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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs City School District held a Board of Education meeting on Nov. 9 to discuss upcoming events and hold presentation from the music department, athletics/physical education department, and on the Legacy Project. 

The next COVID-19 vaccination clinics (Pfizer) are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13 and Saturday, Dec. 4. All spots are filled for the Nov. 13 clinic, but there is still availability for the Dec. 4 clinic, with spaces reserved for students ages 5-11. Parents and guardians should check their email for a link to register. For more information visit the district’s website at www.saratogaschools.org. 

On Monday, Nov. 15 there will be a BOE Budget Development Workshop from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the administration building. The workshop is open to the public but will not be streamed. 

As of Nov. 8, a link went live for all BOE policies to be available online. The link is: boardpolicyonline.com/?b=saratoga_springs_city. The site will be updated quarterly. 

Athletics 

Both the Varsity Cross Country and Varsity Girls Swimming/Diving teams have recently finished sectional competition and are headed to states. The Varsity Girls XC team finished in 8th place for their 30th Section 2 title, while two boys from the Varsity Boys XC team are headed to compete in states this weekend – Mason Talarico and Ryan Bush. Two swimmers will also be competing in the states meet – Maddy Wood and Rachel Love. Rachel Love, who is a 3-time sectional champion in the 200m and 500m freestyle, will be signing a letter of intent to swim at Texas A&M.

The SSCSD has the most sport offerings in the Suburban Council and has been able to maintain every sport team and level throughout the pandemic. With 500 contests in the fall season, they are hoping to increase back to 1,000 contests in a regular season this coming winter and spring. Registration for sports was affected by COVID, but as winter sign-ups are underway, the number is trending back. 

Monday, Nov. 15 marks the start of the winter sports season for JV, Freshman, and Varsity teams. Nov. 29 is the start date for Modified. 

Throughout the season, the athletics department will continue to follow recommendations from the Saratoga County Health Department. The district will continue to welcome spectators to winter season contests, and masks will continue to be required for all indoor sports. Unvaccinated “high risk” athletes will be tested during the winter season; “high risk” sports include basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, and cheerleading. As rosters are finalized, students will be asked to provide proof of vaccination to their school nurse to streamline to the testing process. 

To watch the full meeting and presentations visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pMEYrB8OBI. For more information about the Board of Education, see the district’s website: www.saratogaschools.org. 

Published in Education
Thursday, 23 September 2021 12:54

SSCSD Board of Education Updates as of Sept. 21

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs City School District held a Board of Education meeting on Sept. 21 to discuss a new COVID screening testing partnership with Saratoga County, “Stay Open Plan” updates, as well as updates on the capital Legacy project

New COVID Screening Testing Partnership

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Patton has announced a COVID screening testing partnership with the Saratoga County Department of Health, working closely with the County Director of Health. Saratoga Springs City School District is a couple of weeks away from implementing weekly screening and diagnostic tests, with the opportunity for those who ae vaccinated to opt out. As of Sept. 21, 79% of eligible people in the county ages 12 and up are vaccinated, and based on staff reports, 83% of staff members in the Saratoga Springs City School District are vaccinated.

“Saratoga is leading the way when it comes to having both screening and diagnostic testing available to school districts,” said Dr. Patton. 

Federal funding is available for the district to run this program and is available to all districts in the area. Saratoga will begin with the staff, having them provide proof of vaccination or their Excelsior Pass to get an accurate count on the unvaccinated and the logistics of how many need to be tested on a weekly basis. Once the district is comfortable with the testing process, information and parental consent forms will be shared with parents. School nurses will also have PCR tests for symptomatic students, also requiring parental consent; within 24 hours students will be notified of their PCR test results. 

“Stay Open Plan” Updates 

Updates to the districts “Stay Open Plan” were also announced at the most recent Board of Education meeting. 

Approximately 6,000 students are attending classes in-person again throughout the district. Since the first day of school, there have been 21 confirmed positive COVID cases between students and adults; 9 in elementary, 11 in middle school, and 1 in the high school. Currently, 101 students are on mandatory quarantine by Saratoga County. The school is required to report the following key indicators to the county for contract tracing: consistency of mask use, social distancing and time of association, and vaccination status of those 12 years and older. The county, not the school district, determines who quarantines and for what length of time. 

