Norra Reyes

Norra Reyes

Newsroom Manager, Business Editor, Letters

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SARATOGA SPRINGS – On August 1, 2017, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) sent a letter to Ralph Rossi, II the executive deputy director and general counsel for Charter Schools Institute. In regards to State University of New York Charter Schools Institute’s (SUNY) new charter school teacher certification proposal.

The letter clearly stated that NYSUT is extremely against the lowered qualifications for charter schools that SUNY is trying to implement. This proposal would allow SUNY-authorized charter schools to have their own teacher certification program as opposed to the “rigorous New York State standards,” Carl Korn, the chief press officer of NYSUT, said.

According to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute’s website, “Guided by the Board of Trustees’ rigorous standards, the Institute provides ongoing oversight of schools that centers on progress made by schools in improving student achievement, while also reviewing their organizational and fiscal performance; the Institute’s oversight serves as a catalyst for improvement, informs the public of each school’s performance, and protects the health and safety of students enrolled in each school.”

The Institute also points out that they “recommend renewal of only those charter schools that have shown they can improve student performance and operate in a fiscally and organizationally sound manner.”

Korn remarked, “New York’s teachers are among the best educated, most highly prepared in the country. These proposed regulations are a travesty. They would lower the standards for teachers by allowing charter networks to bypass the rigorous certification process. We see it as the ‘anybody we want to certify’ approach for charter schools and that is very dangerous for students.”

That being said, New York state union teachers are also among the highest paid in the country, earning an average of $77,628 a year and become tenured after a multi-year evaluation process that requires a vote from the governing committee of the school.

The three main concerns that NYSUT has with the proposed charter teacher eligibilities are the lack of qualifications for these new charter teachers. The different certification process creates a two tier educational system in New York. The children in public schools are educated by teachers who have met the New York state union qualifications and with this new proposal, the children in charters would be educated by teachers who only meet the charter SUNY charter standards, creating a second tier of educators.

The SUNY Charter Network has proposed that teachers with fewer than 30 hours of classroom instruction and only a few weeks of field experience are well equipped to educate. NYSUT recognizes that New York has a rigorous process for becoming a certified teacher, but there are many flexible paths in which to do so.

“If charter networks are having difficulty attracting and retaining qualified teachers, they should look at paying those teachers more, treating them like professionals, and letting them teach. Not setting up their own certification process where anyone can become a teacher,” Korn said.

It is important to note that the charter school teachers certified under this new process via SUNY Charter School Institute would not be union members, paying union dues, or required to follow the same guidelines of union teachers.

Korn said that as of right now, no charter schools have reached out to them specifically to comment one way or the other.

Currently, NYSUT and SUNY are in a 45 day comment period which ends September 8. In this period, SUNY Trustees are able to comment on the matter and change anything about the proposal.

“We expect the SUNY Trustees to take this matter seriously and reject these draft regulations as harmful to students and harmful to the teacher,” Korn said, speaking for NYSUT as a whole.

TeachNY is a SUNY initiative that seeks to raise standards for teachers and to further professionalize teaching standards in New York State by raising the aspirational standards for teaching. For TeachNY, SUNY and NYSUT were on the same page.

Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT executive vice president, stated in her letter, “the pending draft regulations are completely counter to the spirit and letter of the resolution which was adopted in June.”

That resolution is TeachNY.

“On one hand, SUNY is calling for even more rigorous and even more professional standards for teachers and on the other hand, they want to lower the standards for charter networks and that doesn’t make any sense,” Korn said.

If the regulations for the new charter school certifications are approved and adopted without change, they would go into effect in September.

An attempt at contact with Ralph Rossi and those at SUNY Charter School Institute were not returned.

