Director of Student and Staff Support Services Mark Treanor presented information about the districtwide Safe Schools Plan and some changes in state law related to school safety. Over the last 18 months, the district has done a significant amount of work in this area, which has involved Mr. Treanor's office, the District Safety Committee, school principals and BOCES Safety Specialist Sherrie Strain. The districtwide Safe Schools Plan must be adopted by the Board of Education annually, and was approved at the meeting. A significant change in the law pertains to required school safety drills. Previously 12 evacuation drills were required. Under the new law, eight evacuation drills and four lockdown drills are required. Mr. Treanor emphasized that this has unfortunately become an area where training is important. Because lockdown drills have the potential to cause anxiety and concern, Mr. Treanor said that schools are working to approach this change in a sensitive, thoughtful manner. A parent communication will be developed in the near future. The district continues to work with local police and fire agencies on safety issues.
Ed Alston, director of the International Scholars Program, presented
information about a potential partnership with a school system in China. The
Wisdom Educational Group operates a K-6 Montessori program in China and is
looking to expand its program to include middle school and high school. Last
year, a representative of the organization contacted Mr. Alston through a
colleague at UAlbany to learn about the district. This was followed-up by a
small group from China recently coming to Niskayuna for a meeting with Mr.
Alston, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr., Assistant Superintendent for
Instruction Lauren Gemmill and Marie Digirolamo, Director of World Language,
Social Studies and English as a New Language. The organization is interested in
establishing a partnership with the district that could potentially include
assistance with their expansion of grade levels, professional development
opportunities, classroom connections, and students from China attending
Niskayuna through the International Scholars Program.
The Board was supportive of continuing to explore the partnership. As a next step, Wisdom Education Group has invited Dr. Tangorra and Mr. Alston to China at the expense of the organization. They plan to travel there in November. Dr. Tangorra said the fact that a school system from across the globe has identified Niskayuna as a model that it wants to emulate is both exciting and an affirmation of the quality of the district's program.
Additionally, Mrs. Digirolamo shared with the Board plans to expand the district's Chinese program to include a second level next year. For the past five years, Niskayuna High School students have been able to take an introductory course, which was initially grant-funded. This year, 22 students are taking this course. Chinese II would give them the opportunity to continue their study of Chinese language and culture. Mrs. Digirolamo noted the global and local importance of Chinese; it is the second-most spoken language in Niskayuna after English. She said the goal is to ultimately establish fully-articulated Chinese program, with five levels and a cultural exchange, similar to the other languages taught at the high school.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lauren Gemmill provided an overview of summer school participation. The district was able to provide early intervention services in English as New Language for 27 students in grades K-2 over the summer through a grant that she and Mrs. Digirolamo secured. Total middle school summer school enrollment increased from 49 in 2015 to 62 in 2016. The district was able to offer transportation for middle school students this year. High School enrollment in the joint program at Schenectady High School totaled 61 students, compared to 73 students last summer.
Total opening enrollment K-12 for this school year was 4,200 students. This is an increase from 4,120 in May and 4,130 at the start of last year. The greatest change is at the elementary level, which is up 76 students from last September. Dr. Tangorra said the district will continue to monitor enrollment and is likely to seek formal projections at some point. As the district enters a period of planning for future facility improvements, it will be important that capital projects include additional space if it is needed.
The Board is reviewing policies at each meeting as it transitions to a new policy manual. At the meeting, it adopted Policy 5220 - District Investments and repealed Policy 6240 - Investments.
The Board conducted a first reading of Draft Policy 5681 - School Safety Plan and Draft Policy 5683 - Fire and Emergency Drills, Bomb Threats and Bus Emergency Drills.