The academic plan in place is PIVOT. PIVOT is for classes, grade levels, or the entire school to transition to temporary online learning. Students will Zoom in daily for live instruction, following their normal daily schedule. Teachers should have already shared procedures with grades K-12, with additional information regarding study halls and flex to be announced. Attendance will be taken and Zoom links can be found on Seesaw for grades K-5 and Canvas for grades 6-12. 

Looking ahead, an enhanced quarantine support plan will also be implemented beginning the week of Sept. 20 for 6th graders and in October for everyone else. This enhanced online support is for individual students under a longer quarantine period; a longer quarantine consists of three or more days. This is the information available as of Sept. 21: 

Students and parents will access work and communicate with teachers using Seesaw and Canvas. Teachers will do live check-ins with students under these longer quarantines. Additionally, their online classes will be structured on a set schedule 1-2 hours per class depending on grade level band with a New York State Certified Educator approved by NYSED for live instructional online support. All of which is coordinated by the school district. If a student needs a device, please contact the school’s main office. Students should access their teachers during daily flex time upon returning from quarantine for additional help. 

“Since March of 2020, we learned that students need more live instruction, access to technology, and also alternatives, set schedules and expectations, relationships with peers and adults are even more important, and that we need to do a better job as a district communicating and using communication tools,” said Lisa Cutting, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment.

Capital Project Updates 

Phase 1 of the Legacy Project is complete, and the district is now looking to move on to Phase 2. The Legacy Project includes enhancing security with a new visitor management system, security cameras, etc., as well as other building improvements and energy efficiencies. The bid was this fall (Fall 2021), and estimated completion is Sept. 2023. 

The specific Dorothy Nolan/Greenfield/ Transportation projects include a secure entrance vestibule, cafeteria upgrades, and replacements in the transportation building. The bid for these projects is Fall 2022 with an estimated completion by Summer 2023/2024. 

The bid for projects in the high school will also be in Fall 2022 with an estimated completion in Summer 2025. This includes a renovated dining hall, upgrading from a serving line to scattered food court stations with a variety of counter, group, and booth seating, as well as a renovated fitness center, with the current weight room being converted to a wellness center. 

Now that the district is coming out of Phase 1, the bidding process, they will proceed into the design review and construction phases. Members of the district will be updated on the progress of Phases 2 and 3 in future board meetings.

Published in Education

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs City School District will hold their Board of Education and Budget vote in May. 

The Board of Education (BOE) and Budget vote will take place this year on Tuesday, May 18. Petitions will be accepted until April 28, therefore a list of who is running will not be made public until April 29, the following day. 

Each year there are three BOE vacancies for three-year terms, and community members are encouraged to run for the seats on the board. Individuals who are seeking election to the BOE must submit a petition with a minimum of 50 signatures from district residents. 

Normally, the minimum number of signatures needed is 100, however Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that small city school districts lower the minimum number of signatures needed this year. 

Petition packets can be picked up at the MacFadden Administration Building at 3 Blue Streak Boulevard in Saratoga Springs, or packets can be sent by mail or email. Interested candidates can get their petition through the mail or an email after filling out the Board of Education Petition form found on the school district’s website (saratogaschools.org/district, see Board of Education tab, Board of Education Petition Information). 

Completed petition packets are due to the Business Office by the deadline of April 28 at 5 p.m. On April 29, at 8 a.m., a drawing will be held for the order of the candidates on the ballot.

The proposed budget is expected to be adopted on April 20. The school district’s website states the following about its contents: 

“The 2021-2022 budget will be unique as it will reflect expenses related to COVID-19 and other costs associated with funding materials, supplies, technology and staffing for hybrid and remote learning during the pandemic as well as potential reductions in Federal and NYS aid.”

More information will be made available as the election and budget vote date nears. Any questions related to the Board of Education petition form may be directed to Brenda Roberts at 518-693-1450. 

Published in Education
SARATOGA SPRINGS — This year’s Board of Education elections have proven to be politically charged, as it’s captivated the attention of opinionated community members. Thursday, April 10, Saratoga Unites Inc., an organization that hosts open forums for local elections, extended this activity to the Saratoga Springs School Board election’s candidates.

