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SCHOOL SCENE A Special Supplement to the Sullivan County Democrat

A look at activities in the Liberty C e n t ra l School District S E C T I O N

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Upward and outward, Liberty School District salutes the future BY KATHY DALEY

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nterim Superintendent of Schools Carol Napolitano reflected eagerly on the years to come for Liberty Central School District. “If we can hire well, and we will, we can build a whole, brand-new structure for students and staff,” said Napolitano. “We want the best,” said the educator who served the District from 2007 to 2016, first as Director of Curriculum and then as Assistant Superintendent. “We want to be the stellar school district in Sullivan County. We want to shine, and we will shine. We already have wonderful people. This is a great place.” On July 1, Napolitano emerged from retirement to shepherd the school district through its daily work and its search for a new superintendent of schools to replace Dr. William Silver, who left in August. This year, the District will also start seeking principals for the middle and high schools as veteran principal Jack Strassman, who headed up both schools, steps down in July. Another top spot was filled by the hiring of Dr. Augustine Tornatore as new assistant superintendent. Tornatore arrives in Liberty on Nov. 27 from his post as

Director of Social Studies for the Newburgh Enlarged City School District. “I'm very excited to be working with him,” said Napolitano. Tornatore will take over for Interim Assistant Superintendent Dr. Barbara Blakey. “New hirings can change Liberty if we can hire dynamic, hands-on leaders with a presence and a vision of change as education moves forward,” Napolitano added. And speaking of dynamism, a recent coup on the part of Liberty has the local educational world buzzing. Chosen from among hundreds of school districts throughout New York State, Liberty administrators and staff are now receiving intensive training in their effort to intervene speedily and effectively when a student starts to fall behind in class. Only 10 school districts were chosen, based on their initiative and dedication, for the state program titled the New York Response to Intervention (RTI) Middle School Demonstration Project. Eventually they will teach other school districts how to prevent small learning problems from blossoming into full-scale failure. And finally, no small metaphor for CONTINUED ON 5L

School Scene: A look at activities in the Liberty Central School District Publishers by

Catskill-Delaware Publications, Inc. Publishers of the

(845) 887-5200 Callicoon, NY 12723 November 3, 2017 • Vol. CXXVII, No. 41

KATHY DALEY | DEMOCRAT

Liberty's Interim Superintendent of Schools Carol Napolitano points out that the District is poised for success under new leadership, renovated classrooms and a vision of change as education moves forward.

Publisher: Co- Editors: Editorial Assistants: Advertising Director: Advertising Coordinator: Advertising Representatives: Special Sections Coordinator: Business Manager: Business Department: Telemarketing Coordinator: Monticello Office Manager: Classified Manager: Production Associates: Circulation & Distribution:

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LIBERTY SCHOOL SCENE

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NOVEMBER, 2017

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LIBERTY SCHOOL SCENE

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the school district with the bright future is the handsome retooling of Liberty High, inside and out. Thirty classrooms were affected and most notably, the art and music departments.

KATHY DALEY | DEMOCRAT

Liberty High School art teacher Jennifer Bull shows off the updates in her classroom, including high ceilings and exposed fixtures that resemble those in a sophisticated art loft.

tiles. They tore out the dropped ceiling, elevating the ceiling to show off painted pipes as in a New York City loft. “It's art studio lofty-looking,” agreed Bull, sitting in one of the new rolling chairs in her room. The art department, which also features the classroom of longtime art teacher Kathy Lambert, additionally includes a lab area to work on art software. Student Justin Payne pointed out that his art room now benefits from a

Smartboard at the front of the room and a white board for his teacher to draw on. “It all looks much better than last year,” Payne said. Next door is the newly renovated choral room of high school music teacher Timothy Hamblin. A SPORTING LIFE Finally, gym bleachers that failed to meet handicapped-accessibility standards and featured parts so old they could not be replaced are gone.

