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Crowded Classrooms: Dorothy Nolan Parents Speak Out
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Parents at Dorothy Nolan Elementary School –one of the five elementary schools in the Saratoga Springs City School District (SSCSD) –are worried about how large class sizes are affecting their children’s education. Dorothy Nolan has twice as many students as the other grade schools, yet has a total of four less sections (classes) when comparing it to the current student population.
Parents are demanding that the school board add a third grade section which was removed in 2015/16 and also, that they do not go through with cutting a second grade section in 2016/17 as planned.
Without these changes, parents have projected that second grade sections will have a 20.4 percent higher class size than other grade schools and third grade will have a 24 percent higher class size.
“We created our own task force, the Concerned Parents of Dorothy Nolan. We have about 300 parents involved so far,” said Jessica Marriott, whose son will be going into third grade next year. Marriott took data provided by the school board and used it to create documents and graphs that project what second and third grade class sizes will be, which she presented at the last board meeting on April 21.
“This is our first year in the district,” she continued. “Had I known what I know now, that the classes were so large, I would have chosen one of the other elementary schools. I would not have moved to this neighborhood.”
However, according to Michael Piccirillo, Superintendent of SSCD, changes cannot be made to class sections until total student enrollment has been accounted for, which won’t be until the end of the summer.
“Our process, which we’ve used for 20 years, is to monitor the enrollment in sections across the elementary level. We’ll be making adjustments closer to next school year to account for enrollment fluctuations.” said Piccirillo. “We have a lot more movement from outside the district over the summer than people think. Families move and enrollment levels can go up or down significantly. Often, enrollment will fluctuate into September, and it can fluctuate dramatically.”
“We understand their concern about class size,” added Piccirillo. “But we’re not ready to make any decisions.”
Projections also show that even though class sizes at Dorothy Nolan are larger than other elementary schools, the projected class sizes are still below the district’s target class size of 27.
“If it goes above that target size of 27, we’ll add another section,” said Piccirillo, who noted that adding sections is factored into the budget already, just in case the need arises.
Nevertheless, parents feel that the target class size of 27 is are still too large and also, too dated.
“We need to look at what other schools are doing and reexamine our target class sizes,” said Marriott. “Our target class sizes have been around since the 1990s. Students have different needs nowadays. We need to give them the best education they can get in the modern age.”
Fellow concerned parent Jackie O’Donnell is also worried about her son, who is moving on to third grade at Dorothy Nolan next year.
“Third grade is the transition into intermediate – it’s when teachers start asking them to be more independent and it’s also the first year of state testing,” said O’Donnell. “We started realizing how inequitable it was for our kids at Dorothy Nolan. They’re going into middle school with different experiences than other kids in schools with lower class sizes. Dorothy Nolan students are not on an equal playing field.”
One parent of a Dorothy Nolan second grader, Brad Thomas, is going one step further to see change happen at the school: he’s running for the school board.
“My reaction to the meeting [on April 21], and the reason I’m running, is that it’s not interactive enough,” explained Thomas, who has been a teacher at Burnt Hills for 22 years. “All problems can be solved or worked on successfully if you have that kind of dialogue between parents and school district personnel. The great thing about the 21st Century is that it’s easy to join in and follow that dialogue.”
If elected, Thomas plans to use social media as an avenue to build engagement between parents, board and administration. He also wants the board to take the initiatives parents have been taking to make conclusions about class sizes, such as what Jessica Marriott did.
“Planning is a full time job. Instead of the board presenting the data, the parents are. Why isn’t this core idea being presented by the board and administrators?” questioned Thomas.
On the other hand, Piccirillo noted that the district does care about class sizes, but it’s also just one factor of many when it comes to success in the classroom.
“Research is inconclusive when it comes to class size and student achievement. You have to get down to a really low class size, like 15 students, for it to really have an impact,” said Piccirillo. “We have high quality teachers and there is a lot of support for them, such as math and literacy coaches, reading teachers, teacher assistants – we have a lot of resources we can and do use to support students.”
Though final decisions are not ready to be made yet, parents are still asking for more open conversation with the board and administration.
“We can all sit down, look at the numbers and figure out a strategy,” concluded Marriott. “Together, we can make things better for this important school that makes up nearly 30 percent of the elementary population in the district.”
The next school board meeting is coming up on May 10, and will focus on the school budget and voting on May 17. For more information about SSCSD, visit saratogaschools.org.
