By Ted Remsnyder
Over the past several months, a coterie of local parents have urged the Wallkill Central School District to bolster its reading instruction for special education students, and at its Board of Education meeting on Thursday night at Leptondale Elementary, the district highlighted the ongoing reading instruction initiatives that Wallkill has been implementing in its schools. Elementary teachers Antoniette Barbosa and Barbara Curiale began the Dec. 21 meeting with a presentation on the district’s elementary reading program.
The instructors explained that the district has a reading instruction continuum in the classroom that prioritizes small group reinforcement and utilizes consultations with reading specialists as needed. The district deploys reading labs, resource rooms and special class reading sessions. The district has also provided reading instruction training to its staff, as in October, teachers attended a conference at Manhattanville College where they learned about the Orton Gillingham method.
The district has also scheduled training sessions for the winter and spring, as all elementary reading teachers will receive 30 hours of Orton Gillingham with an expert from the Academy of Orton Gillingham. During the presentation, the teachers also provided tips for parents on how to help their children study reading at home, including a suggestion to employ index cards to teach students the words they need to learn.
The district recently met with Dr. Jennifer Davis-Duerr, an Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning at SUNY New Paltz to receive feedback on the best reading learning tactics. “We went over what our current reading program looks like with her and the initiatives that we’re looking at moving forward,” Wallkill Superintendent Kevin Castle said. “We may consider continued work with her in regards to working with our reading teachers. Primarily on a diagnostic tool to really hone in on a student’s deficiencies in reading, to ensure that we are appropriately identifying the strategies to close the gap for students.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, district parent Jean Poirier thanked the board for their efforts on the reading initiatives and asked the administration if the district has a comprehensive plan for addressing the issue. Castle responded that the district is studying the best practices for teaching reading district-wide for all students K-12.
Castle said that presentation that began Thursday’s session was meant to shine a light on the reading program the district has already launched. “We wanted the public and the board to know what we’ve been doing in regards to reading instruction in our school district, along with the upcoming training that we’re going to be providing to our reading teachers, along with the special ed inclusion teachers,” the superintendent explained.
With the calendar soon turning to 2020, budget season is right around the corner, and during Thursday’s meeting, Assistant Superintendent Brian Devincenzi reported that the administration would present its rollover budget to the board at the council’s next meeting on Jan. 16.
The district is anticipating a state-mandated tax cap of less than two percent this year, but Castle vowed that the district will not go over the cap. The district is pressing its elected representatives to make changes to the state’s Foundation Aid formula. The state funding program has dwindled over the past decade with a $1 million annual shortfall for the district based on how the initiative was originally designed.
Wallkill has had to plan prudently to account for the shrunken state education funding. “A major part of it is our forecasting over a period of time with our five- and six-year budget forecasts,” Castle noted. “That includes looking at enrollment and staffing, projecting out, as best we can, health insurance increases. We look at cost-saving measures, such as an energy-performance contract to reduce our utility costs. We also built up a fund balance and reserve to fill that gap. We use almost $3 million of fund balance to fill the gap that the state should, quite frankly, be paying for. If you look at our budget increase over the last three years, it’s been minimal, if that. It’s been relatively flat. So the reserves and fund balance have been helping with balancing the budget. We do have that forecasted out for many years, beyond 2030. But we need to keep pushing our legislators to be creative in regards to redesigning this formula.”
Wallkill students are now enjoying a holiday break before classes start up again on Jan. 2, as the district prepares to usher in the New Year. “I want to wish the community happy holidays and we’re looking forward to 2020,” Castle said. “It’s good times because it’s a great community with great students, and I look forward to working with everyone on our Board of Education.”