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Friday, April 24, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Pembroke HS makes national list of 'most challenging' schools

Press release:

Pembroke High School has made The Washington Post’s America’s Most Challenging High School List, published online this past Sunday.

Unlike Business First’s rankings, which consider a variety of factors in determining Western New York’s top schools, The Washington Post publishes a list of their top schools based on one factor, healthy Advanced Placement participation. If the number of students taking Advanced Placement tests is greater than the number of graduating seniors, the school makes the list.

Pembroke High School was able to meet the challenge by having 86 test takers last May with graduation for 67 seniors, an accomplishment that places Pembroke in the top 10 percent of all 22,000 high schools across America.

“We continue to embrace high expectations, and we do not shy away from challenging our students to the fullest,” stated Superintendent Matt Calderón. “We believe Pembroke students are fully capable to meet increased rigor in a variety of areas, and we are fortunate to have strong partnerships with parents and a community that also embraces that vision.

"When the NYS Commissioner of Education visited our District, it was our students that told him they wanted more rigorous and demanding coursework because they want to be prepared for life beyond high school; and they know the AP curriculum will give them a good taste of what their future holds in regard to college-level courses and career expectations.”

Ten years ago, Pembroke offered only two AP courses, Biology and Calculus AB, taken advantage of by 17 students. Now Pembroke offers AP English Literature, Psychology, Studio Art, U.S. History, World History, and Environmental Science. Music History and Physics were added for 2014-15 with a handful of students taking AP Computer Science through an online grant. For students who perform well on the AP exams, many colleges and universities offer college credit.

“No doubt, it is a lot of hard work but very rewarding when filling out that college application and vying for your school of choice. It can also be rewarding when entering college with 18 credits under your belt. That $546 investment translates to about $10,000 in savings at many of the colleges our students typically attend,” reported senior high school counselor and AP coordinator Toby Beahan.

According to high school Principal Keith Palmer, “If students want to challenge themselves, we try to provide the opportunities. We regularly work on developing an expectation with our students that a demanding and rigorous course load will be the best route in preparing for both college and career, especially during one’s senior year. And fortunately, we have talented teachers that are able to meet the challenge.”

Add to the mix student course-interest surveys, weighted grading for students who take on the challenge, recognition for students who score well, quality training for teachers, and you end up with healthy student participation in a quality AP program.

For more information about The Washington Post’s best high schools, visit http://apps.washingtonpost.com/local/highschoolchallenge/

Friday, April 24, 2015 at 9:58 am

Photos: Notre Dame Spring Concert

post by Howard B. Owens in arts, education, entertainment, music, Notre Dame, schools

Notre Dame High School hosted its annual spring concert at the school Thursday night with jazz ensemble and concert choir performing such pieces as the "Overture of the Magic Flute," highlights from "Harry Potter," Disney movie tunes and a portion of Pachelbel's "Canon in D." Theresa Kehl is conductor of both the ensemble and the choir.

Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 5:03 pm

'Girls on the Run' program at Batavia Middle School aims to have positive impact on community

Girls on the Run, a group of students at Batavia Middle School, are holding a shoe drive as one of their charitable projects in the community. 

Teacher Sarah Gahagan, along with a friend, introduced Girls on the Run to the middle school and is looking to spread the word about the program. They're looking for a community project that the girls can take on.

"This is solely based on what the girls want to do in order for them to feel a sense of ownership and empowerment as they work toward their goal," Gahagan said.

The 12-week program culminates in a 5K in Buffalo.

"The girls set running goals every week in order to gear up for the final event," Gahagan said. "Each girl will cross the finish line with one of their coaches, a parent or a running buddy that they have asked to run with them from the school."

Gahagan described the program as a physical-activity-based youth-development program designed to inspire girls in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades to be joyful, healthy and confident.

In the photo, starting with the front row on the left: Sarah Gahagan, Breeann Wilcox, Juliana Branche, Tiffany Brown, Courtney Lougheed, Aliza Green, Riley Macdonough, Destiny Griffin, Andrea Merchant, Meghan Houseknect, Madison Dedman and Lindsey Mathis.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 9:42 am

Proposed Elba schools budget cuts teaching positions

post by Jess Wheeler in education, elba, elba central schools, schools

On Monday, members of the Elba community met in the crowded auditorium of Elba Central School to discuss a controversial cost-cutting budget that will reduce the positions of seven teachers and staff members.

