HUDSON–Antonio Abitabile has been appointed principal of Hudson High School. He most recently served as the school’s acting principal and before that as its associate principal. Hudson City School District officials chose him from a pool of four finalists from the 12 applicants for the position. Mr. Abitabile appeared at a Board of Education meeting this week that was dominated by a discussion of the district’s disappointing academic performance and what to do to improve it.
At the Monday, September 9 meeting April Prestipino, coordinator of school improvement, presented the latest district Report Card, its standardized test results and Comprehensive Improvement Plan. The results show drops in English language arts, math and graduation rates. But results also dropped statewide, and state education officials anticipated the drops due to changes in curriculum and the requirements for achieving proficiency in the major subjects.
Still, board member Jeri Chapman asked what was going wrong that led to such poor academic performance and what district officials could do to improve the results.
District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier said that one common thread was the “need to establish a vision and have a step-by-step mission on how to get there.”
Ms. Prestipino added that the district suffers lack of consistency, saying that three years is the longest any recent superintendent has lasted. Another problem she cited is that the district’s four schools “are like silos,” and more communication is needed between the teachers across schools.
She also said, “We recognize that project-based learning has to be part of the curriculum.”
“So,” asked Ms. Chapman, “are we arriving at a vision?”
“I think the workshops we did this summer were a start at building it,” Suttmeier answered. “And Destination Graduation is part of it,” she added. Destination Graduation is the district’s effort to raise the graduation rate by 15% in three years.
Asked later how the district could maintain a consistent vision in light of changing educational philosophies and standards, and unforeseen events, Ms. Prestipino said, “We ask what are our core beliefs? No matter what New York State wants, what does Hudson want? We need a vision that both we put our own stamp on and will stand the test of time.”
Ellen Henderson, president of Parents in Partnership and former teacher’s aide, was critical of the current approach, saying, “You have to be consistent in order to teach something…. But they jump from one thing to another.”
Explanations by school officials and the text of the Comprehensive Improvement Plan outlined several steps the district intends to take, among them:
•Ms. Suttmeier expects each principal to walk regularly through his or her building, including in-session classes, “not to punish the teachers, but for continuous and immediate feedback”
•Advertisements in English and Bengali are planned to improve parent engagement in school events, with transportation and child care provided
•Collaboration with community-based organizations to offer students emotional support
•Professional development for teachers
•Starting in grades K-8 to prepare students to graduate from high school
•Mid-year student evaluations, in addition to those at the beginning and end of the year. Ms. Suttmeier said that by the end of the year, it’s too late to redirect a student toward better end-of-year results
•New hands-on learning modules in science, math and English. Ms. Prestipino noted that “science and social studies get lost with all the emphasis on math and reading.”
On the related matter of the Alternate Learning Program for at risk high schoolers at 460 Warren Street, originally slated to start last week, officials confirmed that the program is now scheduled to begin in January 2014. On September 3, Governor Cuomo signed a bill allowing Berkshire Union Free School teachers to teach at the Warren Street site, but as of Monday, September 9, lawyers for the district and the state Education lawyers still disagreed whether Hudson needs a referendum to send general education students to the program. Renovations on the building is mow progressing. Meanwhile, one of the Berkshire Union District teachers who had planned to work on the program in Hudson has gotten a job elsewhere.
In addition to that setback, Ms. Suttmeier said, “Tires are rolling to Canaan every day,” with Hudson’s 12 special education students who were to go to Warren Street. An additional 22 Hudson general education students have been selected for the ALP program but currently attend regular classes. Thomas Gavin, the former Hudson High School principal who was supposed to become principal of the Warren Street site, provides special coaching to these students.
“Gavin has been wonderful,” said Stacy Coons, whose 14-year-old son was to join the ALP. Without ALP, her son “doesn’t want to get up and go to school,” she said, but added that “Gavin talks to him every day. That’s the only thing that keeps him going to school.”
But Brenda Hedges said her son is not succeeding at school in the first four days of classes. She asked whether he could still enter the ALP in January if he “cannot come to school” until then. The answer was affirmative.
In other business at the September 9 meeting the board:
•Heard a proposal to increase the number of board members from 7 to 12 members. This could take place at the earliest for the 2015-2016 year and would require a referendum in spring 2014. If the referendum passes, the first election to include the additional seats would be in spring 2015
•Discussed a proposal to consider school uniforms. Several years ago the Primary School had them, but their use fizzled
•Heard Ms. Suttmeier announce that she has started work on her doctorate at Sage Colleges.
•Were reminded by Stephanie Monsen of the Bindlestiff Family Circus of opportunities for children to learn circus skills like juggling in an after school program. It can help raise children’s self esteem, she said.