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Valhalla UFSD: Dedicated to every child...stimulating learning, developing values and cultivating understanding
Voting Information: The annual budget vote for the fiscal year 20132014 by the qualified voters of the Valhalla Union Free School District will be held on Tuesday, May 21, at the following locations: District 1: Town of Mount Pleasant Kensico School 320 Columbus Ave. Valhalla, NY 10595 District 2: Town of North Castle North Castle Community Center 10 Clove Road North White Plains, NY 10603 District 3: Town of Greenburgh Virginia Road Elementary School 86 Virginia Road North White Plains, NY 10603 Voting hours will be 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more informationâ€Ś Learn more about the district and the proposed budget for 2013-2014 by logging onto our website at www.valhallaschools.org
A Message from the Board President Dear Valhalla Community Members, The Valhalla School District is still facing tough times, but we continue to ensure that our children have the best educational opportunities possible. We also are diligently working to keep the facilities in our school district safe, well-maintained and conducive to learning. The Energy Performance Contract the School Board approved will allow us to, among other things, install new energy-efficient lighting throughout the district and new boilers at the Middle/High School. Our administrators, teachers, support staff and custodians work hard to maintain the educational environment and we continue to benefit from their dedication. Our children also benefit from the dedication of parents and community members who volunteer their time to help and support them. Every item in the Valhalla school budget has been analyzed and evaluated to find cost savings. Wherever savings could be realized, they were incorporated into the budget. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond the control of the school district are driving our budget. Unfunded mandates continue to negatively impact the school district. Contributions to the NYS pension system and healthcare are significantly increasing. The Valhalla School Board supports the 2013-2014 school budget and has worked diligently to review every aspect of it. These are trying financial times, but we are committed to doing what is best for our children without unduly overburdening our taxpayers. Regards, LaVerne Clark President, Valhalla Board of Education
Q&A Eye on Technology Technology and its use in the classroom is the way of the world. Students need access to computers, VHS Principal Jon Thomas heads up web-based the district’s Technology Committee. learning and a wireless world at school, not only to accomplish academic goals, but to be prepared for college and career according to the Common Core Learning Standards. In this interview, VHS Principal Jon Thomas, who heads up the district’s Technology Committee, discusses the board’s agenda to provide technology for every student, the committee’s progress to date and its plans for the future.
Q. The superintendent and the Board have set an agenda to provide a strong, integrated technology learning environment for students. Why is that? JT: The Board recognizes, as does the superintendent and community, that we need to have a 21st century learning environment in order to prepare our students for college and the workforce. The Board has been a strong supporter of providing the technology we need without going overboard. This year’s kindergarten students will be looking at jobs that don’t exist right now. We have to start preparing
students for a world that we don’t even know yet. That’s part of what makes things difficult for us right now, but the Board is committed to making sure that technology doesn’t stagnate and that we continue to push forward to ensure that students are prepared for life after Valhalla. Q. We hear the term 21st century learning environment a lot. What exactly does that mean? JT: Simply put, it means having access— access to technology and to webbased learning, whether for research or learning support purposes. It means giving students and teachers access to online learning information. Mobility is key in a 21st century learning environment. It’s not about a product or a piece of hardware. It’s about the bigger, overarching picture of access and mobility. Q. You head up the district’s now two-year-old Technology Committee. Who sits on the TC and what is its purpose? JT: The 10-member committee is made up of multiple faculty members from each school and the district’s technology specialist. Our overarching goal is to look at technology across the district and evaluate software programs, learning tools, hardware, and behind-thescenes infrastructure. We also create a testing environment so that teachers can try out new applications and tools. Some committee members are more tech savvy than others, which is intentional. I wanted to hear the voice of the teacher who is not confident with technology. The questions they ask are the same as those other teachers will likely ask. Q. The jewel in the crown at Valhalla is its wireless capability in each school building, a project the TC undertook last year. What other technological improvements have the TC been able to make? JT: Every teacher now has a laptop and is able to work in a wireless environment, meaning that wherever they are, they have access whenever they need it, creating an opportunity to learn anywhere, anytime. I can walk around the building now and see teachers with 2
their laptops open and working, and I see students working on laptops because of the mobile computing carts we put in place last year. We have Internet access and have added display tools in every classroom, including projectors and document cameras, which are an updated, live version of the old overhead projector. Q. What further technology enhancements do you think the district will see in the next three to five years? JT: We’ve been developing a three- to five-year technology plan for the district. Some enhancements have to do with infrastructure and some have to do with students, but they are not necessarily educational in nature. We’re currently looking at our school safety functions and technology is going to be a part of that. We’re looking at implementing a voiceover internet protocol, or VoIP, phone system. This technology allows telephone calls to be made over the Internet instead of over an ordinary landline. We can do that now that we’re in a fully wireless environment. We’ll have unlimited phone lines, which will give us more flexibility within the phone system. Q. And in the classroom? JT: We’re looking at how we can enhance our interactive white board programs. The white boards --- the brand name is Smart Board --- came into fashion 12 to 15 years ago. The boards no longer fit in with the successful learning environment that we would like to see today. Because the boards are a 1:1 tool, they don’t allow for group interactivity, so even if students are using it, in a classroom of 20 kids, only one can use it at a time. We’re looking at multiple ways to make the board environment more interactive so that more students can use it at the same time. Q. Does technology tie in with the new Common Core Learning Standards? JT: Technology has a very direct link to the Common Core. There’s specific language within the Common Core that talks about technology that students are going to be required to use. CONTINUED ON PAGE 3
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Q. Are teachers getting any special training in using the laptops and applying technology in the classroom? JT: We have offered professional development programs for the staff, particularly with the Mac Books, to help them understand how they can infuse technology in their classrooms. We also ran summer and after-school training sessions, and are doing surveys to see what their needs are. We have some faculty members who are very tech savvy, so their needs are more specific than those who are less comfortable with technology. We want to be able to accommodate everyone. Q. Southern Westchester BOCES has been very involved as a partner in helping steer the district’s technology direction. What are the benefits to this relationship? JT: The Lower Hudson Regional Information Center (LHRIC) at BOCES has been a big support to us. The RIC has provided everything from financial and technical support to contractor recommendations, and has been a partner with our wireless and LAN projects. We also have on-site technical support from the RIC two days a week to provide support for the district’s in-house technology specialist. Financially, it’s also been a successful relationship for us. Our projects with BOCES are aide-able, so we’re able to do work at-cost, which means we’re getting back 48 or 49 cents on every dollar we spend. That helps to replenish the district’s technology budget so we can move forward. Even the cost of the wireless and infrastructure projects was BOCES aide-able. BOCES also vets out all vendors and ensures that they’re under state contract, so we don’t have to go out and bid multiple times, which delays work. Also, this year we decided to change our student information database and BOCES gave us three different options that they support. We chose one and have been able to start implementing it. Basically, we call, BOCES helps. It’s been a great partnership.