Friday, 03 March 2017 15:29

Fighting Cancer, Family Style

SARATOGA SPRINGS — At just six years old, Abby Sayles of Waterford has already had 18 spinal taps, swallowed 1,652 chemotherapy pills, and learned to dance joyfully to Katy Perry songs whenever she can. The kindergartener was diagnosed with B-cell ALL (acute lymphocytic leukemia) in August 2014 – hard news for her parents, Steve and Renee Sayles, to take. “It was overwhelming,” said Renee. “I was angry, upset, worried – so many emotions at once. But the first thing her doctor said after telling us she had leukemia was that she’s going to be fine. You don’t really believe them at first – it’s cancer – it’s tough to hear.” Fortunately, research dollars have made a tremendous impact in blood cancer treatments. Those successes and resulting hope is why Joe Kakaty of Saratoga Springs decided to accept a nomination for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) 2017 Man and Woman of the Year fundraising campaign. “You feel helpless because you want to do something,” said Joe. “I have several uncles with leukemia, and my dad’s a survivor. It’s everywhere and touches everyone. LLS has spent a billion dollars in cancer therapies over the years. The survival rate was 6 percent, and it’s 90 percent now.” That said, he was initially hesitant to accept. The 10-week campaign is a big commitment for a working family man. When he brought the idea home, he said he could not have been more proud of the decision his wife and three children made to do the campaign together, as a family. “It is a blessing to have an opportunity for the family to work together for such an important cause,” said Josey Kakaty, Joe’s wife. “Our ‘someday is today,’ and this is something that really matters.” The LLS trademark is “Someday is Today®” and as the Kakatys brainstormed how they could each participate, the children came up with the idea to write a song around that theme, make a music video, and use it to help promote fundraising for LLS. The Kakaty3 band is made up of siblings Bella, 11, on vocals, Joey, 9, on drums, and Kenny, 13, on electric guitar. They put their heads together, and with Kenny’s wordsmithing talent and the help of Overit Studios and other professionals, plus support from friends like the Sayles family, a video was born. “I think what they are doing is wonderful,” said Renee. “All the candidates doing the campaign have some sort of connection to cancer. Even if they don’t make Man or Woman of the Year, they are still winning in such a big way.” The first live show of “Someday is Today” will take place on Saturday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at the Parting Glass Pub. So far, subsequent performances include Sunday, March 5 at 6 p.m. at Saratoga Central Catholic School; Friday, March 10 at 5 p.m. at Crown Grill; Wednesday, March 22 at 6 p.m. at Prime at Saratoga National; and April 22, 3 p.m. at the City Tavern. The Kakatys hope to raise $50,000, and have secured a donor that will match up to $25,000. The plan is to use the video to raise funds online, and combine that with up to 10 live performances at a $10 donation per person, and have raffles at the gigs. The parents will also do letter-writing and phone campaigns. Kenny is confident the campaign will meet its goals. “Americans are super generous, giving an estimated $400 billion to charity annually,” he said. “Our country’s generosity is inspiring. We hope they will help us make a difference for the LLS.” Abby is doing her part to make a difference, too. She did exceptionally well throughout her chemotherapy, which ended last October. Her mother said she must see an oncologist the rest of her life, and they pray every day that the cancer doesn’t return, but for now, the six-year-old is helping a young friend who was recently diagnosed. “I told her that her hair will come back,” said Abby, “and we like her hair however it is.” She also showed her how to swallow pills and talked about her experiences. Her mother said Abby is a miniature adult in a child’s body. “You have to take one day at a time and focus on the happiness of your kid,” said Renee. “It’s what truly matters. The doctors will take care of the rest.” The fundraising link will go live at midnight on March 3: The “Someday is Today” video, along with a link to the fundraising campaign, can be viewed at
Friday, 24 February 2017 17:16