The proposed budget for 2015-2016 will eliminate a guidance counselor, librarian, academic intervention service (AIS) math teacher, and an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher. It will also eliminate three teaching positions in Spanish, social studies and gym.

Elba has seen a $1.5 million budget reduction since 2013.

The new program at the high school would assign one guidance counselor at the high school and use a school psychologist to assist with counseling. Some students in Spanish would have to take a French class to earn an Advanced Regents Diploma. Staff members would supervise students in the library and students would no longer be permitted to use it during Study Hall. Gym class would increase from 17 students to 25.

At the elementary level, AIS math and English would be taught by homeroom teachers and teaching assistants. The focus at the elementary school was to maintain 15 students in each class, thereby keeping class size small.

“These are hard times and we have to make some tough decisions,” Scott Kaperman, principal of Elba Elementary, said. “The budget has been developed to put the focus on your child.”

Some parents, teachers and members of the community did not agree with Kaperman’s statement.

“I thought our motto here at Elba was, ‘students first,’ ” guidance counselor Chad Agen said when he addressed the Board of Education.

Agen and the other guidance counselor, Kelly Carlie, voiced just how important their jobs are at the schools. The two of them expressed concerns about bullying, suicide threats and other mental issues that some students have. Together, they help students apply for colleges and write letters of recommendation. They are worried that one guidance counselor would not be sufficient for the needs of all the students.

One of the biggest concerns expressed on Monday was the loss of AIS teachers.

“Why do we continue to cut our support for our remedial students?” asked Julie Maderer, K-12 reading teacher at Elba. “All students do not have the same problem and AIS is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Parents echoed Maderer’s concerns. They also expressed fear for how the 37 ELL students will do with only one teacher to help them. Nineteen percent of Elba students are Latino or Hispanic.

Christopher Salinas, principal of the secondary school, argued that students who have special needs will always coexist with their peers and it is the school's job to prepare them for life. Parents, however, said they feel the students are all being lumped together and it isn’t necessarily fostering success.

“If you ask the parents of the kids who need help, if you ask the parents of kids who are in the middle, if you ask the parents of the kids who excel, they would all agree that something is being taken away from all of the students,” parent Lori McClurg said.

Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 6:34 am

Jordan Fluker wins 2015 Mr. Batavia contest at BHS

post by Howard B. Owens in Batavia HS, Mr. Batavia, schools

Jordan Fluker was named 2015 Mr. Batavia in the third annual competition at Batavia High School on Friday night.

Proceeds from the event -- $3,000 this year, a new record -- goes to the charity of Fluker's choice, which was Genesee Cancer Assistance.

The 11 contestants were Bryce Rogers, Andrew Maniace, Samir Jain, Dylan Beckman, Brandon Smart, Josh Franks, Adam Taylor, Eric DiLaura, Nick Bauer, Jordan Fluker and Ben Demare.

Tuxedos for the event were provided by Charles Men's Shop and Reed Eye Associations donated sunglasses to the 11 young men.

The competition included a talent show, swimsuits, and question-and-answer and the tuxedo walk. 

To purchase prints, click here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 9:11 am

School board looking at offering bus rides to city students who live further from schools

post by Jess Wheeler in batavia, City Schools, education, schools

The 157 city school students who live more than a mile and a half from their schools could soon have the option of riding a bus.

Currently, bus transportation isn't offered to students who live within the city boundaries, but the proposal should change the policy.

The district contracts with Student Transportation of America for bus transportation. Under the proposal, BTA will conduct two pick-ups and two drop-offs at designated locations in the city.

Currently, the buses only do one run and pick-up all of the kids on the first pass. 

“We’re paying for time that we aren’t using,” Business Administrator Scott Rozanski said.

The Board was hopeful that the change for transportation would solve concerns that have been raised.

“This would limit the number of students who have to walk well over two miles,” Rozanski said. “They could just walk to their pick-up and then come directly to the high school."

“Ideally, no student will have to walk more than half of a mile to their pick-up destination,” Superintendent Christopher J. Dailey added.

