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May 6, 2021 - 12:02pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Notre Dame, schools, education, batavia, news.

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As part of its ongoing 70th Anniversary Celebration, Notre Dame High School today commemorated the laying of the school's cornerstone with a reenactment by Principal Wade Bianco.

The school opened in 1951 as one of 18 high schools in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. Today, Notre Dame is one of eight remaining Catholic high schools in the region.

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Photo: Deacon Walt Szczesny, Kate Edwards (Director of Advancement), senior Ben Skalney ‘21, Mike Rapone (Vice Principal and AD), Joe Teresi (Board President), Kristen Gomez (Director of Academic Advisement), Wade Bianco (Principal), Tom Rapone (Business Manager), John Dwyer, Jennifer Tomm Petosa ‘82, Jim Fix ‘69 

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Maria Prattico lays a wreath on the head of Mary during morning Mass at Notre Dame in an annual tradition, the crowning of Mary, at the school. Deacon Walter Szczesny looks on.

April 30, 2021 - 4:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in coronavirus, covid-19, news, notify, Pavilion, schools, education.

Wearing masks all day while at school is a drag for kids, and some parents in Pavilion brought their concerns to this week's meeting of the Pavilion Central School District Board of Trustees.

Amanda Holley started an online petition that, at the time of the meeting, had been signed by 183 people (it's now at 200) stating that with Pavilion maintaining a six-feet social distancing rule, all-day masking shouldn't be necessary.

The all-day masking rule is in compliance with recently implemented guidance from the NYS Department of Health. The guidance doesn't draw a distinction from schools maintaining six-feet social distancing and three-feet social distancing.

Superintendent Mary Kate Hoffman said area superintendents all share the same concern, they've discussed it in meetings and have raised the issue with the local health department, but the word back from local health officials is that the state is showing little interest in addressing the issue.

 Hoffman suggested that parents concerned about the issue might do better to contact state leaders.

"I would love to see 183 letters go out to our local senators, our representatives, to share those points of view because you're not alone," Hoffman said. "All of the districts in New York State are feeling the same."

The first speaker, of two, at Tuesday's meeting (whose name wasn't clear on the recording), said on that day her eighth-grader had been required to wear a mask for 10-straight hours, including his time on a bus, except for a lunch break.

"That seems like a long time," she said. "These kids are getting no break."

Holley said she was representing parents who shared a similar concern and questioned why the all-day mask mandate was necessary. She noted that Pavilion has been doing a great job of protecting the kids during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I can't speak for everyone's kids but my kids have been the healthiest -- they haven't been sick, not a sniffle, not a cough," she said.  "I attribute that to Pavilion School. I think the school has done an amazing job. I don't see why we have to fix something that isn't broken."

One trustee, who can't be identified from the recording, sympathized with the parents but said there isn't anything the district can do on its own to change the policy.

"We all wish we could do something," she said. "We have to obey the rules or we face financial penalties or a financial punishment, plus we don't want anybody to get stick. We've been super lucky to keep our school open."

Another trustee noted that the teachers don't like the mask policy, either. It's hard to talk all day in a mask. It's hard to hear students.

Another speaker mentioned that teachers have the discretion to allow mask breaks but many teachers are not providing for mask breaks.

Hoffman said more mask breaks would be encouraged.

"It's pretty easy for us to say for teachers to offer a mask break each period," she said.

April 23, 2021 - 11:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in schools, elba, news, photos.

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Today was "Drive Your Tractor to School Day" in Elba.

Photos submitted by Debra Reilly.

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April 16, 2021 - 10:10am
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               Jake Taft

Press release:

The Alexander Central School District’s Board of Education has selected Jared ("Jake") D. Taft as the district’s next Superintendent of Schools. He expected to begin pending successful contract negotiations.

“Coming to Alexander Central as the Elementary Principal and then interim Superintendent has a great deal of nostalgia for me," Taft said. "This school district feels like home. Our school colors are the same as my childhood elementary school where my mom was also a teacher. My first childhood school experiences were in a school nearly identical to Alexander Elementary School.

“I am profoundly grateful, honored, and excited to serve as Alexander’s next Superintendent of Schools. I’m confident that we can tackle the important work ahead of us as we continue to navigate the new normal stemming from the pandemic. But I am sure Alexander has all of the sweat equity, grace and toughness to be successful, strong and even better than before."

“The Board of Education would like to thank the other finalists for their interest shown in this position," said Brian Paris, Alexander Central School District’s Board President. "This was an extremely difficult decision as all of the candidates are highly qualified individuals.