Blue Streaks Robotics Head to Worlds

SARATOGA SPRINGS — After a successful VEX Robotics Northern New York State Championship tournament Saturday, February 18, at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena, the Saratoga Springs Blue Streak Robotics team is heading to Kentucky in April for the VEX World Championship. Amanda Davis, a junior at Saratoga Springs High School, is a driver for the six-member team that competed, in charge of remote-controlling the robot. “States was a ton of fun,” she said, “but very stressful the entire day. Especially during elimination matches, when we had a couple malfunctions with motors overheating and not having enough batteries. In our division finals match, to decide to go to Worlds, our robot was not turned on properly, so we had to turn it off and back on in the middle of the match. I sprinted over to where the robot was and, thankfully, we were able to get it operating and won that match.” Basically, the competitors had to build a robot that would compete in a game against other robots all built from the same basic materials. There is a new game every year, and this year the game was called “Star Struck.” It involved foam “jacks” or “stars” that the robots had to throw over a wall, and the object was to get all your team’s stars on the other side. Collin Bolles, Saratoga Springs High School junior, said he spent a lot of time programming in preparation for States. “We have 15 seconds in each match when the robot is completely autonomous,” he said, “and that can sometimes make or break a game. I was focusing a lot on writing the autonomous code, so my driver was never starting off down points. We put a lot of effort into this, and into the engineering notebooks, covering all our bases. A strong engineering notebook is one of the ways into the World competitions.” According to Preston Sweeney, the administrator for the team, there were 64 teams at the State championship split into 2 divisions, one technology, one engineering. “These kids work hard, on weekends, non-stop. It was a nice feeling of Saratoga, Granville, and Queensbury working together as one unit,” said Sweeney. He added that the Blue Streaks have gone to States every year, and this will be the second trip to Worlds. “It’s quite the experience,” he said. “The Louisville Expo Center is just a monster facility, and basically you really have the world there – kids from China, Australia. You don’t know who you’ll be teamed up with. You could get teamed with kids that don’t know any English. It gives the kids a good experience.” Team parent mentor, Paul Davis, said, “They worked unbelievably hard. Not only did they work out the calculations to figure out what’s best in designing the robot, but they also strategized the game, and what teams they work with really well. It’s a real world situation. I think it’s preparing them for whatever field they go into.” The team is made up of all juniors, so they are looking to spark interest in the younger grades. For anyone interested, Bolles said, “I think the number one thing is that you don’t have to know anything about robotics to get involved. I think if you have a real passion and interest, go for it and you’ll learn what you have to along the way. I came in with a firm grasp in math technology fields, but there are certainly students who don’t have that. One of our strongest members is planning on going into journalism.” Davis said her favorite thing about the team is getting to work with others. “You don’t get to do that a lot in a typical classroom setting,” she said. “You collaborate not only with teammates, but also other teams around the region and now around the world.” The VEX Worlds 2017 will take place April 19 through 22 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. The Blue Streak Robotics team is currently fundraising for the team to go, and more information on how to help is available at
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Angelo G. Calbone’s office at Saratoga Hospital has a warm and inviting atmosphere, not at all the cold, corporate look one might expect from a major healthcare center’s president and CEO. The day of the interview fell on Valentine’s Day, and his staff was enjoying the traditional box of chocolates he arranges for all employees throughout the hospital each year. Enzo, Calbone’s quick-footed spaniel named for Enzo Ferrari, was in the office that day, charming visitors. Calbone’s office setting reflects an overall sense of community that permeates throughout Saratoga Hospital and its mission and values. Calbone says that it is community that drives the hospital as it grows and changes to meet local needs. “The Sleep Center is a good example,” said Calbone. “We didn’t simply say, Lets just have a bigger sleep center. We had patients using an existing sleep lab in the community and overrunning it with demand, and having to send patients to Glens Falls, Albany, all over the region. Our identification of there being a need drove that.” Understanding how patients move through the system and watching local health trends helps influence the decisions on what services the hospital will provide, and that is how many of the facilities offered by the hospital, such as the Saratoga Hospital Center for Sleep Disorders, come about. In fact, looking over the last decade of Saratoga Hospital, some of the biggest changes driven by community need and healthcare trends include offsite locations, which rose from 5 to 23; number of employed full-time equivalent providers (6 to 130); and outpatient visits, which more than quadrupled from 55,342 to 249,180 visits. “We wanted to be a regional institution,” said Calbone. “We didn’t want to be more than ten minutes from any resident in our service area to one of our service locations. It’s important that we are geographically accessible.” And the hospital has done that, such as developing and expanding its urgent care centers. Calbone said that over 60,000 urgent care visits are handled between Malta and Wilton annually. “It wasn’t that many years ago that we had none,” said Calbone. Calbone added that the hospital’s biggest strategic accomplishment is probably the rise of the Saratoga Hospital Medical Group, which accounts for much of the growth in outpatient visits and other areas. As the industry and regulations changed over the years, it has become harder for physicians to maintain a successful, independent practice, so hospital institutions began hiring physicians to protect the provision of physician care in communities. By taking on the administrative burdens and centralizing regulatory practices – especially the expense of moving the industry to electronic medical records – fewer physicians would have to close their doors or move. “If we had not moved toward developing a medical group, this community was at risk of losing its physician base,” said Calbone. “And we would have found it impossible to recruit. We