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Wanna be a school board member? Train, Work, Learn

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 13, 2013 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (2)

Wanna be a school board member? Train, Work, Learn

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Almost a year after her election, first-time Clinton school board member Amy Franz has learned a lot.

Franz described keeping the state law book at her side and referencing it many times, especially in the beginning.

“This whole year has been a learning process,” said the 49-year-old Clinton resident. “You learn so much about not only your own school district but about the state and requirements that you wouldn’t necessarily know until you are in that position.”
With two years left in her term, Franz now knows her stuff.

On May 21, voters will head to the polls to decide on the 2013-14 school budgets and choose school board members to take office July 1.

Of the 28 districts in the Mohawk Valley, 12 of them — or 43 percent — have contested races and a total of 62 area candidates will vie for 81 seats.

But there’s a lot more to being a Board of Education member than just getting elected.
The job includes training, difficult decision making, strict guidelines and ethics to follow, and numerous man hours.

“There is a lot of responsibility that goes with being a school board member,” said Charles Borgognoni, executive director of the Central New York School Boards Association. “You represent the community. You represent the taxpayers within your community as well as the students.”

“It’s a lot of hours, and sometimes a very thankless job. It puts you out in the public, which is not always easy,” Borgognoni said. “You can’t have a functional public school system without folks stepping up to the plate and participating.”

To run, candidates must first file a petition with 25 signatures from district residents. The applications are then reviewed by the school district to ensure the candidate meets the New York State School Boards Association and the New York State Bar Association requirements.

Qualifications include being able to read and write, being a qualified voter of the district and a district resident for at least a year prior to the election.

Once selected, the newly-appointed members are required by law to attend two trainings within their first year of office, Borgognoni said.

One is the general government training, which includes rules, responsibilities and other duties, he said. The second is fiscal training, which includes going over fiduciary responsibilities such as budgeting.

“Board members typically put in between 20 and 40 hours a week, as well as going to meetings,” Borgognoni said. “The fiscal responsibilities for school districts are very important and require a lot of work and attention. This is all a volunteer job.”

Louis LaPolla has been on Utica City School District Board of Education since 1997. By the end of his current five-year-term, he will have served for 20 years.

LaPolla, the board vice president, brings 16 years of experience teaching in Utica, as well as being Utica mayor from 1983-97, and being on various boards including the Municipal Housing Authority.

“I think you’ve got to know education and know the community before you even attempt to run for the school board,” LaPolla said.

His experience helps him on the board, and to know the community, he said.

“I serve on the school board because I think it’s a way of giving back to the community,” LaPolla said. “It’s very time consuming, the hours are long and the pay is nothing, but you do the best you can because you want to see the community grow and prosper.”


Westmoreland boy lives dream despite disability

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Westmoreland boy lives dream despite disability

6-year-old honorary firefighter for day


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UTICA - Teagan O'Grady rang the fire engine bell over and over again with a smile from ear to ear.

His dream: to be a firefighter when he grows up.

"I rang the bell a lot of times," said the 6-year-old Westmoreland boy.

On Thursday, Teagan was a Utica Fire Department honorary firefighter for a day, riding in the fire engine, getting a tour of the city's fire stations and training facility, and even haveinglunch with firefighters.

"This is going to be super, super, super duper fun," Teagan said in the morning. "My favorite part is getting a ride."

Unfortunately, Teagan might never be able to be a professional firefighter - he has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and can't walk on his own.

"It's a long shot, but we hope," said Ryan O'Grady, Teagan's father, who is a Westmoreland volunteer firefighter.

Born four months early, Teagan was only 1 pound 9 ounces, O'Grady said. Then, one night three weeks after he came into the world, he stopped breathing.

The lack of oxygen to his brain caused his condition.

"He doesn't let the disability get to him," O'Grady said. "Every day he wakes up with a smile and that's how he is from sun up to sun down."

O'Grady and his wife, Carrie, have since been searching for a way to help their son.

They recently found out Teagan is a good candidate for selective dorsal rhizotomy, a spinal surgery that could result in him being able to walk.

"It was a tough decision to make because it's so involved," O'Grady said. "But it's the only shot we've got at him walking and we want to give him the best chance he can have."

Teagan will be having the surgery June 25. The surgery entails being in the hospital in Syracuse for about eight weeks and then a year of rehabilitation.

Teagan already has plans for after the surgery, such as dunking a basketball, playing football and of course, becoming a firefighter.