"We truly value the input received from the various stakeholders who met with the candidates to help us make a final decision. The board is confident that Jake Taft will lead our district through the issues we face in our region. With his leadership, we will work together to continue to deliver the best education possible for our students.” 

Taft currently serves as the interim superintendent of Alexander Central Schools, a role he has held since September 2020. Previously, from 2019-2020, he served as principal of Alexander Elementary School.

Taft began his career in education in 2000 as a teacher at Roy H. Mann Intermediate School in Brooklyn. He has served in principal roles at the Royalton-Hartland, Lackawanna, and Lewiston-Porter Central School Districts.

In each of these districts, he focused on developing positive, collaborative, and productive relationships to cultivate a culture of teaching, learning and caring for all.

Some of his 20-year career highlights include: evaluating and implementing the annual School Improvement Plan at Royalton-Hartland Middle School; supervising and coordinating the P-Tech Grant Program at Lackawanna High School; and providing instructional leadership to Professional Learning Communities to advance student learning at Lewiston-Porter High School. In 2015, Taft was awarded the Trocaire College Reflections Award for P-Tech. 

Taft earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice, and a Master of Science in Elementary Education from Niagara University. He also earned a Master of Science in School Administration and Supervision from Touro College. He is completing coursework for his Doctorate of Education.

He holds New York State permanent certifications in Elementary Education, and Special Education, and as a School District Administrator and Supervisor.

Kevin MacDonald, District Superintendent of the Genesee Valley BOCES, acted as the search consultant and noted that the search process was a true collaboration between the Board of Education and stakeholders.*

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*Clarification statement by Kevin MacDonald stating that stakeholders were not involved in the superintendent search interview process.

April 14, 2021 - 4:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in schools, education, news, covid-19, coronavirus.

Previously: School districts responding to new COVID-19 guidance from state

While working on a story today about new state guidelines for local schools, we emailed questions to the Public Health Director, Paul Pettit, and asked him about the new guidance, which makes local health departments (LDH in his response below) responsible for ensuring local school districts are adhering to state guidelines.

We asked if this was an additional burden for his department. We asked about what guidance he's offered superintendents given the seeming confusion the new guidelines may have created. Here is his response:

Yes, the shift of putting the LHDs into the role of compliance with the new state guidance was not discussed prior to the release of the document last Friday. This again is an example of the state adding additional requirements on the local agencies without notification and recognition of the current burden and lack of capacity for additional work with the current pandemic response needs.

Up until this guidance came out, LHDs have been in a guidance role and focused on case investigations and dealing with COVID cases in the school populations. Currently, as this was just released, there has been no clarification or process developed for ensuring compliance with these guidelines.

We have had weekly meetings with our superintendents and have discussed this new guidance and are seeking clarification from the state on several areas that are shifts from the previous guidance including, the 100-percent masking mandate, the use of barriers as a mitigation strategy for reducing distance and the data sources for determining community transmission.

Currently, based on the CDC data, our county is in the high transmission category (Red Zone), which restricts distancing below 6 feet for middle and high school students unless they are able to cohort the students.

Many of these shifts have created barriers and challenges for increased in-person instruction in many of our districts. Each school is required to seek their communities risk tolerance to reducing distancing prior to changing their plans with their stakeholders and adhering to the new guidance.  

The LHD has not currently received or reviewed any school plans to date, nor are we planning to. The new guidance does also not require this review/approval component. Similar to all reopening plans (for businesses etc.) we do not review/approve them but would reference for compliance if complaints were brought forward.

The schools are responsible to adhere to the guidance and ensure their plans incorporate and follow the new guidance. This is to be posted and available public included submitted/filed with the department of education and the LHD. We are working to get further clarification.

April 14, 2021 - 12:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in schools, education, covid-19, coronavirus, news, notify.

New guidance from the NYS Department of Health instructs school districts to set rules for social distancing based on transmission metrics for COVID-19. But with the state and CDC providing data that can seem contradictory, area superintendents are trying to come up with the best approach to educate students while following state requirements.

By and large, the superintendents seem to be relying on one statement in the 23-page document that gives local school boards latitude to make local decisions.

"Ultimately, the school/district’s decision to move to shorter physical distances will come down to a local community’s risk tolerance based on its unique circumstances," the guidelines state.

That is certainly the approach Superintendent Anibal Soler is taking with Batavia city schools, which are scheduled to go back to full-time in-class learning on Monday.

This week, he sought the Board of Education's approval to continue with the reopening plan, which the board agreed to do.

