June 5, 2007

A different measure of success

Groton student completes first year in alternative education program


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer       
Derrick Head works in an electronic test laboratory at Diversified Technologies in Groton. Head, 17, is completing his first year in Groton Central Schools’ Alternative Education Program, which targets students who are in danger of dropping out of school. The program allows students to work for half the school day and attend classes the other half, earning credit for both. Head is one of 14 Groton students in the new program.

Staff Reporter

GROTON —Derrick Head is not a high school dropout. He is in school, working two jobs and preparing to take four Regents exams next week. This school year hasn’t been easy for him but he is still ahead of where he thought he would be a year ago.
Head, 17, of Salt Road in Summerhill, is one of the first 14 students to take part in Groton Central School’s Alternative Education Program.
Before he began the program last fall — which follows a half-day work schedule and half-day classroom schedule — Head was considering dropping out of school. Then the program became available.
He was struggling in his classes, not getting along with his teachers and having little success in his Regents exams.
When he entered the new program, he thought it was a last hope at finishing high school.
In September, the Cortland Standard featured Head as one of the program’s first participants. Eight months later, Head is coming to the end of his first year in the program.
He has stuck with his schoolwork and still says he wants a Regents diploma. He also has a new girlfriend — which was his first answer when asked how things have changed — and has fought through one major setback where he dropped out for three weeks.
He says he will re-enter the program next fall for his junior year, after hopefully passing his Regents competency exams.
“I’ll never go back to regular class. Not if I want to pass. I could never keep up with the homework,” he said at Diversified Technologies on Route 222 in Groton, one of his two part-time jobs.
Head began working at Diversified Technologies in March as part of his Alternative Education Program. He is not only paid for his work, but also receives school credit for his time on the job.
“I’m basically my own boss,” he said, explaining that he makes repairs around the shop as well as learning how to do radiated immunity testing, which tests the levels of radioactivity household electronics can handle.
Head began the program working at Patchwork Therapeutic Riding Center on Old Peruville Road in Groton where he was a volunteer, but said he made the transition because of the pay. He now makes $100 per week at the new job and holds a second part-time job at Baker-Miller Lumber, a lumberyard in Groton. He does not get school credit for the Baker-Miller job.
Head’s journey through the new program hasn’t been without its challenges. In March he dropped out of school, which he thought was going to be for good, after he got into a dispute with his teacher, Mick Stegeland.
“I was kicked out of class for good,” he said, recalling the argument. “Typical teenage ‘BS.’”
Head said he came back to school after High School Principal Eric Hartz asked him to.
“I’m back in and liking it,” he said. “I figured I needed an education.”
Hartz instituted the program a year earlier than originally planned to prevent students like Head from dropping out. He said the program is still a work in progress. He estimates it may take three to five years to get the kinks out.
“The program as a whole has been extremely successful,” he said. “It’s a program in progress.”
Hartz said the program has maintained 14 students throughout the year. Two are new students who have come into the program since the year started, replacing one student who went back to mainstream classes and one who moved out of the district. Hartz said none of the students has dropped out of school, a victory in itself.
“I didn’t get the field trips in I wanted to,” he said, explaining some of the improvements he hopes to make in the program in the fall.
Hartz said scheduling is just beginning for the 2007-08 school year and that he is unsure how many students will take part in the program next year, but that he is going to offer it again.
Stegeland has been a special education teacher at Groton for 13 years. He teaches the afternoon session of the program, which is the session Head attends after working in the mornings at Diversified Technologies. He said he has already committed to coming back to the program next year because he believes in what it can do.
“I’m not saying they are setting the world on fire but I think some of them are,” he said of his students.
Stegeland said although he is still trying to improve his classroom, over the last eight months he has learned a lot about how to create a comfortable learning environment for kids who don’t otherwise like school.
“I think now after doing it for a year I know what the expectation should be,” he said, looking ahead to next year. “It’s lots of repetition.”
Stegeland and Hartz both said Head has improved over the year and commended him for returning to school after leaving in March.
Stegeland said Head is scheduled to take four Regents competency tests next week — math, writing, reading and global studies. He said if Head is able to pass the tests, he will make a great leap toward graduating in 2009.
“Derrick is in school. Derrick is working. I think that is a tremendous success,” Stegeland said. “A kid that is going to school and holding down a job, that’s a productive member of society.”
Head will soon be done with school for the summer. He said he will be quitting his two part-time jobs in the middle of June and start working full-time for the summer milking cows at a local farm.
He said when he re-enters the program in the fall he hopes to use the farm job as his school credit, and that he plans on trying out for the football team for the first time.
He is also set on getting a Regents diploma.
“Yeah, I’ll get one of them,” he said.