After Newtown: Valhalla Enhances School Safety Measures In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, Valhalla, like school districts across the country, have been aggressively re-evaluating and enhancing security measures to ensure that students and staff stay safe in school. At the March Learning Café, Superintendent Dr. Brenda Myers reviewed the district’s updated safety and security procedures and protocols for parents in attendance and invited them to voice concerns. Also in attendance were school administrators, board of education members, and Lauren Valentino and Marty Greenberg, two detectives with the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, who spoke about their role in monitoring Valhalla’s school buildings and the safety metrics that are in place. “I have worked with children as an administrator and deputy superintendent for almost 30 years, and this has been the hardest year I’ve ever had,” Dr. Myers said. “It has been heart-wrenching and there were days when you just didn’t want to get up. Luckily, our community has fared well compared with what other communities have been living through and that’s a blessing for all of us, but it’s taxing. It’s taxing on your soul because you worry a lot.” This fall, both the New York State Police and the district’s insurance company completed safety audits for each building. The district hired Altaris, a security consulting firm specializing in K-12 safety assessment and management, to guide administrators through drill exercises, collaboration with emergency responders and public communications. Here’s a rundown of the district’s most recent security enhancements and plans: • Designation of a single point of entry at the front door of each building. • Installation of wide-view security cameras so that front office staff can see visitors and what they’re carrying. • Visitors must be buzzed in and, upon entry, show identification, wear a visitor’s pass, and be escorted to their destination within the building. • Proximity card readers will be installed and district employees will be issued a micro-chipped ID card that they will have to scan to gain entrance to buildings, including the district office. • The district will conduct a capital improvement study at KS and VRES and get estimates for a second set of security doors at each building’s entrance. • Three of the 27 cameras located throughout the district were upgraded to high resolution cameras. • A 17,000-watt generator will be installed at the middle/high school to back up the building’s server, air conditioning system and internet cable connection. • A two-way portable radio system will be used in all district buildings, with two repeaters installed at KS and VRES. • The district will install a new voiceover internet protocol, or VoIP, phone system. This technology allows telephone calls to be made over the Internet instead of over a landline.
The district also has well-established relationships with local police agencies, which have helped with drill training in every building. “This is critical for us because the police know us; they know all of the cubby holes and hiding places,” Dr. Myers said. “They’re a good partner with us because we know who they are and they know who we are.” Det. Lauren Valentino, the district’s youth officer and D.A.R.E. coordinator, said that since Hurricane Sandy and Newtown, many changes to safety and security measures have been made at Valhalla, “but most of them were well in place before the school year started. Your children have been safe for so long and will continue to be safe here because we’re always talking about how we can make things better.” Officers, she said, routinely patrol school grounds and have added an increased presence in buildings, and both police and school administrators regularly attend safety instruction training seminars.
Voyages Love, Love, Love As the Beatles’ classic tune says, “love is all you need,” and there’s plenty of it to go around at Virginia Road Elementary School.
Students Cian Byrd, Alexandrina Toth, Skylar Strnad and Amari Powell share the links of kindness their class made on Valentine’s Day.
First grade teachers Megan Haughey and Geraldine DiGuglielmo, members of the school’s site-based committee, decided to turn Valentine’s Day into an opportunity for youngsters in every grade to not only exchange cards and sweets with their classmates, but to share the love by practicing the Golden Rule: treating others the way they’d like to be treated. Teachers throughout VRES spent time during the day reading books to the children about respect and kindness, like “The Giving Tree,” and “Now One Foot, Now the Other,” a story about a little boy who repays his grandfather for helping him take his first baby steps by lending his own hand to his grandfather, now struggling to walk in old age.
Links of Kindness While every class had a party --- with cupcakes, cookies and Valentine’s cards for everyone --- the highlight of the day was a special project called Links of Kindness that the entire school worked on together. Each student chose a heart- or handshaped cutout on which to write the acts of kindness they had bestowed upon their friends. “I helped my friend tie his shoelace,” one student wrote. “I took my friend to the nurse when she didn’t feel well,” said another.
Students in every class read their acts of kindness to each other, and then connected their colorful hands and hearts together in chains to hang outside in the hallways. “It’s great,” Ms. Haughey said, “because when we walk through the halls, the chains are a reminder to us all to show respect every day.” Learning to be kind and respectful of others starts at an early age, a value that teachers at VRES reinforce in school through rolemodeling, character education and literature that addresses the negative outcomes
of being a tattletale or a copycat, and the positive results of having patience, being kind and showing compassion to others. “They take their knowledge of respect with them when they leave VRES and remember the good times they had with their friends when they were younger,” Ms. DiGuglielmo said. “When you have a good upbringing, and good values are reinforced at school, it follows through from school to school and into adult life.”
Parents: Sign Up for E-mail and Text Message Alerts Valhalla schools now offer an e-mail alert service to complement the District’s existing phone alert/text message system. Administered by Blackboard Connect, the e-mail service provides parents with news about Valhalla events, messages from the Superintendent of Schools, nonemergency announcements and other items of interest. Parents also can choose to “opt out” of the e-mail service, but will continue to receive emergency phone calls from the District, when those occur. Parents who do not receive the District’s e-mail alerts can contact their school to be included. Non-parents who would like to receive e-mails from the District can sign up on the Valhalla schools website: www.valhallaschools.org Go to the “About Us” tab, click on the “E-notification Service” link and on “Sign Me Up” to create an account. 4
Voyages Children’s Author Joy Cowley Writes to VRES Fans It’s not every day you get a personal letter from your favorite author, especially when she lives on the other side of the world. But New Zealand native and long-time children’s writer Joy Cowley took a little time out from her busy writing schedule, big family and favorite activities—cooking, spinning wool, knitting, painting and playing the piano—to send a letter to some special fans at Virginia Road Elementary School. In October, the students in teacher Laura Kuler’s English as a Second Language class had completed an author study on Ms. Crowley and loved her stories so much that they decided to write her a letter to let her know.
Special Delivery from New Zealand All eight students wrote their own letter, accompanied by a unique drawing, which Ms. Kulers mailed, along with a letter of her own, to Ms. Cowley in New Zealand. Two months later, a big brown envelope, decorated with drawings Ms. Cowley had made of her cat, arrived. Ms. Kulers and the students eagerly opened the envelope and read Ms. Cowley’s reply
(see letter below).
The author, with her new book “Manukura, the White Kiwi.”
Along with the letter, Ms. Cowley sent the children a signed copy of her latest book, “Manukura, The White Kiwi” to read.
“We were so excited when Joy’s package came,” Ms. Kuhlers said. “And you could tell that she had read every child’s letter because she answered their questions.”
