By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Teachers and administrators say a new teaching project underway in Grand Island Central School District is having a transformational impact on students in second grade.
At Monday's Grand Island Board of Education meeting, trustees received a presentation from teachers and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Karen Cuddy-Miller about the iPad Pilot Project, which has put iPad devices in the hands of some students.
Cuddy-Miller said the district decided to create a technology teaching position for 3-5 grades to help address the state's move to computer-based testing. In order to be efficient, students need a degree of keyboarding skills, she said. The district decided to start the pilot program in second grade because by the time students reach middle school their habits in keyboarding are established.
Teachers Zachary Wood from Kaegebein Elementary School and Melissa Marciszewski and Amy McMann from Huth Road Elementary School detailed how they use the iPads 5-10 minutes daily to build keyboarding skills, but also go further.
McMann thanked the board and Cuddy-Miller for supporting the initiative.
"We all feel that it's really transforming education. And we're just getting our feet wet, this is the first year, but it is exciting and I hope you will find the same thing," she told the board.
McMann said the teachers received "the best staff development in the area" before adding iPads to the lessons. She said teachers are "explicitly teaching the children that this is a tool for your learning. We're not playing games."
The iPads are stored in each student's book box next to the paperbacks. "It's just part of their day," she said.
Marciszewski and Wood described various apps the students use. Wood said an app called Seesaw is used daily and creates a digital portfolio on which students turn in their work, while being accessible from different devices by teachers and parents alike.
"As a teacher, it gives us instantaneous data," McMann said, such as how long students were studying and what students struggle with.
Cuddy-Miller said the "harder-to-reach kids ... kids on the cusp, are reaching that pinnacle of achievement that might not otherwise have reached."
The result is less waste of time, and students more easily learning at their own pace.
Even just using and maintaining the iPads themselves has improved the "ability for these kids to problem-solve," McMann added.
Cuddy-Miller said they are truly using the iPad as a tool for instruction.
"It really has done what we wanted it to do: It has transformed the way our teachers are thinking about teaching and our kids are thinking about learning."
She said it was a " very successful year so far" and as such the district is considering ways to expand the program. She said the board would need to support additional staff development in using the iPads.
"We can't simply put iPads in the hands of teachers and expect them to know how to integrate and transform their thinking about how to use it," Cuddy-Miller said.
No spending spree for Grand Island Board of Education
By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Assistant Superintendent for Finance Robert McDow told the Grand Island Board of Education that increases in state aid doesn't mean a spending spree is likely.
McDow briefed the Grand Island Board of Education Monday on the state budget aid and said during his finance discussion that the district can anticipate aid from the state to make up for some withheld in Gap Elimination Adjustment in recent years during the recent budgetary crises.
The Gap Elimination Adjustment is money reduced from school district's state aid to help the state reduce its budget deficit. McDow estimated the GICSD is "owed" in the $1.2 million range and the governor's budget restores $400,000 of GEA for the district in the next executive budget. On top of that, the district will receive another $130,000 for a total increase of about $530,000 in aid, McDow told the board.
That doesn't mean the district can go on "a spending spree," McDow cautioned.
"What I would like the public and our board to totally understand, though, is that our expenses for this year are going to increase by more than $1 million, so we still have work to do," he said.
McDow forecasts the State Legislature will increase the GEA amount further. He called the districts budget numbers "a decent start. It doesn't get us all the way home."
McDow said the state's tax cap allows the district to increase taxes by only .12 percent. "Which means before we look at all of our building aid adjustments and other adjustments that we may have, we can only increase our taxes by $40,000. So, there's some work to be done."
When the 0.12 percent cap on property tax levy growth was announced Jan. 20, New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said it "will create a hardship for school districts and their ability to meet student needs. That's because schools will not be able to raise any meaningful new revenue without obtaining a 60 percent super-majority in support of their budget - a very challenging task.
"To put this into perspective, the median school tax levy in 2015-16 was slightly less than $15 million. Under a 0.12 percent tax cap, the levy would generate less than $18,000 in additional local revenue - not enough to hire a full-time teacher."
Kremer said the "alarmingly low tax cap reinforces the need for significantly more state education aid, beyond that proposed in the executive budget."
The $530,000 "is eaten up by our teacher's contract alone and their increase," he said.
•In other discussions at the meeting, the board approved a salary adjustment for Matt McKenna, the interim principal at Connor Middle School in the absence of John Fitzpatrick, who is out on a medical leave.
•The deadline to file a community survey ended Monday in the search for a new superintendent to replace Dr. Teresa Lawrence, whose contract the board has decided not to renew when it expires at the end of June. Board President Lisa Pyc said the board thanks the community for taking the time to fill out the survey to be a part of the search process. The board will meet with its consultant on the superintendent search, Dr. Lynn Fusco, Feb. 9 to collate data and move forward in the process.
•In the "Good News" portion of the meeting, Pyc announced board Trustee Glenn Bobeck has received the Board Mastery Award from the New York State School Boards Association. Pyc surprised Bobeck with a presentation of a certificate acknowledging, "the extensive time and effort required of a school board member who continually strives to expand their knowledge and skills for a better board governance."
Pyc praised Bobeck's accomplishment, which will be noted in an upcoming edition of NYSSBA's publication "On Board." Pyc congratulated Bobeck "for your hard work and effort over the past 10 years."
"Just means I'm old," Bobeck said.