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SSCSD Board of Education Updates as of Sept. 21
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs City School District held a Board of Education meeting on Sept. 21 to discuss a new COVID screening testing partnership with Saratoga County, “Stay Open Plan” updates, as well as updates on the capital Legacy project
New COVID Screening Testing Partnership
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Patton has announced a COVID screening testing partnership with the Saratoga County Department of Health, working closely with the County Director of Health. Saratoga Springs City School District is a couple of weeks away from implementing weekly screening and diagnostic tests, with the opportunity for those who ae vaccinated to opt out. As of Sept. 21, 79% of eligible people in the county ages 12 and up are vaccinated, and based on staff reports, 83% of staff members in the Saratoga Springs City School District are vaccinated.
“Saratoga is leading the way when it comes to having both screening and diagnostic testing available to school districts,” said Dr. Patton.
Federal funding is available for the district to run this program and is available to all districts in the area. Saratoga will begin with the staff, having them provide proof of vaccination or their Excelsior Pass to get an accurate count on the unvaccinated and the logistics of how many need to be tested on a weekly basis. Once the district is comfortable with the testing process, information and parental consent forms will be shared with parents. School nurses will also have PCR tests for symptomatic students, also requiring parental consent; within 24 hours students will be notified of their PCR test results.
“Stay Open Plan” Updates
Updates to the districts “Stay Open Plan” were also announced at the most recent Board of Education meeting.
Approximately 6,000 students are attending classes in-person again throughout the district. Since the first day of school, there have been 21 confirmed positive COVID cases between students and adults; 9 in elementary, 11 in middle school, and 1 in the high school. Currently, 101 students are on mandatory quarantine by Saratoga County. The school is required to report the following key indicators to the county for contract tracing: consistency of mask use, social distancing and time of association, and vaccination status of those 12 years and older. The county, not the school district, determines who quarantines and for what length of time.
The academic plan in place is PIVOT. PIVOT is for classes, grade levels, or the entire school to transition to temporary online learning. Students will Zoom in daily for live instruction, following their normal daily schedule. Teachers should have already shared procedures with grades K-12, with additional information regarding study halls and flex to be announced. Attendance will be taken and Zoom links can be found on Seesaw for grades K-5 and Canvas for grades 6-12.
Looking ahead, an enhanced quarantine support plan will also be implemented beginning the week of Sept. 20 for 6th graders and in October for everyone else. This enhanced online support is for individual students under a longer quarantine period; a longer quarantine consists of three or more days. This is the information available as of Sept. 21:
Students and parents will access work and communicate with teachers using Seesaw and Canvas. Teachers will do live check-ins with students under these longer quarantines. Additionally, their online classes will be structured on a set schedule 1-2 hours per class depending on grade level band with a New York State Certified Educator approved by NYSED for live instructional online support. All of which is coordinated by the school district. If a student needs a device, please contact the school’s main office. Students should access their teachers during daily flex time upon returning from quarantine for additional help.
“Since March of 2020, we learned that students need more live instruction, access to technology, and also alternatives, set schedules and expectations, relationships with peers and adults are even more important, and that we need to do a better job as a district communicating and using communication tools,” said Lisa Cutting, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment.
Capital Project Updates
Phase 1 of the Legacy Project is complete, and the district is now looking to move on to Phase 2. The Legacy Project includes enhancing security with a new visitor management system, security cameras, etc., as well as other building improvements and energy efficiencies. The bid was this fall (Fall 2021), and estimated completion is Sept. 2023.
The specific Dorothy Nolan/Greenfield/ Transportation projects include a secure entrance vestibule, cafeteria upgrades, and replacements in the transportation building. The bid for these projects is Fall 2022 with an estimated completion by Summer 2023/2024.
The bid for projects in the high school will also be in Fall 2022 with an estimated completion in Summer 2025. This includes a renovated dining hall, upgrading from a serving line to scattered food court stations with a variety of counter, group, and booth seating, as well as a renovated fitness center, with the current weight room being converted to a wellness center.
