“We’re really just wrapping everything up now,” said Superintendent Gerard Gretzinger last week, noting that students in kindergarten through ninth grade return on Tuesday, Sept. 7, and high school sophomores, juniors and seniors join the fray one day later.
At the high school, the plan is to continue moving forward on the successes of last year’s closed campus, as well as begin laying the foundation for the introduction next year of the “smaller house” concept, where each grade will be divided into smaller units for a more intimate approach to education. After spending much of last year shuttling between the high school and the district’s headquarters on Crown Street, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Administration Joseph Previll will work almost exclusively on Broadway.
“He’ll assist there with the whole reorganization process that we’ll be looking at as a result of the Joint Intervention Team response,” Gretzinger said, noting that the group’s recommendation for the house concept mirrored a push begun years ago for the institution of smaller learning communities by district officials and school board trustees.
Previll, the former principal at M. Clifford Miller Middle School, said he’s enjoyed the move.
“For myself, just being back in a school building is exciting for me,” he said. “There’s a different energy. Central (Administration) is one place, and I like my job. But being with the kids and the staff, you really feel connected.”
Previll, along with Principal Marie Anderson and other high school administrators, oversaw the conversion last year of the high school to a closed campus, with the opening of a modern cafeteria among the improvements designed to keep students in the building during the school day. That move has been heralded by school officials as being at least part of the reason for a huge single-year improvement in the ninth-grade retention rate.
The number of ninth-grade students forced to repeat the grade after the 2008-09 school year was 124, a high number by the district’s standards, and one which they pledged in February to attempt to drop by an average of 5 percent over each of the next three years. Buy that number fell dramatically to 69 students at the end of the 2009-10 school year, a one year improvement of roughly 45 percent.
“I think there’s a lot that contributed to that,” said Gretzinger. “Certainly some of the curriculum changes and the dedication of our staff, and a large part of that is due to the closed campus. If you have kids in school and they’re going to class, they’re going to improve.”
“It could be a number of things,” he said. “But I think if you keep the kids in the building, they’re going to learn something.”
Also at the high school are a new pair of assistant principals, with teacher and KHS-TV faculty advisor Andrew Sheber and Special Education Coordinator Angela Armstrong both stepping in to the role.
“It’s been quite smooth, but this is still the calm before the storm,” said Sheber about his transition. “I’ve been planning for it for a few years. Naturally, when the opportunity came up I had to take it.”
Though he said he probably won’t become fully aware of the difference between his former and current jobs until after the doors open to the schools, he’s already aware of having a different mindset.
“It’s been different in that I’m not planning for lessons,” he said. “I’m looking at curriculum maps, but from a different perspective. It’s more about the interaction between students and teachers rather than my own interaction with students. I will definitely miss the day to day interaction with kids, watching the light bulbs come on behind their eyes, so to speak. I think in this position I can affect more kids, but perhaps not as directly.”
Sheber’s advisory role with KHS-TV will be filled by Rachel Scorca, a broadcast arts teacher. A second advisory position will be filled by the time school begins next week.
“I feel a little heartbroken over that,” Sheber said. “I’ll certainly be involved in some level.”
By the time school opens, there will also be a new part-time special education teacher, a part time science teacher and a night school administrator to replace Anthony Arena, the former principal at Sophie Finn Elementary, who retired this year. The night school administrator will split the four nights each week with Anderson. Much of the hiring has been done by Gretzinger himself, who picked up any personnel moves dealing with members of the Kingston Teachers Federation (KTF) when administrative duties were reassigned with the departure of former assistant superintendent Robert Pritchard.
Pritchard, who left the district to become the Superintendent of the Mexico Academy and Central School District at the end of the 2009-10 school year, was Kingston’s Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations. According to Gretzinger, not filling his role saved the district money, but it also meant Pritchard’s former tasks would have to be shared among administrators and others in the central office.
“I think it’s been going very well,” Gretzinger said. “We have two very competent people in our business office helping out. Gary Tomczyk, Sr. is the district treasurer and he is picking up a lot of the responsibilities of running the business office that Mr. Pritchard had. In addition to that we also have a deputy treasurer, Beth Woodard, and she is assisting Mr. Tomczyk in doing additional duties over there and is offering a lot of assistance. Also, Bob’s secretary (Margarita Lekaj) comes to us with a very strong background in business, and she was the VP of Chase Bank here in Kingston, and we’re tapping her knowledge.”