Soler pointed out that with 131 new cases in the past week (as of Monday), Genesee County is in the state's Red Zone for transmission rate. The state says our testing positivity rate is 6 percent and the CDC says it is 3 percent, both numbers below the threshold that would require 6 feet social distancing in all circumstances.

At 6 feet in all circumstances, Batavia's reopening plan would be difficult to pull off. The district is relying on allowing students in certain situations, such as sitting in classrooms, to be able to mask up and be within 3 feet of each other.

The guidance affects both districts like Batavia that are moving back to full-time in-class learning and those that have already made the transition or started the academic year with in-person attendance.

Mary Kate Hoffman, superintendent in Pavilion, informed her board of the new guidance at Monday's board meeting. Currently, Pavilion schools are five days per week for elementary school and in-person five days a week with in-person classes for sixth through 12th grades, with Wednesday being a fully remote day for the middle and high school.

The policy to this point has been to require masks only when people can't maintain 6 feet of social distancing. The new guidance requires students, teachers, and staff to wear masks at all times. Hoffman said the district will make that policy change.

Elba is open five days a week for in-person learning after starting with a hybrid model in September and gradually moved to full-time, in-class learning. 

"Our approach and plan have worked to keep kids and staff safe," said Superintendent Ned Dale.

Pembroke has been in session with students on campus full-time since the start of the school year. Superintendent Matthew Calderon said the new guidance will not change much for the district.

"We added classroom sections to spread students out 6 feet apart and installed 1,500 desk shields," Calderon said. "We're not inclined to change from 6 feet to 3 feet, and despite the CDC backing off the need to use desks shields (which in part I believe they did due to the great cost incurred by schools, which was hindering many from opening), we will probably continue to use them as well."

"The new guidance states that if schools are going to reduce physical distancing to less than 6 feet between students, decisions must be made with input from parents, community members, teachers, staff, and local departments of health," Calderon added.

"We will carefully review the updated guidance and tweak our plan as needed, but as mentioned, I don't think we need to change anything, and we would like to maintain our plan as is. The initial response from our local DOH in that regard was positive. Nonetheless, we have an upcoming meeting with the local DOH and will certainly adjust our plan if needed."

Merritt Holly, superintendent in Le Roy, which went back to on-campus full-time learning on April 6, said he is seeking clarification on some of the requirements in the new guidance but is maintain the current plan for now.

"It won't complicate anything until I get clarification," Holly said. "When will that clarification come in? I am not sure yet."

Superintendents indicated they are working with Public Health Director Paul Pettit to ensure their education plans are in compliance with guidelines and that Pettit has been helpful and responsive. The new guidance doesn't require the districts to file modified plans with the state but to publish them on their websites and gives local health departments the tasks of ensuring compliance.

We attempted to reach Pettit for comment but have not yet heard back from him.

To read the state's guidelines, click here (PDF).

April 14, 2021 - 9:13am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia HS, batavia, news, schools, education.

Teachers at Batavia High School, looking to pursue relevant topics in fresh ways have proposed three new courses that were approved by the city school's Board of Education on Monday night.

The courses, two in Social Studies and one in English will only go forward if students show sufficient interest in taking the elective classes.

The courses are:

  • Sports and Race Relations through Digital Media, which will explore pivotal moments in American History in an effort to understand how they contribute to modern laws, policies, systems and culture. 
  • Law and Justice in America I and II will provide students an overview of the various areas of Civil and Criminal Law in our American legal system, along with time to discuss contemporary issues pertaining to justice in America. 
  • 1960s Literature, Lyrics and Culture will examine influences between our current times and the '60s. 

Superintendent Anibal Soler told the board it's important to recognize that these are teacher-driven initiatives and Molly Corey, director of curriculum and instruction, said, "Teachers are passionate because they were eager to see some changes in the courses they teach."

She added, "What we’re looking to do is provide more choice and some relative and timely topics.”

Existing teachers will lead the classes. There is no need to hire additional staff. They don't replace core classes.

Trustee Shawna Murphy, herself a teacher at Genesee Community College, said, "That’s what teachers are constantly doing, coming up with new ways at teaching concepts and making it relevant and easier to understand and, you know, ‘why does this matter to you as a student.’ I think that’s the fun part of being a teacher."

April 6, 2021 - 10:48am
posted by Press Release in byron-bergen, schools, education, news.

Press release: 

The Byron-Bergen Central School District’s Board of Education (BOE), has named three finalists for the next Superintendent of Schools. 