have also been very successful bringing talented doctors into the community.” According to Calbone, the new partnership with Albany Medical Center has strengthened that. “We now have a large medical group and this number increases every two or three weeks,” he said. “First off, the medial group stays inside of Saratoga Hospital, but they are interfacing with the medical staff at Albany Medical Center and talking about having, in future, medical students and residents rotate through up here. We have a number of physicians that enjoy teaching. Now, having a relationship with us means they can also have a relationship with an academic center.” Calbone said it is beneficial to have medical students around because they ask good questions and provoke good inquiry, and they are a good draw to attracting high quality physicians to Saratoga, especially as some specialties will only work with an academic medical center. “The partnership also helps us keep them busy,” said Calbone. “We received state approval to bring Emergency PCI services to Saratoga Hospital a few years ago, but to sustain it 24/7 and 365 days a year with the highest quality physicians, you would have to have a partnership to keep all those physicians a hundred percent busy.” According to the National Institute of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) may be used to relieve symptoms of coronary heart disease or to reduce heart damage during or after a heart attack. “It’s pretty exciting, connecting our interventional cardiology program with Albany Medical Center,” he added. In addition, Calbone said there are a number of specialties that the hospital does not offer and would be difficult to recruit if it weren’t for the partnership. “Treating infectious disease, for example,” he said, “you don’t necessarily need one full time, so we jointly develop strategies with our partner so some of these physicians can move back and forth.” Community need drives that decision-making. Recently, the Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by the Healthy Capital District Initiative showed some startling local numbers, and the hospital has an implementation plan underway to address them. The assessment found that Saratoga County has a higher prevalence of adult asthma, lung cancer, breast cancer, self-inflicted injury, binge-drinking, alcohol-related motor vehicle injury and deaths, and cirrhosis deaths compared to the rest of New York State. Additionally, the suicide mortality rate was significantly higher than the rest of the state, and increased by 53 percent between the 2008-10 study and the 2011-13 study. Chlamydia in women 15 to 44 years of age increased by 50 percent. Lyme disease rates are the 7th highest of all counties, and opiate poisoning increased by 40 percent. “Most people have very little awareness of the size of those numbers,” said Calbone. “We are beginning a physician-managed substance abuse program at our community health center this spring. We’ll have a dedicated full time physician, a part-time psychiatrist and a dedicated program around addiction. Doing something effective goes back to understanding there is a dire community need. We watch these numbers at much more granular levels all the time in our organization.” Saratoga Hospital is the only acute-care facility in Saratoga County, with a medical staff of over 450 physicians and other credentialed providers, and operates several facilities around the region including the Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center, as well as the hospital’s physician practice, Saratoga Regional Medical Group. For more information, go to
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Zac Zwijacz, a junior at Saratoga Springs High School, has been swimming his entire life, joining his first team at the YMCA when he was 5 years old, and he’s been with the Schenectady-Saratoga Sharks ever since. Currently, he is a co-captain on the Blue Streaks varsity swim team, and he just won sectionals and is heading to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships March 3 and 4 on Long Island. Blue Streaks Varsity Swim Team Coach Bill Asay couldn’t be more proud. The coach said the Blue Streaks have a young squad developing day by day, but Zwijacz qualified for the state meet with some of the top times. At the Section II Championship on Saturday, February 18, at Shenendehowa High School, Zwijacz won the 100 butterfly and made All-American consideration time, just a step below All-American nomination. “He’s been doing terrifically,” said Asay. “His goal is to get as deep into the state meet as possible. He went 50.1 on the butterfly and would like to get the sectional record of 49.55 seconds for 100 yards.” Zwijacz also swims the backstroke and freestyle, and is planning on swimming the 200 freestyle at states as well as the butterfly. “I feel pretty ready,” he said. “I know it’s more competitive and everyone’s a lot closer – it’s not like two seconds away from each other, everyone’s in that one-second range, very close.” Zwijacz said his biggest challenge over the years was gaining a work ethic. “It’s something I didn’t have when I was in eighth grade. When I was a freshman, I had a senior on my team who helped me build a work ethic, Alex Danielson. That’s something Bill said, that you couldn’t be based on raw talent alone, Alex showed it every day, worked hard every day. This year, I really pushed that and helped the younger guys on my team realize that as well.” Zwijacz said he is grateful for the support from his parents and sister, and the family sacrifices so he can get to practice and go to meets. He’s had a lot of support from his team and friends, too. This is his first year as a team captain, which he shares with co-captains Sam Mastroianni and Nate Marron. “The team we’re building up, we’re younger but getting a lot better and can definitely expect them to grow in the future. Some of them will make states. We also might send a relay team next year, which is something we’ve never had before so it would be really cool. Even if they are just swimming a 50 or 100, they are still helping the team. And since they are young, they’ll get a taste of what states will be like.” He’s thinking about majoring in business or management when he heads off to college, but is looking forward to another year with the Blue Streaks. “I used to be on a baseball team,” he said, “but I quit once I realized that swimming was my main sport. I kind of like the competitive atmosphere, how it’s a personal thing, you see yourself grow but you also see your teammates grow with you, which is really cool.” His coach is feeling good about next year, too, for the team and for Zwijacz. “His maturity level over the past two years changed immensely, from young boy to a pretty mature competitor, with high expectational goals that I personally don’t see why they wouldn’t be fulfilled,” Asay said.
Friday, 17 February 2017 15:42