An overview of the program

The program is in its first year and is based on other similar programs in Central New York, including ones at Candor High School and Ithaca High School in Tompkins County.
Students who enter the program are at risk of dropping out of school. The students come in from varying grades with varying amounts of credits.
The program focuses on keeping students in school and working toward graduation with either a General Education Diploma or a Regents Diploma. Organizers hope eventually that most students will be able to obtain a Regents Diploma through the program.
Students work on a half work, half school day schedule, spending the work part of the day at a job placement or at Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga County BOCES. Some students are paid for their work while others work as volunteers.
All students receive 3 1/2 credits per year for their classroom work and 3 credits for their job training.
Students need 22 credits to graduate so depending on how many credits they have when they enter the program it may take them 5 years to graduate with a Regents Diploma.
One teacher and one teacher’s aide instruct each of the two classroom sessions each day.
The classroom sessions are held at the elementary school on Elm Street.




Few speak at public hearing on Lapeer power line

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — A concern with health and property values and a professor who favored the project because it would attract birds weighed in Monday night on a New York State Electric & Gas proposal to build a new 15-mile, 115-kilovolt electric transmission line that would run from Etna to Lapeer.
Residents from Dryden, Harford and Lapeer would be affected by the project, which includes a new substation in Lapeer north of the current switching station that would be built on approximately six acres; the current switching station is on about two acres.
The project also includes rebuilding the existing 115-kv line between the Etna substation in Dryden and the new Lapeer substation and modifications to the Etna substation to accommodate the new line.
Few people spoke at a public hearing on the project at the Dryden fire station on North Street.
William Bouteiller, an administrative law judge, presided at the hearing. Only two people chose to speak at the 3:30 p.m. session. A 6:30 p.m. session was also held.
John Confer, a retired Ithaca College professor who lives on Hammond Hill Road, said he studies shrubland birds and sees the most nesting in utility rights of way.
He said he has put up his own money to study shrubland birds under utility poles.
“I don’t think I’m bought by the utilities,” Confer said, adding he liked the idea of project because it would attract more birds to area.
Ron Alexander, a Dryden resident, was more concerned with the possible impact on land values and the effects on health the power lines would have.
He said his land looks out over the valley. “We planted trees strategically to hide the poles,” he said.
He asked if NYSEG had submitted proof of its need for additional or more powerful lines, or if the additional energy would end up benefiting people living downstate.
Alexander said he was concerned about the long-range effects on humans, in particular pregnant women and babies, and the effects on wildlife, particularly fish.
Bill George, project manager for NYSEG, said after the hearing, that the project would conform to state guidelines.
“It’s relatively low voltage,” he said, of the project.
There is only a small area of a little more than 300 feet that is a 345-kv power line and that is on property that does not have any houses on it, only Christmas trees, he said.
That line goes into the Lapeer substation.


Emergency response programs announced

ALBANY — Two new programs to improve New York’s ability to respond to emergencies were announced by state officials Thursday.
A new Web-based system of emergency alerts will provide the public with National Weather Service bulletins about severe weather and other emergency response information, including advisories on road closings. The “NY-Alert” system will use e-mail, fax transmissions, text messages and dial-out voice messaging.
Cortland County Administrator Scott Schrader said that in an extreme emergency such as a tornado, the county’s reverse 911 system wouldn’t be able to reach everybody in time.
The system can target a geographic location and send pre-recorded messages to people in that area.
Schrader said that the ability to send e-mails and text messages to handheld computing devices would probably help alert residents faster.
Fire and Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Duell said that after the Virginia Tech shooting in April, there had been discussions about collecting cell phone numbers from college students and sending them messages in the event of a similar tragedy.
The second initiative, based on lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina, involves forming public-private partnerships to bolster the state’s response to emergencies. “NY-Delivers” will be led by a group of state agency and private sector representatives and will be coordinated by the State Emergency Management Office.
“There are certain private companies that lend themselves towards emergency response, particularly the utility companies,” Schrader said.
When Schrader was working in Jefferson County as the deputy county administrator during the January 1998 ice storm, Niagara Mohawk had a seat in the emergency management office and helped in coordinating the response to the disaster.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced the two programs Thursday, the first day of the hurricane season. Earlier this week, a national emergency response conference was held in Long Island.
State officials expect the two new programs to be operating within 60 days.
Staff reporter Evan Geibel contributed to this article.