The author study was a perfect tie-in with the Common Core’s focus on non-fiction and technology. The students researched facts about Ms. Cowley online and practiced their letter-writing skills and understanding of how the post office works by writing to her.
About Joy Cowley In addition to her fiction for children, includ-
A student's letter and drawing for Ms. Cowley.
ing 41 picture books, and novels and short stories for adults, Ms. Cowley is renowned for her work as the developer of early reader strategies and writer of 500 basal readers (also called reading books) for struggling readers. Among her numerous awards are a 1990 Commemoration Medal for service to New Zealand. In 1992 she received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to children's literature. The following year she was granted an honorary doctorate (D.Litt.) from Massey University and was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal. When she's not writing, Ms. Cowley likes to spend time with her husband Terry, her four children, 13 grandchildren and great-grandsons Mateo and Ethan.
Dear Friends: What beautiful pictures! Thank you for writing to me and sending those delicious drawings. I also liked your bulletinboard. Am I happy? Oh, yes! Who wouldn’t be happy to have friends like you? On this card is another friend who helped when I was signing books. I wish you could be here, too. Do I still write? Yes, and I will send you a non-fiction book, for your library. I wrote it early this year. Do I still like animals? Of course I do. A lot of my stories about animals have been inspired by my pets. Above: Letter writers Stephen Benhumea, Juan Rendon, Alexandria Toth, Ms. Kulers, Karina Han, Ian Reyes and Karen Monge were rewarded with a reply from celebrated New Zealand author Joy Cowley.
Why do I still write stories? Well, I keep getting ideas for stories, and if I didn’t write them, I’d get so full of stories that I might suddenly go POP! But I’m sure there will come a time when all the ideas run out. By then you will all be writing wonderful stories and I will be very happy to read them.
Left: Ms. Cowley decorated her envelope with pictures she drew of her cat.
With love from your friend, Joy Cowley
Voyages Online Learning Giving Students a Competitive Edge Steven Carpenter and Carl Bespolka are leading the way at VHS in more ways than one. And they already have a pretty strong hunch about their future career direction – for Steven, it’s either engineering or architecture. Carl is leaning toward geology or engineering. They’re also the first VHS students to pilot a new online learning program that has allowed them to take some innovative courses as electives. Online Courses for the 21st Century, or OC 21, was offered to high school students in Westchester and Putnam counties for the first time this fall through a joint partnership between Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES and the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center of Southern Westchester BOCES. The courses are taught by consortium teachers in a blended learning environment, with only two or three face-to-face meetings with instructors, one of which many include a field trip. All lessons and assignments are completed online and via e-mail. A sampler of courses offered during the 2012-13 school year included “Environmental Physics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Planet,” “Sustainability: Action for Change,” “The History of Media and Presidential Elections” and “21st Century Literacy: My Digital Life.”
From Architecture to Geology Steven took “Architecture Across the Centuries,” which focused on structural design from ancient Egypt to modern-day New York City. During the course, he learned to use SketchUp, a computer-modeling software that allows users to build structures in 3D. The class met in November for a field trip to the World Trade Center to talk with architects and engineers working onsite. At one point, the instructor hosted a webinar from Paris, demonstrating the beauty of online instruction. “You can work anywhere you want,” Steven said. Carl chose “Historical Geology and Paleontology: Life and Time in the PreHistoric Age.” The course provided an indepth study of the geological history of the earth, with an emphasis on fossils, evolution and the environment. A field trip to
From left: Sophomores Steven Carpenter and Carl Bespolka are the first VHS students to take online learning courses through Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES and the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center of Southern Westchester BOCES. Their social studies teacher, David Mintzes, will be teaching an online course about the 1960s in the fall.
geologic outcrops to gather samples had to be canceled because of Hurricane Sandy. “Even while I was taking the course, it came back to me how much I was enjoying it and how I was able to take the information in and absorb it,” he said. “I’m interested in engineering as well, but I really do enjoy learning about the earth, especially the non-living aspects of the earth.”
OC 21: Ahead of the Curve A departure from traditional classroombased learning, online education is a trend that shows no sign of slowing. In a 2011 study conducted by Babson Survey Group and sponsored by Pearson Learning Solutions, more than 60 percent of academic leaders at private-sector colleges and universities said that online learning is critical to their long-term strategies. The report, “Online Learning Trends in PrivateSector Colleges and Universities,” reveals that the continued growth of online education is critical to handling anticipated higher student enrollment due to the government’s goal of increasing the number of college graduates. It is particularly advantageous for college 6
students who may not be able to fit daytime classes into their schedule. Having the flexibility to go online 24/7, review the lesson for the week, take notes, complete assignments and post them for their instructors to review and grade has worked out well for Steven and Carl. It also has allowed them to step briefly into the shoes of a college student. “You’ve got to be very disciplined to do this,” said David Mintzes, their social studies teacher. “They’re both self-motivated and driven. They’re not your average student. They know they have to sit down and do the work. It’s the same for the teachers. You have to grade assignments and return them because the students want feedback.”
