By Alberto Gilman
Student safety concerns, meal services, educational opportunities and facility uses were brought to the attention of the Newburgh Board of Education by the community discussing Newburgh Free Academy Ann Street aka Midtown, a satellite school of the Newburgh Enlarged City School District.
During the public comment period of a recent school board meeting, parent Dawn Gray came before the board and shared her concerns and criticism about safety at Ann Street, describing an incident there last month.
“Three guys pulled up in a car with ski masks on. Their hands in their pockets with a bulge,” said Gray. “Do we know why this Ann Street campus is here? What it has turned into quite honestly is this is where all the credit recovery goes and where all the behavioral goes.”
Several female students also came before the board members and shared their own experiences at the school claiming they felt unsafe following the presence of masked individuals. Another incident mentioned also involved another student’s assault. The students expressed to the board that they felt that the school did not properly address the matter and that communication was not shared with parents.
In response to the incidents the district had released a statement provided by Cassie Sklarz, NECSD Director of Communications.
“The district feels as though the recent characterization of NFA Ann Street does not reflect the full picture of the school,” Sclarz said. “Any reported incidents are thoroughly investigated and disciplinary measures are implemented based on the district’s Code of Conduct. The image of the school that has been portrayed recently should not paint a negative light on the hard work of the scholars and faculty and staff in this building. NFA Ann Street is a small school building located at the bustling intersection of 9W and Washington Street, across from Sacred Heart Church in the City of Newburgh. The program is designed to support students who are under-credited and over age. The school hosts up to approximately 42 students throughout the week, depending on student schedules, which allows faculty and staff to connect and engage with students in a more personal setting.”
NFA Ann St. previously operated as Sacred Heart School. In 2017, the school was reported to have been closed by the city fire department as several safety violations were reported. The violations included inadequate number of doors, leaking pipes and cracks in the wall. According to Sklarz, other locations, not immediately identified, were considered for the school. The building is being leased by the district from January 3, 2022 through June 30, 2023 at a rate of $5,000 a month. The school opened in the fall of 2022.
Sklarz said NFA Ann Street currently has high school students of varying grades attending that had requested to attend the campus and who had been placed as recommended by the district. The satellite school helps staff engage with students in a more personalized setting. Class rosters are subject to change throughout the year or may remain throughout the duration of the year. The school also serves students with or without learning disabilities with provided academic accommodations.
Seven district teachers are assigned to the current campus and as with the other campuses, Ann Street students have a full schedule of regular classroom instruction. According to information shared by Sklarz, the New York State Department of Education requires that those students who seek to earn their diploma at the end of four years of high school instruction must have a total of 22 credits achieved in order to graduate. Certain exemptions are outlined for those students who have learning disabilities.
At the March 1 meeting, board member Darren Stridiron said he had been invited to the Ann Street campus and shared a list of comments from his visit for the board’s review. During the board’s regular meeting on March 16, Dr. Kathleen Farrell, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, provided various responses on questions about the school site.
Addressing security to begin, a question was raised for an additional security guard. Farrell stated the school has two security personnel but has requested an additional security member when security takes staff lunch. Addressing onsite Academic Intervention Services for students trying to meet math and reading requirements, Farrell asked how the reading levels were identified. A request for an applied behavior analysis [ABA] specialist, who provides specific one on one instruction, was also addressed. “ABA is a very specific behavior management system, generally used for identifying special education students with severe communication and or autistic display,” said Farrell. “This is not the population at that program.”
A request for a one food, one beverage vending machine similar to the other district high schools was also brought forward. “Vending machines were discussed with food service when the building opened. The cost of the machines as well as an adequate electric service preclude their use,” said Farrell. “The volume of activity at the machines would not be sufficient to justify their costs and maintenance of fresh food supply at this site.” Farrell agreed that students deserved hot meals but food service does not have a license to operate on-site. No heating tables or microwaves were to be included. The kitchen facility, located on the ground floor of the school, was also not being used according to Sklarz.
According to Sklarz, the main gymnasium facility at the school was not included in the approved lease agreement. The space had mainly served as a distribution center for the Deacon Jack Seymour Food Pantry across the street. A new outdoor basketball hoop was installed several weeks ago at the school and more basketballs can be purchased if needed. The current gym facility is limited in size but was chosen so as not to have additional noise pollution by the students. If the district wished to continue offering instruction at Ann St, the recommendation from Farrell would be to move the gym space to the current faculty room space. It is larger and the faculty would take the gym space, which would offer a private bathroom and sink for staff. Field trips to privately owned facilities would be discussed and considered. “Students are permitted to use Delano-Hitch Park with parental permission for class activities. They may also run, jog or walk in the neighborhood as do the West Street school students,” said Farrell. “They must be accompanied by the instructor and an additional staff member for security purposes.”
Addressing school supply needs, Farrell said there have been no requests for supplies thus far. If supplies are needed, the district will address the request. Lab supplies have also been requested to which Farrell addressed that the science program, with the offered class Living Environment, has been fully equipped for academic instruction. The State Education Department authorized the use of online digital lab work. This new initiative will allow students to become familiar with online lab materials and usage, especially during regents exam periods. The online component will also help students who may need to repeat the course. Requests for coding classes for math/science class credits can be addressed through sufficient student support and the classes filled. Coding is not offered and students must pass Living Environment and Earth Science to graduate. Current registered students have not passed these classes yet.
Other requests have been made for ROTC and cosmetology course access. ROTC requires excellent attendance and academic performance but can be considered if students have interest and can meet requirements. Cosmetology and other Career Technical Education (CTE) programs are not currently offered at Midtown and cannot be taken at other campuses, Sklarz clarified. Consideration for the program can be offered second semester next year, stated Farrell.
Concluding her report, Farrell also addressed that two rooms within the building, the old school library and an office, were not included in the lease as they have identified asbestos. No abatement has been considered for the spaces. If there were an abatement, then the space could be used in the future through a lease amendment.