Utica firefighter and family friend Joe Day helped arrange Teagan's honorary status after hearing about all he went through and that he wanted to see a fire truck.

"Why not give him a good day? If we can put a smile on somebody's face, what's better than that?" Day said.

Women find a voice, struggle with keeping culture

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Women find a voice, struggle with keeping culture


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UTICA - Lul Mohamed has six kids with a seventh on the way.

"Children are a gift from God, you can't stop having them," said the 34-year-old.

Mohamed is Somali Bantu. She moved to Utica in 2004 after living in a refugee camp in Kenya.

Already knowing English when she came here, she and now works as an interpreter for the Multicultural Association of Medical Interpreters in Utica

The Somali Bantu culture is much different from American culture when it comes to women.

Women wear coverings and can't be seen without them by men other than those in their immediate family-something Mohamed wants her daughters to do.

Handshakes with a man-not allowed.

Boys and girls sitting together in school is a definite no.

And birth control is unheard of.

In Somali Bantu culture the more children you have, the more honor you can give your husband, Mohamed said.

Women start having children and don't stop until they can't have them anymore.

Mohamed herself is one of 13 kids.

But now, the second generation of Somali Bantu refugees in the community say they will only have two or three children, Mohamed said.

Here the women are finding a voice and in some cases, questioning their culture. She said.

Girls are going on dates now and stating aloud when they think a man is handsome, Mohamed said. "I think we will lose that culture."

Lost in translation

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Lost in translation

Somali Bantu learn to bridge gap between youth, elders

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UTICA - Rahma Jibril speaks English as well as any American teenager, but she also speaks Maay-Maay and Arabic.

The 18-year-old Somali Bantu refugee wears a traditional Muslim hajib but wants to postpone having children so she can attend college.

Jibril is straddling the old world and this new place she calls home - a challenge that is common amongst refugee groups.

But for the Somali Bantu community, the most non-Westernized group to move to Utica in the past decade, the language and cultural gap is much larger to fill.

There is much less violence here, said Jibril, whose family moved to Utica in 2004. "If people there don't like you, they'll kill you."

She described finding a body in her backyard at the age of 6. "I was very frightened," Jibril said.

Somali Bantu refugees began coming to the area in 1996. Many fled from the ongoing civil war in Somalia and lived in the refugee camps in Kenya before coming to the United States.

To date, 288 Somali Bantu refugees have come to call Utica home, not including the 134 registered secondary migrants, who have moved here from other states, according to the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees.

One of the main challenges they face is the language barrier.

Somali languages, such as Maay-Maay, are mainly spoken rather than written, and schooling is scarce, so many Somali Bantu refugees don't know how to read or write in their own language, making it difficult to learn others. Without language skills, the cultural gap is more difficult to bridge, as is getting a job.

Community youth such as Jibril help translate for their parents and community elders.

Thursday, she sat amongst other refugees translating for them - easily switching between Maay-Maay and English.

But as the conversation turned more in-depth, Jibril stopped and looked to another refugee, Mohamed Ganiso, for help - she didn't know the words in Maay-Maay.

"They (the youth) speak more English than Somali language," said Ganiso, director of the Somali Bantu Association of Central New York. "We are struggling. They can't translate in Somali," he said.

To help, the association holds classes most week nights teaching the youth Somali culture and language and teaching the elders English.

That community mentality is typical of immigrant groups and can be both a plus and a minus, said Theodore Orlin, Utica College professor of government and politics.

"In one sense, you have a support group that's going to help you, help you find jobs, and navigate schools," he said.

"On the other hand, one could argue if they're not asked to assimilate, their ability to pick up the language will be delayed," Orlin said. "Their adaptability to American culture may be indeed shunted simply because they rely on their own community."

Culture is still a big issue.

"For the Somali-Bantu community in general, the most difficult part of the process is to adapt to Western values and culture," said Thalita Bovo, executive assistant at the refugee center.

"On top of it, many refugees from that area went through very difficult and sensitive situations and lived in camps for years. There was none or little opportunity for formal education and work," Bovo said.

The refugee center helps with housing, employment, enrollment in schools and other services such as providing citizenship and immigration services as well as language support.

"Cultural orientation sessions are crucial," Bovo said. The center provides enhanced sessions to the Somali Bantu community to try to bridge the large cultural gap.

"Unfortunately, it is never enough," she said.

Electricity is new for them, the types of housing are different, the food is different and especially the cultural beliefs.

Jibril still remembers getting of the plane in Rochester and seeing all the lights and snow. "I was amazed," she said.