Four Generations: A Mother's Day Celebration
SARATOGA SPRINGS –Mother’s Day: a holiday dedicated to celebrating motherhood and the unconditional love (and life) our mothers gave to us. It’s a joy when we are able to spend the day with our mothers, allowing us to show them how much they are cherished and appreciated.
For Joan Hoeft, she feels the Mother’s Day love three-fold. Hoeft, who lives in Woodlawn Commons at the Wesley Community, gets to spend her special day with her daughter, Kris Mikeska, granddaughter, Meg Porto, and great-granddaughter, Lucia, who is just nine-months old.
“It’s a huge blessing,” said Porto, who just became a mom last summer. “Family is everything to us.”
This four generation family is incredibly close and stays busy by spending a lot of time together. Though Mikeska and Porto live further north, they make the drive down to Wesley at least three times a week to visit and do all their favorite things – from enjoying meals together to shopping on Broadway.
“It’s pretty cute when we go out – Mom has her walker and Lucia’s with her stroller,” said Mikeska. “We always have people stop and say how special it is that we’re all together.”
Over the years, Hoeft has taught Mikeska and Porto a lot about what it means to be a mom, handing down traditions and values her own mother taught her.
“My father died when I was just a baby,” said Hoeft. “My mother had to take care of me on her own. It was hard on her. She rented out all of our house but three rooms, which is where we lived.”
Hoeft helped her mom a lot when she was a kid, for example going grocery shopping on her bicycle because they didn’t have a vehicle. Through her mom, Hoesk learned the meaning of hard work and sacrificing for your child.
“They depended on each other,” added Mikeska. “They worked as a team. A mother-daughter team.”
Unlike her mom, Hoeft had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom, and Mikeska and Porto followed in her footsteps, making motherhood their full-time career.
“I’ve definitely learned my values from them,” said Mikeska about her mom and her grandmother. “Values like honesty and always being there for each other. Family traditions are huge for us. It’s all about being together.”
Porto feels the same way, knowing that if she has a question about being a new mom, she can always rely on her mom and grandmother for help.
“It’s very reassuring that if I don’t have the answer, one of them will,” said Porto. “From day one, I have always felt so supported. All of their advice is something I truly take to heart. It’s not always spoken either; I’ve learned so much by their example.”
This will be Porto’s first Mother’s Day with her daughter Lucia in the family; it will be a true celebration of a family’s growing legacy.
“Mother’s Day just makes you feel good – it’s a celebration of having children,” said Hoesk, looking lovingly at her great-granddaughter cooing in her granddaughter’s lap. “The most rewarding part is when they keep growing up, then they get married, then they have babies of their own, and you just feel a part of it all. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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Art Takes Aim at Open Conversation about Firearms
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Now more than ever, guns are at the forefront of political debate in the U.S. The right to bear arms is a hot button subject, and one that many find difficult to discuss openly. Spring Street Gallery, located at 110 and 112 Spring Street, seeks to breach that communication barrier with their new exhibit, “The Gun Show.”
“The Gun Show,” which opened on April 9 and is on display until May 28, includes artwork, historical artifacts, discussions and film screenings all centered on firearms. Maureen Sager, the Executive Director at Spring Street Gallery, came up with the idea for the show after seeing how current events are spurring people to proclaim and defend their gun ideologies.
“Maureen noticed that people talk about guns a lot on social media, but no one ever has a real conversation about them,” said Benj Gleeksman, one of the exhibit’s organizers. “She felt that having a show like this would be a great catalyst for people to have actual conversations about guns, instead of just posting about it on the internet.”
Mission 443 Provides YMCA Memberships to Those in Need
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Regional YMCA (SRY) has a goal: to make sure that everyone who wants to go to the Y is able to. Through their Annual Scholarship Campaign program, SRY has provided countless memberships over the years to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. This year, the Scholarship Campaign is called Mission 443, and represents the goal of the 443 memberships SRYMCA hopes to provide in 2016.
Mark Ventra has been going to the YMCA Saratoga Springs Branch for over five years, sometimes going five days a week. As a traveling salesman, the Y staff was sometimes the only people he would see on a regular basis besides his family, and he loved how welcoming and caring they all were. However, if it wasn’t for the Y’s Scholarship Campaign last year, Ventra would have had to stop going.
