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Back-to-School Special Section — The Altamont Enterprise, August 23, 2007

Bates says she’s an ‘avid bookworm’

By Rachel Dutil

VOORVEESVILLE – Colleen Bates was in math class when she first learned about Tech Valley High School.

Her Voorheesville Middle School guidance counselor came into the class and told the students about the new school and encouraged anyone who was interested to apply.

She went home and looked at the website and showed it to her parents, Gary and Betsy Bates. They decided "it looked like a pretty good idea," Bates recalled.

While on a family vacation in Williamsburg, Bates received a phone call from Principal Mark Diefendorf informing her that she "got it," she said.

At that point, Bates thought she would be going to school in Voorheesville, and had decided to try out for the junior-varsity volleyball team.

McKenzie Campbell had originally been selected to attend Tech Valley High School, located in Troy, but her family moved out of state.

This week, Bates was in the midst of volleyball tryouts. If she makes the team, she will be about 45 minutes late for practice every day because of the commute from Troy into Voorheesville, she said. The coach has said that wouldn’t be a problem.

Her first day of school at Tech Valley is also the team’s first game – in Cobleskill, she said with a bright smile.

Her best friend from Voorheesville is also trying out for the JV team, she said, indicating that she feels pretty sure that her friend will make the team.

If they both make the team, Bates said, it would be great to see her friend every day at practice, now that they won’t be in school together.

Mrs. Bates phoned The Enterprise late Wednesday afternoon to proudly report that her daughter had made the team.

Though she has already made one friend, Bates admits that she is a little nervous about making friends at her new school.

At a recent barbecue for the new students and faculty, Bates said she met a "horsey-friend" – a friend who has horses. Bates has been riding "since I was old enough to ride," she said. She rides every week in Guilderland.

Bates also had a chance to meet Tech Valley’s principal, Daniel Leibert, whom she said is "very funny," as well as the teachers.

"The principal and the teachers are all very enthusiastic," said Mrs. Bates.

Colleen Bates classifies herself as an "avid bookworm," and says she likes to play on the computer.

She is looking forward to working more with computers, as well as other people, she said. "I don’t have a good public speaking voice" or public anything," said Bates, anxious to hone those skills.

Bates is "really, really, really excited," she said, about being able to go out of the school to learn, citing an example of going to the Hudson River and testing the water and locating fish.

She is also excited to work with people in her areas of interest, she said. She can envision herself becoming a veterinary assistant, a zookeeper, or a kindergarten teacher, she said.

Her parents are excited for their daughter. "We can’t help but be excited for Colleen," Mr. Bates said. "I think it’s a great opportunity," he added.

Bates’s younger brother, Kevin, is also excited for his sister. He is going into the seventh-grade at Bethlehem Children’s School. "I think it’s a great opportunity for her to meet new friends," Kevin said. "I’m looking forward to the day when I might apply to Tech Valley High School," he added.

Bates said that she isn’t bothered by the fact that her class will be the first at Tech Valley High – the first of its kind in New York State, though there are hundreds throughout the nation.

"Being the first class is actually going to be a benefit," she said. "We get one year where we can be all by ourselves," she said.

"It’s all going to be a new experience," said Mrs. Bates.

"We look at it as an opportunity, not just for Colleen, but for New York State education as a whole," said Mr. Bates. He is happy that the school places so much importance on teamwork, he said. "If you don’t work as a team, and work well with them" you don’t get the knowledge of the whole group," he said.

"I was very pleased that she was interested, and approached the subject," he said of his daughter’s interest in applying. "She’s very open to new ideas," he said. "She’s taken a step out on the risky side, and I’m proud of her for it."

Premier class act for Tech Valley High
DeNyse from BKW

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Josh DeNyse is one of 40 students in the Capital Region making a significant change this fall. Instead of reporting to the Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School, DeNyse will be attending Tech Valley High School.

Though he’ll be making a jump to a different school with new surroundings, DeNyse, sitting outside the BKW elementary school last spring, spoke calmly and wisely about change.