Groovy Sixties Course Opens Seats Mr. Mintzes would know. He has taught online courses at Mercy College for several years, including history, political geography and a graduate course in labor law. He will be teaching an OC 21 class in the fall about the 1960s, a course he tried CONTINUED ON PAGE 7
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several years ago to teach at VHS. “We never could get more than half a dozen students to sign up for it, and in a school this size, you can’t run a class that small,” he said. Because of his experience at Mercy, VHS Principal Jon Thomas proposed that Mr. Mintzes teach the Sixties course through OC 21. “It was probably the last really transitional decade we had because it laid the foundation for the rest of the 20th century and for the 21st century,” Mr. Mintzes said. “I think it’s a pivotal period that people should know about.” When a district contributes a teacher to OC 21, it is gifted with an allotment of seats. Because of the Sixties course (the official title is “What My Parents Didn’t Tell me About the 60s”), Valhalla will have 26 seats to offer students who want to take an OC 21 course next year. “This gives our students an opportunity to take courses we couldn’t offer them here,” Mr. Mintzes said. Among the other courses in the 2013-14 line-up: “European Cultural History: From Monet to Mendelssohn,” “Introduction to
Anthropology,” “Real Global Solutions for 21st Century Problems,” and “Sports Management, Media and Marketing.” In addition to Valhalla, participating school districts include Ardsley, Bedford, Chappaqua, Croton-Harmon, Dobbs Ferry, Katonah-Lewisboro, Lakeland, Mamaroneck, Ossining, Peekskill, Tarrytown and Yorktown. Besides flexibility, online learning offers a safe environment for expression to students who may not feel comfortable speaking up in a classroom, Steven pointed out. The downside is a lack of face-to-face communication with instructors and peers. “Obviously, it’s good to have a teacher right there to talk with --- you can’t get as much across in an e-mail as you’d like to, or as quickly,” he said. “I still got to know my teacher even though we didn’t see each other every day. This was a unique and good experience because it looks like online learning is what colleges are pushing towards, so it’s good that we’re starting now.” For more information on OC 21, visit: www.pnwboces.org/oc
OC 21: Preparing Students for Success With more colleges and universities offering an online learning component to their degree programs, students taking an OC 21 class already are taking a big step forward in preparing for college and career and in gaining the technical and communication skills needed to compete in a higher education setting. The courses engage students in critical thinking, collaboration in an online environment, clear and concise communication, creativity, and research, media and technology skills. The program features: • Small class size and ongoing virtual interaction with peers • Weekly meetings with a site coordinator to review work in progress • Instruction from and interaction with a highly regarded teacher from a consortium school • Full-day orientation with all participating students and teachers • Full-day symposium and peer review with all participating students and teachers • Regular reporting of grades, including progress reports, report card grades and transcript information • Official letter that can be included in a college application packet congratulating students for successful completion of Online Courses for the 21st Century For more information on OC 21, visit: www.pnwboces.org/oc 7
Class of 2013 College Acceptances The colleges where our students were accepted were so great in range and type that they were too numerous to list here. Following is a short list of just a few of the colleges that have accepted Valhalla students. Adelphi University Babson College Baruch College Bellarmine University Bentley University Binghamton University Bryant University Carnegie Mellon University Castleton State College Cazenovia College City College of New York Coastal Carolina University College of Mt. Saint Vincent College of New Rochelle Concordia College Cornell University Dean College Dominican College Drexel University Duquesne University Eastern Connecticut State University Elms College Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Endicott College Fairfield University Fordham University Hartwick College Hawaii Pacific University High Point University Hofstra University Howard University Indiana University Iona College Ithaca College James Madison University John Jay College of Criminal Justice Johnson & Wales University Keene State College King’s College Lafayette College La Salle University Lasell College Lehigh University Le Moyne College Loyola University Manhattan College Manhattanville College Marist College Miami University Mitchell College Monmouth University Mt. Saint Mary College Mt. Saint Mary's University Nebraska University New York Institute of Technology Northeastern University Ohio State University Pace University Pennsylvania State University Philadelphia University Providence College
Quinnipiac University Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Rice University Roger Williams University Sacred Heart University Saint Anselm College Saint Joseph's University Salisbury University Salve Regina University Seton Hall University Siena College Southern Connecticut State University Southern New Hampshire University Springfield College St. John's University St. Thomas Aquinas College Stony Brook University SUNY -Albany SUNY – Brockport SUNY - Buffalo SUNY – Oneonta SUNY - Oswego SUNY - Potsdam Temple University The College of Saint Rose The College of Westchester Towson University Tufts University Tulane University UCLA Union College University of Connecticut University of Delaware University of Hartford University of Maryland University of Massachusetts University of Miami University of Michigan University of Nebraska University of New Haven University of Notre Dame University of Pittsburgh University of Rhode Island University of Richmond University of Scranton University of Virginia US Naval Academy Utah State University Villanova University Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University West Chester University of Pennsylvania West Virginia University Westchester Community College Western New England University Worcester Polytechnic Institute Xavier University York College of Pennsylvania
Voyages work experiences in the future so that our students can practice the skills they’re learning in the real work environment and translate them into employment,” he said. Parents of special education students learned about the SACC in a recent Special Education PTA meeting, Mr. Salatte said. This school year, the district adopted an inclusive education model that provides students with disabilities services, to the fullest extent, in general education classrooms. The model ultimately brings support services to the student rather than moving the student to the services, ensuring that children learn and collaborate together and that teaching strategies are adapted to provide high-quality learning outcomes for all students in the general education environment.
New Certification for Special Ed Students Starting next school year, the individualized education program (IEP) for special education students with severe disabilities will be replaced with the Skills and Career Education Credential (SACC). The SACC is a new state mandated commencement certificate similar to the diploma issued by school districts for students who are eligible to take the New York State Alternate Assessment. The SACC goes into effect on July 1 and will be rolled out in two phases beginning in the 2013-14 school year. The credential is designed to support students with severe disabilities in becoming independent to the fullest extent possible once they exit school, said John Salatte, the district’s Special Education Director. “All kids need to be prepared to enter the world of post-secondary education and work and the state decided that the IEP diploma was not really effective in supporting students in obtaining employment.” To earn the Skills and Career Education Credential, eligible students must participate in career inventories (an assessment of students’ vocational abilities and their interests), vocational training, including internships at potential job sites, and resume preparation. Additionally, special education teachers in the district will begin teaching a new adaptive daily living course at VMS. This will be a pre-vocational course that teach-
es both daily living and employment skills that will include both the hard and soft skills of employment, such as how to make change, organize tasks, communicate effectively, interview for a job, and work as a team member.
Pairing Up with Partners The SACC rollout in Valhalla will be a partnership that includes students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors and businesses in the community who can potentially provide internships, job training and employment to eligible students, Mr. Salatte said. “We will be looking to partner with businesses in the community to develop
Perfect Timing With the new state Common Core Learning Standards now in effect for all students, the timing was right to fully integrate the district and to merge special education with general education, he said. “All students will be expected to learn the material covered in the Common Core.” Learning requirements for students who are eligible for the SACC also will be Common Core-based, he said. “There’s a uniform set of standards, so it’s great timing to have our identified students seamlessly merge into general education because they’re all headed for the same objective. “I think there’s a new definition of normal,” he said about the changes. “But from what I’ve seen from the staff, parents and the community, there’s no doubt in my mind that our kids will be able to achieve what they need to achieve to lead an independent, happy and healthy life.”
Fan Us on Facebook, Follow Dr. Myers on Twitter Check out the district’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages for the latest news, photos and tweets from Schools Superintendent Dr. Brenda Myers. These three social media tools, along with the District website, will help you keep current with district happenings. Valhalla can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/valhallaschools https://twitter.com/BmyersBrenda
Voyages Sports Booster Club: Raising the Bar for Valhalla Athletics They may dress up for fun like fearsome Vikings from time to time, but the leaders of Valhalla’s Sports Booster Club have anything but plunder and pillage on their minds.
To complete the refurbishment this summer, the gym will be repainted and the ventilation system improved under the district’s energy performance improvement contract with Johnson Controls Inc., a global company that creates products, services and solutions to optimize the energy and operational efficiencies of buildings.
In fact, the group is all about building, nurturing and supporting students through athletics, having raised more than $70,000 in less than three years to benefit the district’s K-12 athletic programs, fund scholarships and captain’s lunches, and rebuild the Kensico School snack stand.
The contract covers all of Valhalla’s school buildings and will include the installation of energy efficient lighting, windows, air conditioners, boilers and burners, motors and transformers, and the weatherization of each building, among other proposed measures.