“It’s so important to get the community out here and hear what they have to say,” said Nora Brennan, the Executive Vice President of Saratoga Unites, and the moderator of the evening.

Five of the seven invited candidates in attendance were given two minutes to introduce themselves and their platform, followed by an anonymous question portion where the attendees wrote questions that were placed anonymously in a jar for a drawing. 

“Safety, we all know that’s sort of the elephant in the room tonight,” said Shaun Wiggins, the most recent candidate to join the race. That elephant got addressed early in the night when a question read, “Do you favor armed school grounds monitors or do you agree with the board decision against arming them? Please provide information, facts, and research to support your position and please explain why those who disagree with you are wrong.” 

Heather Reynolds, the only one of the seven candidates who is a current sitting board trustee stated, “I supported the hiring of another SRO. I did not vote to continue the practice of having armed grounds monitors.”

Reynolds continued to summarize that the focus needs to be on establishing preventative methods including comprehensive threat assessments, bullying intervention and creating a positive school climate.

Wiggens and Ed Cubanski, who are endorsed by Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools (SPFSS) agree that there needs to be armed security within the schools; however, Cubanski who served 28 years in the United States Coast Guard, believes the medium should be through arming the grounds monitors preferably to SROs, and Wiggens is in favor of  SROs as they are supervised by the Sherriff’s department.

“The Saratoga model has two resource officers who are active police officers. And the grounds monitors are retired law enforcement professionals…I know what it takes to get weapon proficient and judgment proficient. Having those experienced grounds monitors gives you that experience. Nothing beats experience,” said Cubanski.

Natalya Lakhtakia, a Speech and Language Pathologist, and John Brueggemann, a sociology professor at Skidmore College, both agree that the grounds monitors should not be armed but agree with the current presence of the two SRO’s in the district.

“I believe that anybody who’s carrying a lethal weapon around children needs ongoing and comprehensive training. I think that ongoing is the key word there,” said Lakhtakia.

"The grounds monitors do not work for the police department or the sheriff’s department. They work for the school district,” said Brueggermann. “As retired law enforcement they have no special training for working with young people or special needs kids. School Resource Officers have had some of that training.”

The first question of the night was conveniently, “What is the purpose of the school board?”

In their own way, the candidates were able to decipher that the board’s responsibility is to regulate and influence policies that affect the wellbeing and prosperity of all students in the district. This doesn’t pose as an easy task if there are noticeable disparities due to access and income. Each candidate stated they would like to take the time to research, learn and educate on how to rid this concern.

When asked, “What issues are you concerned about that you feel are not getting enough focus since the grounds monitor issues have overshadowed all others?” Answers ranged from identifying at-risk students, racial disparities regarding discipline, economic disparities, youth mental health, and budget. 

Both Cubanski and Brueggermann stated that there needs to be a focus on identifying and assisting at-risk students, and mitigating daily threats to a student’s safety, and overall wellbeing.

Lakhtakia mentioned that students interested in taking an AP (advanced placement) class, are required to take the AP test, which is at a cost per AP subject. “What that means is that AP classes which are more challenging become inaccessible to children who are from lower socio-economic classes, or for whatever reason cannot pay for the test.... that feeds into a larger topic about accessibility.”

Reynolds cited statements from the Office for Civil Rights through the Department of Education showing racial disparities when it comes to suspension rates across the Capital Region.

“Saratoga is one of the larger ones in terms of suspension rates when you compare African Americans and white students,” said Reynolds. “This is a problem across the country, but it is a problem in our own school. That’s something as well as some state testing data that came out this spring, which is suggesting that we are not doing what we need to do for certain groups of students."

“What I primarily want to focus on besides safety, education, transparency is really budget, because everything we’re talking about now ladders up to the budget, period. We want to do a lot of things but guess what, we’ve got to pay for it,” said Wiggens.

Due to the abundance of questions submitted only nine of the questions were asked at the forum. However, Saratoga Unites has transcribed and published the unasked questions of the night on their website in addition to sending them to the candidates. The remaining unanswered questions may be addressed at the candidates’ discretion.

There are three seats available on the Board of Education. Voting for the School Board candidates will be held May 21, 2019.
Published in Education
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs School District (SSSD) just began their campaigns for new members to sit on their board of education. Thursday, Feb. 28, the Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools (SPFSS) announced their three members whose names are on the ballot this spring.
 