Now that the district is coming out of Phase 1, the bidding process, they will proceed into the design review and construction phases. Members of the district will be updated on the progress of Phases 2 and 3 in future board meetings.
The Charlton School Awards
BURNT HILLS — This past Friday was a day of celebration for The Charlton School. As music students practiced under the pavilion for their Juneteenth celebration, art students received awards from Saratoga Springs Mayor, Meg Kelly.
On Friday, June 18, seven high school students at The Charlton School received the first ever Legislative Artistic Awards. Mayor Meg Kelly and Mary Jo Bradley, Art Educator at The Charlton School, collaborated to choose the recipients who were being awarded for their contribution to the community through their art.
The Legislative Artistic Award recipients were: Kieara Pierrot-Mastaitis, Anna Wickiser, Cadence Love, Zoe Cordero, Maya Clapp, Natalie Biganini, and Sage Alling.
Each student painted a landscape scene using acrylic paint with a palette knife and/or brushes. Their artwork is currently on display in the Mayor’s Office and will be for the next three months.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come into my office and complimented the artwork,” said Mayor Kelly. “The talent that has come out of The Charlton School is amazing.”
The Charlton School is a residential therapeutic school, and so the awards ceremony was livestreamed for the student’s parents. Bradley says she has seen elevated joy and confidence in the students who were recognized for their art, and she was happy that their parents could virtually attend the ceremony to show their support as well.
“Each piece was a process,” said Bradley. “But, each piece is also a masterpiece.”
Zoe Cordero, one of the award recipients, painted a cherry blossom landscape that is among the collection in the Mayor’s Office.
“It wasn’t an easy piece for me, but it was something I worked really hard on. I learned a lot about color matching and used different techniques in each corner of the painting,” said Cordero.
Mayor Kelly has been working with The Charlton School for a year and half already, helping students get internships and part-time work. Although Mayor Kelly will not be running for office next year, the awards will be ongoing. Before her term ends, she is hoping to get more of the student’s artwork displayed around the city; commenting that Saratoga Springs is an
“Art is about communication,” said Mayor Kelly. “Art changes lives.”
Attn Students: Regents Exams Update
SARATOGA SPRINGS — June Regents Exams are fast approaching, and for the second year in a row there are new exemption requirements that students and parents should be aware of.
In 2020, New York State received a waiver from the federal government that allowed them to cancel all standardized tests, including the Regents Examinations. The United States Department of Education (USDE) has announced that it will not grant a blanket waiver for 2021 state examinations.
Therefore, the NYS Board of Regents has reduced the June Regents Examination period to include only the four core exams that are required by federal standardized testing law. These exams are: English Language Arts, Living Environment (Biology), Algebra I, and Physical Setting/Earth Science. Regents Exams that were cancelled include: Global History & Geography, U.S. History & Government, Geometry, Algebra II, Chemistry, and Physics. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) will not be administering any Regents Exams in August 2021.
However, students are not required to take any of these four Regents if they are passing the corresponding course; they will receive the “C19EX” designation/exemption on their transcript for that Regents Exam. As per NYSED guidelines, grades on any of the four exams will not factor into a student’s course average, and the tests will not affect graduation requirements. Saratoga Springs City School District stated the following about the new requirements:
“We feel it is important for students to obtain a measure of their learning from their school year and we encourage students to take these exams if they are enrolled in the course. Students will not be penalized for not taking the Regents examination, nor will not taking an exam have an adverse impact on graduation requirements or diploma types.”
Although these specific exemptions are due to current circumstance, New York State had begun an assessment of graduation requirements last year, before the pandemic put it on hold. The discussion is planned to resume this summer.
Exam dates and times are set by the NYSED for all students and there is no online option. The exam schedule for the Saratoga Springs City School District is as follows:
June 17: English Language Arts @ 8 a.m.
