RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — Local children had a summer of fun — biking, swimming, reading for pleasure — but this week it’s time to get back down to business.
The first day of school is Thursday, Sept. 6, and school buses will be ready to roll first thing in the morning.
On Day 1, families can expect the bus schedules to remain unchanged as their children head off to the first day of the 2018-19 academic year, from the youngest kids new to school to the most seasoned high school seniors.
On a day-to-day basis, construction will be ongoing at the middle and high schools as part of the district’s multi-year, multi-million dollar capital renovation project, but RCS District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey said in an interview that it will not impact the school day and most construction will be done after hours. Kids are not expected to be impacted by the work.
“All the schools will be opening on time,” Bailey said. “There will be some inconveniences and there will be some areas, like in the high school lobby, where there will be a temporary wall covering up the work they are doing on the music rooms, but students will have access to everything.”
No construction will be done at the elementary schools this year, but at the middle school the kitchen will be worked on in September and October, and lunches will be prepared at other schools and transported to the children. Kids’ meals and lunch times will not be impacted, Bailey said.
Construction is also ongoing at some of the high school athletic fields, including the softball field, which is not expected to be ready in time for the spring season. Soccer will also be affected.
“The sports teams will be utilizing fields at the high school, and at A.W. Becker and Pieter B. Coeymans elementary school campuses, which is what they did last year,” Bailey noted.
There are also academic initiatives that are being implemented following a survey among families and local residents to determine what changes they would like to see at the schools. Most changes were made by reallocating staff and did not lead to budget increases, Bailey noted.
At the elementary school level, there will be an increased focus this year on STEAM programming – which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.
“We are focusing on increasing access to STEAM-based programming and project-based learning and giving kids at earlier grades an opportunity to do hands-on work in a very different way,” Bailey said.
The increased focus on project-based learning and STEAM was made without increasing overall staffing numbers, but rather by reassigning staff to where they are most needed. A librarian, for instance, will serve dual roles by working part of the time in the library and the remaining hours by working in the technology arena.
“By repurposing a couple of staffing positions and actually having two full-time STEAM teachers at the elementary schools, we are going to have an opportunity to do this,” Bailey said.
A STEAM center was built as part of the Phase 1 stage of the district’s multi-year, multi-million dollar capital improvement construction project. And each grade level will rotate through, giving all students the opportunity to participate, Bailey said.
Phase 1 of the construction project built these new STEAM spaces, and this year the kids have the chance to try it out with a wide variety of hands-on projects.
“We built new computer labs, we repurposed, we moved around the stacks and we built computer labs with a big touch-screen television so it is interactive,” Bailey said of the STEAM center, which was new to the district last year and will get plenty of use this year with more focus on learning labs and working in a space that is akin to a “makerspace.”
“This year, they will bring in project-based materials. It can be anything – from empty plastic bottles to erector sets to electrical circuitry,” Bailey said. “We will pose questions to the kids and make them solve problems. We are excited about that.”
At the high school, a work in progress is putting more of a focus on preparing students for careers post-high school, but that is a program still in the works.
“We have a really strong interest in bringing career and technical instruction back to the district,” Bailey said. “It’s so important for the kids.”
Currently, the RCS district offers business courses, technology, family and career science, “but it isn’t a program that culminates with a certificate,” Bailey said.
Following numerous discussions among the members of the RCS Board of Education, Bailey said one of the goals is “for kids to have those experiences on site and to be ready to go out into the workplace,” Bailey said, though that is not expected to be implemented this school year.
There are already roughly 70 high school students participating in career training at BOCES, but the district’s long-term goal is to be able to bring many of those students back into the high school building so they can do their career training onsite.
“We want to look into seeing what we can do to bring some of those kids and programs back to our district and buildings,” Board President Teddy Reville said.
As part of its focus on improving access to technology, the district has also purchased several hundred Chromebooks.
“Through the budget process we purchased another 240 Chromebooks, and we are continuing our Chromebook Cart pilot program,” Bailey said. “The teachers who are taking part in the grant process have the Chromebooks in their class, and each day when the kids come into the class, they are able to use them.”
While students do not take the Chromebooks home, while at school they will have regular access to them. “At any time of the day, students can use them to collaborate, to research, and to work online,” Bailey said.
The Chromebooks have been spread across all four schools in the district.
Also new this year will be a second School Resource Officer, or SRO, joining the staff.
“We have an Albany County Sheriff’s deputy joining us, predominantly at the high school and at Becker. His name is Brian Patti,” Bailey said. “Officer Kevin Schwebke from the Coeymans Police Department will be stationed at the middle school and at Pieter B.”
Both officers will be assigned full time to the schools.
“They will be on school grounds all day,” Bailey said. “They are assigned 100 percent as school resource officers. Our number one biggest desire is for the kids to have a healthy relationship with law enforcement and rely on them in a positive way. The sheriff has been very forward thinking in trying to assist us.”
One of the district’s biggest goals this year is to increase the high school graduation rate, according to Bailey. Two programs have been created with that goal in mind — “Reach Out Rooms” and “Operation Graduation.”
“Reach Out Rooms help ninth graders by intervening before they fall off the track,” Bailey noted. “It’s an intervention program. If there is a student that is at risk of faltering academically, they will use staff and training to do hard and fast remediation to bring them up to speed.”
The goal is to make sure kids don’t fall behind early because once they do, it becomes difficult for them to bounce back, Bailey said.
Operation Graduation focuses on the other end of the high school pipeline — seniors, and making sure they do what is needed to graduate.
The first day of school will be Thursday, Sept. 6.