“A year ago, I was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. At the same time, my job was going through financial difficulties and couldn’t afford to pay me any longer, so I was let go,” explained Ventra.
When Ventra approached John Higgins, Director of the Saratoga Springs Branch, and explained to him how he wasn’t going to be able to afford to renew his membership, Higgins simply told him, “We’ll take care of it.”
“I never thought I’d need a scholarship,” said Ventra. “I always thought the scholarships were for people that weren’t as well off as I had been. I used to never give it a second thought about volunteering or giving $100 to the scholarship fund, and now, I couldn’t even pay for my own membership. I wasn’t looking for a handout, but they helped me anyway, no questions asked.”
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25 Years of Hope from Homelessness: Shelters of Saratoga Celebrates Anniversary
SARATOGA SPRINGS – This year, Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) is celebrating 25 years of helping the homeless take back their lives and get back on their feet. On Thursday, April 7, the anniversary will be officially commemorated at SOS’s Brighter Days Gala at Longfellows, where the “Help, Hope, Humanity” award will be presented to members of the community that have contributed to SOS’s success and progress over the years.
One of the awardees is former mayor Ken Klotz, who has been involved with SOS since almost the very beginning. Klotz has a unique prospective on the 25 year anniversary of SOS – his involvement in the growth of the organization for over two decades makes him the ideal witness to SOS’s development and achievements.
“What has been really remarkable for me is to see how the services of the shelter have expanded to meet the needs of the community,” said Klotz, who started working with SOS as a member of their board in the early 90’s. “It was small scale in the beginning. Now, if you go to the gala, it fills Longfellows. The community acceptance and support of it is just really striking to me when I look back over the years.”
SOS began at St. Clements Church in January 1992 with just six beds after members of the community and the church decided they had the power to help those who live on the streets. Later that year, SOS moved to a trailer home on East Beekman Street, which had eight available beds.
“I volunteered for overnights there at that point,” said Klotz in regards to the location on East Beekman. “It was an interesting experience. It was a small space, and when it was filled it was claustrophobic.”
Klotz continued helping SOS as a volunteer and in 1995 was able to help even more after getting elected to the city council. In 1997, when SOS did not finish constructing their building at 14 Walworth Street on time, the grant they were supposed to receive from the state was in danger of being pulled. Since it was being built on a city lot, Klotz stepped in, and through the city council and fellow colleagues, was able to steer the grant through. “I was in a position to do something about it,” he said.
Furthermore, Klotz used his position as mayor from 2000 to 2003 as a platform for raising awareness to homelessness. “You have an audience because people are always asking your opinion when you represent the city, so you can bring attention to issues you think are important,” he said. “I want people to know that street life is not attractive. These are not people that want to live miserable lives.”
After serving his two terms as mayor, Klotz was approached by SOS once again in 2006 to be a part of an advisory committee that was focusing on development and fundraising. He has now been on the committee for eight years.
In the last 25 years, SOS has grown and expanded its services exponentially. Starting at just six beds at St. Clements, SOS’s shelters can now house up to 35 men and women at once. SOS has expanded its outreach to local motels and the streets, as well as providing adult and youth drop-in centers for hot meals and showers. Code Blue, which began in 2013, offers shelter for homeless individuals during harsh weather conditions. SOS uses the term “continuum of care” as part of their mission – in other words, not only providing short-term help, but also long-term support for finding housing, jobs and education.
“I think Saratoga Springs, for a small city, has handled this difficult problem as well as you could imagine a city responding,” said Klotz. “We have really good leadership, members of the community that step up, and an enormous number of volunteers. These are the people that are really putting in the work and hours because they don’t think this should be a place where people die on the streets. To me, that says volumes about our community and what a wonderful community it is to live in.”
When asked how he felt about getting the “Help, Hope, Humanity” award, Klotz responded: “I really was floored by it because there are probably 300 people more deserving than I am. I just know how dependent the shelter is on the committed volunteer efforts so many people in the community give to it. I’m just a volunteer like anybody else.”
Klotz will be honored at the Brighter Days Gala on April 7, along with Mark Bertrand, founder of The Giving Circle, and Vincent, Patty, Ronald and Michele Riggi for their philanthropy toward SOS. Tickets to the gala are $100 and proceeds will benefit the over 1,000 men and women SOS helps each year. For more information about Shelters of Saratoga, and to make reservations for the Brighter Days Gala, visit sheltersofsaratoga.org.