June 22: Living Environment (Biology) @ 8 a.m.
June 23: Algebra I @ 8 a.m.
June 24: Physical Setting/Earth Science @ 8 a.m.
Safety, Budget, Equity: A Variety of Topics Discussed at BOE Forum
The Sun Will Come Out... In Toga
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A four-legged Broadway star joined the 100 students of Maple Avenue Middle School’s drama program for this year’s production of ANNIE.
Billion Dollar Contribution to New York State Education by Saratoga Casino Hotel
SARATOGA SPRINGS — On Saturday, Oct. 6, the Saratoga Casino Hotel reached a monumental achievement in the history of the 77-year-old property: since expanding the harness track into New York State’s debut VLT facility in January 2004, the casino has officially contributed one billion dollars to New York State Education.
Saratoga Casino Hotel contributes 48 percent of their total gaming revenues to New York State Education on a weekly basis, where the funds are then allocated across the region and state accordingly. With only nine gaming facilities across the state that are a part of the New York State Gaming Association, Saratoga Casino Hotel is only the third property to surpass the billion-dollar threshold for education contributions.
“Since opening the doors to our casino in 2004, we’ve worked diligently to develop an historic harness track into a strong entertainment destination for our region and New York State,” said Daniel Gerrity, President of Saratoga Casino Hotel.
“This is something we’re very proud of, and we could not have achieved this without the commitment of our team members, unions and trades staff,” Gerrity continued.
Radio Dreams: Skidmore Radio Offers Youth Program
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A local college student and professor are showing young people the power of radio.
Skidmore College junior Adam Simon and professor Adam Tinkle introduced the Upstate Youth Radio & Podcast Project this summer, with the goal of showing Capital Region kids the inner workings of radio production and sound engineering. According to the project’s official website, the project teaches kids “everything you need to be a radio DJ, talk show host, audio documentarian, and podcaster.”
The kids involved with the program are mostly preteens, but the range of ages runs from as young as seven to as old as 20. Simon and Tinkle wanted to be sure that the program would show that kids of all ages could gain things from radio production. Two days out of the week, the program runs workshops for its participating kids in the C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios, one at the Saratoga Springs location and the other at the Schenectady venue. Another two days out of the week, they take what they have learned in the workshops and run actual broadcasts from WSPN. On these days, Mondays and Thursdays, from 4-6 p.m., Simon either broadcasts prerecorded material produced during the workshops, or he works with the kids live in the studio. Simon said that for some of the younger participants, the sense of planning something and seeing it play out for an audience is the most engaging part of the program.
The program was made possible via a grant as part of Skidmore’s Faculty/Student Summer Research program, which allows individuals with the school to have around 5-10 weeks of lab or classroom time on-campus during the summer for research purposes. Unlike the traditional research pursuits that this program allows for, the Upstate Youth Radio Project is acting as a sort of pilot program, providing a means for facilitating youth involvement in radio production and testing the waters for a potential network of youth radio programs in the Saratoga area and beyond.
“We are basically acting as if we could propose a sort of permanent installation of this project,” Simon said.
The inspiration for the project partly came from similar projects that Tinkle had run in the past focused on getting young kids involved in experimental and improvisational music. Simon also said that the school’s possession of its own radio station was a major inspiration for creating the program. Creating such a program also went a ways to fixing the situation whereby the station would have to rely on automated playlists in the summer when many of its student DJ’s would be back home.
Simon is a philosophy major at Skidmore College with a minor in media and film studies. He has been involved with Skidmore’s local radio station, WSPN, as a radio DJ since his freshman year. Tinkle is a visiting professor at the school, teaching film and media studies with the John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative.
All photos courtesy of Adam Simon.
Ballston Spa Teacher Reaches for the Stars
BALLSTON SPA – Ankie Meuwissen, a science teacher from Ballston Spa High School, recently completed a special program that will help her to bring the stars to her students.
