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Canton Central School.

Schools worry about the costs of Race to the Top

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Schools are getting ready to open for the year. And this fall most have some new obligations. New York was awarded nearly $700 million from the federal government as part of President Obama's Race to the Top education program. Now districts are gearing up to put the new mandates into practice.

Stephen Todd is assistant superintendent of the St. Lawrence and Lewis BOCES, which serves 18 school districts in Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. He says there are three major pieces to Race to the Top.

First, changing the core curriculum in math and English classes. "Instead of trying to teach a mile wide and an inch deep, let's teach what's essential and teach it really, really well. Instead of trying to read everything under the sun, let's make sure what we are reading, we are reading carefully and closely and deeply."

Second, says Todd: data analysis. In the past, he says, schools kept statistics about students and classrooms, but the analysis came only after the school year was over.

Todd says that's about to change: "Instead of doing an autopsy, let's do a physical. Part way through the year, we'll look at the patient. The individual student, the collective group, whether it be classroom or building. Let's see what's working, what's not working. Let's make mid course corrections, that allow us if there are problems to fix those and save the patient. So we're not doing an autopsy later, we're treating the patient as it goes along."

The third major piece of race to the top has to do with keeping closer track of teacher performance. Julie Grant visited the Canton Central Schools to find out what's changing with evaluations, and she found that both teachers and administrators are concerned about the cost in time and money.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

I’m in the hallway at Canton’s High School, trying to talk with Viola Schmid-Doyle about Race to the Top.  She’s worried about the coming school year.  Her job as Dean of Students at Canton is being cut to part-time.  She already has plenty to do.  It takes her 15 minutes to walk just a few feet to her office: one student needs to talk about summer graduation, the teachers need her to help for a party – it’s one thing after another.  Finally we sit down. 

Schmid-Doyle explains that as Dean of Students, it’s her job to help the principal. 

"There’s a lot about monitoring of what’s going on, the pulse of what’s happening in the school.  Anticipating things, preventing problems before they become an issue..."

It’s a really long list.

Schmid-Doyle says the dean of students and principal work to keep social and family problems out of the classrooms, so teachers can focus on their lessons. 

This year, add in Race to the Top evaluations.

Up until now, teachers were evaluated one time every 3 years.  Starting this year, principals will evaluate teachers 3-times in one year. 

"That is an awful lot of time out of the day for an administrator.  They’re pretty much not in the halls, not available for disciplinary reasons, and make decisions about other things that need to happen in a building."

Canton Central has cut ten teaching and other jobs in recent years because of state budget cuts.   That’s why the Dean of Students job has been cut back.  Schmid-Doyle says it’s a perfect storm of too much to do, and not enough people to do it. 

"I could imagine a situation where a parent might come to the guidance office, because the guidance has been cut as well, to try to meet with a guidance counselor to try to talk about scheduling for their student, but at the same time there’s a crisis from a kid because there’s no one here.  Our nurses have been cut back as well, so we no longer have a nurse for the student to go to…so…yeah…it’s not going to be pretty."

Canton Superintendent Bill Gregory agrees -  Race to the Top is going to put more pressure on the staff.

"My greatest concern is our capacity to do it.  What is reasonable and where do we get to the point where the tipping point occurs where we’re not able to perform those responsibilities.  Because when something happens in the school, the principal has to be able to respond to that."

The schools are getting a little money from Race to the Top.  Canton is getting 17-thousand dollars a year.  Gregory says that’s not enough.

Stephen Todd, at the BOCES, says districts in St. Lawrence and Lewis Counties have to make this work, and not only because it’s New York state law:

"We have an obligation to our kids to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to make sure they’re college and career ready.  So I think if we’re not doing that, we’re letting our kids down." 

Supporters of the Race to the Top say evaluations will show which teachers are doing well, and which are ineffective in the classroom.

And it will give districts a tool to get rid of those bad teachers.

Tony Fiacco has been a teacher for 31-years.  He’s president of the Canton Teacher’s Association.  Fiacco says the previous education law, under President George Bush, was a disaster.  So, he’s ready to try something new.  Even though teacher’s unions have a reputation of resisting classroom evaluations, he says he doesn’t have a problem with Race to the Top.  At least, in theory.  But in practice, he’s skeptical:

"I’m afraid that in order to afford it, they’re going to have to let teachers go in order to be able to pay for these new evaluation processes that have been put into place."

Fiacco says fewer teachers, mean more students in each class.  And fewer programs. 

"When you have to eliminate programs whether it be sports programs or AP programs, or programs that have traditionally been offered, when you eliminate those, it’s just less opportunity for students."

Administrators say they’re working to find the balance.  The new education law does give districts some choices about what their evaluation system will look like.  The St. Lawrence- Lewis BOCEs is currently working with its 18 districts as they roll out their plans over the coming year.





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