Local superintendents address state of public education at forum

MIDDLETOWN — Schools are often seen as a reflection of society, as Middletown schools Superintendent Richard Del Moro put it during a town hall discussion about the state of public education Thursday evening.

For example, district administrators are hiring more experts to help students cope with issues outside the classroom. These experts often include psychologists, crisis interventionists, social workers and school resource officers.

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“The fact of the matter is that social and emotional issues are part of what’s going on in our country, and schools are microcosms of society,” Del Moro said.

Five superintendents joined the panel to discuss their roles as leaders in their respective communities. They tackled subjects ranging from security, to finding accurate ways to measure academic success, to meeting the changing social, emotional and mental needs of their students.

The panel was hosted at Middletown High School and included Monroe-Woodbury Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez, New Paltz Superintendent Maria Rice, Monticello Superintendent Tammy Mangus and Superintendent for Roscoe, Livingston Manor and Downsville John Evans. The town hall was convened by the Times Herald-Record and moderated by Executive Editor Barry Lewis.

Test scores

None of the superintendents on the panel believed state test scores accurately measured their students’ academic success.

The state’s annual reading and math test results from this spring found that 45 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 have passing scores, Lewis said.

Rice, who has been the superintendent for New Paltz schools for 14 years, said the numbers are skewed by the large percentage of students who refuse to take the test.

Evans pointed out that the length of the test has changed. Del Moro referred to the state’s proficiency threshold as a “moving target.”

The panel agreed collectively classroom observations, parent reports, Regents exams and other types of assessment are a better way to measure the success of a district.

Consolidation

Rodriguez said her district is ready to welcome students from George F. Baker High School if the Tuxedo school district decides to close the building in November.

“Our enrollment is down at the high school, so we can very easily accommodate the students,” Rodriguez said, adding that the Monroe-Woodbury school board has already discussed the matter.

Evans said his schools already share some administrators, sports teams, transportation and classrooms between the three districts. The combined enrollment in the three districts is just more than 1,000 students.

Evans said the idea of consolidating his districts has been discussed twice, but never made it to a vote. He noted that issues with school taxes, transportation and pushback from the community are all factors that have thus far kept consolidation at bay.

Creating space

Whether a school district’s enrollment was stable, declining or growing, all the panelists agreed they need more space.

“We’re more student-focused than we were 20 years ago and there’s a lot more individualized instruction that takes place with our kids and all that takes space,” Evans said.

Rodriguez said that though enrollment is down in her district, bringing students back from BOCES has also led to problems with having an adequate amount of space in her schools.

Besides Rice, the other four panelists have been superintendents in their districts for less than 10 years.

Mangus said though she has a lot on her plate, she must always stay focused on her students.

“Priorities are big, but I think the biggest learning curve is just figuring out how to convince everybody that every child’s today will make their tomorrow,” she said.

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