Colden Elementary School, Declining Enrollment

As one of our BOE members so aptly put it at our BOE meeting in Colden on Tuesday night, declining enrollment at Colden Elementary has been the “elephant in the room” for years. In the four years I’ve been in Springville, I’ve had several people say to me “when are you going to close Colden?” It seems that everyone has an opinion about what we should do.

However, we can’t make decisions based on people’s opinions alone and definitely not when the topic is a polarizing one. If you don’t already know, Colden Elementary is a beloved part of the Colden community. It’s a great little school with wonderful educators, a new principal and many families who are committed to keeping their K-5 children there. The building itself is an asset, one that we’ve invested in over the years. It’s also a school with declining enrollment when our other K-5 building, Springville Elementary, has increased enrollment.

Here’s a quick view of the enrollment stats:

                2015-16      2016-17      2017-18      2018-19      2019-20

Colden Elementary                 189                   194               177                 160                131

Springville Elementary          539                  538                557                555                557

As I said in this blog post from over a year ago, it’s my responsibility as the superintendent to study all areas of our school operations. We are going to develop a plan moving forward for Colden Elementary School. I don’t know yet what that plan will be but it needs to be based on a deep study of our enrollment trends, what’s best for kids, financial considerations, and the impact on the district as a whole. I want to know that our BOE members can answer the question “why don’t you close Colden Elementary?” with solid reasons of why we decided to keep the building open OR have a clear plan for if and when we reach a tipping point in enrollment where it’s in the best interest of all of our students to attend SES. 

The BOE members developed a list of questions for further consideration and study throughout the rest of this school year.

  1. What would be the reason to close Colden? Is there actually a significant cost savings?
  2. What would be done with the building upon closure and what would be our options?
  3. Can we conduct a study to help answer questions and provide clear information on costs and benefits associated with maintaining things as they are, reconfiguration options, closure?
  4. Enrollment Number—is there an enrollment number in which it is financially irresponsible to maintain two K-5 elementary schools?
  5. Educational Experience—how does it differ for a student who’s in a small group at CES for 6 years? Is there a limit when a small school is just too small to offer enough diversity and opportunity for our students?
  1. School Choice—could we allow families to choose to send children to CES or SES, using parent transportation or central pick up point(s)?
  1. Boundary lines within district-if we adjusted the boundary line, could we more evenly distribute enrollment between the two elementary schools? Consideration given to families with students at both CES and SES during transitional period.
  2. Reconfiguration of grade levels-are there any possibilities that work for all families district-wide and are good for kids?
  3. What impact does a closure have on student travel times? Costs to transportation? Should we reconsider one bus run/start and end times for all buildings?
  1. If we make changes to district lines or configuration at our elementary schools, how is the rest of the district, in particular the SMS, impacted?

As we move forward with a study at the Board of Education level, we will share information publicly and welcome community input. I know that this is an emotional topic for many people–any time we have conversations about those topics that affect our children people respond passionately. I hope that our dialogue can be respectful and show consideration for everyone involved.

A New Bike/Walk Path at Springville Elementary and Middle Schools

How does a new recreation path behind Springville Middle and Elementary Schools sound? Our PE and Health teachers developed the idea and presented it to me early this school year. Their proposed path goes around our current soccer fields, over by the Bus Garage and behind our Elementary School. I’ve seen our students running this path through the grass because my office looks out on the soccer fields. What a valuable resource for our students during the school day and our community in the afternoons and evening!

Doing any level of construction or upgrading to our buildings and grounds gets complicated quickly due to all of the rules and laws that we need to follow. But with a little creativity we found a way to include this recreation path in our current capital project and it’s going to be constructed this year.

Although all of the work being done in our current capital project is important, much of it is relatively boring. Yes, we’re saving energy with LED lighting and more efficient boilers. No one is driving through massive potholes in our parking lots or walking over crumbling sidewalks. What is great about this recreation path is that it’s something tangible that our students and taxpayers can use daily (at least when there isn’t 2 feet of snow in Western New York!).

This will be an 8 foot wide, 8 inches deep crushed stone and limestone path that will be perfect for walking and biking. The recreation path will narrow to 5 feet in a few spots as it is designed to have NO IMPACT on the existing athletic fields already located behind SMS/SES. Consider the opportunity to bring your child to this walkway to learn how to ride his or her bike! The bike/walk path will be less than one mile in circumference but will be marked to show the mile for our students in PE classes. Erie 2 BOCES has a lending locker so that our teachers can borrow equipment for students to use on the recreation path. Parents and community members can join our students, perhaps our Cross Country athletes, in using this path in the evenings.

Our teachers who initiated the idea are planning to pursue grant funding so that they can install fitness stations along the path.  Look for more information about the bike/walk path in the newsletter and on my blog at kimberlymoritz.com.