The Saratoga Golf and Polo Club was filled with 150 attendees at the sold-out “Meet the Candidates,” event for the SPFSS to announce their representatives to run for the board of education. Retired Coast Guard Captain Ed Cubanski, Dean Kolligian, vice president of security of Adirondack Trust and Connie Woytowich, a high school teacher at Colonie Central High School are the three candidates who are being endorsed by the SPFSS.
 
This past year, school safety has once again been a hot button issue nationally following the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Specifically, in SSSD, controversy arose when the school board decided to disarm the grounds monitors in the district when it came to light that the monitors carrying their concealed handguns were in violation of a new New York State law.
 
While safety is not the only focus among the candidates, the SPFSS is a group that was vocal about their disagreement with the way the school board came to the decision to disarm the grounds monitors.
 
"At the time I think it was a knee jerk reaction to make the decision to disarm them. I think there needed to be a lot more education, a lot more research done,” said Kolligian. “At the end of the day they may have come to the same conclusion, right or wrong, but education, research - that's the biggest opportunity anyone has to become more knowledgeable of any topic."
 
Cubanski agrees that education on the matter is the best place to start when making decisions regarding the school year.
 
"When I get elected - when we get elected - I’m going to ask questions,” said Cubanski. “I'd love to have a survey with the teachers. What are the things we should concentrate on?"
 
As a current teacher herself, Woytowich states, "my overall approach is 100 percent academic. It's about teachers and students and what happens in that classroom. Safety is a part of what can happen in that classroom."
 
John Brueggeman and Natalya Lakhtakia, both Skidmore college employees, have joined the race as well. The Board of Education has three members whose terms will be up in 2019. The election date for the school board seats will be Tuesday, May 21, 2019.
 
Published in Education
Friday, 09 November 2018 10:12

Up in Arms

Photos provided.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The never-ending battle between the Saratoga Springs CSD Board of Education and Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools (SPFSC) continues to rage on. After the school board voted 5-4 on October 9 to end the practice of school resource officers carrying firearms, some parents and community members decided to fight back. This included the creation of Saratoga Parents for Safer School, “an organization built by parents and community members in the wake of the Oct 9, 2018 decision by the Saratoga Springs Board of Education to remove the historically proven armed security monitors from campus.  The organization’s goal is to reauthorize the armed grounds monitor program.”

On Thursday, November 1, SPFSC met with school administrators and board members to discuss school safety and the next steps. With the meeting lasting about an hour, all topics related to school safety were discussed. According to a press release from SPFSC, the members left the meeting with a commitment from the board to do the following:

1. Conduct a risk assessment survey with the Department of Homeland Security.
2. Engage with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s department about adding more School Resource Officers throughout the district.
3. Engage with the Saratoga Springs police department and city government about adding School Resource Officers and other ideas to improve school safety.


“While we appreciate the school administration’s willingness to listen to our concerns, our organization made it clear to the administration that these commitments were not enough and do not fully address our safety concerns. Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools will continue to work with the board, and community to regain the same level of school security that the district had over the past 30+ years,” the press release continued.

SPFSC brought their resolution to the City Council on Monday, November 5, and it was adopted 5-0.

The City Council resolution calls for “trained, educated, experienced and certified individuals, namely active law enforcement personnel, to carry firearms” and recommends a collaborative plan between the city council, the school district, the county board of supervisors and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s office be put in place “which will again permit appropriately trained and certified individuals to possess a firearm while on school grounds including, but not limited to, the potential expansion of SROs to all schools within the District.” This resolution is the first step towards increased safety within our schools.

“However, we will continue to work diligently to ensure these suggested measures, and more, will be adopted by the school district. With the current city shortage of Police Officers, we still need to pursue the option of allowing recently retired, skilled and qualified Officers to protect our children,” the SPFSC stated.

