Q: After two fiscal budget cycles, in which the district has been compliant with the state-mandated 2 percent tax levy cap, do you foresee any difficulties on the horizon? Why or why not?
A: Given the fact that the 2 percent levy cap does not take into account rising operational costs such as health insurance and utilities, with the current retirement obligations accounting for a large part of every district’s budget, absent of any significant mandate relief from New York State, it will continue to be a challenge.
Q: Over the past few years, the Board of Education has had to cut district staffing significantly. Has the district reached the point where there are no longer any cuts to make? If so, how do you safeguard against the need for further reductions?
A: There will always be a threshold when the program becomes compromised by cuts. The board and administration looked very carefully to ensure that the reductions made would have the least impact on the smallest number of students. The district has taken measures to tighten its belts with an eye on stabilizing the long-term fiscal and programmatic health of the district.
Q: Last year also marked the first marking period of students, grades third through eighth, with the newly implemented state English Language Arts and Mathematics exams. Were the results what you had anticipated? Do you feel the newly implemented Common Core Learning Standards provide a reasonable baseline in assessing students knowledge and skills?
A: We will always endorse efforts to raise the level of student achievement so that our kids can be more competitive in this ever-changing, highly competitive global society. However, the process is not always without its flaws. We were not surprised by the latest tests scores given that the commissioner of education made it clear that scores would be significantly lower this year due to the new Common Core Standards, which set a new baseline measurement of student learning. The state Education Department also alluded to the fact that there was content on these exams that was new to districts–content that was not even taught. I think the new standards are a reasonable measure, but teachers and students need time to master the content.
Q: With the implementation of the Annual Professional Performance Review by the state Education Department last year, do you anticipate any major changes to the current standard of evaluating teachers and principals within the district?
A: The district already had pretty stringent reviews of our faculty. APPR has been a huge undertaking by everyone, and we are pleased to have an approved plan in place. One big change–which has been discussed at length by everyone–is how the standardized exams are factored into the evaluation. With the premature inclusion of new Common Core on the latest exams, there will be less of a focus on this for the immediate future. Whether we like it or not, schools and districts have been judged by performance on standardized tests for years.
Q: Are you planning any changes to the educational program for the upcoming school year?
A: Our major focus will be the curriculum revision and necessary staff development to effectively implement these Common Core Standards and ensure that our children are in the best position possible to meet the new requirements. With that said, we will still concentrate our efforts on teaching them to be critical and innovative thinkers, which is more than just teaching to the tests.
Q: With all future issues aside, what are you looking forward to in the upcoming months?
A: There is always a sense of renewal and excitement that comes with the start of a new school year. While the challenges become greater, I never lose sight of why I became an educator, the children. That will always put a smile on my face, and keep all of us pushing forward for their best interests.