Tech Valley, promoted as a project-based learning environment, will have just 40 students in its first class. Students will report to the school at the headquarters of MapInfo Corporation in the Rensselaer Technology Park in Troy. By 2009, Tech Valley plans to move to its own location along the Interstate 90 corridor and enroll about 400 students.

At Tech Valley, students will take college-level courses and have laptop computers with them at all times.

Tech Valley doesn’t offer sports teams, but Fred Marcil, BKW’s junior-high principal, is trying to figure out a way for DeNyse to get back to Berne from Troy for baseball practices, DeNyse said. Making the lengthy daily bus ride to Troy, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to attend all of the team’s practices.

After hearing about Tech Valley through his cousin, DeNyse said he then told his parents, who encouraged him to visit the BKW guidance office.

"I kind of liked what I read," he said. He then filled out an application and was accepted.

DeNyse said he likes Tech Valley’s programs because they offer different learning strategies — not lectures but projects — and because he’ll be presenting projects to business associates. Working on projects, he said, will help with presentation and group skills. DeNyse said he works well in groups because he openly expresses his ideas.

He is looking forward to the school’s hands-on approach.

"If you’re going to study a plant, I think it would be better to go outside and look at the plant, not to look at a picture of the plant," he said. Denyse also prefers learning through animal dissections, rather than memorization.

Next year, while attending Tech Valley, DeNyse said, he’ll miss his friends. "Your friends are your friends," he said. But, he said, some of them might move away. Attending Tech Valley, he said, is a way for him "to try and be set for life instead of just hanging out with my friends."

"Most of my friends don’t want me to go," he said, but he can still hang out with them on the weekends, and lives just a short bike ride from some of their homes.

DeNyse’s mother, Bridget DeNyse, is a long-time secretary at Albany High School, he said, and has been a secretary to house principals. Josh DeNyse said his mother told him he knows the English teacher chosen to teach at Tech Valley High this year. Bridget DeNyse also worked for Tech Valley principal Dan Liebert, he said. "My mom’s connected to most of the people I know," he said.

After high school, DeNyse plans to join the United States Marine Corps, continue his education, and become an engineer. He wants to design military aircraft and has "been fascinated by military airplanes for a long time."

DeNyse’s grandfather and uncles on his father’s side served in the military. "I’ve always been interested in the military, but I never got around to talking with them about it," he said. "We were always busy doing something else, and my grandfather died," he said.

Tech Valley’s orientation was in April, but DeNyse didn’t attend because he had a baseball game. "My duty is to this school first, not that school, because I’m not a student there yet," he said. "I do believe I’ll get along well with those kids because I’m a good people person."

Proud to be in the first class of Tech Valley High
Logan O’Neil says, "It’s more of a privilege than a pressure"

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Logan Mercedes O’Neil shatters the stereotype that girls aren’t good at science or don’t like math.

Her favorite subject, ever, was earth science, a high-school course that she took last year as an eighth-grader, and she loves math — especially algebra.

"Mrs. Kelly was the best teacher I’ve ever had," said O’Neil of Carol Kelly who taught about rocks and minerals, weather and astronomy. "When she saw it clicked for us, she was so happy."

O’Neil, an "A" student, got up early to take the course with other accelerated students before the start of Farnsworth Middle School classes. This allowed her to take the regular eighth-grade science course as well.

She wasn’t fazed by the early-morning hour. In typical silver-lining stance, she relished the time spent with her father, who gave her a ride to the class.

Her father, Tim O’Neil, is a special-education teacher in Troy. Logan is looking forward to riding to school with him every weekday morning this year as she is a member of the first class of Tech Valley High School.

A joint venture of two area BOCES, the school is opening on a business campus — Rensselaer Technology Park in Troy — and will draw from school districts in seven counties.

Some Guilderland School Board members had balked early this year at the $18,000 fee for a student to attend, about 60 percent of which will be reimbursed the next year. But other school board members prevailed, saying it was similar to fees for other BOCES programs and, as the first such program in New York, would serve as a model for other schools.

The project has a grant from New Technology Foundation, which wants to replicate the success of New Tech High School in Napa, Calif., opened a decade ago. That school has no textbooks and no library but offers a technology-rich environment.