Miss Brooke Adams, New Colden Elementary Principal

I am pleased to announce that the SGI BOE approved Miss Brooke Adams as the new Principal of Colden Elementary School at last night’s BOE meeting. We had 35 applicants for the position, with seven outstanding finalists. Miss Adams will start at Colden Elementary on November 4, 2019. You may see her at CES prior to her official start date as Interim Principal Kevin Munro’s last day is November 1, 2019. We will want the two principals to have an opportunity to work together prior to Kevin’s departure.

Miss Adams comes to Springville-Griffith Institute from Southwestern Central School where she has gained valuable administrative experience as the K-12 Assistant Principal for three years.

Prior to becoming an administrator, Miss Adams was a history teacher for a number of years. She cites the tight-knit community and involved families as what makes her most excited about joining CES and the entire Springville team.

Miss Adams prioritizes relationship building to help her to be successful as an administrator. She wants to build a positive relationship with each teacher, student and family at Colden Elementary. She emphasizes the growth mindset and showing students that mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them. She brings a positive energy and wants to empower others to help make each day a good day. Miss Adams also looks forward to learning from everyone at SGI.

Miss Adams grew up in a rural community, on a dairy farm and is excited to stay in a rural community with strong values. When she isn’t at school, Miss Adams is an avid runner and loves to travel. She has combined these two passions by completing the World Marathon Majors, running in six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world in Berlin, London, Tokyo, Boston, Chicago and New York City. Maybe she’ll consider running with Coach Russell and our amazing SGI Cross Country team at the end of her day as CES Principal?

Please join me in welcoming Miss Adams to SGI!

Construction Work at SGI and School Tax Bills

District residents will notice the amount of construction that occurred this past summer and continues through the next school year. We’re winding down on our main capital project that was voted on in 2016. That work will be completed in the next few months and final cost reports filed with NYS by June, 2020.

At the same time, the P-TECH collaboration with Erie 2 BOCES and Alfred State continues in the old District Office on Newman. Residents may remember that this project is a P-TECH Academy which will house a full curriculum for area students in grades 9-12 to post graduate obtaining a Regents diploma and an Associates degree from Alfred State University. Read here and here for the original articles regarding this project as it was presented to our SGI voters. There is NO IMPACT to our SGI local taxpayers for the P-TECH Academy capital project. The fact that we moved the district offices out of a separate building and into a school actually helps the budget. When we have a building without students, no state aid is generated on that building as it is for capital project work in a school building.

These two capital projects have NOT affected the school tax bill that taxpayers have received recently. Our tax levy, the 20.2% portion of the budget paid for by our taxpayers, increased by 2.51%, as was the tax cap and was approved by the voters in May.

If your taxes went up in your town by more than the 2.51% that’s a combination of your equalization rate or assessment changes. Neither of which do we, as a school district, control. The equalization rates over 9 towns and 2 counties in the SGI school district range from 98% in East Otto to 14.75% in Yorkshire. I understand that Colden, as an example, has an equalization rate that dropped 3 percentage points and is at 37% of true value. Please contact your town assessor with questions about the equalization rates and assessments.

Administrative Changes at SGI

I hope that your summer is going well and that your children are finding lots of time to read, play outside and enjoy time as a family with you. We have two administrative changes for the 2019-20 school year.

Mr. Kevin Munro is now the Interim Colden Elementary Principal. Mr. Munro comes to SGI as a veteran school administrator, including a long career as an elementary principal, teacher, coach and director of special education. Beloved CES Principal Marcole Feuz has chosen to resign for reasons best known to her. We wish her all of the best in her future endeavors and are grateful for her years of love and caring for our Colden and Springville students and families.

We will now begin the process of recruiting, interviewing and hiring the new Colden Elementary Principal. Mr. Munro has been working hard on class and teacher assignments, scheduling and preparation for the new school year. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Mr. Munro, kmunro@springvillegi.org, or Ms. Gadra, jgadra@springvillegi.org, at 592-3217. Also, I’m always available to our families at 592-3230 or via email at kmoritz@springvillegi.org.

Director of Special Education Kate Werner and her family have moved to Arizona to start a new adventure! Best wishes to Kate and her family during this exciting time. We are grateful for her many years of service to SGI.

I am pleased to announce that Kathy Townsend will continue in the role of Director of Special Education beyond the interim period originally announced. As many of you know, Kathy served as the interim director for three months during the 2018-19 school year. She brings a wealth of administrative experience, a willingness to study and to learn, and an ability to ‘get the job done’ when it comes to the endless details and complexities of the Special Education realm. I’m delighted to have Kathy working with our teachers, families, and administrative team in this capacity. Please join me in welcoming her to this new role.

