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Policy changes worry NNY schools

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While local school officials know thousands of dollars have been allocated to their school districts through the federal Race to the Top program, there are still a lot of questions surrounding the money and the changes it will bring.

But one thing is clear: A statewide education shake-up is on the horizon.

"This is going to bring a fundamental shift in how we view education in New York," said Kenneth J. McAuliffe, superintendent of the Lowville Academy and Central School District. "This is the largest shift in my career, and it's going to be the most sweeping, far-reaching change in the last 30 years. There is a lot of work to be done."

New York was awarded $696 million in August in the competitive federal grant program Race to the Top. Districts would receive the money over four years. But along with that funding comes changes to common core standards, state assessments and teacher and administrator evaluations.

Implementing the changes will require a bargaining process at the district level among school boards, superintendents and unions to change the annual professional performance reviews for educators.

The bargaining will center on how teacher evaluations will be tied to student performance in union contracts, and whether the teachers with the best-performing students will be rewarded.

The change has some local teachers concerned, and it could change the way teachers work together or pit them against each other, said Carmine V. Inserra Jr., a teacher at Indian River Central School and president of the district's Education Association.

"I've heard many concerns from teachers," Mr. Inserra said. "If a teacher would be getting extra pay based on how their students do, wouldn't there be more of an incentive to put pressure on guidance for one student or not for another? It could also move away from collaboration. If a teacher has a dynamite lesson, are they still going to share it with a colleague now?"

"We know these things are coming down the pike and we have a pretty good relationship with our board," Mr. Inserra said. "We don't want that to change, but when it comes time to do that bargaining, we're definitely not going to agree to things that we don't think should be in place."

"Our current document is very effective and it works for us," South Jefferson Central School District Superintendent Jamie A. Moesel said. "We're hoping to be able to use the template of what we currently have and add the student achievement component in our discussions about this."

But there are still some unanswered questions. It isn't clear whether the process for removing teachers who are labeled "ineffective" under the new evaluation system will be expedited, or even how that would happen.

The state Education Department released allocations last week for specific school districts, but it could be a long time until the districts see their Race to the Top money. The state released a template and guidance Monday for school officials to consider before they submit their final plans to the state.

The plans must show how school officials plan to improve student achievement using objective data and numbers, Mr. McAuliffe said.

District officials still must send an "intent to submit" document to the state by Oct. 18, and state officials will submit those applications to the U.S. Department of Education in November.

"If this works out properly, there are supposed to be quarterly evaluations," Indian River Superintendent James Kettrick said. "That way there can be in-course changes to adjust deficiencies and get students up to the standards rather than postscript summer results. That will be a big change in the next few years."

Some of the funding will stay at the state level to further Regents reform projects, and $348 million will be divided among school districts and charter schools. Those funds can be used by school officials for new curriculum models, assessments and professional development.

There also will be network teams, which are small teams that will focus on curriculum, data analysis and assessments. Larger school districts will have their own teams, and smaller districts will contract the service through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

It could be a turbulent few years in the bargaining process to implement the new evaluation system, but it's a necessary change to stay competitive, Mr. McAuliffe said.

"Essentially, when you signed on for Race to the Top, you agreed to this statewide plan to use common core standards and data-based evaluations. This is very new in New York state," Mr. McAuliffe said.

"It's going to be a difficult transition for the next 36 to 48 months. But we're already on the clock, and if we want to compete in the global economy, we need to do more with science, math, technology and English language arts and link to international standards."


Federal Race to the Top money has been allocated to north country school districts. These numbers reflect the totals that school districts will receive over four years, according to the state Education Department:

Jefferson County

n Alexandria: $48,895
/ Belleville Henderson: $46,745
/ Carthage: $191,655
/ General Brown: $49,272
/ Indian River: $198,944
/ LaFargeville: $43,568
/ Lyme: $29,371
/ Sackets Harbor: $30,820
/ South Jefferson: $96,584
/ Thousand Islands: $49,709
/ Watertown: $432,244

Lewis County

n Beaver River: $70,361
/ Copenhagen: $42,866
/ Harrisville: $21,000
/ Lowville: $122,473
/ South Lewis: $106,453

St. Lawrence County

n Canton: $72,249
/ Clifton-Fine: $32,239
/ Colton-Pierrepont: $28,070
/ Edwards-Knox: $43,825
/ Gouverneur: $166,751
/ Hammond: $24,129
/ Hermon-DeKalb: $43,959
/ Heuvelton: $62,290
/ Lisbon: $54,706
/ Madrid-Waddington: $45,348
/ Massena: $197,546
/ Morristown: $34,197
/ Norwood-Norfolk: $81,072
/ Ogdensburg: $139,282
/ Parishville-Hopkinton: $29,174
/ Potsdam: $104,357
/ St. Lawrence: $77,324

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