Category Archives: School Zone


Column: Looking forward to Dec. 6

laura-SlackUntil this fall, Rye High school students would be surprised when working in one of the old science labs. If the experiment called for water, the student would turn on one faucet at the lab table, only to have the water spurt out of the other faucet. While that may well have been good for a laugh the first time, it wasn’t conducive to hands on science. Given that some of the old science labs dated back to the original 1930s building, it was clearly time to update our facilities.

I want to take this moment as we approach Thanksgiving to thank the Rye community for its willingness to invest in education. I am so grateful that Rye High School students now conduct hands-on science experiments in the 12 new science labs with modern amenities, which facilitate learning in the new wing of the high school. Teachers and students have been working in the new labs since the beginning of the school year. The work outside the addition has progressed to the point where, we can now celebrate with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Please join us on Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. as we welcome the community to come and tour the building, see the 12 new chemistry, biology, physics, engineering and earth science labs, prep rooms, four restrooms and 300 lockers, all of which help to accommodate the 1,022 students in the high school today. As a vivid illustration of the growth in student enrollment in the district, in 2006 to 2007, my first year on the Board of Education, there were 751 students in the high school. That’s a remarkable 36 percent increase in the nine years I have served on the board.

There is so much for all of us to celebrate as we move to completion on this tremendous undertaking. The addition was delivered to the community on time with students learning in the science labs in the beginning of the school year and the project is under budget.  Former science labs in the main building have been converted to regular classrooms and in doing so we have gained four classrooms and maximized every foot of precious classroom space for learning. Remembering how nervous our community was taking this big step, it is a pleasure to see it all come to fruition: to hear a science teacher talk about the much larger array of experiments now possible; to learn that the students love the science addition so much they congregate in the bright new space; and to have residents and neighbors stop me on Purchase Street to say how beautiful the building looks and how it fits in with the original architecture of the high school.

Of course there are still challenges ahead.

How will we as a community ensure academic excellence in the face of budgetary constraints such as a tax cap without an exemption for our soaring increase in enrollment, more and more unfunded mandates imposed by the state on local school districts and on us as taxpayers and a New York state pension system with mandated contributions from school districts which increase at a greater rate than the allowable tax revenue increases permitted under the tax cap? These are some of the challenges ahead and we, as a community, will face them together as successfully, I hope, as we have with the science addition.

Now, with functional and up-to-date labs, the only surprises the students encounter come at the conclusion of well designed experiments conceived of, and supervised by, the talented science teachers of the Rye City School District.

Looking forward to seeing you on Dec. 6.

Column: Mapping out effective instruction

The following was authored by guest columnist Dr. Betty Ann Wykes, Rye City School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment. 

While students consider school closed for summer, teachers and administrators are busy engaging in various initiatives as they prepare for another successful year.

Educating children is a year-round mission; July and August are the months during which faculty members participate in professional development workshops, write curricula and take independent courses that will strengthen the instruction by which students excel.laura-Slack

Kindergarten through second grade teachers in the Rye City School District are working with their colleagues, including those in other grade levels, as well as consultant Shelly Klein. A great deal of attention is being placed on English Language Arts and extending the guided reading and Readers Workshop approaches initiated last year under the guidance of professional development leader and early reading expert Sharon Taberski.

Representatives from Osborn, Milton and Midland schools have collaborated with Mrs. Klein, developing key understandings and foundational knowledge based upon the Readers Workshop philosophy. This model includes five components: shared reading, mini lessons, independent reading, guided reading and read aloud. Collectively, these strategies provide students with a range of reading opportunities that develop strong reading and comprehension skills.

The initial planning session with Mrs. Klein involved teachers from all three grade levels who jointly examined best practices in literacy instruction and are now developing units of study for use in the coming school year.

Second grade teacher Elly Short said of Mrs. Klein, “She has brought so many ideas to the table and has really made writing curricula an enjoyable task. It has been a great experience working with her, and I am really looking forward to continuing our work throughout the year.”

The consultant will expand her work with teachers in the fall to include grades 3 through 5 as the district continues to focus on literacy instruction in the elementary schools.

This is a wonderful opportunity for teachers to utilize and build upon their collective knowledge in order to promote enriched learning experiences for Rye’s students based upon…best practices and the demonstrated needs of our students. The work of our staff complements our work with Sharon Taberski, which is centered on comprehension. It also provides us with a district-wide instructional plan.”