Debra List, president of the Byron-Bergen Central School District’s BOE, said she is pleased with the high-quality candidate pool and is enthused about the potential the three finalists have to offer. 

“Choosing the best superintendent for the district is the board’s main priority,” List said. “The field of candidates was diverse, which made narrowing the field to three very difficult. We are confident that one of these candidates will be the best choice for our school district and community.”

The three finalists are Patrick McGee, Jennifer Sinsebox, Ed.D., and Tracy Marchianda. 

McGee is currently the principal of Byron-Bergen Junior/Senior High School, a position he has held since 2015. From 2013 until 2015, he served as the assistant principal of Byron-Bergen Junior/Senior High School. Before that, McGee was the dean of students from 2012 until 2013. He began his career in education in 2007 as a fifth-grade teacher at Byron-Bergen Middle School and served in this role until 2012. Throughout his career at Byron-Bergen CS, he has served in many leadership capacities including: overseeing and supporting the growth of a Video Coaching Model to assist teachers with professional development; increasing the number of Advanced Placement courses offered; implementing an agriculture program; and revitalizing an FFA Chapter. Under McGee’s tenure, Byron-Bergen High School was named U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools for 2018, 2019 and 2020.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John Fisher College in Elementary and Special Education, and a master’s degree in Education, Curriculum and Instruction from the Buffalo State College. McGee earned a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Leadership from the University of Rochester and also holds New York State certifications as School Building and District Leader, as well as Childhood Education and Students with Disabilities. 

Jennifer Sinsebox, Ed.D., is the executive director of Curriculum and Data Management at Wheatland-Chili Central Schools, a position she has held since 2008. From 1996 until 2008, she served as a special education teacher at Wheatland-Chili Central Schools. In 1993, Sinsebox started her path in education as a Special Education teacher at Bloomfield Central Schools. Sinsebox is also an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Brockport, a post she has held since 2015. During her tenure at Wheatland-Chili CS, she: organized district family/community engagement parent university workshops; assisted in the creation of a five-year Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education district plan; and directed and facilitated the district strategic plan with the development of the district comprehensive improvement plan. 

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Special Education from Nazareth College. Sinsebox holds a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from The State University of New York at Brockport and also holds New York State certifications in School District Administration, as well as Elementary and Special Education. Sinsebox completed her doctorate in Education in 2020.

Tracy Marchianda has been employed by Geneva City School District since 2011, and currently is the assistant superintendent for Teaching, Learning and Accountability, a post she’s held since 2020. Her leadership roles at the Geneva City School District include director of Innovation and Multi-Language Learners, director of Innovative Programming and Student Services, and principal of North Street Elementary School. Marchianda is presently an adjunct professor at the University of Rochester. From 2000 until 2011, she served the Bath Central School District, first as the principal of Vernon E. Wightman Primary School, and then as the director of Curriculum and Instruction. In these roles, she facilitated a comprehensive curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development program for a high-needs rural school district. Marchianda started teaching in 1989 as a second- and fifth-grade teacher at Dundee Central School District where she also served as a staff development trainer and English Language Arts coordinator. 

Marchianda earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the State University of New York at Fredonia, and two Master of Science degrees in Education from Elmira College. She is in progress of earning her doctoral degree in Curriculum, Instruction and Science of Learning from the University of Buffalo. She earned a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from the State University of New York at Brockport and also holds New York State certifications as School District administrator and supervisor, as well as literacy specialist, and elementary teacher.

The three candidates will interview with stakeholders on Wednesday, April 7 and conclude the process with final separate interviews with the Board of Education on April 13, 14 and 15. 

The anticipated start date for the new superintendent is July 1.

Kevin MacDonald, district superintendent of the Genesee Valley BOCES, who is acting as the search consultant, said the Board has developed and implemented a process that will help determine the best candidate.

“This is a thorough search process,” MacDonald said. “Finalists will visit the Byron-Bergen Central School District to meet with stakeholders. The process concludes with final rounds of interviews with the Board of Education.”

March 26, 2021 - 5:58pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in mock trials, alexander, schools, education, news.

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Alice Calmes shared this information:

Typically the teams would start preparing in early December when the NYS BAR Association releases the case. However, due to Covid guidelines, the school didn't allow extracurricular activities to start until Feb 22.

At that time, the four returning members recruited four more members, assigned roles, and started working on opening and closing statements, questions for direct and cross, and memorizing affidavits.

