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School district's future could be discussion topic

The future of the North Collins Central School District should be a topic of discussion by the school board this year suggested board member Martin Niefergold at the body’s July 23 meeting.

Saying he “was sorry he had to be the one to bring this up,” Niefergold said some recent events led to the idea. He pointed to a recently announced plan by two Niagara County school districts to share a superintendent. He suggested all monitor their progress and see how it works out. Additionally, Niefergold said that conversations in the community always come back to the high cost per student in North Collins.

Vice President Mark Snow added that as the smallest district in the county it’s not hard to see why that cost is high.

President Shannon Locking said that collaborative efforts could, at some point, see the district able to function with a part-time superintendent.

One possible means of collaboration came later in the meeting as the board agreed to post a vacancy for a part-time school business administrator. While advertising the position, the board is also keeping its option open to possibly share the job with another district.

There will be other vacancies for the district to fill as well. The board accepted, with regret, Edith Chmiel's request to retire on Jan. 31. Chmiel is a long-standing senior clerk stenographer based at the elementary school. Additionally, a one-year substitute teacher will need to be found to take the place of fourth-grade teacher Maria DeFeo, and the board approved a Memorandum of Agreement allowing her to take advantage of an opportunity to teach in Abu Dhabi next year.

Defeo first approached the board in June requesting an unpaid leave of absence. While the administration was joined by BOCES legal advice in recommending against the leave, the board solicited a second, outside legal opinion that found no problem with granting the leave. At its heart, there is no provision in the current teachers’ collective agreement covering the type of leave requested, leading to the negotiations that also involved local and regional teacher union personnel. The leave agreement, which guarantees DeFeo’s spot on the staff through Aug. 31, 2014, adds the option for DeFeo to purchase continued health insurance for the year through the district if she desires.

Elementary Principal John Cataldo provided an in-depth review of the first year of implementation of the new state standards. Reflecting on early concerns that students were being tested on subject matter they had not learned yet, Cataldo showed that by repeating similar tests in the middle and end of the year, a clear portrait of student progress could be gathered. He also reported that the tests have been used as tools to address specific areas of concern as the year progresses.

Cataldo said the growth experienced by students in the new standards was a prime reason the district placed eighth in the region in a recent school-ranking survey. He also credited the pre-k program the district offers as providing a firm base for further study. Noting that 35 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-cost lunches, Cataldo restated studies that show pre-k programs are most helpful for children coming from lower-income households.

Niefergold reminded the board that induction of the first class into the North Collins Sports “Hall of Fame” will take place at the Senior Center in Fricano Town Park on Aug. 4 at 2 p.m. The event will precede the annual all-class reunion for district alumni that will begin at 4 p.m. in the same location.

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