She described starting third grade: "I was frightened," she said. "I've never seen light skin. I was amazed and curious of everything."

Somali Bantu culture also includes large families - having 10 children is not uncommon.

The more children a woman can give her husband the more honorable it is.

Jibril is one of 10 children in her family.

She's a junior at Thomas R. Proctor High School and attends BOCES for Early Childhood Education.

Jibril wants to go to college and finish her education, an opportunity her mother didn't have, before she starts a family. "I'm not planning to have much kids," she said.

But she still sticks strongly to her religion and culture.

"People have different cultures and religions. You can't just change because you came here," she said. "I will continue to follow my religion and culture."


In 1996, Somali Bantu refugees started coming to Utica.

113 Somali Bantu refugees arrived in 2004, a large influx.

288 the total number of Somali Bantu refugees resettled.

134 the total number of secondary migrants, those coming from other places in the U.S., who have registered in Utica.

199 Somali Bantu English Language Learners are currently in the Utica City School District.

Since 1979, about 14,464 refugees have arrived in the area.

Source: Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees/Deborah Wilson-Allam, Utica City School District administrator for pupil services and English language learners

Somali Bantu culture includes

Being very group-oriented, living as a community.

The Muslim faith is included in all aspects of life from what food they eat to the women wearing coverings.

Tradition is very important. For example, women and men are separated at gatherings. They also have large families. Having 10 children is common as providing your husband with many children is honorable for women.

The Elders play a big role and are often looked to as a form of government solving issues within the community.

Want to help?

A number of the Somali Bantu community members do not know English, so finding work is difficult.

The Somali Bantu Association of Central New York has classes both for the Elders to learn English and the youth to learn their culture and Maay-Maay language.

They are always in need of books, paper, pens and other school supplies.

For more information or to help, contact the association at 765-0161 or email [email protected]

What's next for students?

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

What's next for students?

Choices: Notre Dame or public school


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ROME - With a little more than a month until the end of the school year, Amy Costello doesn't know where her son will attend school in September.

Cody, 15, would have stayed at Rome Catholic Junior-Senior High School for 11th grade, but after Wednesday's announcement of its closure, that's no longer an option.

"I don't know in the future," said Amy Costello, a Blossvale resident. "Obviously, finances play a large part."

Her oldest daughter will graduate from Rome Catholic next month, and her two third-graders will remain at Rome Catholic Elementary School.

But Cody is in limbo.

The Rome school is one of at least four Catholic high schools closing statewide due to declining enrollment, said Carol Geddis, executive director of the Catholic School Administrators Association of New York State.

"I'm sure a lot of it is the economics of it," Geddis said. "I think when parents are looking ahead to college and how expensive it is … and their own retirement systems, all those things come into play."

The closure was part of a long-term discussion, said Danielle Cummings, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse.

She said all Catholic elementary schools in Utica, Rome and Oneida will feed into Notre Dame in Utica for junior-senior high school.

"This configuration we feel is the best way to help all students in the Eastern Region be able to attend and pursue a Catholic education," Cummings said.

Coming up short

Rome Catholic has been working on a strategic plan since 2011 focusing on increasing development efforts, enrollment and retaining students, Cummings said.

The junior-senior high school was given a mid-April deadline to meet a benchmark of having 100 to 110 students enrolled at the school, but with only 68 students and 11 graduating this year, the school had a long way to go.

"The bishop extended as long a timeline as he possibly could to the Rome Catholic community to meet the benchmarks," Cummings said. "They did a great effort."

Costello was one of the many trying to help increase enrollment. She said they recruited 19 new students for next year, "but numbers were not high enough."

"It would have been really nice if they had given us that extra chance. ... If they'd had a little faith in us," Costello said.

Rome Catholic parents will have to weigh their options over the next few months, including any changes in tuition going from one Catholic high school to another, their students having a longer bus ride to Utica, or whether to switch their students to public school.

Typically, 50 percent of the students go to the remaining Catholic school while the other 50 percent attend public school, Geddis said.

Rome schools, Notre Dame ready

The Rome City School District and Notre Dame will be able to accommodate the influx of students and already have gotten calls from interested parents, school officials said.

"We open up our building to as many children who want to come here," said Notre Dame Principal Sister Anna Mae Collins.

Busing will be provided to Rome students who chose to attend Notre Dame, as well as a $1,000 transition scholarship, Cummings said.

The Rome City School District also welcomes students.

"We will work with parents and staff of Rome Catholic to make sure any parents seeking to enroll their students will have a very positive and successful transition," said district Superintendent Jeffrey Simons.