New captains at grade schools
Other schools in the district are also opening with new principals in place, with William Krupp and Jo Ellen Gibbons effectively switching roles. Krupp will take the helm at Edson Elementary, while Gibbons will work in the central office as the director of humanities. Krupp, who has been in the district for 21 years, has previously been a principal at Zena, Graves and Anna Devine. He said he relished a return to working in a school setting.
“It’s just the energy in the building,” he said. “Being connected to a school culture, you can effect direct change with students and develop relationships with students and staff. That’s very powerful.”
While he might not yet be familiar with the students at Edson, Krupp’s prior experience as a principal going as far back as 1989 has meant he’s come into contact with plenty of kids who’ve since grown into adults.
“To me, it’s a real blessing to be able to affect students’ lives and connect with them,” he said. “Some of them have gone on to be teachers. It’s been exciting for me to see them grow as adults and see how successful they are. They’re all successful in their own way.”
With Arena’s retirement, the role of principal at Sophie Finn was also in need of filling, and the district appointed former Assistant to the Superintendent for Math, Science and Technology Al Goren to the post. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Marystephanie Corsones will take on most of the responsibilities left behind by Goren.
“It’s been a very, very busy summer,” said Gretzinger.
Less money, more work
While the district did pass its 2010-11 budget proposal on the first try, it did represent a more modest spending plan than the previous year, with the elimination of around 50 jobs part of the belt-tightening. With the two-year federal stimulus program for funding education having run out and fears the state would slash its anticipated aid increase, the district constructed its spending plan with those realities in mind. As a result, school officials said they weren’t hit as hard as other districts might have been when it was learned in the middle of August that last year’s Foundation Aid estimate of $39,164,695 would not be increased. Also staying level was the $800,896 in aid for universal pre-kindergarten and $1,621,490 in high tax aid. Other figures fluctuated either up or down slightly, with the end result being a 7.05 percent reduction in total state aid, or a drop of $3,597,120.
According to Gretzinger, district employees are working together to do everything they can to continue offering a quality education to its students.
“I have to say the teachers have responded very well to this,” Gretzinger said. “They’ve chipped in wherever they have to.”
There was potential good news for the district from the state, when it was announced two weeks ago that New York’s share of a new federal $10 billion nationwide education aid package designed to save around 140,000 jobs would yield roughly $607 million for New York, with the potential to save around 8,200 education jobs across the state. While no specific figures have been announced for individual school districts, U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey’s press secretary, Mike Morosi, said with the total dollar amount representing roughly 40 percent of what the state slashed in education funding this year, it’s likely school districts will see an aid increase of around the same amount. Those figures are expected to be finalized by the State Education Department within the week.
Gretzinger declined to comment on the federal aid until the district learns how much it will actually receive.
Exploring alternatives: Program
moves from CCE to high school
In an effort to continue the success of its middle school version, the Kingston City School District will hold its pilot high school alternative education program at its own Broadway campus rather than the Center for Creative Education.
According to school officials, the high school alternative education program will serve as a natural next step after the middle school program, which the district launched as a pilot during the 2008-09 school year as a means of reaching students who might not find success in a traditional classroom setting. According to Superintendent Gerard Gretzinger, the district had always planned to expand alternative education so that it could serve students beyond the middle school.
Roughly 20 students will comprise the high school’s pilot class, taking classes in the morning, breaking for lunch, then riding buses to Ulster BOCES for a careers-based program specifically designed to work in tandem with the district’s alternative education plan. Students will be able to take vocational courses in everything from automobile maintenance and repair to child care.
According to Gretzinger, the future may see the district exploring options for housing its alternative education classes for middle and high school students in one place. In the meantime, the high school program will work out of the high school, while the middle school program will move to M. Clifford Middle School after spending last year at the Center for Creative Education on Thomas Street. The program moved there after its launch at the Maple Ridge School of the Rifton Bruderhof community. Middle-school alternative education students will still visit the CCE, studying the arts on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The success of the middle school program over the past two years made introducing the high school version an easy sell, with 13 of the 16 eighth-graders in last year’s class making the jump to ninth grade at the end of the regular school year, two completing the job over the summer and just one being held back. Of those who graduated, three were recommended to be integrated back into the general student population, where they’ll enter the ninth grade next week.
“It’s a good program,” said Kingston Board of Education President James Shaughnessy. “We made some very good progress with the middle school over the last two years. Most of those students made it to ninth grade, and some have made it out of the program altogether. That’s
really the goal.”
Shaughnessy said the success of the middle school’s alternative education program, as well as the recent news that the overall ninth grade retention rate had significantly improved showed the district’s focus on student success at those levels being critical was showing signs of paying off.