Aibel Earns Silver at Empire State Games

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The figure skating events at the 2017 Empire State Winter Games in Lake Placid were held over three days, beginning February 3, with more than 600 figure skaters competing. Those placing in the top three of their events are invited to compete at the National State Games of America to be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan in August. According to figure skating coach Amada Shelburne, with the Saratoga Springs Figure Skating Club, it was the largest contingent of total athletes the games have ever had. Shelburne, who also takes on private figure skating students, had two athletes competing this year. “Claire Aibel was 2nd in her Intermediate Test Track group at Empires,” said Shelburne. “She received a Silver Medal. My other student, Emma Nicholson, received a Bronze Medal in her group.” Aibel, a Saratoga Springs High School junior, is also a recent Gold Medalist for United States Figure Skating in Moves in the Field. She earned the Silver for Intermediate Level Freestyle at the Empire State Games. She’s been skating about 9 years, and with Shelburne for 6 years. “She’s probably one of the hardest workers that I have taught, and I’ve taught for like 40 years,” said Shelburne. “The Empires is a big one. It includes all of the State of New York and some Canadians can come down and qualify. I was proud they had worked very hard at getting themselves trained for this. They were trying new jumps, like double jumps.” Shelburne explained double jumps involve different take offs with two rotations in the air and then a backwards landing on one foot. She said it takes years to perfect. “I practiced four times a week leading up to the game,” said Aibel. “I worked on all of my jumps, my landings, and doubles. I really like learning new things and seeing improvement. I’ve always wanted to be able to do what I’ve seen on TV, like watching the Olympics and older skaters at the rink. I guess I just enjoy being there in Lake Placid. It’s really inspiring. The Olympics were held there and it’s a really nice town.” Shelburne said that one thing figure skaters learn well is that they are going to fall, and they are going to fall often. “You are also going to learn to get up and keep going,” she said. “You are going to experience failure and you’re also going to set a goal and achieve it. Figure skating is a fabulous lifetime lesson. You are not always going to be a winner and not always going to be perfect. They learn to get up and keep going and persevering and that’s what life is all about.”
Friday, 17 February 2017 15:03