The initial round of competitions for them started March 8th and they went 4-0 advancing straight to the semifinals due to a bye in the quarter-finals from being in first place at the end of the initial rounds. A win against Attica High School sent them to the finals against Oakfield-Alabama on Wednesday night.

Both matches were hard-fought, with Alexander beating Oakfield-Alabama in both.

Many of the students had to take a role on both the plaintiff and defense sides, which added to the difficulty of such a short preparation time.

The team consists of: senior -- Erin Hess, a first-year member; juniors -- Shawn Calmes, Katarina Luker, Imogene Plitt and Anna "Annie" Slenker -- all returning members, and Dana Morelli, a first-year member; and freshmen -- Olivia Burkhardt and Holly Bykowski, first-year members.

The team is led by Advisor -- Johnny Lucas, a History teacher at Alexander, and Jane Schmeider, their lawyer advisor.

Erin, Shawn, Katarina, Imogene and Annie are all doubling up on plaintiff and defense.

Photo submitted by Alice Calmes. Not all team members were available at the time this photo was taken and they won't be until after spring break. In the photo are Annie, Holly, Erin, Mr. Lucas, Shawn Calmes, Olivia, Katarina and Imogene (missing is Dana).

For previous mock trial coverage, click here.

March 24, 2021 - 1:08pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, batavia, news, schools, education.

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Kathie Scott, holding the certificate in the photo above, was honored by the city schools' Board of Trustees at its meeting Monday night as she nears the end of her 25-year career with the district.

Scott, who holds a degree in public relations from the University of Dayton, came to the district from BOCES and handled public relations and as social media came along started handling much of the district's official social media presence. 

Superintendent Anibal Solar said no decision has been made on how that role will be filled in the future.

Asked what she will miss most about the job, she said: "Two of my favorite parts of the job were, one, being able to highlight all students and staff in everyday learning as well as the achievements of particular individuals; and two, the changes in the way we communicate has provided so much opportunity to grow and diversify skills. The first – highlighting students and staff – is the part I’ll miss. The other – learning and growing – I can continue to do even though I’m leaving BOCES."

As for what's next, she said, "I’m not sure! I’ve been tossing around ideas, including the same or similar work, but no set plan has crystallized, partly because I’ve been busy trying to finish up projects. I can never sit still though, so I’m excited about the next phase or adventure -- whatever it might turn out to be!"

Photo courtesy Anibal Soler.

March 24, 2021 - 12:57pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy, le roy pd, le roy hs, news, schools, education.

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Chief Greg Kellogg and Le Roy PD hosted drivers education students from Le Roy High School yesterday for a class on law enforcement and driving topics such as vehicle inspection and registration, what to do if pulled over or involved in an accident, and DWI.

Photos and info submitted by Tim McArdle.

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March 23, 2021 - 12:02pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy, arts, entertainment, schools, education, covid-19, coronavirus, news.

Pandemic restrictions won't disrupt one of the most important traditions at Le Roy High School: the annual musical.

This year, music and drama students at Le Roy are presenting a virtual performance of "The Theory of Relativity" by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill.

Streaming tickets are available at leroycsd.org with performances at 7 p.m., April 8, 9 and 10.

The video above explains how the students brought the production together and the new technology skills they learned in the process.

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March 12, 2021 - 12:12pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Pavilion, pavilion hs, news, schools, education, notify.

The smell of natural gas was reported at Pavilion High School this morning at 10:08 a.m.

Pavilion fire responded and confirmed the odor but could not locate the origin of the possible leak.

After about an hour on scene, the scene was turned over to RG&E and Pavilion fire went back in service.

High school classes were canceled for the rest of the day and students were sent home. The rest of the school is unaffected.

The Pavilion girls basketball team is scheduled to play a Section V championship game at home tonight. The status of the game is unknown at this time.

UPDATE 1:20 p.m.: Superintendent Mary Kate Hoffman confirms that students in grades 6-12 have been sent home. Crews from RG&E are in the building attempting to locate the leak. "No decision has been made at this point regarding tonight's game," she said.

March 6, 2021 - 10:05am
posted by Press Release in Chris Jacobs, NY-27, news, covid-19, coronavirus, schools, education.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Jacobs (NY-27) is releasing the following statement after joining Assemblyman DiPietro to call for New York schools to reopen for 100-percent in-person learning five days a week. 

“The impact school closures have had on our children is devastating," Jacobs said. "A new report shows an estimated 3,000,000 children have gone missing from classes. Grades and test scores are slipping, and mental health problems are rising drastically.

