Villanti cautions parents on Common Core tests
By Michael Turton
At a Haldane School Board meeting Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 13, School Board trustees approved a resolution confirming tax rolls and authorizing the tax levy for the 2013-14 school year with $17,369,969 to be raised through taxes in Philipstown. Putnam Valley tax payers will contribute $455,148 and Fishkill residents will be taxed $257,325. Total spending of $22,345,120 was approved by voters in a May referendum. The budget will result in a 3.55 percent increase in the tax levy in Philipstown with the final budget falling within the spending cap imposed by New York State.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti advised parents to take test scores coming out of the new Common Core curriculum, “…with a grain of salt.” He said that some parents may be surprised by scores that appear to be low. Forty-one to 72.9 percent of Haldane students in grades three through eight achieved scores at the “proficiency” level in the new assessment system. “The average was 30-31 percent statewide for proficiency,” Villanti said in an email to The Paper. “If you compare Haldane’s scores to other NYS scores we are at 90 percent compared to other districts.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Trustee Evan Schwartz dismissed the first set of test results. “I’ll look at the test results then throw them in the garbage,” he said. “I’m for the Common Core … but this is their attempt to hit rock bottom.” Schwartz said that as test scores improve over time, “Everyone looks like geniuses.” He was critical of the length of the tests saying, “A lot of kids didn’t finish the exam.” Villanti said that the law board exam taken by his nephew recently took less time than the tests completed by fourth grade students as part of Common Core assessment.
Tour of projects
Prior to the start of the business meeting, Villanti led a tour of the ongoing capital project to upgrade the main athletic field, auditorium and locker rooms. He reported that all phases of the $2 million project are on schedule, and possibly “a little under budget.” Grading of the playing field just off of Route 9D is undergoing near-final laser leveling and expectations are that the artificial turf field will be ready for soccer games in early September.
“This isn’t just about Haldane,” Villanti said, stressing that the community will also benefit from use of the new field. “Youth soccer, lacrosse … seniors’ fitness … I think this will be a real center for the community.” He said the field will be the center of activity at Haldane’s Homecoming on the first weekend in October.
Seamus Carroll helped guide improvements to the auditorium and was on hand to show off the new facilities as part of the tour. “This is a major step forward for the school,” he said. Carroll said that the auditorium, built in the 1930s, has been brought up to modern standards – including digital projection and sound and improved acoustics.
New stage curtains have also been added that can be employed in dozens of configurations. A program highlighting the new facilities will also be a part of Homecoming weekend. The tour included the locker rooms which are also undergoing a complete revamping. The new lockers will be installed the first week in September.
Catherine Garnsey, a resident who introduced herself as director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church in Cold Spring, raised objections to Haldane school’s use of the Blue Devil as its mascot. Garnsey submitted a letter to the Haldane Board of Education. “This offends me as a citizen and as a godmother,” she said.
Villanti responded that the mascot has been used for many years and that his understanding is that its origin lies with a French brigade in the first World War known for its courage in battle – and that a number of schools adopted the Blue Devil as a mascot for that reason. Trustee Jon Champlin said that his father, a teacher at Haldane for many years, said that Haldane’s mascot was established prior to World War II.
“My point is, how attached are we?” Garnsey asked. “Perhaps we could ask parents or propose a change to the mascot.” Later she added, “The devil is a biblical figure – not secular. I’m sure everyone here agrees.”
When Garnsey’s letter was received as part of correspondence, Villanti said he wondered if athletes and alumni would object to a name change. Later in the meeting he added, “There does seem to be an attachment” to it.
Garnsey concluded her remarks saying, “I am a godmother. I have an innocent child I am entrusting to this school.”
“You are the first person to raise an objection,” Villanti said, adding that the public “should feel free to comment.”
Duke University also uses a Blue Devil as its mascot. According to that school’s website, “During World War I … ‘les Diables Bleus’ were well-known French soldiers … who won accolades for their courage.” The website notes that Irving Berlin captured the brigade’s spirit in a song, describing them as “strong and active . . . those Devils, the Blue Devils of France.”
Students propose a working senior trip
Haldane’s Class of 2014 senior trip will have a very different feel to it if student leadership has its way. Student Council President Aidan Gallagher and Senior Class President Shauna Ricketts presented a proposal that would see seniors travel to New Orleans to spend two days working on Habitat for Humanity projects.
In explaining why New Orleans was selected, Gallagher said that although some 400 homes there have been renovated through Habitat for Humanity, the city is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina – the devastating storm that struck the Gulf Coast eight years ago. “We’re looking to reach outside our community to help others in need,” he said.
Ricketts learned how Habitat for Humanity can be, “a life changing experience” when she worked on a project in Newburgh this summer. Villanti praised student leaders. “Leadership has done a lot of work,” he said. “This is not just a ‘let’s go somewhere’ trip.”
Trustees will formally consider the proposal at their September meeting. The cost of the trip per student is estimated at $919. A number of fundraising activities are being planned to help reduce that amount. Ricketts said that 77 percent of the senior students expressed interest in the trip. Previous trips have included roughly 50 of 70 senior students. The proposed trip would include two days working with Habitat for Humanity and two days touring the New Orleans area.
School Board President Gillian Thorpe said that she will meet with representatives of the Garrison Union Free School District to discuss the two organizations’ search for new superintendents. In light of recent retirement announcements by Haldane Superintendent Mark Villanti and Garrison Superintendent Gloria Colucci, New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef had written to both school districts, encouraging them to consider merging.
In speaking with The Paper, Thorpe said that while there will be a discussion of Galef’s letter, merger is not in the offing. She said the two districts are pursuing separate superintendent searches, Garrison using BOCES’ services and Haldane opting to use a private search firm.
Photos by M. Turton