School Renovation Designs Nearing Completion

By Jann Wiswall

ECS Superintendent Mark Ward and Middle/High School Principal Bob Miller joined some 2,000 students, parents, educators and legislators for a Summit for Smarter Schools at Kleinhan’s Music Hall in Buffalo on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

According to the Partnership for Smarter Schools, the sponsor of the summit, the organization is a grassroots effort “formed over the summer of 2012 for the purpose of studying the current set of New York State Education Department reform initiatives, including the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process and the system of state-mandated, high-stakes standardized assessments that form the basis for determining student progress.”

The partnership maintains that there is “overwhelming research that shows that the way NYSED is using student results on high-stakes testing is harmful to children, reduces the learning time for students by up to 30% of each school year, and can’t be used to accurately measure teacher effectiveness.”

Speakers at the event, including State Senator Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), generally agreed that “children in WNY and across the state are being overburdened by these standardized tests,” and that the tests are “having a detrimental impact on education.”

Ward noted that those in attendance at the summit are not against all testing, but most believed that there are ways to make testing “make more sense.”

“People there did understand the need for quantifying results, but most also felt that the schools have become testing institutions, not creative learning environments. We spend hours and hours testing our students, when we should be teaching them,” he said.

Ward noted that there is strong bipartisan support for addressing these issues with NYSED. The partnership, its members and area legislators intend to take the issue to Albany and work with policy makers to “implement testing and accountability systems that honor each child as more than a test score.”

As Dr. Mark Crawford, superintendent of West Seneca Central Schools, said, “The objective … is not to criticize the Commissioner of Education, but to begin an open dialogue about the proper role of testing and accountability in our schools. We have decades of research showing that labeling children with a number based on high-stakes tests doesn’t help them learn better, and that using student results from this type of testing to label teachers doesn’t help them become better teachers. There are successful research-based models available to us that we should be using instead.”

Capital Project Update

During the ECS board meeting on Oct. 1, Ward reported that the Capital Renovation Project is nearing the end of the design phase as the board prepares to submit the plan to the State Education Dept. for review on Nov. 1.

Working with the architects and project management team, the board and administration is refining the plans in minute detail in order to meet the school’s needs and the budget.

“We’re currently within the 3-5 percent margin of error we budgeted for,” said Ward. “We feel good about that. If we need to, we’ll find optional ways of doing things and bid some items separately in order to ensure we get in under budget.”

In addition to final design, the team is working on a detailed project staging plan that outlines each phase of construction during the project, from initial demolition to the last coats of paint.

Also during the meeting, Ward said the entire school participated in a lock-down drill on Sept. 26, which was observed by the State Police, the County Sheriff’s Office and the Town of Ellicottville police. These law enforcement officials will be meeting with the entire school staff on Oct. 11 to make recommendations on how to continually improve the process and enhance student safety based on their observations. In the spring, the school and law enforcement officials also are planning to simulate an emergency that requires getting students off site.

Ward also said that the school is cracking down on people who drive across school property to get to the athletic fields. He asked that people park in designated parking areas only; parking on grassy areas close to the field is permitted only for vehicles with handicap permits.

The next meeting of the ECS School Board will be Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the High School Library.