The new school will feature inquiry-based learning where students pick a topic to study and work together as a team to solve a problem, according to Nancy Andress, a Guilderland administrator on Tech Valley High’s advisory team.

The small school, which will add a grade-level each year, won’t offer the traditional team sports and clubs and social activities of a public high school.

"They have their finger on the employability and skills that are needed in the real world," said Andress. While learning at the school will meet state standards, she said, "This school is hoping to engage students in a different way than stand and deliver."

That’s just fine with Logan O’Neil.

At 14, she has no set career path in mind but is eager to learn new things, to find out what she likes best, she said.

She plans to be at Tech Valley High until she graduates, but she’s not going because she’s unhappy about anything in her earlier schooling. She started in the full-day kindergarten program at Christ the King, then went to Guilderland Elementary through fifth grade before moving on to Farnsworth.

"I’ve always really liked school," said O’Neil. "I love learning new things."

She has learned outside of the classroom as well. O’Neil has taken piano lessons since she was in the first grade and plays everything from classical music to jazz. She took up the violin at school in the fourth grade and has played with the Empire Youth Orchestra String Ensemble.

O’Neil does hip-hop dance, taking lessons at Tynan’s, behind Stuyvesant Plaza. Hip-hop, she explains, "involves some jazz but with loser movements"It looks unchoreographed because it’s so fluid."

She also rows crew. O’Neil started rowing the summer after sixth grade at the Albany Rowing Center and this summer she went to a camp in Annapolis, Maryland, which had girls from across the country and as far away as London.

"They gave a lot of constructive comments that helped with my rowing technique," said O’Neil.

She plans to pursue the sport this spring with a team from Guilderland. "I love being out on the water," she said. "It’s exercise but you don’t realize it because it’s so much fun. I also like working with the other rowers."

O’Neil has always enjoyed the water — she has passed the Level Six Red Cross swimming test — and spent most of this summer at her family’s camp near Schroon Lake. "It’s a little camp with just one bedroom," she said. "I love to go out on the boat and swim." She especially enjoyed swimming in a "really cold" stream near her house.

She also likes playing with Daisy, her family’s yellow Labrador retriever, who turned three on April 30.

New challenges have always piqued O’Neil’s interest.

She heard about the new high school from a friend who went to a Tech Valley summer camp.

"I wanted to apply because it sounded like a great opportunity," she said. "I’d get to work with a bunch of new people. I’m excited about the project-based learning, and having more hands-on activities and working with others."

When she first found out she was admitted, O’Neil said, she had "mixed feelings." She explained, "I didn’t know what it was going to be like. But I was really excited and proud I got in."

She also said, "It will help me find out what I do and don’t like. I really don’t have a career path. I really don’t know what I want to be. This will help me find out."

O’Neil likes the classmates she’s met at the three get-togethers that have been held so far. She has good friends at Guilderland, which she plans to keep although she won’t be going to school with them.

She credits her parents for her self-confidence. "They help me a lot. My dad’s a teacher. And my mom always practices with me when I have to present projects."

She says she feels more excitement than pressure being in the first class of a new school. "I can help other people learn about Tech Valley," she said. "It’s more of a privilege than a pressure."

BKW leaders prepare for new year

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — The leaders of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board hope to forge ahead this year with academics and a building project.

President Maureen Sikule and Vice President John Harlow, who rotated into their posts in July, said the five-member board may apply to be a school of excellence.

The board, with two new members — Helen Lounsbury and Michelle Fusco — met in July to brainstorm annual goals, then met this week to established those goals.

The board wants the school to be recognized for excellence. One of the options is the Blue Ribbon Schools Program, part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Kimberly LaBelle, BKW’s assistant superintendent for elementary and special education, is researching school-of-excellence programs, said Superintendent Steven Schrade this week.

To be considered a school of excellence, Harlow said, BKW must be accessible to those with handicaps.

For nearly a year, the school board, driven by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, has considered multiple plans to renovate their schools to make them accessible to those with handicaps.

After considering a number of options, the committee recently agreed conceptually to a plan that includes the construction of a new cafeteria, library, industrial arts room, and boys’ and girls’ locker rooms in the high school, said Schrade.