For now, families still are trying to get over the shock.

Costello and her family are devastated, she said.

"At a time when the church is really trying to pull those younger families back to their faith … and the world is falling apart ... I think it's terrible that we're losing another Catholic school," Costello said. "It's like a death in the family."


The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse on Wednesday announced Rome Catholic Junior-Senior High School will close at the end of the school year due to declining enrollment.

The school community was given the opportunity to meet enrollment benchmarks of having 100 to 110 students enrolled at the school for the 2013-14 school year. They were not met.

Catholic elementary schools in Utica, Rome and Oneida will remain open — with Notre Dame Junior-Senior High as the sole Catholic high school in the area.

Notre Dame and the Rome City School District have said they can accommodate the Rome Catholic students at their schools with minimal impacts.


Notre Dame staff will be working with Rome Catholic to help transition students.

The Rome City School District is working on open house and orientation opportunities for parents and students interested in attending Notre Dame. Information will be released soon.

The Syracuse diocese will be offering $1,000 transition scholarships to Rome Catholic students who chose to attend Notre Dame.

By the numbers

Rome Catholic Junior-Senior High School currently has 68 students enrolled in grades seven through 12.

Notre Dame Junior-Senior High School has about 355 students enrolled in grades seven through 12. That number has increased by about 24 students since the 2011-12 school year.

Tuition at Rome Catholic Junior-High School is $4,305 for seven and eighth graders, and $5,305 for grades nine through 12, but varies based on eligibility for financial aid.

Tuition at Notre Dame high school for grades seven and eight is $4,300 per year, and nine through 12 is $5,300 per year, not including fees. This also varies for financial aid.

Source: Notre Dame Junior-Senior High School; Rome City School District Superintendent Jeffrey Simons; Danielle Cummings, Syracuse diocese assistant chancellor and director of communications.

Charter school chooses inaugural students

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Charter school chooses inaugural students

Feelings mixed on lottery day as 337 vie for 176 spots


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UTICA - Jasmin Sabanovic stared anxiously at the screen hanging in the Holy Trinity Church gymnasium Tuesday afternoon.

"I feel a little bit shaky," said the Utica parent.

First, his daughter Melisa's name came up - then his son, Halid.

Both of his children will be attending the Utica Academy of Science Charter School in the fall.

"Thank God they got accepted and got the opportunity," Sabanovic said with a big smile.

Halid, 13, and Melisa, 11, said they're excited to attend the school, in eighth and seventh grade, respectively.

"I was shocked at first, and then happy," Halid said.

Melisa said, "It put a smile right on my face."

Feelings were mixed on lottery day as 337 students vied for the 176 spots in grades six through nine for the 2013-14 school year.

Students were chosen randomly by a computer program that displayed each name on the screen per grade. Utica students and their siblings were given priority.

The names of those accepted were posted on the door of the school on Lincoln Avenue. Acceptance letters will be sent out and should arrive by Friday, said school founder Tolga Hayali, director of the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School.

"It's a great day," Hayali said. "It just shows there's a need for this, for options."

Prior to enrollment, parents must verify that they are Utica residents and provide paperwork, such as immunization records, Hayali said.

The students who do not meet the criteria will be replaced by students on a waiting list who do. The 161 students who did not get accepted were put on the list.

With the student lottery behind it, the school will focus on hiring staff, Hayali said. It's also in the process of ordering supplies such as computers and furniture.

The charter school will offer aspects of a college preparatory education with special emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.

Charter schools are public schools operating independently of school districts and are held to all state standards as well as their charter. There is no tuition to attend.

The school selected 22 students per class, with a total of two classes per grade, or 44 students for sixth through ninth grades. Enrollment will increase each year as grades are added.

Enrollment is expected to reach 462 in the next five years.

The majority of student applications this year were from the Utica City School District, but 29 were from other communities including Barneveld, Cassville, Frankfort, Holland Patent, Ilion, Marcy, New Hartford, Newport, Rome, Oriskany, Remsen, Yorkville and West Edmeston.

Edna Rivera has twins in the Utica school district. Both were accepted.

"I believe that we need a choice as parents," she said.

But her eighth-grader will remain in the Utica district because she is part of the Young Scholars Liberty Partnerships Program and didn't want to lose scholarship money, Rivera said.

Angelyce Rojas, 11, of Utica, was put on the waiting list, as 91 other students also were applying for sixth grade next year.

