Evaluations, anti-harrassment issues tackled by RCS Board

By Trish Adams
In its meeting on October 10, the Roxbury Central School (RCS) board wrangled with the challenging requirements of New York State’s Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), and embraced some opportunities to implement the “Dignity for All Students Act,” a new anti-bullying law that took effect this school year. 

New teacher news
In instructional news, the board approved Special Education Director Mary Lucas’ convincing case for creating another special education teacher position. Alternatives to hiring an additional teacher, such as including some special ed students in the general classroom and combining the resource center director and special education teacher positions into one, had been attempted but were not working. Board members agreed that hiring another teacher was more practical and affordable than bussing special ed students to expensive, distant, off-site programs.

The board was proud to take a special vote approving a RCS alumnus, Anthony Camillone, as the new physical education instructor for grades K-12.

Review standards 
Much of the rest of the meeting was devoted to discussing progress made on the NYS Education Department’s APPR.

The APPR for teachers and administrators is a complex but mandatory process of evaluation that all schools must put in place this year. Roxbury managed to complete and have their APPR plan approved by the statutory deadline of July 1, a feat that most school districts have not managed yet. A link to Roxbury’s 80-page APPR rubric can be found here: http://usny.nysed.gov/rttt/teachers-leaders/plans.

Now that the APPR plan is in place, all teachers have to develop tools that will be used for their evaluation, including Student Learning Objectives (with testing at the start and end of the learning period) and rubrics that include both state testing results and local achievement measures — all this while carrying a full day’s teaching load of up to six classes. Due to the enormity of the preparation involved, RCS has decided to overlap many of its CDEP committee’s priorities with the APPR process, so that teachers can use already allocated professional development time to get their APPR act together. Dean of Students Jo Hinkley is also devoting a measure of her time to assist teachers, so that implementation of the APPR will not interfere too much with class time. 

“We’re ahead of the game here,” noted Superintendent Tom O’Brien, “Many schools don’t even have a plan approved yet, and how they are going to do that with the school year underway, I don’t know.” Board Member Bonnie Walker expressed admiration for the RCS faculty, who, instead of viewing the new requirements as a nuisance, have embraced the process: “They don’t gripe or complain, they look at this as an opportunity for growth and improvement.” The APPR will ultimately rank teachers and administrators on a scale of HEDI: Highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Those deemed “developing” or “”ineffective” will undertake a Teacher Improvement Plan the following year.

What does the Dean of Students do?
Dean Hinkley also reported on her new list of projects. She and the administration have decided to reinstate the Character Education program, focusing on one theme or value every two months. “We will start with the word, Pride, both as it applies to pride in oneself and pride in our community,” said Hinkley.

She has also revamped cafeteria seating to enhance civility and to reward classes that maintain high behavioral standards with such “carrots” as fun post-lunch activities and preferential table seating. “By making it class-wide, this motivates everyone to work together and co-operate so that the whole class benefits,” said Hinkley. 

Creating a safe and nurturing learning environment
Much of the rest of Hinkley’s schedule is devoted to her new role as Dignity Act Coordinator for RCS. This measure (http://www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact) was passed into law in 2010 and compels all NYS schools to designate one person to coordinate efforts and training to prevent bullying and harassment. Hinkley has already attended Dignity Act training, and several board members and administrators will be attending workshops provided locally by the NYS School Boards Association in the coming weeks.

But RCS staff and faculty are most enthusiastic about their on-going learning opportunity with the Ashokan Center’s Institute for Social and Emotional Learning and its director, David Levine, who has already held one seminar on the RCS campus and will return several more times to work with faculty and staff. Levine is a widely recognized expert in helping school professionals build an emotionally and physically safe learning community, where empathy is a core practice. Levine uses a wide variety of learning tools to guide teachers and staff in creating a school culture where antisocial behaviors like bullying, harassment, name-calling and put-downs plummet. The next RCS Superintendent’s Conference Day, October 19, will give teachers and staff another opportunity to work with Levine.

In his superintendent’s report, O’Brien asked for the board’s advice on timing the construction of The Numann Center, a technology center for the students, in the coming months. The board endorsed O’Brien’s plan to try to have the work done over the winter months, when contractors are more available and affordable. Since most of the work is interior and involves mostly wiring, O’Brien hoped to schedule work in an afternoon-evening “swing shift” (and over the holidays) so that almost all of the disruption would occur when students were not there. The board agreed to put the work out for bid again with that proposed schedule. O’Brien also reported that RCS enrollment is “holding its own,” and that, over the last decade, they’’ seen the smallest percentage decrease in students of any area school.

The next school board meeting will be Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. and the annual student Halloween Parade will be on Main Street, Wednesday Oct. 31 at 1:30 p.m.