As always, please contact me with any questions and concerns. Enjoy these last two weeks of summer. We can’t wait to see everyone return!

The “It” Factor

When I was a teacher, I had the good fortune to work for an excellent principal, Mrs. Debra Ormsby. She was energetic, bright, and dedicated to our district and its students. She was also demanding, with high expectations. I did NOT want to let her down, ever. Deb was a teacher in the district and then an assistant principal and quickly, the HS principal. She spent her entire career in public education dedicated to Pine Valley Central School District in South Dayton, NY. She was well respected in the field and could have gone anywhere she wanted but she stayed.

I loved working at Pine Valley for Deb Ormsby. She taught me the right combination of grit and compassion. Boy, she’d get ticked off if someone let her down! I remember we had a student who exited a BOCES bus and urinated on the side of the road. I think Deb would have decked the kid if she could have. She had so much pride in the district that his behavior definitely did NOT meet her expectations. She reacted with just as much passion to help a student in need.

As teachers, she supported us. If we wanted to try something new in a lesson, we knew she’d be happy to hear we went an extra mile to engage the students in learning. We knew she had our backs if we tried a lesson that didn’t quite work out too. At the same time, she expected 100% passing on my Regents exams and if anyone failed, I needed to know why and have a plan for what would come next.

The thing Deb talked about that I’ve never forgotten was what she called the “IT” factor. She said that sometimes you saw a teacher teach and you just knew that’s exactly what that person was meant to do, from the relationships with the students to the lesson development to the content mastery. I saw that “IT” factor in classrooms I visited over the past week. Incredible teachers who have that “IT” factor and are therefore making a real difference for students. It looks easy when you see someone like this teaching and children thrive in the classroom.

I think Deb Ormsby would have loved working here, with this administrative team and the teachers we have at SGI. I think she would have made us all try just a little harder every day than we did yesterday. I’m grateful for those ten years teaching in Pine Valley and for everything that I learned from Deb, our superintendent Cindy Miner, and all of my colleagues. I still feel a sense of responsibility to be better and to make her proud, 19 years after leaving. That’s a leader!

Sharing My Response to an SHS Student

Please Note: I received an email from one of our high school students this morning. Because I realize we may have other students who are also worried about school safety after hearing about a threat made by a single student, I’m sharing my reply here so that all of our students can read it. 

Dear SHS Student:

Thank you for reaching out to me. There are many rumors surrounding this situation, and I’m grateful that you came straight to me to seek information.

Our first and most important responsibility as a District — every day — is to keep everyone safe.  Rest assured that I and others take that obligation very seriously.

Unfortunately, I am somewhat limited from speaking too much about any specific student discipline matter by federal student privacy laws.   I can say, however, that in the recent situation, the very best thing happened when smart students reported what they had heard to the Erie County Sheriff’s office (this wise action by our students was and is critically important to keeping everyone safe, every day).   We have worked with the Sheriff’s Department since that happened and will continue to work with the Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies to address any threat.

In general, I can say that in a situation when a student makes a threat to hurt someone in one of our schools, we respond with a superintendent’s hearing, which must be held any time a student does something that may warrant more than a five-day suspension from school.  At that hearing, an impartial hearing officer hears the case – allowing the District administration (with help from law enforcement) to present its case and recommend a penalty if the student is found guilty of the charge(s) against him or her.  If a student is found guilty,  the impartial hearing officer then recommends a penalty based upon the facts of the specific case.

These penalties can be reviewed by the Commissioner of Education, and therefore past decisions from the Commissioner of Education must guide my decision regarding any penalty in a student discipline matter.  And past decisions from the Commissioner of Education dictate that a student making a serious threat against our students and staff would result in a lengthy out of school suspension of at least a calendar year.

I am sorry that I cannot provide more specific information regarding the particular case you mentioned.  But I cannot adequately state the seriousness with which I and others at the District view threats to the safety of our students and employees, and that I follow the Commissioner’s previous decisions in imposing discipline.  

Finally, please know that Mr. Bialasik and Mr. DeMartino are in the building to meet with you or any other student, should you want to talk to someone.  And I am also available to do so as well.

Thank you again for contacting me,

Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent of Schools

 

Nope, Not a Driveway for the Superintendent

It’s funny how things sometimes work out. When I arrived in Springville in the beginning of March, 2016, we had a desperate need to complete a capital project to attend to our parking lots, sidewalks, HVAC and roofs, among other things. The district taxpayers had voted down a capital project in December of 2015 so we needed to get something back out that our residents could support. We kept hearing, “we’ll support what the district needs to do but not the enhancement items like a new gym”. So we put up a project that attended to what we needed to do to take care of the district facilities and grounds without the enhancement items. Thankfully, our taxpayers passed the project and we’ve been in the midst of that construction since June.