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THE ART OF NEWNESS “The flow, the functionality, the butcher block tables, the cabinets – they're 100 percent better,” said High School art teacher Jennifer Bull. Construction work that began last March focused on renovating the outside of the high school. Original brick work and exterior walls were crumbling and energy inefficient, and they were renovated and reinvigorated. Classrooms impacted by the exterior wall replacement were redone, and the guidance office was related to a larger, renovated space nearby, where counselors could help students in privacy and also offer space for computer-based guidance programs. The high school saw architects take the old art department “footprint” and coax it into the 21st century by introducing polished concrete flooring to what had been old asbestos

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Handsome new bleachers “portray Liberty very highly,” said Napolitano. “They’re safe and are a highlight to be proud of for games and high school graduations.” Still to come are serious repairs to the baseball and soccer athletic fields. Located behind the high school, the fields are marred by sink holes and bad drainage. Meanwhile, sports teams are practicing and holding games at Walnut Mountain, SUNY Sullivan and the Center for Discovery. To deal with the fields, the Board of Education has approved a $560,000 capital project referendum to replace and install four sets of exterior doors at the high school; replace two failed drain lines at the field; core, aerate and top dress the existing fields, and add perimeter drainage around baseball, soccer and softball fields. Voters will decide on the plan on Tuesday, Dec. 5. “The cost of the project will be funded fully from Capital Reserve funds which are to be used for this type of work,” said Napolitano. “There will be no increase in taxes to local property owners, and we will receive approximately 82 percent in building aid back from New York State Education Department.”


LIBERTY SCHOOL SCENE

SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

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Continued fight against school bullying takes on steam in Liberty

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hen New York State Trooper Craig Vedder took to the microphone, a hush came over the crowd of students. Bareheaded, his tan trooper hat off to the side of the stage in Liberty High School auditorium, Vedder warned about the seriousness of online bullying and, by contrast, how to conduct oneself as an upstanding “digital citizen.” “Hearing it from a New York State trooper had a lot of power,” said Patrick Sullivan, Liberty's Assistant of Student Services and chair of the District Safety Committee. Vedder, who serves as School and Community Coordinator for Troop F in Middletown, gave one of his school presentations to Liberty's seventh through twelfth graders in September. The law enforcement officer stressed that “a serious matter can stem from something you did that was a small matter,” Sullivan recounted. In effect, today's students live in two worlds: the real world and the “cyber” world of social media. Cyber-bullying, that is, using social media or texting to torment, threaten, harass or humiliate another person, is pandemic in the teenage population. By contrast, good and safe digital citizenship requires kindness and respectfulness on line, as well as being smart and vigilant. This year the Liberty Central School District is ratcheting up its commitment to encourage a safe environment free of discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment

and bullying, whether it's in the classroom, hallways or school buses, noted Interim Superintendent of Schools Carol Napolitano. Apart from the value of being kind to others, “School safety is linked to improved students and school outcomes,” she said. “In particular, emotional and physical safety in school are related to academic performance.” As in years past, the underpinnings of the District's efforts are the PBIS program in the elementary school, which encourages positive behavior by raising expectations and offering rewards, and Olweus in the upper grades. Olweus, a nationally recognized anti-bullying program, educates students and teaches on how to identify bullying, prevent it and what to do when they see it. At the start of this school year, teachers benefited from sessions on mental health and on the New York State Dignity for All Students Act, which requires a school atmosphere free of bullying and mandates that school districts report all cases of bullying to the New York State Education Department. At Town Hall-type meetings for parents, held before the traditional Open House, parents heard information on anti-bullying efforts, on safety procedures and on the specifics of the Dignity At. Special training for District and Building Dignity Act Coordinators took place over the summer. Antibullying books are being integrated


NOVEMBER, 2017

SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

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into middle school curriculum, Sullivan said, and the Student Services Department is hosting a Twitter page with messages such as “To Hit is Not Kind #THINK before you bully. Stand up. Speak up. Stop it. Be the Change.” Still to come are social-emotional learning lessons that focus on empathy and on resolving situations of conflict in a healthy manner. Studies show that schools districts offering social-emotional

wellness activities experience, a 10 percent increase on students state test scores. And the District will continue to reach out to the community with events like Unity Day on Oct. 25, which asked residents and businesses people to join the school district's anti-bullying efforts by wearing orange. “We want all students to come to school safe and comfortable and ready to learn,” said Sullivan.

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Nationwide Unity Day came to Liberty on Oct. 25, when school district students and teachers wore the color orange to stand up for kindness, acceptance and inclusion rather than bullying and name-calling. The school district encouraged support from the community as well. Above a Unity Day poster in school hallway.


