtful advice.

The posters were strung from rows of string, all leading to a paper-draped desk at the far end. The effect was mesmerizing, with something to read at every level, from floor to ceiling.

Visitors to the exhibit, which ran from May 14 to 18, wrote their responses in a book, which was left just outside the door of the transformed classroom.

"Maybe these are ghosts," said Noah, a first-grader.

"This reminds me of a TV show called Dr. Who," said Katherine.

"I like how you put it up so tall people and small people can look," said Sierra.

"I think it looks like a snowy cave," wrote another Noah. "The black words are like part of the cave showing through."

"It looks like a masterpiece," wrote John.

"Outstanding! Outstanding! Outstanding! What an impressive display of thoughtful student work," wrote Gregory Aidala, the superintendent of schools.

"It was the best thing ever and soooooo cool and white," wrote student Ashlee Garcelon.

"It’s cool because it looks like a tunnel," wrote Kim.

"Kids are good artists," wrote Rachel.

"I had goose bumps! Some posters made me cry. Some made me laugh out loud. Some really made me think," wrote kindergarten teacher Dorine Phelan. "All made me so proud of the children and artists at Westmere. I was moved by the experience...really I was."

"My eyes nearly popped out....," wrote Aurora.

Westmere Principal Deborah Drumm summed it up for The Enterprise, saying, "This was so exciting for the kids."

She pointed out that the posters don’t have the individual student’s names on them. "It’s meant to be a collective statement," she said.

The visual inspiration to show respect for others really made an impression on the kids, she said.

When the door opened, revealing the artwork inside, said Weeks, the very kids who created it would say "awesome" or "amazing," or, she said, "They just gasped."

Although the show is now over and has been packed away, Weeks said, "We cannot throw this out....My gut feeling is there’s a next step to this. It needs to live on."

New super won’t be Guilderland Idol

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The new superintendent of schools here — whoever he or she turns out to be — won’t make a first public appearance on TV.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala is retiring in the fall and the school board Tuesday discussed how to proceed with more than 20 applicants.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo suggested that interviews with the final three candidates be televised, a process she said had worked well for districts in Massachusetts.

Reaching out to the community on TV is "a very important part of this district," said board member Peter Golden. The board televises its meetings.

"It reduces the superintendent selection to an American Idol type thing," objected board member Colleen O’Connell. "It’s not supposed to be a beauty pageant or a talent contest...I think it reduces the process."

Retiring board member Thomas Nachod said, "It’s just another way to divide the community and the board."

Board members John Dornbush, Hy Dubowsky, and Denise Eisele weren’t in favor of the televised interviews either so board President Richard Weisz concluded the consensus was not to do it.

Candidates are both in-state and out-of-state, said Weisz, but none are from the district.

The board has hired consultants from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services to review the applications and develop a narrower list, said Weisz.

The board agreed to lengthen its original schedule for the selection process so that committees can meet over the summer to interview candidates.

The board will meet with its BOCES consultants on May 29 and then, during June, will narrow the field for committee review, said Aidala.

In July, teams that include representatives from the bargaining units and the school cabinets as well as from the PTA and the community will interview perhaps as many as eight candidates in the first round.

That group will then be narrowed to three or four finalists, said Weisz.

Hansbury-Zuendt to supervise two departments

The $82 million budget for next year, passed overwhelmingly by Guilderland School District voters last week, included a $67,000 savings by combining the supervisors’ posts for English and social studies at the high school, a move to which faculty in both departments objected.

On Tuesday, the board voted to abolish the two supervisors’ posts and create a 12-month position to supervise English, reading, and social studies. The board appointed the current English supervisor, Patricia Hansbury-Zuendt, to the new post. The social-studies supervisor is retiring.

Only Fraterrigo voted against the change. All through budget discussions, she had favored keeping a supervisor for each discipline. Fraterrigo said Tuesday that it is "a disservice to the teachers as well as the students" to combine the posts.

Golden pointed out that the board had wanted to try the combined posts for just a year.

"If, after a year, we decided to go to a different plan," said Aidala, "we’d go through the same three-step process."

After the vote, Weisz looked at Hansbury-Zuendt, who sat in the gallery, and said, "Congratulations or condolences as the case may be."

She laughed.

Hansbury-Zuendt has supervised the English Department at Guilderland High School for 13 years and taught English for 16 years before that. She has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and has completed her Ph.D. requirements, except for writing her dissertation — all in English, she said earlier.

In her new post, she will supervise nearly double the number of teachers; there are 18 social-studies teachers.

Hansbury-Zuendt said earlier that she has no formal background in social studies but has a "personal interest" in the subject.

She told The Enterprise Tuesday night that she is excited about her new duties. "It’s not a combining of the two departments," she said. "It will create interesting opportunities for cross conversation."

