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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 29, 2011

School starts with fewer students, no flooding

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school year is “off to a very good start,” Superintendent Marie Wiles told the school board last Tuesday.

She commended staff who monitored the district’s building in the midst of Tropical Storm Irene and was grateful Guilderland didn’t suffer damage like that suffered by some neighboring districts.

 Enrollment, Wiles reported, has decreased by 168 students across the district, with 87 fewer at the elementary levels, eight fewer at the middle school, and 73 fewer at the high school.

Kindergarten and first-grade classes at Guilderland and Westmere elementary schools are “at capacity,” she said, and the fifth-grade classes at Pine Bush Elementary have 25 or 26 students. The other “hot spot” is the seventh grade at the middle school, she said.

“Generally,” concluded Wiles, “we are well within the ranges we talked about in April and May,” when, during budget talks, it was decided to raise class sizes slightly in order to save money.

District residents will have a chance to tell the school board their thoughts on the 2012-13 budget on Oct. 4.

This is the 12th year the board has hosted the early citizens’ session; it will begin at about 8 p.m. in the large-group instruction room at the high school.

Last year, the board replaced the longstanding Citizens Budget Advisory Committee review with a series of well-attended community forums where residents and staff voiced their views on what they most valued.

More changes are afoot.

Judy Slack, who chairs the board’s communications committee, said that a “community conversation” is planned for Oct. 25.  Residents who attend will not discuss the budget, she said, but rather will talk about how to reshape and innovate.

“We are looking for beginning change…We recognize change makes people uncomfortable,” said Slack. “We’re looking for areas not to cut but to reshape and innovate.”

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Learned from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that Alan Fiero, a Farnsworth Middle School Science teacher who has worked with students for years on preserving Pine Bush habitat and the endangered Karner blue butterfly, won two prestigious awards.

He was one of this year’s merit winners of the Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award, given to secondary teachers who integrate environmental education into their curricula and help students solve challenges across disciplines.

He also won the Rachel Carson Award, given annually by ECOS: The Environmental Clearinghouse to someone who exemplifies the life and work of Carson, author of Silent Spring, and a pioneer in environmental preservation.

Slack commented on how lucky Guilderland was to have someone with Fiero’s commitment;

— Heard congratulations for Guilderland High School 2011 graduates Kate Bickmore and Jordan Duke and Farnsworth Middle School student Katelyn Dvorscak, who were named by NewsChannel 13 among the “13 Kids Who Care” for their volunteer work;

— Heard that Sarah Jones received the New York State Archives Student Research Award for her website on the history of the Yalta conference, chosen as the best middle-school student research project for the 2010-11 school year.

Michael Zhu’s research paper on Richard Nixon’s visit to China received an honorable mention. Both Jones and Zhu are eighth-graders in Seneca House.

High-school students Lixinbei Jing and Abigail Schnoor also received an honorable mention in the Senior category for their exhibit called “Chinese Exclusion: The Failure of Debate and Diplomacy”;

—  Learned that sophomore Kiera Heath started a rally in the Capital Region Special Surgery Race for Hope to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House, which houses the families of cancer patients, and for patient services at St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Care Center.

Jack McGee, a junior, was an Educator’s Challenge Champion, earning an interactive whiteboard for the high school;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders that the state-required audit of the 2010-11 school year is nearly complete and will be presented to the board at its next meeting, on Oct. 4;

— Learned that Guilderland was one of about 100 districts to win an award from the New York School Public Relations Association. The award was for “Taking a Stand,” a poster publicizing a visit by John Halligan, whose son killed himself after being bullied;

— Accepted the low bids for rock salt and ice melt out of those submitted by five vendors. Rock salt, at $4.09 a bag, will be supplied by E. A. Morse & Co., Inc., and ice melt, at $7.91 a bag, by John Deere Landscapes. The district expects to use 750 bags of rock salt on asphalt and 340 bags of ice melt on concrete;

— Accepted a donation of school supplies for needy children from the Albany County Young Democrats;

— Approved two Guilderland High School Travel Club trips — one to Italy and Greece led by high school English teacher Mickey Young, and the other to Costa Rica also led by Young as well as by another high school English teacher, Brenna Autry.

 The board recently passed a policy that would not allow such trips — since they are not directly tied to credit-bearing courses — to take place under school auspices. However, since these trips were “grandfathered,” as board member Richard Weisz put it, and since parents had already paid substantial amounts in advance, the board voted unanimously to let them proceed.

“We probably paid at least $1,500 into it for each child,” said board member Rose Levy.

Going forward, said Wiles, Travel Club trips won’t be sponsored by the school, meaning the district’s insurance won’t cover them and organizational meetings to plan the trips won’t be held on school grounds. (To read more about the new policy on school trips, go online to www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for July 28, 2011);

— Heard from Slack, who chairs the board’s business practices committee, that Guilderland plans to change its software for tracking student scores to conform with the system used by the State Education Department. Guilderland will switch from Starbase, which it has used since 2003 and which Singleton said is being phased out, to SchoolTool.

Because of a licensing fee of about $75,000 and additional maintenance costs, the first year with the new software will cost Guilderland about $100,000 more than it is currently paying, Sanders said;

— Heard from Slack that the historic one-room cobblestone schoolhouse in Guilderland Center needs renovation. Several years ago, the district re-roofed the schoolhouse with appropriate wooden shingles but, since then, budget problems have ceased any further restoration.

“It would be good to find someone more interested in maintaining it,” said Slack, noting the district doesn’t use it. She said that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which was co-founded by the heirs of Stephen Van Rensselaer, has agreed to look into it; and

— Met in closed session to discuss negotiations with the Guilderland Teachers’ Association and Guilderland Teacher Aides’ Association, and to talk about a tax certiorari case.

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