From June 15-19, Meuwissen took part in the Honeywell Educators in Space Academy (HESA) program in Huntsville, Ala. The program gives educators from across the country a chance to learn more about space and space-related technologies, so that they can ideally bring back the things they learned to share with their students. Meuwissen mentioned that there were also activities focused on incorporated engineering design, which she said would be “much needed from our graduates.”
The HESA program was created in 2004 by the Honeywell Company in conjunction with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center with the intention of helping math and science teachers become more effective STEM instructors. This year, Meuwissen was among over 200 other educators from 45 states and 33 countries. Over the years, 2,776 instructors have taken part in HESA, from 52 U.S. states and territories and 62 countries, with official estimates putting the numbers of students impacted by the program through their instructors at over 3 million.
At HESA, Meuwissen went through around 45 hours of classroom and laboratory instruction. Some of the activities that she took part in included a jet simulation, scenario-based space missions, land and water survival training, interactive flight dynamics programs, and more. Some of the activities that stood out to Meuwissen the most were mock water landing drills and a simulation of gravity on the Moon, which is about 1/6 the gravity found on Earth. Attendees were also able to hear from important pioneers in the realm of space travel, including space flight advocate Ed Buckbee, “Rocket Boys” author Homer Hickam, and astronaut Clayton Anderson.
Meuwissen said that she first heard about the program from “a friend of a friend,” and thought that it sounded both interesting and like something that would have meaningful benefits for her students.
“I learned sometime in the spring,” Meuwissen said about getting the opportunity to attend HESA. “I was really excited! What a wonderful opportunity!”
Meuwissen’s students were initially excited to hear about her involvement with the program, however, she said that the now-previous year’s students did not really see any benefit from it. Next year’s class will be the one to experience the significant changes in her curriculum.
“Currently I have plans to alter my bottle rocket project and incorporate better engineering practices into it,” Meuwissen said. “I also want to create a lesson around thermal heat shields into my physics class, and challenge students to keep an egg-stronaut safe as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere.”
Meuwissen has been with the Ballston Spa school district for five years and currently teaches astronomy, physics, and earth science.
Representing New York: Saratoga Student Chosen for Prestigious Medical Conference
SARATOGA SPRINGS – One local scholar is on his way to a bright future in the field of medicine.
Matias Kivi, a sophomore at Saratoga Springs High, has been chosen to attend the Congress of Future Medical Leaders in Lowell, Mass., from June 25-27 as a delegate from New York State. According to Kivi, only a handful of young people are selected to attend from each state. While there are a number of other delegates from N.Y., Kivi is the only one from the Saratoga County area. Dr. Robert Darling, the Medical Director of the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists, nominated Kivi for the Congress, based on his “academic achievements, leadership potential and determination to serve humanity in the field of medicine,” according to a press release from the Academy.
The aim of the congress is to motivate and direct honors-level high school students across the country that are interested in pursuing a career in medicine. Kivi’s ultimate goal is to become a cardiac surgeon, which he said is inspired by his grandmother’s recent bought with heart problems, as well as a general respect for the bravery of surgeons.
“I’m pretty excited,” Kivi said. “It’ll be a long drive down there, but I’m excited to see what’s really going to be there and all the people I’m going to meet. I’m interested to see who else is going to be there who is about my age and what they do as well.”
At the Congress, Kivi will meet with other young aspiring medical practitioners from across the country and have the opportunity to learn from industry leaders. There will be talks given by Nobel Laureates and winners of the National Medal of Science. Deans from Ivy League and other top institutions will be on hand to advise the young delegates on what to expect from medical schools. Patients said to be “living medical miracles” will be present to share their stories. There will also be opportunities for the delegates to learn about the latest advances in the fields of medicine and medical technology.
