Emotions up, grad rate down at Fulton school board meeting

By Ashley M. Casey

Tuesday’s board of education meeting saw some tense moments with a discussion of lower testing and graduation rates and the resignation of a teacher.

In a lighter moment of the meeting, board president David Cordone and superintendent William Lynch awarded a diploma to Bob LaRock, a veteran of the Korean War.

“Bob would have graduated in 1953 had he not left high school to join the Marine Corps,” Lynch explained.

Several of LaRock’s family members were present for the occasion, which was made possible by Operation Recognition. This is a campaign that allows veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict to receive a high school diploma if they present satisfactory discharge papers.

Secondary assessment results

G. Ray Bodley High School principal Donna Parkhurst and department chairs presented the results of the 2012-2013 secondary assessments. Last year’s exams were graded on the 2005 standards, but the next set of exams will be based on the new Common Core standards.

Nate Fasulo, chair of English and social studies, explained the 14 percent drop in English Regents scores. Compared to 86 percent of students passing in 2012, 72 percent of students passed the English Regents in 2013. Fasulo attributed this drop to two factors.

He said the grade conversion chart has been adjusted by 4 percentage points to reflect the tougher Common Core standards that will be in place for next year’s tests.

Fasulo also said that the weather-related cancellation of school in January 2013 prevented approximately 3 to 5 percent of students from taking the English Regents in January, so students only had one chance to pass the test instead of two.

GRB has overhauled many aspects of the English department to boost test scores. Following the example of Oswego High School, 11th graders will take the English Regents in January 2014. In June, students will be required to take the Common Core test, and they may retake the Regents if they want to aim for a higher Regents score.

Students who require academic intervention services (AIS) have been pooled from three groups into one to allow teachers to better meet their needs.

English teachers also will be instructing other departments’ teachers on close reading, or a careful, detailed interpretation of a passage, to help students with the learning style required by the Common Core.

The January test cancellation also greatly affected math scores for AIS students, math chair Penny Downing explained. However, the passing rate for Regents Integrated Algebra increased 11 percent.

Integrated Algebra students in eighth and ninth grade will take both the Common Core and Regents tests in June. The higher score will count in the students’ transcripts.

Geometry and Algebra 2/Trigonometry scores dipped, but Downing said that Applied Geometry and Applied Trigonometry students were included in the test results.

Downing called the inclusion of these students a step forward because previously they had not had a chance to be tested, which kept them from seeking an Advanced Regents diploma. She said trigonometry was essential for success in college math classes as well.

Science chair Chris Leece presented mainly stable numbers, especially for chemistry and physics, but the passing rate for the Earth Science Regents dropped to 52 percent.

“We have some places where we’re teaching far beyond what is expected, and in other places we have some gaps,” Leece said.

He added earth science teachers at Fulton Junior High School and GRB are meeting regularly and following common planning and pacing guides to keep students on track.

Fasulo’s report on social studies was brighter. Fulton students scored the best in Oswego County and the region on Regents Global History. Scores also have been consistently high for Regents U.S. History and Government.

As for college preparation tests, Parkhurst said Fulton students scored higher than the national and state averages on the reading portion of the SAT. Math scores were about level compared to state and national averages, and writing was lower but steadily improving.

ACT scores were between the state and national rates.

Graduation rate down

“We are dealing with some very significant issues,” Parkhurst said when introducing the presentation on the 2013 graduation rate.

Of students who entered ninth grade in 2009, 63 percent graduated from Bodley in 2013.

Parkhurst said the school has examined 86 individual cases of students who did not graduate to determine why they did not complete school. Of these 86 students, half were of low socioeconomic status.

Parkhurst listed other statistics as well:

  • 14 pregnant or parenting
  • 28 with drug or alcohol dependence
  • 14 incarcerated
  • 22 homeless
  • 16 with mental health issues

The dropout rate for 2013 was 17 percent, and overall attendance has dropped 1.1 percent. GRB’s attendance rate is down 2 percentage points to 85.1 percent. In their presentation on math and science assessments, Downing and Leece noted many students in applied classes or who had low socioeconomic status had missed a significant amount of class time.

Board vice president Dan Pawlewicz asked for reasons for these figures, and noted that the district has many resources for struggling students, including AIS, home-school liaisons and counselors.

“How do we fix it? How do we get every kid across the stage?” Pawlewicz asked.

Parkhurst said many of these students’ problems begin in junior high or even elementary school.

“With some of them, their problems presented in the intermediate grades,” she said. “Their problems did not begin in ninth grade.”

Board member Rosemary Occhino put Parkhurst’s figures on troubled students into perspective for the board. She said although resources are available to these students, many of them lack supportive parents and a stable home life.

“It is somewhat foreign to we individuals who sit around this table. The children we raised — we encouraged them,” she said. “Not all young people have that advantage.”

Fred Cavalier said the ever-tightening testing standards might cause a child to fall even further behind and not want to come to school.

“If he’s struggling before, he could be discouraged,” Cavalier said.

Betsy Conners, executive director of instruction and assessment, said attendance is key to reaching these students.

“When we have the kids in the seat, we can teach them,” she said. “But we can’t drag them and handcuff them there.”

Superintendent Lynch mentioned the Fulton police have assisted in reminding students in parks that they should be in school.

“One of the detriments of having a beautiful fall is kids want to be outside (and not in school),” Lynch said.

O’Brien resigns

Colleen O’Brien, the science teacher who says she suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity, announced her resignation during the public forum.

She recounted stories of students deliberately spraying fragrances in front of her classroom to trigger an attack of her illness, and other students who tried to stand up for her.

O’Brien claimed the district would not cover her $13,000 in medical expenses. She also said she would no longer be attending school board meetings to discuss the issue. The board has previously discussed enacting a fragrance-free policy, which O’Brien supports. She added that she plans to write a book about her experience with multiple chemical sensitivity.

She said her resignation would be effective when her sick leave ran out, and she exited the meeting in tears.

Other business

  • Enrollment in college-level courses at GRB is strong. The high school offers courses for credit from Cayuga Community College, Onondaga Community College, SUNY Oswego, SUNY ESF, Rochester Institute of Technology and several Advanced Placement courses. BOCES offers some AP courses online. In English, 51 students earned college credit in 2013 through AP or OCC English. In social studies, 149 students earned credit from AP or CCC courses.
  • Kathy Nichols, director of finance, presented the audit report. The school district is in a positive fiscal state. Raymond F. Wager, CPA, PC, has performed the audit for the last four years.
  • The Lanigan Elementary school gymnasium floor is separating from the subflooring. While physical education classes have not been disrupted, testing indicates the floor contains mercury and must be replaced. Lynch estimated the cost of removal and replacement at $400,000. The board will discuss this and other facilities issues at the next meeting.

Coming up

The Fulton school board will meet next at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22 at Granby Elementary School.

At the Education Center at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 17, administrators will present “Common Core Learning” to teach families about the new standards and their impact on students.

This is part of the Partnerships for Success workshops.

Childcare and refreshments will be available. Call 593-5509 with any questions.

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One thought on “Emotions up, grad rate down at Fulton school board meeting”

  1. I understand mitigating issues re: such a low graduation rate but we have to move beyond reasons that become excuses~ suppose pilots only landed their planes safely 63 % of the time?~I expect better use of my school taxes and better results!~

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