"Our teachers have worked hard, but they cannot overcome the inherent constraints of virtual learning, especially in rural areas with limited internet access. Kids need in-person education, social interaction, and full access to school resources and support systems.”

“The Biden administration has flip-flopped on this issue, and just last week, Democrats refused to help us advance policies that would fund an expedited return to school for our students. Republicans introduced over half a dozen amendments to the COVID relief package to open schools. Democrats rejected them unanimously.

"In addition, we offered a motion to redirect $140 million away from subway construction to needed mental health services for at-risk students; once again, Democrats rejected this effort. We need to get politics out of the classroom and get kids back in. We know how to do this safely; let’s follow the science and open our schools.”

March 4, 2021 - 6:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, batavia, news, notify, schools, education.

If he could open Batavia city schools up to in-class learning five days a week any time soon, he would, Superintendent Anibal Soler told the Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday.

He said he knows some neighboring districts are going to daily in-person instruction, but he said the district won't violate any state or CDC guidelines to make it happen in Batavia.

"From our standpoint, if we can put more kids on the bus, we already would have done it," Soler said. "If we could get more kids in a class, we already would have done it."

He said he is staying abreast of guidelines and if changes are announced, the district will be able to work quickly and diligently to adjust.

Also during his superintendent's report on Monday, he said guidelines on masking have changed. Under the new policy, if you have your mask on and the other person has his or her mask and you're not within six feet of each other, you're not going to be subject to quarantine if the other person tests positive for COVID-19. Under the previous policy, anybody in the same enclosed space, such as a classroom, even if 20 feet apart, would be subject to quarantine. 

"This is meant to limit the number of kids and limit the number of teachers who get quarantined," Soler said. 

Soler also updated the trustees on testing.  

The U.S. Department of Education denied the state's request to waive all required state testing for students in grades 3-8 and the Regents test for grades 9-12. As a result, the district will be required to test all in-person learning students, third grade and up, in Math, ELA, and the Regents exams. The state has said these tests will only be used for diagnostic purposes and will not harm school accountability reports. The state is considering not using Regents exams as a requirement for graduation. 

Soler said the district expects to receive more information on testing and graduation and when that information is released, principals will be communicating directly with students, families and staff.

Finally, photo below, Officer Jason Davis, who has served recently as the district's resource officer, was honored by the district as approaches retirement for his service to the community and the district.

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Photo courtesy of Anibal Soler.

You can help support local news by supporting The Batavian.

February 10, 2021 - 12:19pm
posted by Press Release in City Schools, schools, education, news, batavia.

Press release:

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, the Batavia City School District announced its new Community Schools Initiative.

Batavia’s Community Schools Initiative is a transformational researched-based strategy that is focused on the whole child with key participation from school and community leaders, educators, community partners, students, families and residents.

Moving forward, Batavia’s Community Schools Initiative will be rolled out and in place at all four of the district’s schools. Each school will see the community as a resource for learning and development and as a partner in the education of all children.

Batavia’s Community Schools will also develop respectful and mutually beneficial relationships with families, neighborhood residents, agencies, and community-based organizations that are focused on the well-being of children and youth.

Batavia’s Community Schools Initiative will focus on four key areas in an effort to support the whole child:

  • Expanded & Enriched Learning Time

  • Integrated Student Supports

  • Family and Community Engagement

  • Collaborative Leadership Practices

The Batavia Community Schools Advisory Board, which is comprised of various district staff, community-based organizations and partners, has developed the following vision and mission statements to help guide the work and focus of district schools moving forward.

Vision

Build a better Batavia by promoting equitable learning opportunities, cultivating healthier families, and establishing a stronger community.

Mission

Our mission is to unite our Batavia community and schools through shared resources, working partnerships, and open, collaborative communication.

The advisory board also developed a new logo that will help brand and identify events and programs that are directly aligned to the community school’s initiative and also place an emphasis on equity, opportunity and family.

Video supplied by the school district.

Previously: City schools tackling initiative to care for the community in support of education

February 9, 2021 - 1:35pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in John Kennedy School, batavia, schools, news, notify.

The doors at John Kennedy School are getting extra checks on a daily basis to ensure they're closing completely after a door that was left ajar was used by an unauthorized individual to gain entry and pull a fire alarm.

The man's name has not yet been released by Batavia PD. He is apparently undergoing treatment and will be charged once he has been released from care.

Det. Eric Hill confirmed the incident took place and that charges are pending.  

The incident on Jan. 28 was discussed by the Batavia City School District Board of Education during its meeting Monday night, following a school review presentation by Principal Brian Sutton.