PTA Brings the World to Division Street

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Friday night, before the weekend snowstorm, the Saratoga Music Hall at 474 Broadway was enjoying a storm of its own, a Karaoke battle, all in good fun, as a highlight to a gala raising funds for an Earth Balloon® for the Division Street Elementary School in the Saratoga Springs City School District (SSCSD). The “Around the World in 8 Dances” Gala held February 10 was part of a dedicated fundraising push led by the Division Street School PTA to purchase the $20,000 learning tool, and just before print deadline, the goal was reached – Division Street will shortly be the proud owner of an Earth Balloon. A list of the donors is available on the Division Street PTA’s website. “We are so grateful to our volunteers and donors,” said SSCSD Division Street PTA President Connie Woytowich. “We highly encourage our school members and the whole community to support them - whether they be a business, individual or organization. Without them - none of this would have been possible.” Woytowich is a chemistry and biology teacher at Colonie Central High School in Albany, and a NYS Master Teacher. She is also a Committee Chairperson for the STEM Lab - Earth Balloon Initiative, and a mother of four children, three at Division and one at the middle school. The initiative started when Woytowich had reached out to STEM Lab committeeperson Evelyn Hefner, a 5th grade teacher at the school with a masters in science education, and asked her what was her biggest wish for the STEM Lab and school? “Initially I thought about the Starlab® portable planetarium as well as the Earth Balloon, but it started around $40,000, which is somewhat unrealistic,” Hefner laughed. “So we decided to go for the Earth Balloon. I was able to rent one before at Lake Avenue, and the observations the kids made were fantastic. It is 20 feet in diameter when inflated, and the detail is so accurate – it’s from satellite photography. The back half of the Earth is all Pacific Ocean, and you can’t experience that unless you are walking around it. You can’t get that from a flat map or globe.” Moreover, Division Street is a receiving school for the English Language Learners in the district, and currently has students from the following countries: China, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Italy, and France. “I have an Indian student in my class,” said Hefner, “and he was so excited to show everyone his airplane ride over here, and he was able to share with his classmates the geography of the area, he knew the Teutonic plates under India, the Himalayas…I can’t wait until these kids - who may feel a little out of place - can show where they are from. The Earth Balloon connects with so much for the students – geography, weather, trade routes, biomes, literature – all these things that run through every level of curriculum.” Woytowich researched it through the vendor, Earth Adventure, and found that the total cost, including shipping, would be $20,900. “The problem with just renting it is the required $5,000 deposit, which is hard for a school to scrape up. So when I called Earth Adventure and told them we would like to buy one, they waived the deposit fee so we could expose people to it and fundraise.” They raised enough funds last year to pay for the week’s rental. The school held a STEM-tastic week, with a STEM Expo on Monday, February 6. The students and school community were able to explore the balloon throughout the week, and the successful fundraising culminated in the gala that Friday that left them shy nearly $4,000, but some additional phone calls and generous donors made up the difference within a few days. Moving forward, an added benefit of the Earth Balloon is that it would be a continuing fundraiser for the STEM Lab. The Division Street STEM Lab would be able to make it available to neighboring schools for a fraction of the start-up cost as a rental (with proof of insurance). Schools in the district would pay a further reduced fee. It has little maintenance, and is very low-tech. A large fan inflates it in under a minute, and it rolls up like a sleeping bag for storage. For more information about the Earth balloon, visit Additional details about donations and the benefits of the Earth Balloon for Division Street Elementary can be found at
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs Blue Streaks seized their 16th consecutive win at the Section 2 Gymnastics meet held at Shaker High School in Latham on Wednesday, February 8. Julia Van Horne, 17, a junior at Saratoga Springs High School, won her fourth consecutive all around title – a section record – competing in all four events: vault, bars, beam and floor. In all, 8 SSHS gymnasts are heading to the State Championships at Cold Harbor Springs on Long Island March 3 and 4. “These girls are amazing,” said Blue Streaks Varsity Gymnastics Coach Deborah Smarro. “My team is very tight knit, and because they have that family attitude it helped these girls achieve that next goal.” “We’re always cheering for each other,” said Van Horne. “We’re there to support each other and give each other advice. Our team is really tightly bonded and it’s great to know that if something happens, your teammates will be there for you.” The Saratoga Springs gymnasts heading to State Championships are: Julia VanHorne - All Around; Sophie Hrebenach - All Around; Felicity Ryan - vault, bars and beam; Laura Eberlein - beam and floor; Abby Zabielski – bars and alternate on floor; Kate DellaRatta – vault; Emily Fischer – bars; and Maddy Ryan - alternate on vault. Results February 8 Sectionals Team Competition Saratoga 173.95 Guilderland 164.025 Shaker 156.325 Bethlehem 147.00 All Around 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 36.95 2 Sophie Hrebenach- Saratoga 34.85 3 Rachel Drislane- Guild 34.45 Vault 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 9.15 2 Sophie Hrebenach- Saratoga 8.65 3Emma Drislane- Guild 8.475 Bars 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 9.15 2 Sophie Hrebenach- Saratoga 8.35 3 Felicity Ryan- Saratoga 8.1 Beam 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 9.3 2. Rachel Drislane- Guild 9.2 3. Laura Eberlein- Saratoga 9.125 Floor 1 Julia VanHorne- Saratoga 9.35 2 Rachel Drislane- Guild 9.2 3 Laura Eberlein- Saratoga 9.1