"She was bummed, but I told her, 'Have faith and you never know, anything can happen,'" said her mother, Vicky Rojas. "There's always next year."

By the numbers

337 students applied for the new school, of which,176 students were selected Tuesday for grades six through nine.

44 students were chosen for each grade, which will be comprised of two classes with 22 students in each class.

92 students applied for sixth grade, 90 for seventh grade, 76 for eighth grade and 79 for ninth grade.

The 161 students who were not accepted were put on a waiting list. The list will be used to fill vacancies until January 2014.

A lottery will take place next year for the incoming sixth grade class and to fill any vacant spots in other grades. All waiting-list students would then have to reapply.

Budget breakdown

The school is proposing a nearly $2.2 million budget.

Revenues include about $1.6 million coming from student's home districts in state aid; $350,000 from a federal grant; and $30,000 in contributions, donations and fundraising.

The school expects to hire about 24 people, about 17 of whom are teachers and other instructional staff, for a total cost of about $1.2 million, including benefits.

Charter school highlights

The school will offer aspects of a college preparatory education with special emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, referred to as STEM. Extracurricular programs will include Lego League, robotics, Science Olympiads and science fair competitions, as well as Saturday prep sessions and college visits.

With Atom, the mascot, and white, blue and burgundy as its colors, the school will start by having a soccer team, offering karate and cheerleading. Other sports might be added the following years. Students must maintain a 2.8 GPA to participate.

Busing will be provided by the student's home district. The school day is expected to run from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., including after-school help sessions.

The school is also working with Utica College to run the Young Scholars Liberty Partnerships Program, which helps at-risk students.

For information, visit

Getting tough on bullying

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Getting tough on bullying

Schools, parents, students taking bigger steps to stop harassment


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egs covered with bruises, glasses broken, homework ripped up.

This is how fifth-grader Lily Boxall spent most of her school year at Hugh R. Jones Elementary School.

"I knew people were going to bully me every day. I would be scared even just to get on the bus," Lily said.

When the 10-year-old Utica girl finally told her mother about it in December, her grades were dropping and she was having nightmares.

Her mother, Ashley Torres, went to the school. But when the issue wasn't resolved and Lily told her mother she didn't want to live anymore, Torres immediately moved her to Roscoe Conkling School. She hasn't had issues since.

Districts say that they've been working to stop bullying, especially since the implementation of the state's Dignity for All Students Act in July. But bullying still is a major issue across the country, and experts say it's increasing with the use of cellphones, the Internet and social media.

As awareness increases, parents, teachers and students are being more vocal about incidents. Both the Utica and Rome city school districts have had parents speak out at recent school board meetings on the issue.

In Utica, all complaints are thoroughly investigated, and the district has worked extensively on the prevention of bullying, said Lori Eccleston, district director of curriculum and instruction.

"We don't take bullying lightly," she said. "We want kids to come to school feeling safe, feeling secure, being able to participate in their classes."

The district has put programs into place, changed its code of conduct to include bullying and made principals more vigilant about making sure issues are addressed, Eccleston said.

The state act increases bullying prevention programs, requires age-appropriate disciplinary measures for students who violate the regulations, increased training for staff, and requires districts to report bullying incidents to the state. Each school building must also have a Dignity Act Coordinator, which in most cases is the principal.

"We are taking this in an extremely serious manner to make sure those areas are dealt with," said Howard Mettelman, Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES district superintendent.

But when bullying becomes such a large issue, changing the mentality of a district can be a massive undertaking that takes time.

"Change is not going to happen over night," said Michelle Boykins, National Crime Council director of Communications and Marketing. "It takes a year to three years to really fully see the change that you want."

With that in mind, districts will use this year as a baseline, Mettelman said. The data reports will be out in August, at which time districts can see what they need to focus on to improve, he said.

In March, Michele Grifasi of Rome got a phone call - her 11th-grader had overdosed.

Grifasi's daughter, Kaleigh, had been bullied by a former boyfriend for months, with no recourse, the mother said.

Luckily, Kaleigh called for help. She's now doing much better and helping others by telling her story, Grifasi said.

"The school district has got to step up and take responsibility," she said. "We all need to work together. I don't want any other parent to ever receive the phone call that I got."

Rome officials acknowledged criticism for its lack of response to bullying and is in the process of modifying its own code of conduct.

"We're going to have to take a tougher stand on it," said district Superintendent Jeffrey Simons.

Steps include trying to respond to incidents of bullying in a timelier, more consistent and effective manner, he said. The district is working on a streamlined web-based reporting system that would send all incident reports directly to Simons. It is expected to be in place by June.