The icing on the cake, at least as far as Jamie Block, the district’s Athletics Director is concerned, is the VMHS weight room.
“We’re extremely grateful to the Boosters for everything they’ve done,” Mr. Block said.
A Quarter Century of Support
The Boosters have injected more than $20,000 since 2010 into its refurbishment, outfitting it piece-by-piece with modern exercise equipment so that student athletes, and kids and teachers who just want to work out, have a place to go that’s clean and safe. For years, the school’s weight room was made up of a mish-mash of rusting, donated equipment, some pieces so old that they had become dangerous to use. The concrete floor also was a hazard. “I gave the Boosters a tour of the weight room and they were shocked,” Mr. Block said. Sandy Riguzzi and Theresa Colantuno, copresidents of the SBC, made a commitment to refurbish the weight room, and in 2010, rubber flooring was purchased and laid down. Old equipment was removed and replaced with state-of-the-art Life Fitness machines, the same you would find in any member-paid gym in the county.
Coach Kevin Martins gives student Nasir Rashad a hand using the new crossover cable machine.
Cardio Upgrade “We had no cardio machines,” Mr. Block said, pointing out the two new energy-efficient, self-charging elliptical machines the Boosters were able to buy at a discount for about $3,100 each. A student favorite is the new Life Fitness crossover cable machine, which allows users to do a variety of weightlifting exercises that replicate different motions used in such sports as tennis, golf and baseball. “It’s great for students who are rehabilitating from an injury,” Mr. Block said.
Sports Boosters board members gave it their all in January for Jolablot, a Viking tradition celebrating the end of winter and the arrival of spring. The fundraiser helps support K-12 athletics programs. Back row, from left: Terry Sullivan, Anthony Santamorena and Mike Sullivan. Front row, from left: Sandy Riguzzi, Theresa Colantuno and Patty Feeney.
The school purchased one recumbent bike and one upright bike, giving students more cardio workout options. In the coming months, mirrors will be installed and a final piece of cardio equipment purchased by the Boosters will be added. 9
The Boosters have been supporting Valhalla athletics for more than 25 years, primarily raising money for scholarships. The SBC raises funds as hosts of the annual homecoming pasta dinner, through snack stand sales and sales of Viking logoed clothing, admission charges to special events, and 50/50 raffles. “We’ve stepped it up,” Ms. Riguzzi said. “Because of districtwide budget cuts, we’re trying to raise more money to fill the gaps.” Scholarships in past years have generally ranged from $250 to $500, but have been raised to $1,000, a more realistic sum that helps a college-bound student purchase a quality laptop. All schools recently completed a wish list of physical education items for Mr. Block that Ms. Riguzzi said the Boosters will fill. One of the bigger items is a press box for the football field. Equipment and supplies for physical education classes, an indoor pitching mound, better outside storage facilities, spirit items for outdoors, signage, and additional equipment for the fitness center also made the list. And over the next five years, the SBC has committed to paying the stipend for a teacher to coach intramural sports for middle school students for six-week stints, two to three days a week. The program would include two weeks each of three different sports. “I’m a big proponent of keeping kids busy with sports so that they stay out of trouble,” Ms. Riguzzi said. “Fitness and healthy competition is good for students.”
Voyages A Message from the Superintendent Dear Valhalla Parents and Community Members, Over the past six months, the Board of Education, Leadership Team and I have completed a comprehensive budget development process. Our efforts focused on the key priorities of the district and on one critical question: How do we preserve basic services and give our students the learning opportunities they need to thrive in a global community? The 2013 -14 budget development was a complex challenge. Just like many of our families, we face increasing costs and needs—and decreasing revenues. I believe, however, that we have managed to balance the needs of our students with the fiscal realities of our community. We have drafted a strong 2013 -14 budget that is a response to three key priorities: • Supporting the needs of our students based on the needs of a 21st century learner; • Building long-term financial stability and sustainability for the district; and • Providing our taxpayers with a budget that is below the maximum allowable levy limit. The Valhalla Union Free School District is dedicated to providing every student with a comprehensive public education. Our enrichment and intervention models are balanced with a strong academic program and our students have a full range of learning opportunities, including college preparation, visual and performing arts, and athletics. Our programs will continue to thrive under this budget. Our district is highly efficient and cost-effective. We have worked to manage our resources in these difficult financial times. We are very aware that our community is struggling with the cost of high taxes and we appreciate your continued support of our programs. We have used a portion of our limited resources to fund reserve accounts and have refinanced our capital debt. These savings will help us mediate increases to the retirement contributions and future Financial Challenge tax certiorari expenses. Our Energy Performance Contract will improve the quality of Our District is facing two large financial hardships: facilities without raising taxes. Please take time to visit our website (valhallaschools.org) and review the budget presentations and information posted there. Join us for a public review of the budget on May 14 at 7 p.m. in the VMHS cafeteria. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Working together, we will continue to fulfill our mission. The Valhalla UFSD is dedicated to every child…stimulating learning, developing values and cultivating understanding. Sincerely,
sts ing Co Increas
$ e Revenu g n i s a e Decr
Dr. Brenda Myers Superintendent of Schools
Our Guiding Principles in Preparing the 2013-14 Budget On behalf of the Valhalla Union Free School District Board of Education, Superintendent and Administrative Team, these are our guiding principles for budget development and financial processes:
1. We are completely and unwaveringly committed to serving the interests of students. 2. We are committed to exercising care and good judgment in managing resources with which we are entrusted. 3. We are committed to conducting our business in an open, objective and professional manner. 4. We are committed to future-focused planning and constant improvement. 10
Voyages Where the Money Comes From
Property Tax Levy
Other Receipts 4.6% $2,076,811
Appropriated Fund Balance 1.4% $650,000
State Aid 8.2% $3,713,627
Appropriated Fund Balance
Other Payments in Lieu of Taxes
Non-property Taxes - County
Day School Tuition
Use of Money & Property
Refund of Prior Yearâ€™s Expenses
Interfund Transfer Capital Fund
Property Tax Levy 85.9% $39,100,915
Where the Money Goes
Expenditures Transfers 1% $473,811
Benefits 24.6% $11,202,108
Salaries 48.8% $22,235,376
Debt Service 3.4% $1,570,570
BOCES 7.1% $3,232,550
Supplies 1.9% $874,266
Tuitions 1.9% $855,453
Transportation 5.8% $2,632,446
Contract Services 5.4% $2,464,773
Voyages Budget Questions & Answers Q. What are the budget development priorities?
curriculum and instructional practices, performancebased assessments, and a new partnership with Tri-States Consortium and the Value Added Research Center to assist us with our focus on continuous improvement.