Other business
In other business, the board:

— Established a memorial scholarship in the name of Kenneth C. LeVine to recognize a graduating student who loves computers and wants to pursue a career with computers;

— In a split vote, 6 to 2, decided to reject a bid from Passonno Paints for paint and paint supplies for the upcoming school year.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders said that eight vendors were solicited but only Passonno submitted a bid and it would be "difficult to show the public we got the best price" if there was only one bid.

"Everybody had the opportunity to bid and chose not to for whatever reason," said Nachod. He and Fraterrigo voted against rejecting the bid as Fraterrigo cited "fair play."

"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds," said Weisz, partially quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The district will advertise for new bids to try to increase competition;

— Adopted two policies — one on conditional staff appointments and the other on allowing students not yet in high school to play interscholastic sports;

— Heard a suggestion from Dornbush that the district website list what each member of the senior class is planning to do after graduation "to show the community, these are our graduates...This is our product."

Weisz said there were privacy concerns, and O’Connell said that The Journal, the student newspaper at the high school, publishes such a list;

— Heard congratulations for senior Diana Moore from Nancy Andress, the assistant superintendent for instruction. Moore has been selected as the winner of a National Merit Scholarship;

— Learned that the Hudson-Mohawk Birding Club has awarded $250 to Westmere Elementary School for its bird-watching center, developed by enrichment teacher Robert Whiteman;

— Heard that Guilderland High School students under the direction of art teachers Meredith Best and Rae Marie Schauer and media director Nicholas Viscio won awards at the 2006-07 Annual Media Arts Festival.

Sophomore Matt Hart won Best Narrative Drama in the video category for his piece, "Quiet boy."

Juniors Ethan Young, Valera Zakharenko, and Denis Zunon won Best Action Video and Best Editing Video for their piece, "The Package."

Senior Brendan Chapman got an honorable mention for his digital photograph, "Welcome to America."

Senior Chelsie Richards got an honorable mention for her graphic design, "Vendetta Studios."

Also, these students participated in a project with The College of Saint Rose to create a poster for the Hunger Action Network: seniors Chelsie Richards and Stacy White, and junior Kristin Wood;

— Learned that a team of high-school students — junior John Raffensperger, and seniors Miles Malerba, Robert Dygert, and Eric Trottier — won the first-place trophy in Siena College’s Programming contest. The students, advised by Warren Bollinger and Dave Kosier, were given seven problems that required them to work as a team to write a commuter program as a solution;

— Heard that the public is invited to the Second Annual Living Museum of American History at the high school gym on May 31. Students will portray famous Americans and answer questions in character. The first session runs from noon to 2 p.m. and the second from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.;

— Heard that Ryan Pendergast, an eighth-grader at Farnsworth Middle School, won the Fulvi Love of Language Award from the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers. He won a $50 savings bond for his understanding of the Spanish language and culture;

— Learned that Farnsworth science teacher Julie Long and enrichment teacher Deb Escobar were inducted into the National Honor Roll as Outstanding American Teachers;

— Heard that school will be closed on May 25 because the spare day wasn’t needed for inclement weather or an emergency closing; and

— Went into executive session to discuss the appointment of a superintendent of building and grounds and for a negotiation update.

Contract ratified
School office workers get 4-percent raise for three years

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The office workers at Guilderland schools have a new three-year contract, providing 3.95 percent raises each year.

The school board ratified the contract Tuesday night by a vote of 7 to 0.

School board President Richard Weisz called it "another collaborative...negotiation in which both parties compromised."

"We moved forward," said Karen Cornell, co-president of the Guilderland Office Workers Association.

The new contract had "overwhelming" support from GOWA members, being ratified with a vote of 44 to 4, she said.

"We’re pleased a lot of the language was straightened out," Cornell said yesterday.

Procedures were set up for items that had been just clauses in the contract — like evaluation and sick-leave bank, she said, which took time and committee work to develop but were worth the effort.

Cornell was on the negotiation team with Co-President Patricia Mossall.

"I got a lot of positive feedback from members, thanking us," said Cornell.

The contract runs from July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2009.

It’s retroactive, said Susan Tangorre, assistant superintendent for human resources, because of "timing issues with some new officers."

GOWA has 67 members, she said, and is affiliated with New York State United Teachers. NYSUT’s labor-relations specialist Michael Rowan worked on the negotiations.

Tangorre went over the key elements of the contract with The Enterprise yesterday.

She said of the GOWA workers, many of whom staff the seven school offices, "Often, they are that first voice, speaking to the public, and they work with the staff and the students."

Tangorre said the contract hadn’t been "touched" in 15 years and much of the neogtiations centered around "contract cleanup."