"The first door he pulled on, it was open," Sutton said. "He entered the building. He was in the building for about less than a minute, 55, 56 seconds. He stopped, looked at a bulletin board, and on his way, walking out of the loading docks, he pulled the fire alarm. We then had a fire drill where we accounted for all the students, all the individuals.

"Mr. Smith, our head custodian, and I went and checked out the alarm and could see it had been pulled. As soon as it was deemed safe, we had a headcount on everyone, we re-entered the building. Mr. Dehm, our security aide, pulled the camera up and we got an image of the individual and contacted our SRO Officer Davis, and they then apprehended the man down the street quite a bit, a few moments later."

Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. told the board a man matching the description of the subject at John Kennedy had been seen earlier around Batavia Middle School and police were already in the area looking for him when the call came in from JK.

"He happened to pull on a door that happened to work for him," Soler said. "It was definitely an unfortunate situation. No one was obviously impacted. And we did communicate immediately with families that day of the event."

Sutton said as a result of the incident, the school's custodian is now checking on the doors more frequently each day to ensure the doors are closing after people pass through them.

'It's one of those things where it's a good reminder to make sure we check in multiple times," Soler said. "Now we have an alarm set on them. If they don't close all the way, they'll hear an alarm go off in the main office."

February 4, 2021 - 11:40am
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, Anibal Soler, live stream, video, education, schools.
Video Sponsor

We're scheduled to start at noon. We will be talking with Superintendent Anibal Soler about how things are going in Batavia city schools, get a COVID-19 update, talk about "high-risk" sports starting up, reopening Robert Morris, his experience on the Batavia PD stakeholders' group, and the district's new equity policy.

NOTE: The post has been updated with an edited version of the video that cuts out the technical problems at the start of the interview.

February 3, 2021 - 1:43pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in schools, educaiton, news, covid-19, cornavirus, notify.
drjainummcfeb32021.jpg
            Dr. Lalit Jain

Pandemic protocols at schools have been devastating on students, a pediatrician told reporters during a Zoom videoconference call on Tuesday.

Dr. Lalit Jain, chief of pediatrics at United Memorial Medical Center, said some students are falling behind and that the resumption of winter sports considered "high-risk" for the spread of COVID-19, such as basketball, will be of significant benefit to participants.

"(Taking students out of sports) affects them because you are getting social isolation, and like I mentioned, it affects them academically," Jain said. "Just by going out, they will be seeing friends in a safe environment. I think just participating and more activity is going to be very beneficial for the mental health ... of our students."

Local school superintendents seem to agree that the increase in available athletics for students will benefit the children.

"The return of sports safely is a tremendous help for our student-athletes' psyche and those benefits will translate into other areas of their school and community experience," said Anibal Soler Jr., Batavia City School District superintendent.

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          Matthew Calderon

"I wholeheartedly agree that participation in sports and extracurricular activities helps students in every way," said Matthew Calderon, superintendent of Pembroke Central schools.

Jain expressed concern about the decrease in physical activity, the lack of social contact, and the general academic performance of students participating in distance learning.

Superintendents we spoke with shared mixed views on the impact of distance learning on students.

Jain said, "What we see is that kids are having problems with the online platform, a lot of them, because the kids who were before doing fantastic, who were A students, are now having difficulty sustaining attention from home and almost have seen some become school failures, or like grades going from the 90s to almost the 60s.

"And these are the kids without academic difficulties. So we are not even talking about the kids who are challenged, who need special help, and they are even more affected."

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              Merritt Holly

Le Roy Central School Superintendent Merritt Holly characterized Jain's quote as "loaded." 

"I think some students have adapted well to the challenges of online learning," Holley said.

He said there are "some who struggle somewhat (would rather be in the classroom), and others who this system does not fit their learning style (struggle big-time). Really a student-by-student situation."

During the school board meeting Monday, while discussing reconfiguring the use of space in schools, Soler suggested distance learning might remain an option for some students after the pandemic subsides. In response to Jain's comment, he said some students do well while others struggle.

"The pandemic has impacted all of our students and our staff and we continue to try to find ways to support everyone either academically or socially," Soler said. "Social-emotional learning is one of our district goals and we knew that the lack of socialization would ultimately have an impact on our kids and staff.

"The numerous COVID rules that we have to implement have changed much of the experience for both our students and staff, but we continue to do as much as we can safely to bring a sense of normalcy."

In Pembroke, Calderon said, where most students participate in classrooms five days a week, the students who do participate in distance learning seem to struggle the most.