The district also will have a new code of conduct in place by fall with a more prescriptive set of disciplinary consequences for behaviors such as bullying and harassment, Simons said.

While data wasn't available for Utica, this year, Rome police had 44 calls for service at Rome Free Academy, five specifically for bullying, said Detective Commander Tim Bates. And that doesn't mean there were only five, as they may be labeled differently, such as harassment, he said.

"It's a serious problem," Bates said.

Pencils down! Students run out of time on tests

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Pencils down! Students run out of time on tests

Rigorous state testing started last week


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Whitesboro fourth-grader Kyle Dillon always finishes his tests early.

But last week, the 10-year-old wasn't the first or the second in his class to complete the state English Language Arts test. He never finished the last question before time ran out.

"I only got two sentences down, so I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get as much points," the Westmoreland Road Elementary School student said. "It really stunk."

State testing for third- through eighth-graders began last week and continues today through Friday with math. The tests, which include the new Common Core Standards, are more rigorous, and some parents had threatened to opt out their students.

Last week, the number of students opting out, however, was significantly lower than what was expected, said Robert Lowry Jr., New York State Council of Superintendents deputy director for advocacy research and communications. Exact numbers are not yet available.

The real problem: Students not finishing the exams.

The time allotted for third- and fourth-grade students to complete the tests decreased from last year's 90 minutes per test to 70. A survey of superintendents said students were unable to finish the tests in the time allotted, said Lowry.

"I don't know how that will affect the results and whether that raises questions about the soundness of the test themselves," he said.

Common Core implementation began in September. Test scores are expected to drop 30 percent in the first year, Lowry said.

The Utica City School District didn't have any students opt out, but teachers said many students didn't have time to finish, said Sandy Paddock, testing, data analysis and planning administrator.

The time was decreased to address concerns that the test sessions were too long, and the new times were estimated based on last year's test and field tests, said state Education Department spokeswoman Antonia Valentine in an email.

But if students didn't finish, it could lower their scores, reflecting poorly on the district and teachers. The state uses test scores and graduation rates to decide a district's accountability and to calculate yearly progress.

Those with low scores are identified as Priority and Focus, and are required to create a comprehensive improvement plan and must set aside funding for state approved programs and services. There are several other restrictions and requirements of the district in order to get it on the right track to improvement.

The education department said it would not identify schools or districts as Focus or Priority based on the 2012-13 assessments, but they would be identified as Local Assistance Plan schools, which must develop an assistance plan.

But schools that don't make adequate yearly progress cannot become Reward schools, and are ineligible to receive the funding that comes with that designation.

The newly implemented teacher and principal evaluation systems also will reflect the lower scores, as they make up about 20 percent of the annual review. The impacts of the results will be up to each individual district.

In spite of his frustration with the lack of time, Kyle said he is learning.

"I've actually improved on the reading comprehensions over this year," he said.

Facing the math tests this week, Kyle said he's not as nervous.

"I find math a little easier than ELA," he said.

Budget Breakdown

The Utica City School District is facing a nearly $6.2 million budget deficit for the 2013-14 school year.

The nearly $139 million amended budget was approved unanimously April 2 by the Board of Education, and will go to public vote May 21. A public hearing will take place May 7.

It includes a 2 percent property tax increase and the elimination of 83 positions, 49 of which are teaching.


The budget originally eliminated 98.5 positions, 64.5 of which were teaching positions.

5.5 teaching positions, 3.5 secondary positions and two elementary, were added back after the district learned it would receive an additional $313,164 in state aid, not including building aid.

17 teachers decided to take the $14,000 retirement incentive negotiated with the Utica Teachers Association. Teachers laid off will be the first called back to fill the 17 positions, based on seniority and credentials.

The about $305,000 in savings from the incentive, along with a $407,000 recalculation of debt service interest, allowed the district to put nine teaching positions back in the budget — four English Language Arts, three math and two elementary.

Testing times


Taken by third- to eighth-graders statewide last week, the three-day test was 70 minutes each day for third- and fourth-graders, compared to the 90 minutes allotted last year.

Fifth- through eighth-graders were tested 90 minutes each day, the same as last year.


Testing for third- through eighth-graders runs today through Friday.

Third-graders have 70 minutes each day to take the test, compared to the 90 minutes allotted last year.

Fourth-graders have 70 minutes per day for two days, and 90 minutes for the third day, compared to the 90 minutes each day allotted last year.