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LIBERTY SCHOOL SCENE

SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

NOVEMBER, 2017

Liberty benefits from state’s big boost in helping kids who struggle STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY

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ow do you prevent a small learning problem from becoming the unfortunate beginning of a series of stumbling blocks for a particular student? At any one time and in schools everywhere, students may struggle with cultural or language differences, learning disabilities, behavior issues, problems at home, all of which can affect succeeding in school. In response, school districts, including Liberty, attempt many ways to get kids back on track. “We have a good grasp at the elementary school,” said Liberty’s Assistant Director of Student Services Patrick Sullivan. “And we want to build it up into the middle school and high school.” Recently, due in large part to Liberty's passion and hard work,

‘At any one time and in schools everywhere, students may struggle with cultural or language differences, learning disabilities, behavior issues, problems at home...’ the New York State Education Department chose Liberty Middle School as one of only 10 such schools statewide to serve as model districts in a Response to Intervention Middle School Demonstration Project. The three-year initiative is training the schools to come up with a framework to help struggling middle school students that the schools can then pass on to others in New York State.

Growing Through Grief

Patrick Sullivan, Assistant Director of Student Services, explains how Liberty Middle School will eventually serve as a model school for developing systems that help under-performing students to achieve.

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LIBERTY SCHOOL SCENE

SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

NOVEMBER, 2017

‘The extra assistance will help enhance our data-based decision making and it will further clarify our decisionmaking process and ensure that we have coherent systems in place that support all students.’ Patrick Sullivan Assistant Director of Student Services|

Among schools in the Hudson Valley region, only Liberty and the Carmel Middle School in Putnam County were selected. They sent in applications and were interviewed by Skype.

AN APPROACH THAT WORKS

Long before the state came up with the Demonstration Project, Liberty students have benefited from screen-

ing three times each year in their math and reading ability at both the elementary and middle school. Elementary school teachers who notice a child in difficulty take a number of steps. They adjust the assignment and work with the student oneon-one. They benchmark kids, that is, administering short tests that give immediate feedback, and they might employ modules, which are instructional units that focus on a particular topic. This approach is titled Response to Intervention. It serves as a threetiered model that begins with teaching the whole class according to research-based teaching methods and a solid curriculum. Screening, weekly progress monitoring and inclass tests are all part of the first tier, and students in academic need receive extra instruction in small groups in the regular classroom. RTI's second tier provides more intensive services for students who still have not caught up. The third tier gives even more individualized, intensive attention. Students who do not respond may then be considered for referral to the Committee on Special Education.

RTI also pays close attention to the academic behavior needed to make learning possible, for example, to a student's ability to follow directions, complete work, and be dedicated to their own learning process. Specifically for the demonstration project, said Sullivan, the SED wanted middle schools that were interested in developing or refining such a prevention and intervention plan. They were looking for schools that were “dedicated and excited” about scaling up their middle school work, he said. “We pursued this because we wanted to build a multi-tiered system of support for all students, to help them with academics and with socialemotional wellness.” Those students include the academically talented, he said.

FREE: STATE ASSISTANCE The result is that this year, Liberty benefits from the free, hands-on service of Dr. Joan Miller, a member of the state's Technical Assistance Center, which is based at Buffalo College. Once each month, Miller arrives in Liberty to help the school build an ideal system, starting with an action plan. Her involvement will last for

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three years. Other benefits are monthly webinar academies for the principal and for the middle school's RTI coordinators; ongoing technical assistance; and an annual Summer Institute in Albany for all involved. “Currently at Liberty Middle School, after screening, students who do require more support in reading and math get placed in small groups to receive additional supports,” he said. “(But) thanks to this opportunity, we are researching benchmarking assessments to enhance our instructional supports.” “The extra assistance will help enhance our data-based decision making,” he added, “and it will further clarify our decision-making process and ensure that we have coherent systems in place that support all students.”

‘They were looking for schools that were “dedicated and excited” about scaling up their middle school work.’

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10L LIBERTY

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NOVEMBER, 2017

Call them ambassadors or safety ‘officers’ Kids make changes at Liberty Elementary School STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY

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ly aware they are ‘lead learners’ who demonstrate and model the best positive examples of safety, excellence and fine character for the 700 students in the building,� England said. Officer Brust runs a safety patrol orientation for the students. There, the fourth graders are trained to encourage safety practices in a positive and polite manner and to report unsafe practices or bullying to his or her teacher or another appropriate adult, England added. Good work habits and good character development are also emphasized during the orientation.