"We had to align it with Civil Service regulations and titles," she said. "Laws have changed," Tangorre said, giving the example of how workers are compensated for unused vacation time when they retire. "We’re legally required to pay; we can’t hand you cash," she said. "Now we’re allowed by law to put it in a tax-sheltered annuity."

This contract, like others the distsrict has recently negotiated, includes an evaluation system.

"There had been a brief probationary evaluation in compliance with Civil Service regulations," said Tangorre. "After that, evaluation was really almost discretionary."

Now, GOWA workers will regularly undergo "performance-based evaluation," said Tangorre. "That will be very different for these folks; some haven’t been evaluated formally in years," she said.

The new contract creates a third level of office workers — Level 1 workers, who, Tangorre said, primarily operate copying machines.

"They are not career positions," she said. "Most people don’t stay in them."

The Level 1 workers progress up a series of five steps for each year they work at the district. Workers on the first step this year earn $10.50 an hour and will earn $11.27 in 2008-09, the last year of the contract. Level 1 workers on the top step now earn $11.50 an hour and will earn $12.27 the last year of the contract.

Level 2 workers, who are entry-level keyboard specialists and account clerks, now earn $10.98 an hour at the first step and will earn $11.53 the final year of the contract. Level 2 and 3 workers progress up nine steps. A top-step Level 2 worker now earns $12.69 an hour and will earn $13.07 in the final year of the contract.

Level 3 workers are senior keyboard specialists and senior account clerks, who do data entry, and one offset print-machine operator. They have a "higher level of responsibility," said Tangorre than the Level 2 workers. The titles, she explained, are set by Civil Service.

Level 3 workers on the first step now earn $11.96 an hour and will earn $12.55 in 2008-09. Level 3 workers on the top, or ninth, step now earn $13.67 and will earn $14.22 on the last year of the contract.

GEA contract

At its last meeting, the board ratified a four-year contract with the Guilderland Employees Association, which has 207 members, including bus drivers and monitors, food-service workers, and maintenance workers.

Weisz announced at the May 8 meeting that the raises are 3.72 percent for the first year, 3.78 percent for the second year, and 3.9 percent for the third and fourth years of the contract.

After printing this on May 10, The Enterprise heard objections that the increase for the first year was actually 1.54 percent and for the second year is 1.62 percent, while the 3.9-percent raise is correct for the last two years of the contract.

"They count step increases; it’s not a pay raise," said one GEA member. He also said, "The school district gave us a 1-percent raise if we ratified the contract. To me, that’s a bribe."

A copy of the contract shows, for example, a bus driver on the top, or 10th step, earning $20.09 an hour in 2005-06, which is 30 cents more an hour than a driver earned on the top step in 2004-05 — a 1.5 percent raise.

The next year, in 2006-07, the contract shows a top-step driver earning $20.41, which is 32 cents more an hour than a top-step driver earned the year before — a 1.6 percent raise.

Asked this week about the discrepancy, Tangorre said of step increases and raises, "It’s usually an average of all of it"Each unit can disseminate it however they want in negotiation."

She referred further questions to Neil Sanders, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.

Sanders said that the figures announced by Weisz are "a reflection of the total salary increases for all unit members from the base year."

He went on, "Not everybody gets the same increase"We have variations in the steps. This was true in the old contract, too. You can’t look at one person in isolation."

He said of the current fee schedule and the raises. "It was never intended to be a flat percentage increase"That’s not the model."

Asked about the 1 percent of the previous year’s salary, Sanders said, "One thing we looked at was some additional money — a pot of money to be distributed to employees on a more equitable basis than the step schedule."

It was distributed equally to members based on hours worked, he said.

"It was one way to get a settlement in a year when we were having difficulty getting a settlement," concluded Sanders. "It wasn’t tied to ratification whatsoever."

19th-Century machines in use today

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Buckwheat kept the sweeping fields of Pleasant View Farms above the Great Depression and Everett Rau still plows those fields with the tractor and plow that his brother bought in 1929.

"Most people started the day with buckwheat pancakes," said Rau of the 1930’s. He and his brother planted their family’s 135-acre farm on Lainhart Road with buckwheat, and a flour mill in Galway bought all of it, Rau said.

Now, he uses the tractor to teach people about the history of farming, a lesson that is dear to him. For years, he has grown spring wheat on his family’s farm, harvesting it with antique equipment, and he has demonstrated the use of historic farm machinery at the Altamont Fair.

Between 1830 and 1880, there was great progress in the evolution of farm machinery. Since then, Rau said, not much has changed. "Believe it or not, the $300,000 combines they use out West, use the very same principals," he said, comparing today’s agricorporate technology to the equipment developed in the middle of the 19th Century.