Fifth- through eighth-graders are allotted 90 minutes each day.

Source: Sandy Paddock, Utica City School District Testing, Data Analysis and Planning administrator.

Common Core

The state Common Core Standards were adopted by the Board of Regents in January 2011.

The changes were made to create a more standardized education in schools and increase students’ college and career readiness.

The new curriculum is more rigorous and delves deeper into topics. It also includes ongoing professional development of staff, shifts in instruction and new assessments to measure student progress.

Implementation officially began in September and secures federal funding for each state, such as Race to the Top and Title I monies.

Nationally, 46 states as well as Washington, D.C., have adopted the Common Core Standards. Kentucky tested the new standards last year and scores dropped 30 to 35 percent. New York is testing this year. All other states plan to test in 2014.

For information, visit

State database to track student information

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

State database to track student information


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Family income. Test results. Race.

This fall, such student characteristics will be collected from districts statewide in the state Education Department's Education Data Portal.

The portal will be available to sixth- through 12th-grade students, parents, educators and those authorized by the district.

Having a database on the state's nearly 3 million students might sound like Big Brother to some, but experts say it will save money and help improve education and data security.

"We see it as a benefit," said Al Marlin, state School Boards Association communication manager. "It's going to move forward student achievement. The plan that the state Education Department has in place should help the student, teacher and parent."

Data already is being collected by school districts, Marlin said. It includes standardized test scores, enrollment information, program participation and student demographics such as wealth and race. It does not include Social Security numbers; instead each student is given an identification number.

Misty Fuller, who has three children in the Utica City School District, likes the idea, especially gaining access to her students' grades, missed homework assignments and the ability to contact teachers through the parent dashboard.

She does, however, worry if nonparents could access the information.

"I think any parent would be curious of exactly who can access it and what information would be given freely."

The cost: $100M

New York is one of six states that's testing the portal this year.

The nearly $100 million funding for the portal, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corp. of New York, will last until 2014.

The portal is being hosted by the nonprofit organization inBloom Inc., which essentially is storing the data for the state, said inBloom spokeswoman Genevieve Haas.

The records are owned and controlled by the districts and only they can decide who has access to student data and for what purposes.

If data were to be breached, an encryption technology would render the data unreadable, according to the inBloom website.

"It'll be more secure with the state," said Mark Vivacqua, Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES district superintendent.

The state expects the portal to improve instruction, student learning, and college and career readiness, according to a March memo from Ken Wagner, associate commissioner of Curriculum, Assessment and Educational Technology.

Jamie McNair, a teacher, who has a kindergartner in the New Hartford Central School District, said it makes sense for teachers to have the data.

"I'm 100 percent comfortable with those professionals using that data to enhance the curricular instruction for the kids in that room," McNair said. "My concerns may be more with the quantity of data, who's receiving that data and the uncertainty of what a third party might use that for.

"Beyond the classroom teacher, from my perspective, the data has diminishing returns in terms of its value to really help a student perform any better," McNair said.

The future

Many districts, such as Utica, already have a data portal, though the statewide system would have expanded services such as the student and parent access.

"I think there'd be more consistency, accuracy, accountability and reliability," said Lori Eccleston, district director of curriculum and instruction, about the state portal.

The state hopes to procure federal Race to the Top funds to continue the program through 2015, after which districts can decide whether to continue with it.

The database would cost an estimated $2 to $5 per student annually, Haas said.

In a district such as Utica, with more than 11,800 students, continuing with the database would cost more than $59,000 per year.

District Superintendent Bruce Karam said the cost will be taken into consideration.

"We're hoping that it will be funded by the state," he said. "These are very bad economic times right now and we can't afford additional costs on anything."

Education Data Portal breakdown

*In the fall, New York will launch its Education Data Portal, a database of student educational data such as standardized test scores, enrollment numbers, program participation, and student demographics such as wealth and race. It does not include Social Security numbers.

*The portal will be accessible to educators in fall, and to sixth- through 12th-grade students and parents by spring. Any third-parties must be approved by the district. It is being run through inBloom Inc., a nonprofit organization.

*The database will support improved instruction, student learning and college and career readiness for students. It is expected to create more standardized information statewide, to be more secure than current systems and to save money to districts.

*It was piloted this year in six states, including New York where it was launched in New York City. The $100 million implementation is funded until 2014 through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

*It is expected to be funded for the 2014-15 school year in New York through the federal Race to the Top grant. Districts are not required to continue the program after summer 2015. The portal is expected to cost between $2 and $5 per student.