• Strategic planning • Improving student performance • Maintaining facilities and capital assets
Q. What is the impact on the school district from state aid and state mandates?
• Communication/public information, technology integration, fiscal stability and efficiency
This year, our district was facing a massive loss in state aid. We were fortunate that our area legislators supported our need for state aid and restored all of our High Tax Aid and a portion of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). Even with these restorations, the district lost $706,154 to GEA and $2,711,522 over four years. This loss, coupled with the new tax levy limit, continues to impact our revenues while expenses are increasing.
Q. What is the district doing to be more cost-effective and efficient? We are currently using three core strategies to bring down costs while maintaining quality programs: cost elimination, program restructuring and building partnerships. • We have focused on our facility needs because moving forward, this can be an expensive driver for our school.
Additionally, pension contributions and healthcare premiums have been surging at an uncontrollable rate. In planning for the 2013 -14 budget, our teacher’s retirement contribution alone has increased by more than $800,000. Over three years, our retirement contributions and health insurance increases have cost the district more than $3 million.
• We have developed an Energy Performance Contract to help improve the energy costs of our buildings and to facilitate necessary repairs. • We have renegotiated and rebid all contracts. • We have cost savings from employee retirements, staffing changes and restructuring positions.
Districts have been forced to implement a wide range of unfunded state mandates. This year alone, the district spent more than $300,000 to implement the newly required Common Core Standards and teacher and principal evaluation systems. This includes data maintenance, training and testing costs. NYS schools have more mandates than any other state (i.e., Wick’s Law, Triborough, Special Education, etc.).
• We have reduced special education tuition costs from out-of-district placements while providing improved learning opportunities for all of our students. • We have refinanced our capital debt, saving the district more than $4 million over the next 20 years. • We have moved core services, like technology, professional development, copying and student management software to BOCES in order to maximize aide reimbursements.
History of Aid Lost to Gap Elimination Adjustments
Q. What is the overall impact to services or programs included in this budget? We reallocated one elementary teaching position to provide Academic Intervention Services (AIS) for students in grades 4-6 who are struggling to meet the new Common Core Standards.
Total to Date
This budget also continues our focus on 21st century learning with the implementation of a wireless learning environment, Common Core Standards aligned with
$2,711,522 CONTINUED ON PAGE 13
Voyages elementary enrollment is decreasing and we expect that class sizes should stabilize between 10 0 and 110. With the nearby Holy Name of Jesus school closing, we anticipate about 20 students entering the district.
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 12
Enrollment Trends 2000 1900 1800 1700 1600 1500 1400 1300 1200 1100 1000
Q. What is the proposed tax levy limit for Valhalla UFSD for the 2013-14 budget? Based on the state required eight-step formula, the proposed tax levy limit is 3.89 percent. We received an exclusion for the increasing costs for our Teacher Retirement System (TRS) payments. Our proposed levy limit is $100,000 below the maximum allowable levy limit.
1557 1515 1523 1528 1511 1519 ◆ 1543 1536 ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ 1438 1481 ◆ ◆ 1321 ◆ ◆
Q. What happens if the budget is not passed by a majority of voters?
If the budget does not pass after two public votes, the district will be held to a zero levy increase. The district would need to cut an additional $1,464,421 in expenses from the budget.
Q. What is the projected enrollment trend for our district? Our enrollment peaked last year. The larger classes are moving into the middle and high school. Our
CONTINUED ON PAGE 14
A school district adds these exclusions to its tax levy limit without triggering the need for 60 percent voter approval.
The Three Tax Levy Numbers Under New York State’s Tax Levy Cap
2. TAX LEVY LIMIT $37,531,987
With all the talk of New York’s new 2 percent tax cap, it may come as a surprise to learn that each school district in the state will present three separate tax levy numbers this spring, as part of their compliance with the new legislation.
Essentially, the tax levy limit tells a school district how much community support it will need to pass a budget with its proposed tax levy. For school districts, the tax levy limit is the highest allowable tax levy (before exclusions) that a school district can propose as part of its annual budget and needs the approval of only a simple majority of voters (50 percent plus 1) to pass the budget. If a district proposes a budget with a tax levy amount (before exclusions) above this limit, it will need the approval of a supermajority of voters (60 percent) to pass the budget. School districts are required to report their calculated tax levy limit to the state comptroller by March 1.
And chances are good that none of your school district’s three tax levy numbers will be exactly 2 percent. That’s because the 2 percent that you hear about is just one part of a complex formula that school districts must use to calculate two of their tax levy numbers: the tax levy limit and the maximum allowable tax levy.
3. PROPOSED TAX LEVY $39,100,915
1. MAXIMUM ALLOWABLE TAX LEVY $39,200,915
The third tax levy number is arguably the most important. It’s the tax levy called for by a school district’s proposed budget. By definition, the tax levy is the total amount of money to be raised locally by a municipality (i.e., school district) after factoring in all other available revenues.
The maximum allowable tax levy is the tax levy limits PLUS certain exclusions. Taxes levied to fund the following expenses are excluded from the tax levy limit: • Voter-approved local capital expenditures
If a school district’s proposed tax levy minus exclusions is less than or equal to the district’s calculated tax levy limit, the district will need the approval of a simple majority of voters to pass its budget.
• Increases in the state-mandated employer contribution rates for teacher and employee pension systems that exceed two percentage points • Court orders/judgments resulting from tort actions of any amount that exceeds 5 percent of a district’s current levy
TOTAL BUDGET $45,541,353 13
Voyages CONTINUED FROM PAGE 13
Q. What are the equalization rates and how do they affect our taxes? The equalization rate is the state’s measure of a municipality’s level of property assessment. The New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) is responsible for determining the equalization rate per town. Equalization is intended to adjust locally assessed property values to an ever-changing real estate market.
Property Value and Tax Levy Apportionment $39,100,915 North Castle 31%
It is common for school districts to be comprised of more than one town or municipality. Our district is comprised of parts of Greenburgh, Mount Pleasant and North Castle. Each town may have different levels of property assessment. School districts are required to distribute their taxes among the municipalities within their boundaries. In order for a school district to fairly distribute its property tax levy (the total amount of school taxes to be collected), the levy needs to be divided in proportion to the total market value for each town. This allows for an equitable distribution of taxes based upon the market value of each community. CONTINUED ON PAGE 15
Mount Pleasant 48%
Estimated Tax Rate Per $1,000
2013-14 Estimate Change
Mount Pleasant $1,217.72 $1,251.00 2.73% North Castle
Estimated Tax Rates based on Estimated Taxable Assessed Property Values as of 02/26/13
District Transportation Policy The 2013-14 budget will continue the District’s policy of providing transportation for children who reside at least one-half mile and no more than 15 miles of the school of attendance. 14
