Capital Project Construction Speeds Up

By Jann Wiswall

All eyes were on area schools Tuesday when state assessments of student performance in grades 3-8 began for the 2014-15 school year.

As many Erie County schools became political stages for legislators, teachers’ representatives and others who object to the testing, its implications and the Governor, in Ellicottville, teachers and administrators were preparing students for a positive experience, stocking classrooms with water and snacks and encouraging students to do their personal best.

Ninety-three percent of ECS students were in school to begin the assessments Tuesday, the school board was told during its board meeting that evening. While the opt-out rate of seven percent was higher than last year, Superintendent Mark Ward felt it could have been worse with all the negative media coverage, and could well get worse in coming years.

“When legislators and teachers [in Erie County] are keeping their own kids home, you know it is not about the students. This has been a huge disservice to the kids,” Ward commented.

“Testing is a part of life,” he said. “If you want a driver’s license, you take a test. When you go to college, you take tests. Students need to know how to take them.” And, he added, “How are we going to measure your child’s progress without them?”

While all acknowledge that the assessments are far from perfect and the rollout has been less than ideal, Elementary Principal Connie Poulin commented that she is a huge proponent of assessments as the best way to gauge performance. She is determined to focus on celebrating them with the kids after testing ends with rewards and encouragement.

“The kids are trying so hard and are taking our advice. Several came to me this morning to say they had gone to bed early last night and had a good breakfast this morning so that they would be ready,” she said.

In other business, Board Chair Carl Calarco briefed the board on construction progress of the school’s addition. Workers are moving as fast as they can to catch up after winter’s delays, even using giant electric blankets to thaw the ground in preparation for pouring concrete floors. The outline of the entire new addition is now clearly visible as walls for the locker room are going up and connections to the old building are being made.

Calarco also said that contractors are now in the midst of working with teachers and administrators to make decisions about the small details – from gym mats and cameras to weight room equipment and signage. They are also having success in cutting costs in some areas in order to add some items back in that were cut for budget reasons.

Ward said he has been looking at weight room equipment options and hopes there will be enough money to be able to equip the space for the long-term. Several members of the board thought that a well-equipped weight room could be a benefit for the entire community. The board will continue to look at all options.

During her report to the board, Poulin said she is developing suggested summer reading lists (which will be optional) for students and is working with the Ellicottville Memorial Library and the school library to ensure the selected books are readily available for borrowing.

“We know that kids will be better next school year if they read through the summer, she said, but parents sometimes don’t necessarily know what books meet or challenge their children’s reading levels. This will help them make appropriate choices,” she said.

During the meeting, the board also heard a presentation from French teacher Delores Whistler regarding plans for the 2016 student trip to France. While many details are available, the exact dates of the trip are not – the 2015-16 school calendar must be completed and approved by the board (possibly by the next regular board meeting) before the trip dates can be set.

The next regular meeting of the Ellicottville School Board is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the high school library. All are welcome.