School districts have a lot on their plate this year.
New York state is requiring schools to implement new Common Core math and English/language arts standards for third through eighth grades, new teacher and principal evaluation systems and more bullying prevention efforts this year.
Additionally, the federal government has changed school lunch guidelines to make meals healthier for students.
"The start of the new school year often brings many new initiatives, but this year is notable for the breadth and complexity of them," said Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Board Association. "School board members are poised to raise academic standards, put the best possible teachers in the classroom and create a safe school environment. They certainly have their work cut out for them, but they are up to the challenge."
According to 583 respondents to NYSSBA's monthly poll, 45 percent believed the adoption of the Common Core Learning Standards is likely to have the greatest positive impact on students. It will realign classroom work so more students are ready for college or a career when they graduate from high school.
School board members are worried about the cost of implementing the new programs. Forty percent of school board members that responded to NYSSBA's poll said their top priority for the 2012-13 school year was to make sure their schools can continue to provide quality education with fewer dollars.
School opens throughout Chautauqua County today with several notable changes, including:
- Further Common Core changes to math and English language arts for third through eighth grades to better align curriculum with college and career readiness standards;
- New statewide teacher and principal evaluation systems are being implemented;
- New bullying prevention efforts; and
- New federal guidelines that make lunches healthier.
"Schools continue to be hamstrung by an economy that has yet to rebound fully from the recession and by myriad state-imposed mandates," said Kremer. "Despite these fiscal pressures, this is an opportune time for reform-minded school leaders to promote student achievement and a safe school environment."
Daniel Kathman, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, is particularly concerned about the new mandates' cost. While Jamestown did receive funding through the federal Race to the Top program, the award will not be enough to cover all of the new expenses, including the creation of a new position.
"Our federal 'Race to the Top' award will cover many of our expenses related to the implementation of the Common Core but will not come close to covering the expense and time required to implement the new teacher evaluation system," said Kathman. "While some of our incidental Annual Professional Performance Review training expenses are covered, our actual/new expenses far exceed that Race to the Top award. For example, after hearing of our pressing need for teacher and administrative training to properly implement the new APPR, our Board of Education endorsed a new position: coordinator of teacher development. The expenses associated with that new position will not be covered by our Race to the Top money."
Additionally, the policies required by the state will force the district to spend many more hours on observation, possibly spreading resources thin by reallocating administrative time.
Despite the challenges, Kathman said the district is committed to the Common Core standards realignment and evaluation of teachers and principals.
"However, despite these extraordinary burdens, we are obliged to overcome them," Kathman said. "The research shows that attention to a clearly defined curriculum (common core) and the 'best instructional practices' (APPR) will result in improved student learning outcomes. And because student learning is our number one priority, we proceed with interest and enthusiasm."