The current gymnasium will be remodeled to make the locker rooms accessible; there will be added energy savings by remodeling the gym because its walls, made of sheet metal, will be replaced by more insulated walls, he said.

Schrade estimated the project will cost $12.5 million, and the average annual impact to the current tax levy will be less than 1 percent.

BKW will use the state’s building aid, which will fund 79 percent of the project, as well as $340,000 in EXCEL (EXpanding our Children’s Education and Learning) aid and $1.5 million from the district’s capital reserve, Schrade said.

BKW is currently waiting for the required environmental impact study, he said.

Sikule pointed to the project and the funding that has been set aside.

"I think our administration has done a good job to keep the cost to the district at a minimum while still making it handicapped-accessible," she said. The school board has also done a good job by using leftover funds and set the money aside into a facility reserve to keep the cost of the project down, Sikule said.

Neither Sikule nor Harlow were concerned about the building project resulting in a disruptive environment for students.

Each year, the board sets as one of its goals to improve communication. Despite its website, its newsletter, and articles in The Altamont Enterprise, some are not aware of what is going on at BKW, Schrade said.


One of the board’s goals for this school year is to increase its college acceptance rate.

Around 80-percent of graduates are accepted to colleges, but, by the time September comes around, students may be doing different things, Schrade said.

He said the district is hoping to increase students’ desire to pursue post-secondary education.

Harlow has compared results on state-required tests with other districts in the Capital Region.

"I’ll never be satisfied," said Harlow, a Berne resident who, after retiring from Knoll’s Atomic Power Laboratory, now runs a business reselling technical equipment. He added, "It seemed like we did very, very, very well."

Sikule agreed. "I think there are always target areas you need to look at," said Sikule, a Westerlo resident who works as a database administrator for the State’s Thruway Authority. "I think, overall, our school has done well."

This year, BKW will begin teaching foreign language at the elementary school. In the past, foreign language had been taught as an after-school PTA program and formal instruction began in middle school. Harlow is pleased foreign language will be taught at BKW Elementary.

"It’s been my goal for seven years," he said.

Harlow has been a proponent of teaching Chinese to elementary-school students.

"Would I encourage it" Yes. Would I demand it" No," Harlow said.

"China is a very powerful force. We’re going to have to compete with them. They’re paying attention to English because they want to do business," he said.

Harlow’s wife, Karol, a former BKW School Board member, is the principal at Germantown Central School, a rural school in Columbia County. She recently returned from China with a teacher who will be teaching classes in Chinese language and culture at Germantown, he said.

An after-school program, in conjunction with the Duanesburg Area Community Center has been proposed.

Schrade said programs offered by the Duanesburg center could be "a supplement" to BKW’s current programs and would not replace the PTA’s programs.

The Duanesburg center is located in Delanson, "ten miles away," and is currently undergoing construction and is going to have a swimming pool. Construction is expected to be completed in mid- to late fall.

BKW students could be bused to the center for recreational swimming and swimming lessons, he said.

"All activities would here, on site," said Schrade.

If a state grant is obtained and approved by the board of education, funding would not begin until March, he said.

The state announced this week that the center will receive a $315,000 grant from the Office of Small Cities to purchase furniture, fixtures, and equipment for the new facility.

John Harlow said he wants all children in Berne to come out of the school system with the ability to do practical math in their heads and to have a practical understanding of math. He pointed to real-life situations, such as buying a house or buying a car.

"It’s very easy not to know how to add or subtract in your head," he said. He added, "I’m not denigrating computers. I’m not denigrating calculators."

Students, he said, should also have a practical understanding of science.

While listening to radio stations, Harlow said, he has found that some young people cannot answer basic questions, such as: At what temperature does water freeze" And: Is the moon bigger than the sun"

"Not at BKW," he added.

"Hopefully, we can work to accomplish good things for BKW," Harlow said of the upcoming year.

Sikule hopes to have ongoing evaluations of BKW’s programs. With new technology, she said, it’s important for us to continue to evaluate and make sure they are accomplishing what our children need.

She would like to see positives continue — very open discussions during meetings and the board’s openness to ideas.