Some of the major medical leaders attending the congress include Dr. Pardis Sabeti, who used real-time DNA sequencing during the most recent outbreak of Ebola to prove that the disease spreads through humans and not animals, and Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, the first surgeon to perform a full face transplant in the United States. The delegates will also hear from Carmen Tarleton, the fifth recipient of a full face transplant in the U.S. Kivi and his fellow delegates will also have the opportunity to watch a live surgery streamed to the congress from a nearby hospital.
Kivi learned that he had been nominated for the congress by Darling last summer. As becoming a delegate for the congress was not something he sought out, it came as a pleasant surprise. Kivi noted his high mark on the Biology S.A.T., which he took last year, and his consistently high marks in high-level A.P. courses as factors beyond his interest in pursuing a medical career that might have caught Darling’s eye. Kivi is also a part of Saratoga Hospital’s “Students Sharing Opportunities and Responsibilities” (SSOAR) volunteer summer program for high school students.
Kivi has already visited and number of colleges, including Georgetown and Utah University, and will be visiting Northwestern sometime over the summer.
“I’m really proud of him doing this,” Di Kivi, Matias’s mother, said. “Because he’s worked very hard, he’s very good student, and he keeps a good balance in his life, and he deserves this. It’s well-earned.”
Photo by Thomas Kika.
Controversial Lesson Plan Dominates Discussion
Dozens of Saratoga County residents spoke out at Ballston Spa’s Board of Education meeting Wednesday against a controversial online lesson plan that has been linked to the Ballston Spa school district.
The lesson plan, titled “Dying to be a Martyr,” allegedly takes what opponents feel is a sympathetic view towards radical suicide bombers.
“These biased global history lessons are not educational. Our local schools, public schools, are intentionally indoctrinating our youth,” said Renee Murtens of Ballston Spa. “Being sympathetic to any terrorist group, any religion...does not constitute education, nor does it belong in our high schools.”
Word of the plan reached Saratoga County when an article on conservative news site theBlaze.com revealed a Ballston Spa history teacher to be its author. However, school officials say the plan has never been taught.
“It’s about fourteen years old,” Ballston Spa Superintendent Joe Dragone said. “It has never been taught. And we stand by that.”
The plan was created over ten years ago for PBS’s LearningMedia program, which provides over 100,000 free educational resources for teachers and students, and it is still available on the website. It had been relatively unknown until it was dredged up in April.
The lesson plan uses multimedia pieces to “examine the roots of the conflict in the Middle East,” including interviews with individuals linked to suicide bombings.
Many of the meeting’s speakers commented on the apparent lack balance in the history curriculum. Kate Thimineur of Ballston Spa first grew concerned when she flipped through her daughter’s ninth-grade history textbook two years ago.
“I looked into her history book and I noticed that there were 15 pages on Islam and five pages on Christianity and Judaism,” she said. “I asked if that was going to be corrected within the classroom. Long story short, it wasn’t.”
Thimineur requested to observe a class’s lesson on the creation of the state of Israel, but she said she was referred to a different class.
“As I understand it, Mrs. Thimineur has been in the classroom a number of times,” Board of Education President Kevin Schaefer said. “We try not to let parents into the classroom this late in the year when the kids are prepping for regents and end of the year finals.”
Thimineur has expressed her concerns to the board multiple times, she said. The board responded in a letter, writing that though she could discuss other issues, further public comment on the topic would be limited to avoid “rehashing the same issue.”
Other speakers shifted focus to Christianity. Schenectady resident Earl Wallace is a pastor at Liberty Christian Fellowship Church and a former teacher at Saratoga Springs high school. Though the lesson is not taught, Wallace suggested a solution for the speakers’ complaints.
“I teach a course called the Biblical Basis of the Bill of Rights,” Wallace said. “I have programs designed to teach children that which we have suppressed in our society. Our society has become more brutal, more hateful.”
The board plans to respond formally to the torrent of comments. Though they often respond only to specific questions, the board feels reciprocal action is appropriate to resolve some of the confusion around this particular issue.
“The reality is it’s never been taught,” Dragone said. “There’s nothing of that nature going on.”
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