By 1830, villages had developed in America and, for the first time, there was a significant population that wasn’t able to grow all of its own food, Rau said. This demand for food required that farmers produce more food, more efficiently.

"For thousands of years, grain was cut with a sickle, then a scythe, then a cradle," said Rau. With the most efficient of the three, the cradle, the grain still required threshing. A man could only thresh about five or six bushels of wheat in a day, he said, and a day was "from first light to first dark."

After a threshing machine was developed, there was still the cleaning and separating process, said Rau. "Heretofore, they would have a winnowing basket," which farmers would use to throw the wheat up into the air so that the chaff would blow away and the wheat would fall into the basket again. This early separating process is why barns were built with Dutch doors, Rau said; they served as a "manual wind-velocity adjustment."

A fanning mill replaced the winnowing basket, and, by 1880, there were machines that could cut, bind, and thresh the grains.

Rau still uses the antique machines because it’s important to pass the history on to younger generations, he said. It’s the same reason he cares about restoring his family’s 19th-Century Dutch barns. "To me," he said, "there’s a physical history to an old building, but there’s a spiritual history, too."

When the country plunged into the Great Depression after the stock market crashed in 1929, "Here, we never knew it," Rau said, standing on the farm that has been in his family for generations, since the 1700’s. Reading about soup lines and suicide in the newspapers "blew my mind," he said. His family was stable with their equipment and crops. "The buckwheat saved this farm," said Rau.

From the alps to Altamont
Visions of the Virgin celebrated

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Spreading the story of LaSalette took missionaries from their native France, from which they were expelled, to Northern Europe, where they found no refuge, to the shores of America, where they built a shrine on the shoulder of the Helderbergs.

The Missionaries of LaSalette were first welcomed in Connecticut, said Father Jeffrey L’Arche, who lives and works at the Shrine of LaSalette that is nestled into the escarpment off of Route 146. Their headquarters are still in Hartford, but the shrine has been in Altamont since 1924, when they bought the old Kushaqua Hotel and turned it into a seminary.

It has been pared down since then, L’Arche said. When the old hotel burned in 1952, missionaries built a brick building that they later sold to Father Peter Young. The shrine is now across the street on 52 acres that used to be Henry Boyd Thacher’s estate. L’Arche lives there with two brothers, some chickens, and a cat.

He holds a weekly mass there, every Wednesday night, but really the shrine serves as a ministerial center, L’Arche said, a place for days of recollection, parish missions, and rosary rallies, like the one held here last week for Our Lady of Fatima.

On May 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal, the story goes. She returned each month, for the next six months, on the 13th. A piece of the Holm oak tree that she appeared over sits at the feet of her statue in Edward Breitenbach’s living room.

He is a deeply religious man who has faith in the stories of miracles and is eager to share their meaning.

The statue came from Father Harold Colgan, founder of the Blue Army, Breitenbach said. In 1947, Colgan was told that he had only six months to live, so he prayed to Our Lady of Fatima and promised to spread her story throughout the world if he lived, said Breitenbach.

"Six months later, he was given a total healing," said Breitenbach. "He said to his parishioners, ‘Wear something blue. We are going to be the Blue Army in opposition to the Red Army of Russia.’" And so the Blue Army, which is now 23 million strong, was born.

Now, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima is used for healing, says Breitenbach. He takes it to the homes of the sick and ailing to heal them. Years ago, he took the relic, pieces of the Holm oak, to a man who had severe heart problems; they prayed together. The man has since healed, Breitenbach said, and sends a check for $125 every month, without fail, to help Breitenbach produce a newsletter about Our Lady of Fatima.

He and his late wife spent 45 days taking the statue to every church in the diocese, said Breitenbach. When he went to gather it up after one visit, he found a woman in tears at the foot of Mary. Her son had been paralyzed in an accident.

Breitenbach switched rosaries with her and prayed. The next month, she was back again. "His arms are starting to move. His legs are starting to move," she said, and again they prayed with the relic.

The next month she came back and said, "He’s in a wheelchair. He’s back in college." They prayed a third time, and, when she came back the next month, she said, "He’s walking."

Mary and her relic traveled to the Shrine of LaSalette, most recently, for a celebration of the 90th anniversary of Our Lady’s first appearance at Fatima. The celebration drew a crowd of about 150, L’Arche guessed.

Before she appeared to the children in Portugal, Our Lady appeared to a pair of children in the French Alps, in a place called LaSalette. The story is similar to her later appearance at Fatima in that the virgin appeared to children, upset, warning them about the future and begging for man to repent.

The shrine is there for people to come to for peace and to answer questions, L’Arche said.

"It’s a very tender story," he said. "It’s a very compelling story."

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