Underwood steers transportation at BKW

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — The transportation department at Berne-Knox-Westerlo has a new face. Russ Underwood was recently hired as supervisor of transportation.

He replaces long-time director Alan Zuk, who retired this summer.

Underwood described the workings in the transportation department as "a team effort" and said everyone plays an integral part.

"It takes everybody to make sure everything goes smoothly," said Underwood.

Before he was hired at BKW, Underwood worked for Guilderland Central School for almost nine years as a mechanic and lead mechanic on the second shift. He also drove a school bus.

Underwood said the supervisor position at BKW appealed to him because it advances his career.

"It was a chance to work with a team of drivers, mechanics, and other school staff to safely transport students to and from school in a safe and professional manner," he said.

Four bus mechanics at BKW maintain a fleet of 54 buses, including Chevrolet Suburbans. Dave Clark, who is also the chief of the Berne Volunteer Fire Company, is the transportation department’s head mechanic.

Mechanics, Underwood said, have to meet a high criteria from the state’s Department of Transportation.

When school starts on Sept. 6, BKW will be transporting approximately 1,120 students to 42 different locations on 53 runs throughout the day, Underwood said.

"I look forward to a new school year and new challenges along the way," he said.

Crown jewels shine, teaching dance at Guilderland Ballet

By Rachel Dutil

GUILDERLAND – Jane DeRook says that, in her next life, she will start ballet at the age of 6.

DeRook, who claims to have "two left feet," founded the Guilderland Ballet, which is about to begin its 40th year.

The school was founded in 1968; DeRook said that it took two years before the town fully backed the idea. "I made it difficult for them" I kept pushing," she remembered proudly.

DeRook moved to the United States from "war-stricken Europe" in 1954, to finish her post-graduate medical studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She grew up in Indonesia, and got her medical education in the Netherlands.

"I had never seen a ballet in my life," DeRook said. It was her 5-year-old daughter, Frances, who began DeRook’s deep appreciation for the art of ballet.

"She danced through the house," DeRook said with a smile, remembering her child’s movements.

DeRook started searching for a dance school for her daughter, she said. "It drove me to think the town should offer something good," she said.

At first, classes were offered at Westmere Elementary School, and gradually, she said, more classes such as pre-ballet and jazz, were added. The Guilderland Ballet also now offers Pilates and yoga.

The demand for more class time steadily increased, and became too much for the elementary school to handle. DeRook remembered that, at one point, the ballet school’s future "looked very bleak."

In 1987, developer Armand Quadrini donated an old hay barn to the Guilderland Ballet on the Mill Hill property he owned off of Route 155 in Guilderland. DeRook remembers neighbors and friends asking her, "Jane, did you see the barn"

"With help from the community, we managed to turn it into a ballet studio," DeRook said, of the barn where the Guilderland Ballet still takes up residency.

Over the years, the school acquired another building, formerly the chapel of the Mill Hill missionaries, and later built on an entryway and main office. The town has contributed to the undertaking.

Antique pews from the old chapel provide seating for the students in the dressing room.

DeRook, who recently retired from medical practice, has learned what she knows about ballet through her interest, she says. "It’s one of the most beautiful arts," she said.

Ballet brings together music, composing, choreography, theater, lighting, and costume, said DeRook. "It’s such a conglomerate of the arts," she added.

"Learning how to dance is basically like learning to speak," DeRook said. "It’s a process," she said, learning the letters, forming words, putting words together, until you have a story.

Ballet is demanding – it requires flexibility, musicality, and determination, DeRook said.

"Kids nowadays have too many opportunities," DeRook said. "I don’t think you should automatically enroll a 5-year-old in a soccer class.

"It’s hard to make up lost time in life," she said.

"The strength of our 40 years has been our staff," DeRook said of the school. "We have a very good record," she said. "I give credit to our teachers."

"Crown jewels"

Julie Gale has been teaching at Guilderland Ballet for three years. She has been dancing since she was 3 years old, she said.

"Julie is one of our crown jewels," said DeRook.

Gale’s mother enrolled her in a ballet school in New Jersey, where she grew up, because there were no kids on the block, she said. "She thought it would be a good way to make friends," said Gale.