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Liberty Elementary School Assistant Principal Robert England introduces three candidates for the new student Safety Patrol. All fourth graders, they are, from left, Pheobe Wilson, Tayler Schwartz and Elmer SonVicente. At the end of the school year, safety patrol officers will help train third graders who have been selected to participate the following year.

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gainst rules, a student sprints through the hall at dismissal time. One of his fellow students, draped in an orange and yellow vest emblazoned with the words “Safety Patrol,� approaches the runner. “Please walk,� the student safety officer says in a calm, kindly voice. The runner assumes a more polite pace. “Thank you,� replies the safety officer. Kids are clamoring to join Liberty Elementary School’s newest schoolwide effort: the training of 30 students to serve not only as safety “officers� but as ambassadors and models of kind and respectful school behavior. “I want to be able to help that child that might have gotten lost after leaving their classroom for a ‘special,’� that is, for a class in music or art, said Pheobe Wilson, a fourth grader and candidate for the Patrol. At arrival and dismissal times, student patrol officers pair up in “posts�around the school. There, their tasks range from helping a new student who might have lost her way in the school to simply “doing the right thing.� “We are looking for students with honor and integrity to model the school’s expectations: be responsible and respectful, follow directions and ‘be there, be on time’ for class and be ready with your pencil and book out,� said Elementary School Assistant

“This is a leadership opportunity for (patrol) students,� said England. “We are looking for the best kids and the kids that have the greatest potential to work hard to grow.� Patrol members will benefit from the development of the “soft� skills that colleges and employers look for now, noted England, “such as looking people in the eye, smiling and asking ‘How can I help you?’� Vitally important is their effect on the entire school. For example a safety patrol officer might find himself picking up a candy wrapper that someone else tossed on the floor. “When these students are seen by others,� said England, “it’s a thoughtful reminder for everyone to be their best selves.� It was actually Liberty Elementary students and their teachers who came up with the idea of the Safety Patrol in the first place. For the past two years in math and ELA classes, 140 students and their teachers took all the building-wide behavioral data on infractions at various places – the bus, cafeteria, bathroom – and studied it. They spent three weeks analyzing the data and “thought a safety patrol would be a great proactive thing,� England said. “It’s not only about compliance [with the rules],� he emphasized, “but rather transformation. It’s not only about 30 kids but about the 700 kids they’re serving. It’s transformational thinking about who they are and who they want to be, school-wide and beyond.�

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SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

NOVEMBER, 2017

LIBERTY SCHOOL SCENE

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Looking for only the best at the helm of the school district STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATHY DALEY

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s Liberty searches for a new superintendent of schools, the school district is borrowing from the wisdom of business and industry. There, to find the best candidates for top posts, executive search companies seek out the best people directly, as opposed to waiting for candidates to approach a recruiter or answer a want ad. Typically, the best and strongest professionals are already engaged in a position and are not actively looking for a change, pointed out Liberty's Interim Superintendent Carol Napolitano. But when presented with an opportunity, they may consider moving on to a new job, a new challenge, she said. “We are hoping to get the strongest candidates,� Napolitano emphasized. “We want to hire the best for Liberty.� To that end, the District is working with Western New York Educational Services Council (WNYESC), a superintendent search consulting organization. Affiliated with and housed within the offices of the Graduate School of Education at the State University of Buffalo, the Council conducts superintendent searches on behalf of the New York State Boards of Education. “This consultant group is dedicated to making background and reference checks on the candidates in order to create as large a pool as possible of well-qualified applicants,� said Napolitano. “It is critically important

Wanted: Superintendent of Schools to lead dynamic district into future. Population: 1,625 students including, above, Liberty High School students Kayla Rubano, Justin Payne (at rear), Charley Yaun, Brianna Jackson and Keirsten Brookens.

to know as much background information on each candidate as possible.� One early step in the superintendent search is to seek input on the desired characteristics and skills that stakeholders in the District would like

to see in the next leader. The WNYESC has developed a survey to gather feedback on which characteristics are most important for the school community. “The participation of staff and community members at this stage of the

process is essential to our success in finding the best person for the job,� said Napolitano. The plan is to have the next Superintendent appointed by the Board of Education this April with a starting date of July 1.