These efforts are all part of the district’s balanced literacy approach, which promotes fluency and independence in reading.

The goal is to take students from where they currently are to where the district knows they should be. We have strong expectations and continue to enhance the rigor in our program.


Column: Ending the school year on the best of notes

laura-SlackSpring is a season filled with celebrations of accomplishment in the Rye City School District, and there is so much to celebrate, including the varsity baseball team’s historic sectional victory last week. The last time the Garnets reached the sectionals was in 1984, when many of the current player’s parents were in college or even high school themselves.

May brought more good news. Our community overwhelming passed the annual budget and Jim Boylan was appointed the new principal of Midland School. He received a warm welcome during his first official visit.

The good news will continue this month. In June, the superintendent will recommend candidates for the assistant principal positions in the middle school and the high school. On June 10, we look forward to celebrating the tenure appointments of 11 teachers and two administrators with their families and colleagues at a tenure reception.

June will, of course, also bring us to the close of school, but not before the students in the middle school and high school will complete their finals and the district’s teachers complete 3,315 report cards. The district will have four moving-up ceremonies as fifth graders become middle school students and eighth graders become high school students.

There will be two commencement ceremonies, one for the Rye School of Leadership and the 83rd Rye High School commencement, on what promises to be yet another hot and sunny day. Fathers get a break this year as the ceremony is not on Father’s Day weekend for the first time in recent memory.

If the warm weather hasn’t put you in a celebratory mood just yet, I recommend watching the 2014 faculty video made for this year’s senior class. The faculty video, which has become a much-anticipated annual event, has the faculty lip-syncing songs like “Halls of Fame” and “Happy,” and it certainly makes you happy to watch it. How lucky we are to have a faculty that spends its free time creating such a gift for the graduating class and the whole community. The video captures the celebration of our graduating students moving on with the sentiment that we will miss them dearly.

Our students have accomplished so much this year with the support of their teachers, administrators and families. Eighteen Rye High School seniors earned recognition from the National Merit Scholarship Program. One hundred and eleven students were inducted into the National Honor Society. One hundred and twelve middle school students were inducted into the National Junior Honor Society.

All 10 fall varsity sports teams, six winter varsity teams and all eight of the spring varsity teams, received the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Scholar Athlete Team Award. Rye Middle School’s Science Olympiad Club took home 19 medals and earned second place at the Regional Science Olympiad Competition. Two high school students were named Con Edison Athletes of the Week.

Fourteen student musicians were selected to participate in the New York State School Music Association Area All-State and All-County festivals in chorus, band and orchestra ensembles. The annual Rye Arts Awards dinner honored 125 student artists. The Parson Street Players performed the amazing “Beauty and the Beast” to sold out audiences, and four participants were nominated for Metro awards for their work.

Rye High School earned top honors from U.S. News and World Report, which is a credit not only to our high school but also to the middle and elementary schools as well for preparing our students for high school. When looking at only open enrollment schools, Rye was named second-best high school in the state and the fourth-best in the country.

As a community, we can all be proud of our children, our teachers and our school administration for their hard work in delivering excellence year after year.

Last, we celebrate the immeasurable contributions of a number of valued members of our school community who are retiring.

Dr. Angela Grille, principal of Midland School, retires after 14 years. Dr. Grille has seen a generation of Midland students through the school system carrying with them their memories of being a Midland Bulldog with the accompanying spirit and character she has helped cultivate.

Joe DeRuvo, assistant principal of Rye Middle School began his career in the Rye City School District 45 years ago as an Osborn teacher. How we have benefited from his compassion and wisdom.

Carole Andreasen is retiring after 35 years. She joined the district as a math teacher and served as the director of technology, launching the district into the digital age.

Cynthia Weichert, an enthusiastic contributor to the senior videos, taught foreign language for seven years.

Janice Mottarella, guided students at the Rye School of Leadership for 23 years as a teaching assistant and has received many heartfelt thanks at the RSOL commencement as a result.

Ellen Slater, a Rye High School graduate herself, is retiring after 10 years as a Milton School teacher aide.

Lynn Ferguson Mastalli, an invaluable member of the central administration, is retiring after 28 years.

Dorothy Bykowski is retiring after working as a secretary in the district for six years.

Library clerk Melissa Mamangakis helped the Middle School/High School Media Center change with the times over her 13 years of service.

