By CHRIS EBERHART
The theme was simply stated, but could prove complex to achieve: bring the Tuckahoe School District to the next level.
Administrators, teachers and parents gathered in the Tuckahoe High School library during the Jan. 28 unveiling of the district’s draft of their five-year strategic plan. According to School Board President Dr. Julio Urbina, the plan “sets a new course for the district and…provides our community with a comprehensive road map in eight focused areas.”
Tuckahoe Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nuzzi said this road map is what’s going to guide the district to the next level.
“One thing that’s very apparent to me is this is a real good, little school district that’s on the cusp of greatness,” Nuzzi said. “What’s keeping it back from that next level is just a comprehensive plan in every area.”
That is where Dr. Charles Wilson, a paid consultant with over 40 years of educational experience, enters the picture. In 2012, he compiled a needs assessment for Tuckahoe that pointed out areas in the village’s school district needing improvement.
Wilson, along with the superintendent and Board of Education, presented that vision to the Tuckahoe community on Jan. 28.
The strategic plan is broken into eight themes, and each theme is divided into areas that need improvement. Wilson, the school board and an oversight committee, which was comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and elected officials solely put together to add input to the plan, made a goal within each area of improvement and devised an action plan with corresponding yearly benchmarks and estimated spending per year.
According to the strategic plan, teacher evaluations and professional development needed to be improved.
“For financial reasons, professional development had to be cut, which was a complaint by all the stakeholders—parents, teachers and administrators,” Wilson said. “You got to give teachers professional development that they need. If you’re teaching an advanced placement course, you can’t teach it without learning how to teach an [advanced placement] course.”
As far as teacher evaluations are concerned, the strategic plan mentions the New York State Teacher and Principal Annual Professional Performance
Review, which is part of the state-mandated Common Core Curriculum, as part of the solution along with a new mentoring program for teachers, which is scheduled to be implemented by the winter of 2015.
The Common Core also addresses the curriculum portion of the needs assessment, which mentions a “lack of rigor” and inconstancy in what was taught when comparing different teachers in the same grade level, a sentiment echoed by Nuzzi during the presentation.
“The assessment from Dr. Wilson that he did almost two years ago talked about how our constituents said Tuckahoe schools, you need to increase rigor. You need to ensure that the curriculum, the content of what teachers teach, is aligned,” Nuzzi said.
The Common Core is not the only answer to the “lack of rigor.”
According to the strategic plan, the school district is taking its own steps to increase difficulty by adding more advanced placement classes and will also be looking to offer electives such as media production and science research offerings.
But some students, as Wilson pointed out, that have special needs might not be able to keep up with a more intense curriculum.
“The question is how are the special education students going to keep up with [the students studying Common Core],” Wilson said, “which brought about a lot of improvements in special ed.”
According to Wilson, teachers are being trained to teach on different levels within the same classroom.
The plan says the district is currently working on a professional plan to support “differentiated instruction” in reference to the Common Core. The plan is scheduled to be finished by January 2016. By October 2016, the district plans to publish a district-wide definition of “differentiated instruction.”
But school is not just about grades and learning 2+2=4.
There’s a “social, emotional and person growth and development” aspect that schools need to address, and Tuckahoe does that in its strategic plan.
According to the plan, activities such as a school newspaper and a student television channel, which were once active clubs and since have been defunct, will be re-implemented. The plan is also calling for the creation of other clubs such as a debate team and science olympiad.
As far as “emotional development,” the needs assessment raised a concern about how discipline was administered and the lack of supervision over students, which was addressed by the addition of an assistant principal in both the secondary and elementary schools, according to the strategic plan. The state-mandated Dignity for All Students Act, which aims to prevent bullying and cyber bullying, was also implemented.
The strategic plan also addresses ever-changing and evolving technology.
With respect to technology, Wilson said, “In this generation, there’s no way around not using technology. This is something kids have to learn.”
As part of the technology improvements, the school district recently implemented wi-fi in all the schools and is currently working on benchmarks for students to determine what technology skills are required according to grade level.
As new technology is developed, there is an expectation for “timely, accurate and thorough communications,” according to the strategic plan, which gave rise to the Comprehensive District Communications Plan, designed to coordinate communications to all “key audiences of Tuckahoe schools.”
But this strategic plan and all of its action plans come down to finances, which are growing increasingly more difficult for school districts to manage in a world with unfunded state mandates and a tax levy cap.
Wilson said there’s an incremental approach in the strategic plan in funding the step-by-step action plans, which makes affording the initiatives more manageable.
“Sometimes you’re not starting with the Cadillac, you’re starting often with a zero-based budgeting approach to get things off the ground,” Wilson said. “But strategic planning helps to more effectively manage money and resources. Without it, we find that we squander our resources through duplication of efforts and hastily conceived plans and lack of strategies.”
As far as unforeseen state mandates, Wilson said that’s something all school districts have to deal with, but it’s not an excuse to deviate from the plan.
“Unanticipated responsibilities are issues that you have to deal with, even though it may not be part of your plan,” Wilson said. “But it’s still not an excuse to not follow the strategic plan.”
The strategic plan has been posted online for parents to read, and Urbina said the goal is to receive feedback from the public over the next two weeks and then adopt the plan during the next Board of Education meeting on Feb. 10.