Safety would increase due to less traffic on State Street. Attendance at the high school is expected to improve during the winter when parents might keep their kids at home in bad weather.

The transportation change will be conducted within the parameters of the current contract with Student Transportation of America. There will be no additional cost to the budget or the taxpayers.

The Board of Education thanked Rozanski for his effort to solve the transportation issue Batavia High School has had for several years.

The proposed increased transportation will be added to the ballot which goes to voters on May 19.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Parents meet, discuss pulling students from Common Core test

post by Jess Wheeler in batavia, City Schools, common core, education, schools

The Batavia City School district is not expected to meet the 95-percent mandated participation rate for the Common Core standardized tests that started today and continue into next week. A letter released from the office of Superintendent Christopher J. Dailey said the district could lose local control of the schools and the funding for teaching positions as a result.

“No one wants to see funding stripped from our schools,” said Brian Odachowski, a father of two daughters. “No one wants to lose teachers. But there is an obvious growing number of parents who are not buying into these standardized tests and Common Core as a whole.”

On Monday Night, Loy Gross, math tutor and co-founder of United to Counter the Core, met with a group of nine parents and three students to talk about testing refusal. The parents agreed that their kids are stressed out about the tests and none are participating.

Gross's 15-year-old daughter was taking college-level math classes and getting a 4.0 when she took the Common Core Regents math test last year. She only just passed. Gross pulled both of her kids out of school to homeschool them in September. “These tests are no good. They are designed for the kids to fail,” she said.

Eighth-grader Gabrielle Crespo said she doesn’t understand the material and doesn’t think she will do well on the exam.

“2x + dog = kitty poop. That’s what math is like in my head,” she said.

Crespo’s mother, Julie Bolas-Carasone, is frustrated that she can’t help her daughter do her homework.

“There is no material given to the parents to help,” she said. “The staff just tells us to ‘Google it.’ Google is great, but what about those of us who don’t have Internet access at home?”

Parents are not only frustrated because they can’t help their children, they are concerned that their children may not have reached the targeted cognitive level of the test. Common Core testing is also used to evaluate teachers across New York State and some people believe the educators are teaching in fear for their jobs.

“The kids can sense the fear from the teachers and it’s stressing them out,” Bolas-Carasone said. “Teachers are not teaching because they’re passionate.”

The Common Core tests are graded as a cut-score on the level of one through four. Three and four are considered passing grades. The school receives the results for each student, but according to parents, they do not receive the tests back. Parents voiced concerns of not knowing how to help their children succeed when they don't know where they struggled on the tests.

According to the New York State Education Department Web site, 2014 saw an improvement from the previous year. Statewide, math scores rose in levels three and four from 31.2 percent to 35.8 percent. English Language Arts went from 66.9 percent to 69.6 percent. The scoring represents proficiency level.

Parents at the United to Counter the Core meeting last night said they do not believe the test results accurately reflect their child’s proficiency.

“The only way to win this game, is not to play,” Gross said.

Monday, April 13, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Hawley calls on State Ed Dept. to clarify Common Core opt-out rules

post by Howard B. Owens in common core, education, schools, steve hawley

Press release:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) today called on the New York State Education Department (SED) to provide guidance to parents and school districts about the consequences of opting out of Common Core tests and what it could mean for future funding. Hawley said school districts are operating in the dark about what will happen as a result of a large number of students opting out of the upcoming Common Core tests, and that State Ed should provide more information so parents can make informed decisions.  

“I realize that Common Core is an increasingly controversial issue and thousands of students have already opted out of the tests,” Hawley said. “While I respect parents’ rights to opt their children out of the Common Core tests, I do not want them to make a decision that will negatively impact the funding received by their school districts. This is why I am calling on SED to clarify how opting out will impact schools’ funding. At this point, SED has created a complex situation where many factors are still undetermined. It is their obligation to provide direction to schools. SED has an equal responsibility to provide us with accurate information as to how funding will be impacted if a large number of students chose to forgo the state assessments this year.”

Common Core tests for English Language Arts begin tomorrow and Math Assessments begin later this month. In 2014, more than 100,000 students opted out of both the English and Math tests. Schools are required to maintain adequate yearly progress and show 95 percent participation in state assessments for grades three through eight to remain eligible for full Federal funding.

