Catching Up with the Garrison School Board

Notes from fall meetings

Aug. 30

  • The district launched a newly designed website at in partnership with Schoolwires.
  • The board accepted a $13,800 proposal from Polhemus Construction for athletic field drainage ditch maintenance work.
  • Former board president Carol McCullough was appointed to fill a vacancy due to the death in May of James Cannon. She will serve until May 16.
  • The board approved use of videoconferencing by members who are not able to attend a meeting.
  • Eric Arnold, a resident of Garrison whose property is within the Lakeland school district, asked the board to consider allowing residents there to pay tuition to attend Garrison School. He said there were about 100 students involved. Board President Raymond O’Rourke said Arnold should discuss the issue with Lakeland, as it would pay the tuition and would need to initiate any request.
  • Board member James Hoch expressed concerns about student retention and how the district is responding to students leaving the school.

Sept. 14

  • Superintendent Laura Mitchell reported enrollment is 209 (139 in elementary and 70 in middle school). There also are 37 Garrison students attending Haldane, 51 at O’Neill High School in Highlands Falls and 53 at other schools.
  • After considering three proposals, the board approved a $31,575 bid from The Chazen Companies to perform an appraisal of the school forest. The expenditure was made in response to a proposal presented in 2015 by the Hudson Highlands Land Trust to purchase a conservation easement on the property and help maintain and manage it. The agreement would add 70 acres of donated land to the forest and new access points.
  • The board approved the recycling of 691 outdated textbooks dating to 1987.
  • The environmental education committee noted it had scheduled educators for School Forest Fridays, including storyteller Jonathan Kruk and instructors from the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. It also reported that the central courtyard has been cleared to install a Native Garden and a stage will be installed by an Eagle Scout.
  • The safety and health/wellness committee reported that the district will hold eight evacuation and four lockdown drills during the school year.

Oct. 5

  • A test of the air quality of downstairs classrooms was completed. Some minor mold was found and will be removed.
  • O’Rourke announced that the district had reached a settlement agreement with Cary Downey, who owns property at 322 Route 403 and co-owns an access road there to the School Forest. (Each party owns 12 feet from the centerline.) The district had sued Downey in Putnam Supreme Court after he installed stone pillars and a gate at the entrance. The forest was given to the school in 1957 by Frederick Osborn and included the “right to use the private road situated partly on the above-described premises and partly on the premises of Samuel Sloan Duryee,” now owned by Downey. Downey agreed that the public and school has the right to use the road to access a dirt parking lot and the forest; the school agreed the pillar and gate could remain on its side of the road as long as the gate was not used to restrict access.
  • Middle-school science teacher Kevin Keegan was named girls’ basketball coach for a stipend of $3,183.
  • Physical education teacher Patrick Beckley was named volunteer coach for the soccer, basketball, softball and lacrosse teams.
  • On the recommendation of Mitchell and business administrator Sue Huetter, the board approved raising the daily rate for substitute teachers to $85 from $75, which will cost the district about $10,000 annually.
  • The board approved changing the start time of board meetings to 7 p.m. from 7:30 p.m. for the remainder of the school year.
  • The education and technology committee reported that each middle school student has a Chromebook for his or her use. There are also 20 iPads for use in grades 3 to 5 and each kindergarten, first- and second-grade classroom has five iPads for group work. Middle-school teachers are using Google Classroom.
  • As of Nov. 16, the board will post videos of its meetings on YouTube.

Oct. 26

  • Mitchell noted she had been asked to be a member of a committee searching for a successor to O’Neill High School principal Louis Trombetta, who is retiring.
  • Van Vourliotis was appointed boys’ basketball coach for a stipend of $3,183.
  • The board voted unanimously to rename the Garrison School gym as the James C. Cannon Gymnasium, in memory of the late member.
  • The board voted to dispose of a donated piano which, after evaluation, was found could not withstand the wear and tear expected in a school setting.

Nov. 16

  • The board appointed Robin Mandel as long-term substitute special-education teacher.
  • It also approved the appointment of Christopher Hughes as percussion ensemble instructor, to be funded with a Garrison Children’s Education Fund grant of $2,600.
  • The Safety & Health/Wellness committee presented a building-level safety plan, which the board agreed to consider during executive session for security reasons.
  • After a small-claims action, the board voted to refund $7,000 in property taxes for 2014 to 2016 for the Kien property at 17 Mandalay Drive.
  • Board member James Hoch shared concerns about bullying behavior after the election, and that students might be “teased if not bullied for their positions as well as their identity.” Board member David Gelber inquired about the level of discussion in classrooms about the election. Mitchell said she planned to talk to teachers about what came up. Principal John Griffiths said such discussions were part of larger “social and emotional learning” for students, but that the school works to instill the lesson that “differences are wonderful and are to be celebrated.”

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