*For information, visit

Source: New York State Education Department; Genevieve Hass, inBloom Inc. spokeswoman

Efforts seek to keep more young professionals in the Mohawk Valley

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

'They're our future' Efforts seek to keep more young professionals in the Mohawk Valley


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Elizabeth Reardon wasn't planning on coming back to the Mohawk Valley.

The Clinton native went to Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania and was debating staying there.

"I had job offers there," said Reardon, 32. "My parents kept saying, 'No, you need to move back to the area.'"

Then her mother told her about Oneida County College Corps, a program that connects college juniors and seniors with internships.

Reardon was hired right out of college as the North Utica Senior Citizens Community Center's program director, thanks to her 2002 College Corps internship.

More than 10 years later, Reardon is still in the community, working as executive director of the Masonic Care Community Child Care Center and living in Waterville with her husband and their two children.

Reardon is somewhat of an anomaly as the number of young professionals in the Mohawk Valley and across the state continues to decline, which is damaging for communities.

"If people between the ages of 21 and 25 or 35 are leaving the market for better jobs or better weather or more opportunities, it obviously hurts dramatically," said David Kiner, executive director of the business and economics department at Utica College. "It relates to everything from real-estate to the local retailer."

But, the brain drain, as it has come to be known, might be coming to a stop as the number of residents with higher education is on the rise and organizations from all spectrums of the community - schools to nonprofits, economic development agencies to government - are banding together to retain young professionals.

Those programs are like the very one that kept Reardon here.

"I have grown within this community… and now I'm in a position where I can let other people participate in the program," Reardon said "I've actually hired some of the teachers that were in that program."

Fewer people, more education

Though there's no exact data to quantify whether or not young professionals are staying, U.S. Census data does show that the number of residents between the ages of 25 and 39 has decreased, according to data provided by Dale Miller, Oneida County principal planner.

The group, which would have been 15 to 29 years old in 2000, decreased by 10 percent in Herkimer County in 2010, from 12,104 to 10,843, Miller said.

In Oneida County, it decreased by 13 percent from 47,470 in 2000, to 41,485 in 2010.

They leave for a variety of reasons such as a desire to travel, moving away for college and a perceived lack of opportunity, Kiner said.

Young professionals are crucial to ensure a vital community and vibrant economy, experts said.

"We need young professionals in this area because they're our future," said Ray Durso Jr., executive director of The Genesis Group. "This is an aging society here in Upstate New York, and we need more of our young professionals to be rooted in this area."

Education attainment in the area, however, is continuing to rise.

Oneida County residents with an associate's degree or higher increased 2 percent from 14,935 in 2000 to 15,212 in 2011, Miller said. The number of Herkimer County residents with an associate's degree showed a slight increase from 4,061 to 4,066 in the same time period.

Residents with a bachelor's degree or higher increased even more so with an 11.5 percent increase in Oneida County from 2000 to 2011, from 8,905 to 9,925. Herkimer County saw a 9 percent increase from 2,044 to 2,227.

Clogging the drain

One of the possible reasons for the education rise may be the increased work of business and community leaders to boost the young professional population.

Efforts have included:

* Reaching out to students from elementary school through to college level, educating them about career paths they can pursue locally and what the area has to offer them.

* Colleges, high schools and local BOCES are working more closely with business leaders to offer courses aligned with job opportunities, having the employers themselves help to shape a skilled labor force that they can then hire. Colleges are also working with employers to better connect students with local jobs and internships.

* Economic development agencies such as Mohawk Valley EDGE and The Genesis Group, along with government officials and educational institutions, such as SUNYIT, are working to bring more jobs to the area, such as the nanotechnology complex and a possible chip fabrication plant in Marcy.

* Groups such as the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce, Genesis and Leadership Mohawk Valley, also work to help provide networking opportunities for professionals and leadership-building skills.

"Things like that really make a difference in the long-run in keeping people here and attracting them to the area," said Alice Savino, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board of Oneida, Herkimer and Madison Counties. "But there's still a lot to be done."

Angie Blair, 29, originally from Verona, also didn't expect to move back to the Mohawk Valley, especially after going away to college and then living in Washington, D.C., for a year.

Six years later, Blair now owns a home in Utica, works for AmeriCU Credit Union in Rome as the executive assistant to the chief operating officer, and organizes Mohawk Valley Young Professionals, a networking group.

"I didn't decide to stay. I didn't really have a plan and then I realized as an adult how much I really liked the area," Blair said. "I really love living here."



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