Voyages CONTINUED FROM PAGE 14
Q. How has the district's total budget changed over the last six years?
% Budget to Budget Increases 2008-2014 Percent Increase
2.15% 2% 1%
0% 0 20
-2 11 20
Valhalla, Your Letters Made All the Difference! Thanks to a dedicated team of parents, the community, and more than 1,000 advocacy letters that were signed and sent to New York State legislators and the governor in March, the Valhalla school district received a 4.7 percent increase in state aid, a complete restoration of high tax aid, and a partial increase to the Gap Elimination Adjustment for school year 2013-14. This means that the district will now be able to keep an Academic Intervention teacher on staff to assist students with the new Common Core assessments while lowering the tax levy and decreasing the use of reserves, which will lighten taxpayers’ burden. Valentina Belvedere, a member of both the district’s Board of Education and the Special Education PTA, organized the Valhalla Advocacy Committee, handpicking a team of nine dedicated parents who got out 1,000 letters in just three weeks in March. “The moms on this committee are powerful advocates and passionate about our kids’ education in the same way that I am,” she said. The team used a PTA sports kickoff in March as a platform for jump-starting the letter-writing campaign, and parents stepped up to the plate, signing 300 copies of the advocacy letter in two hours. Mrs. Belvedere divided the hard copies among area legislators and the governor’s office, inserting them into red, white and blue envelopes to catch their attention when the packages arrived in their Albany offices.
Parents and community members responded to a districtwide e-mail blast inviting them to e-mail or snail mail the advocacy letters, which are available for download on the school district’s website. The letters impacted the state budget adoption because they made representatives aware of the Valhalla story and the financial struggle the district was facing, Mrs. Belvedere said, noting that legislators personally confirmed that the letter-writing campaign made a difference. “Our advocacy committee is a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “Our Committee members and parents are well-organized and professional. I’m very proud to be part of this committee. We won, our kids gained a victory out of it, and we’re ready for the next step.” Valhalla also is a member of the Lower Westchester Consortium, an advocacy group comprised of school districts in lower Westchester 15
3 1 20
County. Superintendents, including Valhalla’s Dr. Brenda Myers, as well as school Board members, sit on the consortium to discuss critical issues for school districts and how to address them. The consortium will focus on one or two issues for the next letter-writing campaign, Mrs. Belvedere said. Over the next few weeks, more advocacy materials that will help inform educational policy decisions on the Congressional level will be available for signature. Valhalla will continue to keep up the pressure regarding unfunded mandates and increased testing requirements. “Dr. Myers walked every advocacy avenue possible for our district,” she said. “She has been a strong voice for Valhalla from here, all the way up to Albany, and at every meeting in between. The Superintendents and Consortium members throughout Westchester pulled it together and accomplished what they set out to do. That’s why there was a victory.”
Voyages 2013-2014 Proposed Budget Summary by Category Description
Board of Education
Chief School Administration
Auditing Services Treasurer
Public Information Operations & Maintenance Central Data Processing Insurance
School Association Dues
Judgements and Claims
BOCES Administration Charge Sewer District Charges Curriculum Development School Supervision Regular Day School
School Library & AV
Computer Assisted Technology
Employees' Benefit Fund
Tax Anticipation Note Interest
MANDATED CATEGORICAL BREAKDOWN OF 2013 - 2014 BUDGET PROGRAM $36,456,339
Voyages Bullying Incident Report Now Available Online Everyone is in agreement that all students have a right to a safe and nurturing school environment. Thanks to the Dignity for All Students Act, which became state law on July 1, Valhalla students and parents can take comfort in knowing that administrators are tackling the problem of bullying, harassment and cyber-bullying with policies that will stop it in its tracks.
Community Members: Sign Up for E-mail Alerts Valhalla community members who don’t have children attending school can still get important messages and updates by signing up for the district’s Connect Ed e-mail alert service. A proactive bullying prevention system has always been in place in Valhalla, but the law sets things in concrete with regard to student expectations and behavior. The state also now legally requires schools to collect data regarding incidents of bullying, harassment and discrimination and to submit Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports (VADIR) on an annual basis. Anyone, in fact – a bullied student, a witness, parents, teachers, even a school bus driver – can file a bullying incident report, and a Dignity Act Coordinator
(the administrative team at each school) will respond within 48 hours. The online incident form can be found on the district website: www.valhallaschools.org. Click on the Dignity for All tab on the top right hand corner and scroll down to find the Bullying Incident Reporting Form. Or, simply type in this URL in your browser: http://www.valhallaschools.org/forms/ incident/
Hosted by Blackboard Connect, the service provides parents and the community with news about Valhalla events, messages from the Superintendent of Schools, nonemergency announcements and other items of interest. The e-mail service complements the District’s existing phone alert system. To register, visit the district website at www.valhallaschools.org Look for the “About Us” tab at the top of the page and click on the “E-Notification Service” link. Next, click on the “Sign Me Up” link to create an account.
For more information… Learn more about the district and the proposed budget for 2013-2014 by logging onto our website at
Once you’ve completed sign-up, you’ll be able to log in and add e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers and other devices where you’d like to be reached. Under “Subscriptions,” you can select the school building(s) and type of notifications (Emergency, Outreach or both) you’d like to receive. Having trouble? Contact the District Office at 914-683-5040.
Voyages Literacy Love: Learning Theorist Prepares VMS Teachers for Language Arts Instruction Methods for incorporating literacy instruction into subjects like social studies and science aren’t necessarily evident, especially for teachers who are not trained to teach English language arts. But some key strategies learned from a literacy expert are helping VMS content teachers make the shift. The support of critical reading and writing in content areas is the new normal under the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS), an innovative set of benchmarks intended to improve academic standards in the 46 states that have adopted them. “It’s a shift for everyone,” VMS principal Dr. Steven Garcia said. “Content teachers have become responsible for reading and writing just like English teachers, but they may not have the confidence or knowledge base to do it, so we’re trying to provide them with strategies they can use.”
Two Days with Dr. Dove Dr. Jennifer Dove, director of Literacy and the Humanities for Binghamton City School District, held a two-day workshop over the summer for seven non-English middle school teachers at the request of Superintendent Dr. Brenda Myers, who saw an opportunity to give teachers a leg up on the Common Core. “Dr. Dove brings to us the best research and instructional strategies available,” she said. “Even if the Common Core went away, it’s still about instruction and 21st century learning.” The teachers included John Hayes and Steve D’Ascoli (eighth grade social studies), Nori Lustig (seventh grade social studies), Jennifer Granich (seventh grade science), Lorna McKenzie (middle school reading specialist), Michelle Della Sala (six grade social studies) and Margo Doran (special eduMichelle Della Sala cation). “I think the superintendent has done a great job in bringing Dr. Dove here so that we can push the envelope,” Dr. Garcia said. “We know we have to work on assessment in reading and writing and she had the foresight to choose this opportunity for teachers to develop their reading and
writing practices with students. I think this has really helped these teachers to use some of those skills.”