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In a landmark tie-breaker, the controversial appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education has been confirmed. What this means for education nationally is yet to be determined, but it is one of many headlines bringing national politics into local classrooms, including in Saratoga Springs. Such current events are among many that are used by educators to facilitate learning. According to Freya Mercer, Director for K-12 Humanities Integration at the Saratoga Springs School District, current events are used in social studies, English, and other subjects, to enhance critical thinking and analysis, reading comprehension, and other skills. Given that the news cycles have been unusually politically charged since the November elections, how do school districts handle class handouts and assignments on current events to a student body widely diverse in political viewpoints, culture, socioeconomic status, and a host of other factors? And when do current events cross the line from topical news to personal opinion? For example a video that went viral in January shows a Dallas teacher, shooting a toy water gun at a video of President Trump on Inauguration day, in front of her class. She has since been suspended. Locally, a number of fifth grade parents were unhappily surprised when their children recently brought home a handout of an article about the new U.S. President that seemed to the parent to be inappropriately slanted. One section read, “His victory was a blast of fresh air for millions of people. For millions of others, it was a disgrace.” Another section mentioned people refusing to attend the inauguration. Other handouts spoke of protestors and a concern of the lack of diversity in his cabinet appointments. These handouts were from NewsELA, one of a handful of generally accepted sources of current events news for primary and secondary education, and an often-used source for teachers nationwide. Whether these are the only materials handed out, or whether there were any that were unfavorable to the President’s former opponent, is unclear in this case, but it raises the question, how do schools regulate handouts and assignments on current events? According to Mercer, the Saratoga Springs City School District is clear that the current events must be fair and balanced. “Teachers have a lot of leeway when it comes to supplemental reading,” she added. “Obviously, it has to be age-appropriate and relevant to the curriculum, but there’s no way anyone would want to micromanage every piece of text that gets used in a classroom. Most of our buildings use Scholastic materials, but NewsELA is an Internet resource that all teachers will use to pull things to support student learning and reading.” Mercer’s office is responsible for state and local English Language Arts (ELA) student assessments. In addition, the office is responsible for academic intervention services (reading), enrichment and gifted and talented programming, arts-in-education, and implementation of the Common Core literacy standards. “The fifth grade curriculum includes studying the rain forest, and then the next unit is the universal declaration of human rights,” said Mercer. “They will also look at whether migrant farm workers are legal or illegal, and they will be learning how to relate it to literature and sometimes current events. They will also be going into Jackie Robinson and figures in sports history. There’s a lot of meaty content that our fifth graders are wrestling with. We have to be fair and balanced.” But defining how to meet that standard has been a longstanding educational concern still under debate. In the New York State School Boards Association’s (NYSSBA) “On Board Online” September 24, 2012 edition, there is an article by Cathy Woodruff titled, “Political Expressions in School Can Be ‘Gray’ Area.” In the article, Woodruff paraphrases NYSSBA General Counsel Jay Worona as saying, “Even if a teacher does not intend or expect to influence the developing political views of students, the expression of a partisan political view can raise legitimate concerns about the neutrality of the educational environment.” On the other hand, according to a summary of court cases provided in an ERIC Digest through the U.S. Department of Education on “Academic Freedom in the Public Schools,” teachers are generally allowed to “express (but not promote!) their personal opinions on controversial political and social issues. Primary constraints on these academic freedoms are that they must be exercised within the confines and relevance of the course and subject matter being taught.” [The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is an online library of education research and information, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education, now run by DeVos.] Basically, students develop necessary critical thinking and other skills by being exposed to controversial topics that are age-appropriate and relevant to their curriculum, but educators have to do so in a way that recognizes these young minds are a captive audience and provide multiple views to ensure balance. Mercer emphasized that materials have to be taken in whole when assessing whether it is balanced, that a sentence or a handout can be pulled out of context. If that’s not the case, or anytime there is a concern the district wants to hear from parents. She said the best thing for a concerned parent to do is reach out to the teacher and get all the facts. “If they don’t feel comfortable talking to the teacher,” she said, “then go straight to the principal, and then I will be looped in.” What are your thoughts on teaching current events in the classroom? Saratoga TODAY welcomes your letters to the editor, Facebook comments and Tweets. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or comment at or @SaratogaTODAY on Twitter.
Friday, 10 February 2017 20:42