"By no means is online learning or the hybrid model anywhere close to providing students the sound basic education that the New York State Constitution entitles them to receive," Calderon said. "While teachers and support staff throughout our region are doing an amazing job within those parameters, and many students are holding their own, there is no substitute for organic in-person learning."

Calderon said about 20 percent of the district's students are participating in online learning and he's thankful the option exists for those who need it but the situation isn't ideal.

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        Anibal Soler Jr.

"Our in-person learners love being in school, and many of them shed tears when they're told they need to go online for 10-14 days due to mandatory quarantines," Calderon said. "In regard to those who chose the 100-percent online option, a very small percentage are actually flourishing as they could be, and too many choose not to log on consistently despite all efforts to engage them. This may prove to be most problematic for some seniors who will not graduate as a result."

Calderon didn't mince words sharing his opinion about online learning.

"There is no way anyone will ever convince me that online learning is good for kids. and it certainly isn't sustainable," he said.

At the same time, he said, the district obviously takes seriously the need to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the district does all it can to keep the community safe.

"However," he said, "CDC hospitalization data seems to suggest that school-aged students are least at risk to be hospitalized, and therefore, I'm not sure why schools have some of the greatest restrictions in place.

"I'm obviously not a medical professional or in charge of public health, and in my role as a state-funded public school leader, I make sure our school district adheres to all the rules. At the same time, when I look at the data with my own eyes, I certainly scratch my head and wonder."

Citing similar data, Jain said he anticipates the return of "high-risk" sports to be safe for participants.

"Just following the guidelines by physicians and the authorities, I think of that will be really important," Jain said. "I don't think we're going to see that much increase in the (positivity) rate. The schools have been very safe so I think we'll do fine."

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January 28, 2021 - 4:12pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, schools, education, news.

The Board of Trustees for Batavia City School District has adopted a new public communications policy that Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. characterized at this week's meeting as allowing more public input into board decisions and discussions.

The initial idea for drafting a new policy came from board President Alice Ann Benedict in October. At that meeting, Soler suggested running any proposed policy change through a subcommittee.

The proposed policy came to the attention of attorneys at the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic, who drafted a letter to the school district expressing concern about some of the proposed changes, which Attorney Heather Murray said could run afoul of the First Amendment.

In the new policy, the school district seems to have heeded the advice of the clinic.

In the initial draft, a paragraph prohibited public discussion of individual district personnel and students. Murray said this policy would prevent members of the public their right to criticize public officials. She cited a case involving a school board in Virginia where similar language was struck down.

The new policy does not include language prohibiting discussion of individuals.

The original draft also indicated, “Obscene language, libelous statements, threats of violence, statements advocating racial, religious, or other forms of prejudice will not be tolerated.”

Murray informed the district this language was overly vague, noting that a basic tenet of the First Amendment jurisprudence is that speech cannot be restrained in anticipation of libel. She said the appropriate remedy for an alleged libel is a civil suit for money damages.

She also said, "Second, the quoted language as a whole, and in particular 'other forms of prejudice,' is impermissibly vague and provides too much discretion to the Board to restrain certain viewpoints. Further, because these terms are not well defined and left to the determination of the Board President, there would likely be a chilling effect on public speech at Board meetings.

The final policy alters the language from the first draft, too, "All speakers are to conduct themselves in a civil manner. Obscene language, threats of violence, statements advocating racial, religious, or other forms of prejudice on the basis of protected class will not be tolerated."

Federal and state law establishes what constitutes a "protected class" when it comes to discrimination.

The board did retain a requirement that people wishing to speak at meetings first fill out a form, that includes a request for identifying information. Murray's letter suggested requiring people to identify themselves violates the state's open meetings law. However, the new policy does strike a proposal giving the board president the ability to rule on what topics were "generally appropriate." 

Murray noted that giving the board president power to silence people on certain topics prior to them speaking would constitute unlawful prior restraint.

Previously, Benedict had suggested the questions submitted by the public for the board be prescreened. Murray recommended against such a practice since it could constitute viewpoint discrimination and that pre-writing answers to questions submitted prior to the meeting could violate the open meetings law.

Overall, Murray said today she is pleased that the board seems to have listened to the clinic's recommendations.

“The Board’s decision to make revisions to the proposed policy prior to its adoption is a great example of elected officials making decisions with input from the public," Murray said. "Providing the opportunity for members of the public to address school board members on matters of public concern is critical to maintaining trust during this unprecedented time for us all.”

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