Last week a new school year kicked off, and the Southern Ulster Times spoke with the Superintendents of the Marlboro and Highland school districts on what is in store for 2023-24.
Marlboro Superintendent Michael Rydell said it is always great to see the students, faculty and staff when school re-opens, “and all the positive energy that they naturally bring to launch what will prove to be just a great school year.”
Rydell said the district’s athletic programs are in, “full swing and our teams are off to a great start in what looks to be a very promising season.”
Rydell said the district is launching a new literacy program at the elementary school.
“The teachers have had a lot of opportunity to work with the materials, get specific training to use those materials and really implement it with full fidelity this school year. We’re really excited about it, and I think the teachers did an exceptional job in vetting and selecting this series of materials we’re using,” he said.
Rydell said this program runs continuously through all of the elementary grade levels, “so that way there is vertical and horizontal articulation and alignment...so it all builds upon each other and is all interconnected. It’s a fantastic program.”
Rydell said this year the district is introducing a business program at the high school. The school board approved hiring Kristen Becker, a business teacher, who has, “tremendous experience in developing not only this curriculum but also work-based learning opportunities on how to get our student out into work environments, gaining that real world experience. We’re really excited about all the possibilities this will bring. We’ve launched classes such as Introduction to Business, Entrepreneurship and Business Ownership on top of financial literacy.”
Rydell said, “our teachers did a lot of professional learning in various programs over the summer and in the spring leading up to this year, so I’m very excited about what this year will bring.”
Rydell said a wall at the Middle School will receive some brick re-pointing and facade work and a long awaited cell tower is currently being built on a hill behind the high school that he expects will be completed in October.
Rydell said the district has been working very well with the Baxter Group that is in the process of building a 104 residential unit project directly bordering the Middle School.
“They’ve been absolutely wonderful to work with, and there has been great communication and collaboration. They did need to access our property in order to get some of the excavating debris taken away, but they will be repaving the section they utilized,” he said.
A gate will be installed between the properties that will be opened at dismissal time to allow the district’s school busses to exit down to the traffic light at Route 9W.
Rydell said there are 1,835 students in the district this year: with 777 in the elementary school, 428 in the middle school and 630 in the high school.
Highland Superintendent Joel Freer highlighted a few programs and initiatives in his district for the 2023-24 school year.
“We kicked off universal pre-k and are working with three local daycare centers after putting out an RFP [requests for proposals] this past spring to get interest,” he said. “We were able to place 40 kids and we’re looking to see how that all works out. We’re doing our best to make it work well this year. Hopefully, the state comes through with additional funding so we can expand that in the future.”
Freer said they had to use a lottery system since the parents of about 80 kids applied. He said they were able to accommodate some of the additional kids who were on a waiting list when a number of parents changed their plans. He said to be eligible for the program a child must be 4 years old by December 1st.
Freer said at the high school level the district applied to do the Seal of Civic Readiness. Teachers Christina Saylor and Barry Ranalli took on this project last year and received approval from New York State, “to offer that for that as a designation for graduation purposes.” He said in October one of the teachers will make a presentation to the school board about the program.
Freer said last year they rolled out new math programs in the elementary and middle schools, “and we’re going to continue to build upon that work. A lot of the professional development that we’ve been doing had been going toward making that program solid for the K-8 level.”
Freer said at the elementary level they are investigating the science of reading.
“We did a whole revamp of our literacy program a few years ago, but there is a push locally for the science of reading and we want to make sure we’re at the forefront of that,” he said.
Freer said although the pandemic is waning, “we have to keep our eye on that. One of the things that we made a concerted effort on last year was to make sure we built into the budget funding for the mental health counselors. We had them in place during COVID and wanted to keep them on to work with our students. Their caseloads are pretty full and it’s important that we keep that momentum moving forward to help kids close the gap and also come out of COVID stronger than they were before.”
Freer said he has seen improvement in student attentiveness since they have been back in school full time, “and are able to participate in all the activities that we offer as opposed to being connected only through a computer. Those folks [counselors] have done a lot of work to get kids comfortable and acclimate them to being around their peers and communicating; everything is not just a text message.”
Freer noted that the district had received initial federal funding to pay for their mental health professionals during COVID and have been able to continue funding the positions, in part, through district retirements and budget transfers.
“We were able to move some of that funding from different categories in our existing budget to help maintain those mental health services,” he said. “It’s been important to the district to make sure that was one of our priorities during the budget season.”
Freer said having Police Officer Brian Scott serve as the Student Resource Officer [SRO] in the district, “has been a tremendous asset to us. People have made relationships with him, are learning things about the community through him and he’s helping to troubleshoot and problem solve and help kids do that as well. He’s a great resource for the kids and for the staff; every kid that I’ve seen near or around him adore him. It is also a good partnership we have with the Town of Lloyd Police Department and now that we have a face and a representative here on a regular basis, kids can go and ask him questions that they may never ask any of us, but ask him because he’s formed relationships with them.”
Freer noted that the total number of students in the Highland school district is 1,524, with the elementary school at 631; the middle school at 363 and the high school at 530.