Monday, April 13, 2015 at 2:13 pm

City Schools superintendent addresses opt-out issue on Common Core tests

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, City Schools, common core, education, schools

Open letter from Chris Dailey, superintendent of Batavia City Schools:

We are writing today to share your district’s perspective on the New York State Assessments in grades 3-8 that will be taking place April 14-16 and April 22-24, 2015.

Pursuant to New York State Education Department (NYSED) Regulations and subsequent guidance, all students in public and charter schools in Grades 3-8 are required to take all State assessments administered for their grade level, in accordance with both Federal and State laws. NYSED has made clear that, with very limited exceptions (such as with regard to certain students with disabilities), “there is no provision in the statute or regulation that allow parents to opt their children out of State Assessments.” Further, all public schools in New York State are mandated by NYSED to require all students in attendance in school or in attendance on the assessment days or make-up days, to take the assessment scheduled for that day.

Batavia joins many other districts in calling for an end to using these assessments in the administrator and teacher evaluation process. We believe that great teaching is not always reflected in the results of any single assessment. We also believe that state assessments are just one indicator that can help us analyze student growth and school performance. As far as the opt out/refusal movement that has taken place this spring, we would like to share how having your child refuse the test could impact BCSD through these four points:

1. We do not use the assessment results to punish or terminate teachers. Rather, we work collaboratively with the BOE, administrators and teacher union to ensure that we keep perspective over this one piece of data for student achievement. It is not used in BCSD to hurt our administrators, teachers or students.

2. The assessment data allows us to analyze and reflect on Batavia’s curriculum and instruction practices while also comparing our students to other students across the state with similar population demographics. In general, we do very well compared to other small city school districts with populations like BCSD.

3. We are a Focus District. We were identified in the summer of 2012 for a subgroup of students at Robert Morris in 2009-10 that struggled with the NYS assessments. We were told it would be a three year process of working with NYSED to improve incrementally each year. Since Robert Morris was closing due to the consolidation, we were required to have the school with the largest population of that subgroup take its place. Thus, the Middle School became our Focus School. We have had to submit education improvement plans for both the District and Middle School each year that must then be approved by NYSED. Thus far, we have shown incremental growth each year. If we do not make our participation rate of 95% on the exams, we potentially could lose more local control for our district. We have regularly made this participation target. This year we are in jeopardy of not reaching our participation rate due to the number of refusals being submitted by parents. Two or more years of not making the participation goal could lead to us being deemed a Priority District which would have even more ramifications than being a Focus District.

4. If our participation rate dips below 95% we can also potentially lose a portion or the entire Title I federal grant, which impacts 26 teaching positions and professional development opportunities for our staff. It would be the equivalent of losing funding for 12 full-time teaching positions.

We hope this information is helpful and thank you for providing us with outstanding children to work, learn and grow with every day. Take Care of BCSD!

Christopher J. Dailey, Superintendent of Schools

Molly Corey, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Friday, April 10, 2015 at 12:27 pm

City School budget advances with no tax increase and three added teaching positions

post by Jess Wheeler in batavia, City Schools, education, schools

The return of three teaching positions and the lack of a tax increase highlight a 2015-16 budget proposal for Batavia City schools following this week's budget meeting. 

The reinstated teaching positions include a science teacher and a social studies teacher, both at the middle school level. The third position is for a districtwide music teacher.

There are students on a waiting list to take music classes.

The preliminary budget released in January projected a .55-percent increase in the tax levy, but with new state aid numbers that increase was zeroed out.

“The governor has always given budget projections,” Business Administrator Scott Rozanski said. “This year, he did not. So we used the budget numbers from the current year. When the state budget was finalized, we saw an increase of about $427,000. We used that to reduce the tax levy to 0 percent.”

The $427,000 will be coming in New York State Aid.

The proposed budget includes an increase in mileage for transportation at John Kennedy Intermediate School.

“I think the Board has sensed the needs of the taxpayer and has done even better than the governor projected,” Rozanski said.

The board meets again April 14 to finalize the budget proposal.

The public vote is May 19. The election will include the budget, transportation and three open seats on the school board.

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