Down to Business for Students, Teachers, School Board Trustees

Haldane approves search firm for new superintendent

By Michael Turton

In an annual ritual highly anticipated by parents and students alike, though perhaps for very different reasons, Haldane reopened its doors on Friday, Sept. 6, marking the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

At its last meeting prior to school startup, the Haldane School Board met on Sept. 3, for what was largely a house-cleaning session. At the outset of the meeting, School Board President Gillian Thorpe congratulated Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti on what she called his “final, first day of school.” Villanti will retire at the end of the year.

“Congratulations Mark. We’re going to work you until the last day!” Thorpe quipped. Villanti, who came to Haldane in July 2006, has worked in public education since 1978. Later in the meeting trustees accepted a proposal from the firm of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to conduct the search to replace Villanti.

Senior trip to New Orleans approved – with one condition

The Class of 2014 is making a statement with its senior trip to New Orleans, one that could affect that annual tradition for years to come. Unlike trips in the past that went to cities such as Boston and Washington, D.C., and featured visits to historic sites, monuments and tourist attractions, New Orleans will see students work on a Habitat for Humanity project as the city continues its lengthy struggle to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

While both types of trips offer educational opportunities, there is widespread agreement that what students will experience in New Orleans will take the educational component of senior trips to another level. Villanti said that he and High School Principal Brian Alm agree that the trip offers “… great educational value. It could be life changing.”

Former School Board President Joe Curto expressed his support for the trip in a letter to trustees.  He wrote that on a recent trip, “… it struck me what an amazing educational laboratory New Orleans was on almost every city block. I can’t think of a more educational and potentially powerful class trip than what they are proposing.”

After considerable discussion, trustees gave tentative approval, provided that at least two thirds of the class participates. The cost will be about $900 per student. Trustee Peter Henderson initially expressed concern about participation levels, suggesting that the board require 75 percent of the class to register before giving its approval. He also had reservations about the mid-March timing of the trip, close to AP exams.

Villanti however reassured Henderson that the schedule is workable and Ginny Pidala, a teacher who helps students organize the senior trip, indicated that two-thirds participation has been typical in the past. At the urging of Trustee Jennifer Daly, the resolution set the goal at 100 percent participation, but with 66 percent being the minimum acceptable for the trip to take place. In turn, each trustee spoke in favor of supporting the trip.

An alternate activity will be planned for students who don’t go to New Orleans. One possibility is for those students to work at a Habitat for Humanity project in Newburgh, something that Thorpe said a number of local contractors have also expressed interest in.

Teacher evaluation

Trustees approved an amended policy for Evaluation of Professional Staff, bringing it in line with New York State Department of Education requirements. Trustee Evan Schwartz reviewed and commented on the policy. “It’s a great thing for this school district and for all districts,” he said. Schwartz explained that 60 percent of each evaluation is based on teacher performance, 20 percent on State criteria and 20 percent on local evaluation determined by the district.

Teachers will be graded as Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective. Those graded as Developing or Ineffective will be required to implement a Teacher Improvement Plan. Repeated grading as Ineffective can result in dismissal. Haldane District’s overall ratings will be released to the public and parents will be able to determine the grades given to individual teachers.

In the world of sports

Villanti reported that work on the newly refurbished main athletic field should be complete by Saturday, Sept. 7. Numerous activities are being planned to show off the new field during Homecoming on the first weekend of October. He also reported that the new lockers, also part of the field project, have been received and that installation was underway.

Trustees accepted a donation of more than a dozen pieces of baseball equipment from local resident Ruben Vahos.  The equipment, valued at more than $10,000, includes a pitching machine, batting cage, radar gun, instructional DVDs and other items. A merger agreement was also approved which will permit Haldane students to play hockey in conjunction with Hendrick Hudson High School. The merger results in no cost to the Haldane Central School District as families are required to pay their own expenses and provide transportation.

Pension rates and tax levy

Villanti reported that the New York State Employer Pension Contribution rate did not increase for 2014-15, “good news” compared to the substantial increases experienced in recent years. He also said that due to a small increase in State aid, the total 2013-14 tax levy was adjusted and reduced by $125,000.

Mark your calendar

The third annual Haldane PTA Back-to-School Picnic will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at the Haldane playground.

New staff members and newly tenured teachers will be recognized at the Tuesday, Sept. 17, School Board Workshop at 7:00 p.m. Michael Smith, Senior Manager of Construction for ConEdison Solutions, will also address the board that evening.

The Haldane School Foundation’s Fall Ball will be held from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at Bear Mountain Inn. Tickets are available at haldaneschoolfoundation.org.


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