$2.7m Headed to Saratoga Schools

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs City School District is one of 65 districts across the state most recently sharing in the $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act fund that was approved by voters in November 2014. The district is receiving $2,738,126 to provide infrastructure, security, and classroom information technology updates for both public and non-public schools within the District. According to Joseph Greco, K-12 Director of Math, Science, and Technology Integration, the person really behind the win was David L’Hommedieu, Assistant Superintendent for Information Technology and Operational Innovation, who oversaw the application process, but overall it was a team effort. “It’s a pretty grueling process, as with any grant,” said Greco. “It took a couple of turns to get state approval. Lot’s of t’s to cross and i’s to dot, and a strong team led by Dave making sure all necessary stakeholders were involved.” The District has begun the ordering process of the selected items and is looking forward to the positive impact this plan will have on our school community. “These technology updates will improve the District’s wireless network and security systems, as well as provide a significant number of student technology devices to support best practices of instruction,” said L’Hommedieu. Greco said the security includes an increase in internal and external security cameras and shatterproof glass at the main entrance, for example. The vast majority of the funds, however, is for instructional technology. “We want to make sure as we get more devices with Internet in the classroom,” said Greco, “we are upping the game, to improve skills in the classroom such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and problem solving. Enhance what’s going on in the classroom, not just digitize it. Really, what we’re looking for is teaching students not just to consume, but also to create.” Greco also has perceived that “digital natives” who have grown up with technology don’t have a large understanding of it because they are naturals at consuming it. “It’s similar to me with cars,” he said. “Yes, I can drive a car, but if something went mechanically wrong with it, I would be at a loss. The technology has changed so rapidly that we haven’t been as responsive as we could so students can become self-sufficient.” So the district will be introducing more devices and tablets into the elementary schools. For secondary, there will be more tablets and Chromebooks with the idea there to start working toward individual devices for each student through middle and high school. Part of the learning will include teaching students to use technology responsibly, learning how to be a digital citizen so they can take those devices home. Additionally, the downsizing of the desktops would enable the district to eliminate most computer labs and repurpose the space; provide places for the students to be able to tinker and create at some point down the road. “We’re already starting to replace smart boards with smart flat screen TVs, so you won’t have the projector any more,” said Greco. “There’s still a touch screen interactive flat panel, and the student devices will be able to interact with the smart screen devices. We could both edit the Google doc together and project their stuff out into a presentation and lead class discussions based on information they are creating.” According to Greco, the district is currently in the process of following NYS regulations regarding quotes and bids for purchasing various devices, with the hope that by Fall 2017 they will be in the hands of students. “There is a portion of the funds, too, that is being spent on infrastructure,” added Greco, “making sure there is wireless throughout the district, increasing some of our server size, and making sure our infrastructure can handle the additional traffic.” According to a statement released by the district, additional thanks go to the Board of Education, SSCSD staff, and the community for their support throughout this process. For more information about the district’s specific Smart School plan, visit
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  • POLICE Nathan K. Stone, 27, of Middle Grove, was charged Aug. 7 with three counts felony burglary in connection with a suspected theft that allegedly occurred in the town of Milton. Stone was sent to Saratoga County Jail in lieu of $15,000 bail, or $30,000 bond.  Rebecca C. Schleich, 26, of Ballston, was charged Aug. 7 with felony grand larceny in connection with the alleged theft of a motor vehicle in Clifton Park. The vehicle was recovered and returned to the victim in this case, according to authorities. Avery Q. Zullo, age 20, of Greenfield, was charged Aug. 4 with…

Property Transactions

  • BALLSTON SPA 257 Lake Rd., $499,900. Second Half Investments LLC sold property to Karen and Julie Royston.  129 Hop City Rd., $147,000. Harry Bliss sold property to Garth Ellms.  CHARLTON 4 Little Troy Lane, $300,000. Victoria and Kenneth Hayner, Sr. sold property to William and Joelle West.  CORINTH 369 West Maple St., $55,000. US Bank Trust (by Atty) sold property to Frank Brownell.  GALWAY  1058 NYS Route 29, $180,000. Thomas Cooper sold property to Vanessa Konkel and Ronald West. MALTA 90 Woodfield Blvd., $65,000. Michaels Group Holdings LLC sold property to HELD Properties LLC.  2147 Rowley Rd., $24,000. Jacqueline Traver…
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