We wish all of them well and hope they have joyous retirements.

We look forward to June’s big celebrations, productive summer planning for the 2014-2015 school year and some time for everyone to relax and perhaps read a few good books.


Column: Tax levy cap: A cap on education?

laura-SlackAs I reflect on the years I have volunteered for the Rye City School District, the last few years in public education have changed dramatically.

Local school districts are required to comply with so many more state mandates while the state pushes costs down to the local level, which affects the public financing of schools in both cases.

One of the greatest challenges our school district continues to face is the tax cap imposed by New York State without any corresponding relief from excessive, unfunded state mandates. The tax cap has radically changed the landscape of public education in New York.

In spite of this imbalance of financial support for state required programs, so far our district has met the challenge “to do more with less,” producing tax-cap compliant budgets while maintaining the top quality education Rye families expect and value.

Recently, Rye High School was named the 11th best high school in New York by U.S. News & World Report. The Report rankings rated more than 19,000 high schools and looked at both the number of Advanced Placement exams taken and how children performed on them. Among open enrollment schools—those that do not require admission—Rye was ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 4 in the country.

Rye’s academic standing and history of student success will continue to be challenged by a tax cap without mandate relief.

In 2011, New York enacted a cap on property taxes of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. By doing this, the state eroded the community’s local control over the financing of our school district. The tax cap formula does not account for enrollment growth, skyrocketing pension costs or any costs associated with unfunded mandates of implementing Common Core, testing and the teacher evaluation system, APPR.

Since 2004, the Rye City School District’s enrollment has dramatically increased by 518 students, or 18 percent, to a total of 3,315 students. For many school districts across the state, where the enrollment has decreased, it is much easier to live within a tax cap because those districts simply need fewer teachers to teach fewer students.

Pension costs of the Teacher Retirement System and the Employee Retirement System have surged in the last five years. In the 2009-2010 school year, the district paid an amount equal to 6.19 percent of every teacher’s salary, or $2.18 million, to the state for retirement benefits. In the 2014-2015 school year, the district will have to pay 17.53 percent—$5.8 million.

This dramatic increase in just six years is one of the major drivers in the crisis of the financing of public schools in New York State.

The school district has to absorb these costs within a tax cap, as it is not exempt.

While the tax cap does allow for an exemption for any increase above 2 percentage points in any year, this is meaningless relief. For example, this year the rate goes from 16.25 percent to 17.53 percent of salary, but since it is an increase of 1.28 percentage points, none of these costs are exempt.

The unfunded mandates of Common Core, state testing and APPR are additional state-mandated financial drains on the school district’s operating budget. The state has indicated all state tests will be given on computers in the coming years. Rye, like most other school districts in the state, does not currently have the infrastructure to be able to do that. Compliance will be expensive. It is estimated that between 2012 and 2015, compliance with these mandates will have cost Rye more than $2 million.

Another limitation to public school financing is the decrease in state aid. The state has withheld education aid from all districts since 2010 in order to address its own revenue shortfall. Despite now having a surplus, the state still owes Rye $1.9 million.

What all of this means is Rye must educate more students, absorb escalating pension costs and comply with expensive unfunded state mandates, all with less state aid and an allowable tax levy increase this year of only 1.64 percent.

In Rye, we have exercised heightened fiscal discipline since the financial crisis of 2008, long before the tax cap was put in place. There are no more cuts to be made without compromising the educational program. The school district has made judicious use of reserves, found efficiencies in scheduling and staffing, and has cut 61.9 full time positions, even in the face of increasing enrollment. The school district has already implemented consolidation efforts and cooperative bidding to lower costs.

It is time for state government to lead rather than push the problems down to local communities. In order for a tax cap to work without destroying public education, there must be real and effective mandate relief—not conversations and commissions. The state, which controls the pension costs, must shoulder the responsibility for those pension costs by either managing state pensions more effectively or funding pension costs at the state level.

Rye’s remarkable and successful school district is a primary reason many of us chose Rye as the community to raise our families. The district flourishes due to the hard work and talent of all its stakeholders: the children of Rye and their parents, our dedicated faculty, staff and administrators, and the citizens of Rye who support our schools whether or not they currently have children attending one of them. We must keep pressure on all of our elected officials in Albany to provide real and effective mandate relief if we want to preserve quality education in Rye.

The School Zone is a new
monthly column featuring insights from Board of Education
President Laura Slack