She began training with Fred Danieli when she was 6. "It was the real thing," Gale remembered. "One class a week became two, then three" And then it was every day," she said.

Danieli founded the Garden State Ballet, which Gale joined when she was 13.

The group toured around New Jersey, performing a show called Introduction to Ballet, said Gale.

"I was 13 and among people 18 and up," she said.

The group was on the road for about 13 weeks, and would perform two shows each day, she remembered.

Following the afternoon performance, Gale said, "I had to go back to the hotel and do homework.

"It was very interesting as an educational process," said Gale. "It was a great learning experience."

"The stage became home," she said.

Gale said that there used to be a preconceived notion that dancers were dumb. Danieli used to tell his students, "You have to be smart to be a dancer."

Because Gale had to take her glasses off to perform and she didn’t yet have contact lenses, she wasn’t able to see the audience. She admits that it may have made it easier.

"She has a tremendous memory," DeRook said of her star teacher, recalling that Gale had remembered the steps to a dance she had done with the Garden State Ballet when she was 13. "That was remarkable to me," DeRook said.

Ballet is more than dancing; it teaches a student "how to conduct oneself as a professional and a decent person," said Gale.

"Ballet goes far beyond learning steps," said DeRook. Gale offers expertise to her students "not just as a dancer, but as a teacher and choreographer," DeRook added.

Music is an important aspect of ballet, Gale said. "I tell my students to listen to the music," she said. "It’s a great musical education for them."

"I’m truly in awe at what a dance teacher gives to students," said DeRook. "You have to develop them mentally and physically," she said, adding that, as a physician, she places importance on the physical aspect.

"A lot of people don’t realize how important ballet is as a foundation," Gale said. The good dancers have always started with ballet, she said.

"Education is never wasted," DeRook said.

Gale advises her students to learn all parts of a ballet. "You’ve got to learn everything, even if you think you’re never going to do it," she said.

"The show must go on," DeRook said, even if a dancer is sick.

The male role

Gale will introduce ballroom dancing at the Guilderland Ballet beginning in September. "I’m personally very excited about it," said DeRook.

Gale is planning to combine elements of Latin salsa, swing, rumba, and cha-cha – dance styles that she says are "more rhythmic."

The class will really depend on who is in it, she said. She is hoping to attract some male participants.

"There’s a strange phenomena in America that boys can’t dance," said DeRook, adding that boys in Denmark take ballet class with the girls.

Her son, Laurence DeRook, took ballet until he was about 12 – when his classmates started calling him "Twinkle Toes," said DeRook.

She remembers how hard it was for him, as a very young boy, to sit still as the two watched his two sisters in their ballet class. DeRook said that she told him, if he didn’t sit still, she would buy him a pair of ballet slippers and he would take class, too.

All three of DeRook’s children wanted to be dancers, at one point, but all three went in different directions, she said. Laurence became a captain in the merchant marines; Frances became a cardiologist; and Suzanne danced in the Berkshire Ballet before becoming a teacher – she taught for 14 years at the Guilderland Ballet.

The school once had a class of nine boys, some who went on to be professional dancers, DeRook said.

"Occasionally, we’ll have a courageous boy," DeRook said. Most parents, especially fathers, she said, believe their sons need to play sports. "The athlete that a male dancer is, it’s unbelievable," said DeRook.

It is a "talent lost," she said, of boys who don’t dance.

The male role is different than the female’s, depending on the style of dance, Gale said. In ballroom dancing, she said, "He’s the boss." In ballet, "He’s there to support you," she said.

Gale performs in a ballroom company, called Tango Fusion, in Saratoga, and says, "When you’re still performing, you can bring a lot more to your students."

Teaching, she said, "is very rewarding."

Though Gale will most likely never get rich teaching ballet, DeRook said, "She will be rich in ways that a lot of people would envy."

DeRook says that she has been lucky to have had the "best teachers" over the years. DeRook’s staff, in addition to Gale, includes Kay Fuller and Janet Murphy.

