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Canajoharie, NY ,

Students return to school in three local districts

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 - Updated: 9:22 AM


C-S-E Editor

Yesterday, students in the Canajoharie Central School District returned to school, with students in OESJ and Fort Plain central school districts returning for another year of studies this morning.

In Fort Plain and OESJ, staff and educators returned earlier this week, taking mandatory training and participating in various workshops, while Canajoharie teachers could be found readying their classroom spaces at the end of last week.

In Fort Plain, the largest transition this year, noted Superintendent of Schools Douglas Burton, is the sudden move from half-day to full-day pre-kindergarten. The district only received notification that they'd been awarded grant funding for the program at the end of August, though Burton said the board of education anticipated the funding and adjusted the budget as needed to fund the program whether or not the grant was received.

"Other than that, we know the school is in good standing," said Burton, with all students successfully reaching a required progress level. Burton said that the positive designations are "a credit to our students and the effort they've made," adding, "our teachers are working hard, and it's a demonstration of that too."

As a parting gesture, former Harry Hoag Elementary Principal Cathy Brucker, who left the district this year, was instrumental in securing additional playground equipment, which was received Tuesday, August 26, and was being installed leading up to opening day.

Brucker started in the district ten years ago in the special education department, moving her way up to principal. The equipment that she purchased, which will be installed at both the primary and intermediate levels, will be useable by all students, including handicapped kids confined to wheelchairs.

Fred Hutchinson has been named Harry Hoag principal. Burton noted that he was "very busy" leading up to the first day. "He's been here nearly every day putting in long hours, trying to get his feet on the ground."

Hutchinson, he said, hopes to "bring a positive flavor" to the district, proving that a school day doesn't have to be rigorous -- it can also be fun.

One of Hutchinson's goals is to bring back the PBIS program, which may be embellished upon its return. "He's trying to get back to not just reacting to what's happening, but being proactive," Burton explained.

Of Hutchinson, Burton said, "I think people will be pleasantly surprised. He wants to be a major part of the community."

The district is entering the second year of Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness grant implementation (received in the amount of $100,000). Aid has also been received from Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara in the amount of $50,000.

"We're going to be able to initiate even more activities," said Burton, who said that students are already returning to a district that was able to reduce the tax levy and bring back significant programming as part of the most recent budget.

The district has also secured two mobile labs, one to be used in each building. Each mobile lab comes equipped with 27 laptop computers, which teachers utilize on a daily basis. Each building will now have two carts, fully integrating technology into the curriculum. As each student works on a laptop, the teacher will instruct from the Smart Board at the head of the class.

From June 2013 to June 2014, enrollment at Fort Plain Central School was down by about 30 students. Burton was not sure of the cause, thinking maybe families moved from the area after the flood, though he said "I'm hopeful we won't realize that," upon the students' return. More students have been enrolling as of late, though the numbers aren't solidified until late September or early October.

The district currently enrolls about 830-850 per year.

Teachers returned to OESJ, entering its second year as a merged district, Tuesday, receiving various training, including "right to know" courses focused on educating staff on sexual harassment and discipline policies, just to name a few topics.

A motivational speaker talked to staff about how to deal with students showing a lack of motivation or behavioral issues. The presentation focused on ways to make the students successful.

On Tuesday, the district's principals -- including recently hired High School Principal David Slater, who began work the third week of August -- prepared breakfast for everybody, even the cafeteria staff, allowing them to be an integral part of the programming.

One goal of OESJ is to view student test data to determine the perfect path for each student, then prescribing it. Educators are also aiming to raise test scores.

"We've been looking at where we've been and trying to analyze how the kids did on tests ... to plan instruction that's going to be better for them," said Acting Principal Theodore Kawryga, filling in for Interim Superintendent Thomas Gallagher until his return next Thursday.

At the ninth grade level, the district is trying something new -- 9th Grade Academy. Ninth grade teachers have been moved to the third floor, as have lockers, and freshman will spend a majority of their day there. "There will be less movement, more concentration on academics," said Kawryga, explaining that the freshman's school day will be more condensed than before.

It will also feature team meetings, including a "Freshman Seminar" everyday, which will involve enrichment activities for students who are up to date on their work, and extra work for those falling behind.

"We're trying to attack all the issues that cause kids to be unsuccessful," said Kawryga.

About 720 students, possibly more, are scheduled to start in OESJ today.

In Canajoharie, new student orientations have taken place, fall sports are underway and teachers and staff spent significant time preparing classrooms and buildings for opening day.

Teachers re-entered the district buildings last week, and could be found throughout the three-building campus preparing classrooms, which, for First Grade Teacher Michelle Ehle, included readying supplies and doing curriculum work with the goal of "making sure that things are ready so the students can be successful as soon as they walk in."

The first day, she explained, would consist of going over classroom rules, taking a tour of the elementary school to familiarize new students and remind returning students where everything, including the nurse's office, is.

The kids also participated in classroom teamwork building activities on the first day.

On Friday, BOCES Service Desk Technician Suzanne Fisher set up wireless laptops for teachers to use in second, third and fourth grade classrooms, while right upstairs, Fifth Grade Co-Teachers Kathy Dopp and Colleen Sullivan talked about ways to get kids to share, mapping out methods on the dry erase board. Dopp said the co-teachers were "spending time figuring out the best ways to work with the children to meet their needs."

They also discussed methods they learned during a recent math conference held in Tarrytown.

The first day, said Dopp, is all about familiarizing students with their surroundings, including the fact that they'll have two teachers. Much of the day is spent helping students "get used to us, and how that works and how that changes their day," said Sullivan.

Canajoharie Middle School also welcomed a new principal, Lori Orestano-James.

Of Orestano-James, Canajoharie Superintendent Deborah Grimshaw said, “She is a collaborative educational leader who is approachable and builds relationships with students/families and school staff. She has strengths in curriculum and instruction and the use of data for instructional decision making.”

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