The Highland Administration updated the school board and the public on the district’s five essential goals at their February meeting.
Goal 1 states that the district has planned and implemented an educationally sound and safe reopening of schools for students, faculty and staff. At the start of the 2020-21 school year the district adhered to guidelines from the NYS Education Department and the NYS Department of Health when planning for the re-opening of school and communicated with the community, faculty and staff on their plans.
Superintendent Thomas Bongiovi said in September and October Section 9 voted not to hold interscholastic sports.
“We had a little bit of a delay starting our winter sports but they are underway,” he said.
Bongiovi said Highland implemented a 1:1 computer device program for all grades and have set up a replacement plan as needed, “that will continue moving forward.”
Asst. Superintendent Sarah Dudley-Lemek highlighted Goal 2, “which is primarily about curriculum and instruction and in this unusual year our primary concern is how do we deliver instruction for our students both remotely and when they’re in-person.”
Lemek said the district continues to work on their K-12 Math program. The district has a BOCES Content Specialist working at the Middle School with the math teachers, “and other non-math people to try and reinforce math concepts across the entire curriculum grades 6 through 9.”
Lemek noted that the district is writing and will implement a School Improvement Plan in response to a federal Targeted Support Improvement [TSI] designation for African American/Black students. TSI indicates that one subgroup is in the bottom 5% on two or more indicators over a three year period. This leads to a needs assessment and resource allocation review.
The district has been providing training and supplies for teachers as well as for students during remote learning. There is also some K-12 preparation for the NYS Science Learning Standards, including preparation for the new NYS Assessments.
Lemek noted that the state has submitted a waiver to the federal government regarding student participation in the NYS 3 to 8 testing. The district has all of the materials needed but it is on hold on for the moment.
The district’s Goal 3 is to “continue to support the social and emotional needs of our students.” Lemek said the district is launching the Anonymous Alerts service.
“We have school psychologists, support personnel, social workers and counselors who are going to be visiting classrooms to introduce Anonymous Alerts and show students where they can find it. We will be sending out pr to families later this week.” This program is an anti-bullying and safety mobile app that helps students come forward to help themselves and other students.
The district is also considering some offerings from the Ulster County Department of Health concerning Trauma Informed Instruction for faculty and staff.
Lemek said the Backpack program is on hold this year because of the way the district is offering instruction, which has made it difficult to get the items from school to the students. She noted that the Highland Methodist Church has filled that gap and parents have been picking up there. The school continues to distribute a weeks worth of food on Wednesdays.
Goal 4 is to create a comprehensive Racial Equality Initiative, starting with forming district and building level Climate & Culture/ District Equity committees. The committees will evaluate and update the curriculum to ensure that it adequately reflects the diversity of the global community. This has led to consideration by the district to also update their hiring practices in order to recruit and retain a more diverse teaching staff.
Goal 5 is to maintain the fiscal stability of the district by putting together economically sound budgets that meet the needs of the students and that voters can support. Annual reviews of the district’s fund balance and reserves is a key component of this process. The district conducts ongoing reviews of the business office operations for efficiency and is creating a long range financial plan as they move into the future.
Superintendent Bongiovi said the presentation touched upon all of the finer points that have impacted the district this year and the goals they seek to achieve moving forward.
“One important thing I have found in my years serving in leadership positions, especially in times like this, you can’t throw too much at the faculty, staff and the community,” he said. “Right now I think everyone’s Covid levels, as far as stress, are very high so people’s time is limited. We have five months of school left and I think we will hit all of our goals, but it is all in the timing and you make sure you have that buy-in from everyone.”