The reward for DeRook, in the past 40 years, has been, in part, seeing the students’ abilities progress, she said, citing numerous cards of thanks from former students.

One in particular remains vivid in her memory. The card was from a former student who had gone on to dance in college. She wrote, "You ran a tough ship" But it worked," DeRook recalled, admitting the school has strict rules.

"If they don’t have manners, they will have them by the time they leave this school," DeRook said.

The other rewarding aspect has been "working with teachers like Julie," she said.

"To teach here is extremely rewarding because of Jane’s commitment to ballet," Gale responded in kind. "I think the commitment to the art form of ballet is part of what makes this school so special," she said.

The school, concluded DeRook, has become "something of a beautiful accomplishment."

New tech super
Living a vibrant life of change

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The first-ever tech supervisor for the Guilderland schools is a model for what she preaches.

"Our charge as educators is to prepare kids for change," said Kathryn Perry. "We don’t know what the world will be like, except that we know that it will be different."

She cites data from Richard Riley, the nation’s former education secretary, that the 10 jobs most in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004.

The job Perry holds today, the career and technology supervisor for a suburban school district, did not exist when she was a Cornell student, majoring in nutritional sciences.

She grew up in Wappingers Falls, the youngest of four children with a stay-at-home mom and an IBM-engineer father.

She loved school — all of it. "I loved sports, I loved lunch, I loved science," said Perry. She swam and ran cross-country and track, talked with her many friends in the cafeteria, and pursued science with a passion.

At Cornell, her love of learning expanded. "It was that exhausting kind of on-the-edge-of-your-seat learning," she said. "It was exciting and a challenge."

"I wanted to teach," Perry said. "I had a passion for health and happiness and family values."

She believes someone can earn $200,000 a year and be spiritually vacant and unhappy while someone else may earn a tenth of that but have a fulfilled and happy life.

Perry’s first job, after graduating in 1982, was teaching home economics and social studies at a West Point post middle school run by the United States Department of Defense for the children of parents stationed at the military academy.

Her students were very motivated, she said. "The ‘be all you can be’ mentality eked out into the children," she said. "All these kids with really diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds were united through the Army culture."

In her Wappingers Falls public school in the 1970s, home ec classes had been strictly for girls while shop classes had been for boys. By 1982, both boys and girls were taking the classes together.

"The mission has always been the same — to prepare the whole child. But the specific nature of the apparatus has changed as society has changed," said Perry.

As the youngest teacher at the West Point school, Perry recalled, "I was the expert in technology because I had just graduated from college"I evolved into being the computer education coordinator and taught math."

She went on to pursue graduate studies at the University at Albany, earning a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with emphasis in educational psychology. Her dissertation was on the development of conditional reasoning abilities in early adolescence.

She posed problems, using if-then statements "to tease out what was going on," Perry said.

She described several theories on the subject that ranged from domain-specific, meaning reasoning only develops through content, to abstract formal reasoning, totally devoid of content.

"A bunch of curricula was based on that," said Perry.

Her research led her to this conclusion: "A student has to be developmentally ready for certain types of instruction or it won’t take."

She also discovered, "When problems deal with significant content — not some random thing — kids do learn to reason through computer programming."

Perry taught teachers at The College of Saint Rose and then, in 1999, went to work for the Mohonasen School District as a technology coordinator. "I was excited to get back into technology," she said. She helped teachers integrate technology into their curricula.

"The teachers that are fearful at first are the most exciting to work with," said Perry. "The reward is amplified. Their excitement over conquering something they were afraid of is the greatest thing to witness — it’s a transformation."

Tech a priority

Perry applied for the Guilderland job because she’s always up for a challenge. The newly-created post pays $81,500. The school board last year made it a priority to improve technology education at Guilderland and the new post is part of that initiative.

Twelve people applied for the job, said Superintendent Gregory Aidala, and the decision to hire Perry was unanimous.

The board this year is considering a $27 million bond vote that includes $5.7 million for technology and safety.

The technology improvements include upgrading cabling in all seven school buildings with dedicated wiring and power distributions. Each classroom will have a projector and there will be 10 "smart boards," which allow students to see and work a computer on a huge screen by the touch of a pen or finger, in each elementary school and 20 each in the middle school and high school.