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12L LIBERTY

SCHOOL SCENE

SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

NOVEMBER, 2017

Sit down, slow down, find peace – right in your own classroom STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATHY DALEY

T

he calming nature of mindfulness has won a big fan in sixth grader Colin Mangan. “It’s very relaxing,” said Colin. “It soothes everything in my mind that I’m worried about.” “It cools me down,” adds classmate Colin Doeinck. “Sometimes when I’m really angry or upset at home, I use it to calm myself down.” The technique of sitting quietly, forgetting about everything and focusing on one’s breathing has many fans in today’s busy world, where adults and children can easily find themselves overstimulated by the constant chatter of computer technology and cellphones. Famous musicians do mindful breathing. Athletes do it. In educational circles, mindfulness is seen as an important tool for helping children focus in today’s fast-moving world. “We have students walking around with different types of trauma – with homelessness, poverty, violence at home,” adds Liberty Middle School psychologist Amy Dworetsky. The peacefulness of mindful breathing helps them to escape the stress as it also teaches long-term emotional regulation and self control, she said. Neuroscience experts point out that human brains are constantly growing

and evolving, creating new cells and forming new neural networks. Research shows that the mindfulness practice can change the brain for the better, increasing immunity to disease and causing clearer thinking. Middle School counselors Markella Nikolis and Michelle Behrman add that the mindfulness practice actually lowers blood pressure and teaches self awareness, concentration, patience and resilience. Along with Dworetsky, they instruct teachers in the “howtos,” and the teachers then pass it on to their students. Some teachers like to start with calming music and a relaxing image on their classroom Smartboard. The children sit up straight at their desks, feet on the floor. For as long as three minutes, they just “zone out,” focusing on breathing and forgetting everything else. “How often do you get to sit and just be?” reflected Behrman. “You’re not thinking about anything. You are focused on sitting and breathing.” Mindfulness as a practice started last year at the middle school and it’s reaping rewards. “Teachers feel there’s less disruption in the classroom if they start off with ‘mindful minutes,’” said Dworetsky. “And the children ask for it. If the class gets chaotic during the day, kids say ‘can we have a mindful minute?’” “It helps them to refocus, to

At Liberty Middle School guidance office, school counselors Markella Nikolis and Michelle Behrman join school psychologist Amy Dworetsky in a ‘mindful minute.’

regroup,” Nikolis said. “After physical education or lunch, it helps to get them to calm down.” The students couldn’t agree more. “It relaxes everything that is making me confused and frustrated,” said sixth grader Owen Moore.

Classmate Joshua Reyes points out that the mindful time “releases chemicals that make me feel calm and happy.” Student Aidan Farrell puts it simply: “It’s nice when it’s really quiet in here.”

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14L LIBERTY

SCHOOL SCENE

SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

NOVEMBER, 2017

Liberty sports teams maintain enthusiasm

JOSEPH ABRAHAM | DEMOCRAT

The Liberty Indians’ football team finished the season strong, taking No. 1 seed Marlboro to the limit in their matchup in the Section IX Class B semifinal that the Iron Dukes won 3527.The No. 5 seeded Indians upset No. 4 seed James I. O’Neill, 57-31, in the Class B quarterfinals. Pictured here is quarterback Carter Harman (7) who then hands the ball to Liberty running back Kymanni Dennis (11).

RICHARD A. ROSS | DEMOCRAT

The Liberty boys cross country (XC) team were off to the races at a meet earlier this season, where they hosted Livingston Manor and Tri-Valley. Today, the Liberty’s girls and boys XC teams head to Bear Mountain to compete at sectionals.

JOSEPH ABRAHAM | DEMOCRAT

JOSEPH ABRAHAM | DEMOCRAT

At left: Liberty’s Rebecca Mielnicki serves in a match where the Lady Indians hosted Tri-Valley.

Liberty’s Anthony Cuellar gains possession of a loose ball in a league match against Fallsburg. The Indians’ boys soccer team had a successful season, qualifying for sectionals and earning the No. 6 seed in a highly competitive Section IX Class B.


SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

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SULLIVAN COUNTY DEMOCRAT

NOVEMBER, 2017

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Liberty School Scene 2017  
Liberty School Scene 2017  

There's a lot of great things going on at the Liberty Central School District. Take a look inside and you'll see what we're talking about!

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