According to News 10, who received a statement from the Board of Education:

“The Saratoga Springs City School District is committed to creating a safe and supportive learning environment for all students, staff, and visitors. The Board of Education and District Emergency Response Team place a strong emphasis on utilizing a comprehensive approach to school safety. This includes supporting the social and emotional health of all students, maintaining strong partnerships with local law enforcement, ongoing training and drills to prepare for emergency situations, and continuous improvements to our safety and security infrastructure and procedures. For the past several months, district administration worked with the Board of Education to research the authorization process of qualified individuals to carry firearms on school property while performing their job duties. The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 prohibits anyone from knowingly possessing a firearm on school grounds without proper authorization. In the past, some grounds monitors possessed a firearm on district property without knowing that prior written permission was required from the Board of Education. When district officials determined that the practice was not in compliance with the current law, grounds monitors were instructed not to carry a firearm on school property until proper authorization was obtained. School district officials and the Board of Education did their due diligence by researching this topic for several months gathering feedback from our partners in law enforcement, our school district insurance carrier, our school district attorney, listening to public comments, learning about best practices from neighboring school districts, and a presentation from the District Emergency Response Team. At the October 9th Board of Education meeting, the Board voted against approving the authorization. Safety is an underlying theme in everything that we do and the safety and security of students is our number one priority. The Board of Education appreciates the dedication and support of our full-time School Resource Officer who is an active duty, armed City of Saratoga Springs Police Officer. The district also continues to staff both full and part-time grounds monitors who help maintain a safe and orderly environment in and around our schools. The District is in the process of evaluating our current safety and security procedures, including conducting a risk/ threat assessment of all schools by an independent school safety specialist. The District will continue to gather feedback from all stakeholders and will be hosting a school safety community forum in the upcoming months to share the results of the threat assessment and recommendations that the BOE will consider to help improve our overall safety plan. The District appreciates the support that has been offered by the Saratoga Springs City Council and the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors for sharing in the responsibility of ensuring that our schools are safe for all students.”

SPFSC is unsatisfied with these developments, claiming that the BOE did not take the recommendations of the Saratoga Springs Police Department, nor did they talk to the Sherriff’s office, or speak to anyone at National Associate of School Resource Officers (NASRO), among other things. The next BOE meeting will be held on November 13 at Maple Avenue Middle School.

Published in Education
Thursday, 13 April 2017 14:08

Saratoga Independent School Celebrates 25 Years

SARATOGA SPRINGS – What began with six kindergarteners in the basement of the Trinity Methodist Church in Gansevoort has now, 25 years and change later, grown to include 132 K-6 students in its own building, tucked away amongst the trees on 60-acres of land.

The Saratoga Independent School (SIS) has been celebrating 25 years of operation since the beginning of the current school year back in Sept. 2016.  From humble beginnings, the school has grown in both scope and vision, with its enrollment numbers swelling by well over 100, and the amount of classes and programs on offer growing at the same pace.  Looking to the immediate future, the growth seems likely to continue.

Back in Sept. 1991, the parents of six local preschool students on their way to kindergarten found that there were not any schools in the area that would offer their children the same style of education that they had gotten in preschool.  Specifically, they wanted a school that would not group them with other children strictly by date of birth, and that would teach them thematically, weaving different subjects around a common idea to give them a better sense of how their lessons reflected the world around them.

“So, these five parents did everything from getting the charter from State Ed,” Felice Karlitz, Director of School, said.  “Finding a place, and [they] started the school in the basement of the Methodist church in Gansevoort with their own five kids.”

From the start, the growth of enrollment at SIS was strong.  In three years, the school had outgrown the basement and moved to the warehouse area behind a Shoe Depot on Division St. in Saratoga Springs.  In 2003, after “exponential” enrollment and staffing increases, the school raised $850,000 in land, gifts, and pledges to begin the construction of their current location, the Anderson Campus, named in honor of Gail Anderson and her late husband, Willard. 

[CORRECTION: In the print version of this article, it was incorrectly stated that Gail Anderson was deceased.  This is incorrect, and the online version has been corrected to reflect this information.]

In 2010, the school added an east wing, adding space for new computer and science labs, as well as a dedicated art room. A year later, in 2011, SIS achieved one its biggest milestones by earning accreditation from the New York State Association of Independent Schools, which involved “a two year introspective self study, a four day visit by a review committee, and a full NYSAIS review of the findings by the committee and the school.”

Currently, construction is underway on the second floor of the school’s east wing, which the school intends to use to add grade 7-8 middle school level programs to their offerings.  They estimate that this new middle school will be up and running in 2019.

All photos by Photoandgraphic.com.

 

Published in Education

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