Four schools get high grades


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland graduate student Meghan Deana works on math with Homer students Thomas Joseph, left, and Devan Ellis Thursday morning at Homer Intermediate School.  Homer was among four area schools honored by the state for student performance.

Staff Reporter

Dryden, Groton and Marathon elementary schools and Homer Intermediate School have been named “high performing/gap closing” schools by the State Education Department.
Statewide, 795 schools were recognized for meeting New York state standards for English language arts and math during the 2004-05 year. Schools also had to make their adequate yearly progress, set by the state, during both the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years.
Only schools that had a minimum of 30 continuously enrolled students in at least two of the following groups were eligible for recognition: racial ethnic, low-income, limited English proficient, or those with disabilities.
There were 2,129 public and charter schools that met these eligibility criteria and 37 percent of them were recognized — 519 elementary schools, 137 middle schools, 98 high schools, 19 elementary-middle schools and 21 middle-high schools and one elementary through high school.
All the local schools were recognized based on fourth-grade assessments at the elementary level and met eligibility with the number of students of low income and with disabilities.
No area high schools or middle schools were recognized.
Sandy Sherwood, Dryden Elementary principal, said aligning curriculum to match state standards, consistency in teaching it and having “great teachers” have helped Dryden earn the distinction.
Classes from kindergarten through fifth grade consistently use a program called Everyday Math, which includes a lot of hands-on problems. “It builds on itself each year,” Sherwood said.
Early literacy is a focus in the district, too. To teach literacy, elementary teachers use a model developed at Syracuse University called Performance by Design that stresses appropriate skill development for each grade. Its structure “helps students be better writers” and emphasizes communicating thoughts in writing.
“We were able to demonstrate continuous improvement,” said Groton Superintendent of Schools Brenda Meyers.
The recognition was based only on fourth-grade data for math and English, she said.
“It’s a wonderful celebration … but now we’re all concerned about the new tests,” Meyers said.
In the 2005-06 school year, she said, assessments were expanded to include students in grades three through eight.
The results of these tests would probably not come out until at least September, Meyers said.
“Our teachers have been really focusing on the strong development of reading and writing programs,” said Meyers. She said special education students are given individualized instruction in reading and writing. The elementary school is also dedicated to community involvement, such as through extracurricular youth activities.
“You have to see the balance in the Groton Elementary program,” Meyers said. “If the test went away tomorrow we can say we have provided a strong literacy program.”
“Literacy has always been a focus, now it is a main focus,” said Larry King, director of instruction and evaluation at Homer.
Each teacher has specific goals and the district encourages some of those goals to be related to literacy, he said.
The district has made bookrooms available to elementary and intermediate students to encourage literacy, King said. The rooms have thousands of books with multiple copies for classes as well as individual books that can be taken out.
King said the district has an aide to supervise the rooms. Books are identified by level of difficulty and students are encouraged to try books that challenge their reading level as well as reading at their level.
King also pointed to Intermediate Principal Stephanie Beeman, who he said tries to find ways to help all students. Beeman started at the beginning of the 2004-05 year. One of the programs Beeman has put in place is a Saturday night of reading. Held in the gym, families come to read. Refreshments, such as popcorn, are offered.
“She’s getting people to work well together. It’s nice when you have people smiling,” King said.
Beeman said teachers have done a lot of work developing curriculum during the summers. The intermediate school also offers early morning help before school starts in English and math, she said.
Summer school, which started Wednesday, is also available for students who struggle. For the first time this summer, SUNY Cortland has a partnership with Homer providing college literacy students a teaching practicum.
Beeman said the school also has peer tutoring and volunteers from the community who help.
“We’ve been lucky to have a lot of community support,” said Beeman. The School Community Association, the district’s parent/teacher organization, has purchased books for classrooms and the bookroom, she said.
“It’s quite an honor. We were very happy,” said Thayer Miller, director of instruction at Marathon.
Miller said the district has four teachers who serve as consultants — one each for math, reading, writing and science. These support teachers also provide after-school staff development workshops. “We offer lots of staff development,” Miller said.
In math the district has also realigned the curriculum several times to match changes made in the state standards for math. Students are asked to do tasks that parallel questions that appear on the state test, Miller said.
Miller said the district also received a federal grant for Reading First, a reading program that is for students in kindergarten through third grade. She said the district has had this for three years and it has also had an impact on students from grades four through six. Miller said the district was eligible for the program because of the poverty level.
For schools, poverty is based on the number of students receiving free or reduced lunches and income eligibility varies according to number in a household and income for the household. The maximum income is also bumped up a bit every year. For the 2005-06 year, for example, a household of four could have an income of nearly $35,000 and still qualify for a reduced price lunch for children in the household.
Miller also said the district has instituted a 90-minute reading instruction block for all kindergarten through sixth-grade students that includes phonetics, vocabulary and reading for fluency. For grades four through six, writing is also included in this block.



County still waits for federal flood aid

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Although it appears to meet the criteria, Cortland County is still waiting to hear whether it will receive federal aid for damage done during flooding last week, a local official said Thursday.
A July 4 assessment by two representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that damage in the county far exceeded the approximately $150,000 threshold necessary for eligibility for federal funding, according to Brenda DeRusso, assistant fire and emergency management coordinator for the county.
County Administrator Scott Schrader estimated total damage for the county at $1 million.
“The team that was out here told me that, based on the two municipalities they inspected, we more than meet the threshold,” said DeRusso, noting that the FEMA team had visited Solon and McGraw during its assessment. “It’s just sitting in Washington now, waiting for a decision.”
Although the county was not hit as badly this year as it was in the April 2005 floods, and although flooding in the Binghamton area has been far more severe, DeRusso noted that receiving federal aid was vital, especially for smaller municipalities.
“Some of the damages to the smaller communities will pretty much wipe out their entire annual budget if they don’t get this assistance,” she said.
Receiving federal flood assistance means 75 percent of the flood damage would be covered by the federal government, 12.5 percent would be paid for by the state, and the remaining 12.5 percent would fall to the county and its municipalities.
Meeting the threshold, which is based on per capita damages, does not necessarily mean the county will receive funding, DeRusso said.
“It’s still not an automatic,” she said. “It means we’re eligible, but the bottom line is it’s up to FEMA and the president.”