Each school will have a video distribution system and mobile carts for video editing and podcasts. Each school will also have added laptop carts, and, at the high school, components will be put in place for a pre-engineering program.

"We have to show the community we have a curriculum that uses this stuff," said the school board president when the plan was presented last month.

That’s where Perry comes in.

"Kathy’s a very hard worker and very knowledgeable about how teachers can use technology in their classrooms," Aidala said. "She has written lots of articles and done presentations on technology integration"I think she’s going to do a great job."

Perry will be overseeing a new 20-week course for all sixth-graders at the middle school. The students will spend 10 weeks in computer labs and 10 weeks in production and application labs, she said. She described production labs as being "like a shop with all the tools" and application labs as a place where students "focus on learning the principles of engineering."

When the sixth-graders learn about the science of flight, for example, they’ll be learning the principles and they’ll also study flight by making and using model rockets.

"The technology teachers have done a wonderful job," she said of developing the new course. "It was pretty much finished before I was on board." Perry started work this month. "Now it’s just a matter of tweaking it," she said.

Perry is excited about the two new middle school teachers who have been hired — Greg Pattison and Kathleen Zimmerman.

Perry is also working on a pre-engineering sequence for high-school students that will start in the fall of 2008.

"It’s not to replace what’s there," she said, "but to expand and enhance opportunities for kids who have an interest in engineering."

She went on, "It’s not a sequence just for kids who want to be engineers. It’s for kids interested in design process and application of science and math."

Perry is also looking forward to working with teachers on integrating technology into their courses. In-service courses, workshops, and what she calls "just in time" learning will be provided.

She explained, "When individuals or small groups have ideas but don’t have the expertise to carry them through, a staff developer teaches skills they may need and helps them develop project and lesson ideas."

In-class support will also be provided "if a teacher is trying something new and just wants someone there," said Perry.

Being the district’s career supervisor, Perry said, is integral to the rest.

"It goes with everything else," she said. "It’s like my passion for home ec — what it takes to be a happy contributing member of society. Part of that is finding a job that you enjoy doing, 40 hours a week. You need to find a job that’s stimulating and enjoyable."

About 56 seniors at Guilderland this year will be involved in internships in community businesses and organizations, said Perry. "It helps them identify the types of vocations they would find rewarding," she said.

Middle-school students get a day-long look at different jobs as they "shadow" workers in various fields.

"One of the main goals," she said of the business curriculum and the family and consumer sciences, "is to develop the forward-looking potential of the child so that he or she will perpetually keep in mind ideas about what he or she may pursue as a career."

"Meaningful understanding"

Perry turned to the laptop computer on her office desk at the middle school to show a video made by Mohonasen fifth-graders about tracking the weather. Pinewood Elementary School is part of a nationwide WeatherBug program where kids monitor weather from instruments at their own school and then report the results on line, forming a cross-country computer network that allows them to follow weather patterns and make predictions.

She’d like to see Guilderland kids get involved in the program. As a WeatherBug advisor, she said, "We have the opportunity to use this for free."

Perry also shares a concept map created by a fourth-grader with a computer program that divides "Living Things" into two categories — "autotrophs," diagrammed as "producers," and "heterotrophs," shown as "consumers. The student placed a picture of a cactus and a pine tree next to "autotrophs" and pictures of a person and a panda bear next to "heterotrophs." Arrows show that autotrophs can’t make their own food while heterotrophs can.

To make such a concept map, using a computer program, Perry said, students "have to figure out how concepts relate to each other. They have to use critical thinking."

Summing up the role of an educator, Perry refers to notes she has made, saying, "We have to develop critical thinkers, those who base inference on evidence, who consider multiple points of view with concern for a sustainable earth, and who innovate when faced with difficult problems."

Returning to the conclusions she reached doing research for her Ph.D. dissertation, she goes on, "We can’t just teach critical thinking, however. Such skill is directly linked to knowledge and grounded experience. Only with meaningful understanding can kids think critically."

Such knowledge and skill, Perry said, are needed for students to succeed as family members, as providers, and as world citizens.

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