After the bids were complete, they were so favorable that we were able to complete all three of our priority lists of alternates (items we put out to bid in case there’s money to do so). There were a couple of items that I couldn’t see a reason to complete, but our facilities director, Larry Strauss, argued to keep in. One of those was the access road at the back of SMS. I kept saying, “why do we need to widen that road? No one even uses that road. Why do I care if the delivery trucks can’t make the turn?”

I believe that we have to listen to the experts within our system. Larry fought for that road and so I believed him. He was right. I was wrong. And the funny thing? Also on those three lists of alternates was a move of the district office to the back of the middle school—where I look out of my window and see the trucks trying to negotiate the turn to the loading dock. And I can clearly see why the road needed to be widened and paved.

More important, several people have contacted me over the past couple of years about youth soccer and the way people park and drive in our soccer fields. The concerned residents cited safety concerns with cars moving through areas where our students are walking and playing. We’re adding parking spots along the access road so that our soccer families–especially our less mobile residents–can have a designated place to park that’s closer to the fields.

And the other thing we’ve noticed? We don’t have an exit on the back of the entire SMS where teachers and students have swipe card access, so we’re adding swipe card access.

Please don’t assume we’re just ignoring a problem that you’ve noticed. Maybe I’ve not seen something in the same way that you have.  Let us know when you see an area of improvement within our district. Make some noise. We’ll listen and we’ll do whatever we can to make it better.

So now you know why we’re doing work at the back of SMS. It’s not to add a driveway for the superintendent. There’s plenty of parking in front of SMS. That’s where you’ll find my car.

SGI–Please Share Your Thoughts

As a leadership team, we set a goal for this year—to listen carefully to the members of our school community (YOU!). We will be engaging you in thought exchanges over the course of the school year. It’s a simple three step process. We ask a question, you share your thoughts, and you rate the thoughts of others. Please watch this video and respond by telling us what you think.

Afterwards, it’s important to go back into the exchange and rate the thoughts of others. In this way, we can get a sense of what’s most important to everyone in our school community.

Here’s the link for the adults in the SGI school community: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#497392485

There’s a student thought exchange in which our students have the chance to answer the same questions. Thank you in advance to everyone who’s asked to give students the chance to participate within your time with them. If you’re a student reading this post, here’s the link for our SGI students: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#116266772

I’ll share what we learn in a future blog post that’s emailed when the thought exchange ends so that everyone can discover what we’ve learned. Thank you!

Colden Elementary School, Rumors and Truth

Late in the summer, I realized that our enrollment at Colden Elementary was low enough that we have only 11/12 students in each of our kindergarten and first grade classes, with under 30 students in each of grades 2-4. This led to my decision to move three teaching assistants from CES to SES. Before making this change, we had five TA’s assigned to CES with an enrollment of 16o students and four TA’s assigned to SES with an enrollment of 553 students. That just didn’t make good sense.

I think that moving the three TA’s may have led to a rumor that I’m hearing that “we have a three year plan to close Colden Elementary”. I want our entire school community to know that we do not have a three year plan to close CES. 

We do need to study our enrollment as a district. We cannot continue to behave as a 2500 student district when we’re a 1678 student district. We are having a transportation study done this year. One of the questions we’ve asked for the study is “can you look at the lines of enrollment to determine if there’s a different distribution that would more evenly place our elementary students at CES and SES?”

We do need to have a discussion about Colden Elementary. The big question: How to balance the desires of our CES families with our responsibility to the taxpayers? I don’t know the answer to that question and I don’t know what we’ll decide to do moving forward as a district. We haven’t even studied or talked about it yet. But we will.

Here’s what I do know.

  1. We cannot ignore or postpone this conversation. It’s my responsibility to lead it. Considering what to do with a beloved school building with declining enrollment is a very difficult, emotional topic. I will retire from SGI some day. When I do, it will have been irresponsible if I haven’t led that difficult conversation.
  2. Families in the enrollment area for Colden Elementary love that little school. Our teachers and principal love that little school. I love that little school.
  3. We will respect those families and employees at CES and make any future decisions carefully and with input from our community.
  4. As our student population declines, our budget cannot continue to increase. We’re required this year to begin to analyze and report our per pupil expenditures, by building. That will give us information to consider about potential cost savings with any closure. I don’t even want to say the word “closure” because again, we don’t know what we’re going to do next.
  5. We are engaging our school community in thought exchanges this year. The first one starts tomorrow. I promise we will devote a thought exchange to Colden Elementary. We’ll give some relevant facts and ask everyone, “what do you think we should do about the impact of declining enrollment on Colden Elementary?”
  6. We will listen to our school community. We’ll study the facts. We’ll make the best decision possible that serves the needs of all of our students and families.