Adaptable Strategies Dr. Dove taught the teachers simple and fun strategies they can adapt for each grade level to infuse literacy instruction in their subject areas and enhance students’ learning experience. Sixth grade social studies teacher Michelle Della Sala, for example, likes to use a vocabulary-building strategy Dr. Dove calls “Can of Words.” Each social studies unit includes a new set of vocabulary words, which Ms. Della Sala posts on a word wall and writes on individual index cards. She has students read a selection in their textbook and come up with their own definition for new words based on their reading. Over the course of each unit, she’ll periodically pull out index cards and have students give the definition or use it in a sentence. “This helps them to build on their knowledge and not learn the words in isolation,” she said. “All of the words build upon each other throughout the different units.” During the workshop, Ms. Della Sala and her colleagues had their ah-ha moment, she said, when Dr. Dove handed them a piece of writing and asked them to highlight the important information in it. After spending a few minutes reading the text and trying to figure out which facts to highlight, the group, puzzled, gave up.
In a Student’s Shoes Dr. Dove told them to imagine how their students feel when they’re asked to read a textbook selection or article and do the same. Then she asked the teachers to reread the text as if they were homebuyers and pull out key facts through that lens. Words in the text like ‘tall hedges,’ ‘landscaped yard,’ ‘new stone siding’ and ‘newly painted,’ immediately jumped out as the key information. 18
Ms. Della Sala did the same exercise with her students and the results were phenomenal. Students were able to easily pinpoint the key information she asked for when they had a filter. “They need to have a lens to focus through to pull out important details when they read,” she said. “Because I did this exercise with them, my students now know how to pay attention to headings and subheadings and to pull out ideas from within the text to make note-taking easier.” Vocabulary-building also is at the core of teacher Nori Lustig’s seventh grade American History class. To engage students in reading, Ms. Lustig uses what she calls a Vocabulary, Vision and Question Chart, Nori Lustig or V.V.Q. Chart for short, that helps them to attack a section in their textbook.
Learning by Doing Students search out new vocabulary words—Dr. Dove describes them as magnet words—in a reading and document them on the chart. Ms. Lustig has students write their own definitions for each new word, she said, because the glossary was written by an adult and the definitions have little meaning for them. “I encourage students to read the paragraph and figure out what a new word means with the help of context clues,” she said. Ms. Lustig also includes visualization and writing exercises in her classes, having students scribe diary entries for a historical figure they’re learning about in a particular unit, for example. And rather than essays, she has them focus on paragraph writing. “If they can write a good paragraph, they’ll be able put well-written paragraphs together in an essay,” she said. “The workshop validated some of the things I was already doing,” Ms. Lustig said. “Dr. Dove gave them a name, but what was important for everyone was to find strategies to use to help students get more engaged in reading a non-fiction text because, unlike in language arts, we’re not reading stories.”
Voyages Birds of a Feather
been great seeing them up close.”
The birds, in all colors, sizes and singing their own special song, come every day to their favorite dining spot – an enormous feeder filled with seed – staked in the grassy area outside of KS teacher Patrick Ward’s fourth grade classroom. Inside, secret observers gaze in wonder out the big window at their feathered friends, recognizing each bird by their unique plumage. The students know the birds by heart and have become the Kensico School’s resident experts on everything from sparrows to hummingbirds. After the birds flew south in the fall, the students saw a limited number of birds who spend their winter in the north, so they’re eagerly awaiting spring, when birds migrate and return, like magic, to their native habitat.
The students went online to research the bird of their choice, took notes and wrote a five-paragraph essay about their bird. They also drew and colored their own image of the bird to accompany their project. Kaitie Essing said she chose the cardinal because she liked the bright red plumage of the male so much. What surprised her the most is that the cardinal, which appears small from a distance, is actually about eight inches long. “I knew a little bit about the cardinal before, but found out a lot more when I started seeing them at the feeder and did the research for my report,” she said.
“I’ll probably see one in the spring, when the flowers grow again,” Julia Serena said about the hummingbird who, she learned, weighs less than a penny and uses its long, needle-like beak to drink the sweet nectar from flowers. The young bird-watchers have been observing their feathered pals since September, when Mr. Ward, an avid birdwatcher and naturalist, set the feeder up. The nearby woodlands behind the school attract many birds because of the safety and cover of the tree canopy.
Mr. Ward decided to turn the students’ delight in learning about birds into a lesson that incorporates technology and non-fiction writing, both key components of the new Common Core Learning Strategies.
A hawk paid a visit to the class feeder in December.
“It took a few weeks for the birds to find the feeder,” he said. “The kids got excited when one or two birds started coming and then more, but it’s really going to get exciting in the spring. The birds are only 12 feet from our window and it’s
Birdwatchers Danny Tammaro, Kaitie Essing and Julia Serena have been looking forward to spotting some feathered friends this spring.
Classmate Danny Tammaro chose the blue jay because it’s often seen in the winter, his favorite season. “When it sings, it says ‘jay,’ so that’s why they call it the blue jay,” he said. “Blue jays also make me feel happy because blue is my favorite color.”
The pileated woodpecker sports a bright red mohawk.
Voyages Valhalla Union Free School District 316 Columbus Avenue Valhalla, NY 10595
Non-Profit Org. U.S. Postage PAID White Plains, NY Permit No.9501
Board of Education LaVerne Clark, President Joseph Garbus, Vice President James Adams Valentina Belvedere Ronald Cavallo Alan Higgs Robert Ierace Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brenda Myers School Business Official Christina Howe Newsletter Writer and Editor Suzanne Davis Contributing Photographer Susan Rossi This district does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, creed, religion, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability in its educational programs and employment practices.
Remember to Vote! Tuesday, May21 Voting hours
Will You be Away on May 21? • Applications must be completed to receive an absentee ballot. • Completed applications must be received by the School
Supplemental Budget Information The following supplemental budget information is available upon request:
District Clerk by, or prior to, 4 p.m. on May 14, 2013, if
• School Academic Report Cards
6 a.m. to 8 a.m.
the ballot is to be mailed to the voter, or on, or prior to,
• Property Tax Report Card
4 p.m. on May 20, 2013, if the ballot is to be picked
• Salary Disclosure Notice
up personally by the voter.
Please contact a building principal or Christina Howe, School Business Official, at 914-683-5040.
2 p.m. to 9 p.m. See Page 1 for voting locations
• Absentee ballots must be received by the School District Clerk no later than 5 p.m. on May 21, 2013.
What’s on the Ballot: 1. A proposition appropriating $45,541,353 to meet the estimated expenditures for school purposes for the fiscal year 2013-14, said sum to be raised by tax upon the taxable property of the district. 2. Election of Board of Education members to two open seats: LaVerne Clark, running unopposed for a three-year term to fill the vacancy created by the expiration of the term of LaVerne Clark. Joseph Garbus, running unopposed for a three-year term to fill the vacancy created by the expiration of the term of Joseph Garbus. 20