Groton starts alternative education program

School board OKs new logo retaining district’s traditional identity.


Staff Reporter

GROTON — Students will see two major changes when they enter classrooms at Groton school this year, with the addition of an alternative education program for some high school students and a new logo for everyone.
During the Groton Board of Education meeting Monday night, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brenda Meyers presented a new logo for the school and High School Principal Eric Hartz explained a plan to catch potential dropouts.
Although he had not planned to implement it until the 2007-08 school year, Hartz presented a plan at Monday’s meeting that involves as many as 18 students participating in half-day classroom activities and half-day job training with BOCES or local businesses. Hartz said he has not worked out all the kinks for the job-training aspect, which he plans to present at the Groton Business Association meeting on Sept. 20, but he believes in what the new program can do.
“It’s a creative style of learning,” he said after the meeting.
While addressing the board, Hartz explained the program will take place at the district’s elementary school, where participating high school students will spend either the first half or second half of the day in the classroom, depending on their BOCES or work schedules.
He said the classroom will be run by a teacher and a teacher’s aide and will “give students something of their own.”
During the classroom side of the students’ day, they will study _English, math, science and history while earning a total of three credits per year. During the work half of the day, which will be no more than 15 hours per week, they will earn two credits, giving them five credits per year towards the 22 needed for graduation, Hartz said. Hartz added that it might take some students five years to graduate, depending on how many credits they bring into the program.
Hartz explained that the students chosen for the program are at least 16 years old, have attended at least one year of high school and have few, if any, credit hours completed.
Hartz said he has six students who have agreed to enroll in the program and 12 more to interview, all of whom are at the same academic level. However, he added, if need be the teachers can instruct each student at a different pace and different difficulty level.
Meyers added that the introduction of the program has already inspired two students to give their educations another shot.
“Two said ‘I hate school and I’m not coming back,’ but are coming back for this,” Meyers said. “That’s not an easy thing to do.”
Hartz further explained the material taught to the students is going to be on par with the New York State Board of Regents standards, but presented at a slower pace, and some to special education students.
“One of the biggest problems we’ve seen is with global (studies), most kids take two years to finish it where these kids might take three,” he said.
Hartz said he is basing the Groton program on a similar one in Candor, and its success has given him hope that students will not only get a diploma but will also meet the Regents standards.
“Candor just had their first student from their program graduated with a Regents diploma,” he said.
In addition to the flexible schedule and job experience, Hartz said the new program also plans to offer a portfolio-style grading system, rather than traditional test taking.
School Board President Dave Parsons said he is confident in the Hartz’s proposal.
“I graduated ninth grade by the skin of my teeth and then graduated on the high honor roll and I worked half days,” he said after Hartz’s presentation. “It works.”
Meyers said as the former director of Broome County BOCES’ Alternative Education Program, which serviced around 850 students, she has seen it work and hopes an in-house program will keep the participants connected with the campus and other students.
“I think we’ve got a great pilot program,” she said after the meeting.
In addition to the Hartz’s presentation of the pilot program, Meyers unveiled a new school logo. Due to community history and popularity, the school bears the traditional Indian mascot but presents it in a new and official way.
“Same mascot, new logo,” Meyers said. “We know our mascot is the Indians, we just needed something standard to display it.”
Whether or not to keep the mascot as the American Indian became a debate in fall 2001 after Education Commissioner Richard Mills requested that all New York state schools with Native American-related mascots consider changing them.
Meyers said a committee of 20 residents, including alumni and students, made the decision for the new logo.
“We had an advisor committee look at our heritage knowing that we don’t want to be disrespectful to Native Americans.
The new logo contains a unity circle with three feathers in the middle that can display either the school motto “Encourage, Enable, Expect Excellence” or “Indian Pride.”
Meyers said that the difference in the logo provides flexibility for student garb and school letterhead, as well as gives the school an official way to display the school colors, something it did not have in the past.



‘Disaster Lady’ bails out the county


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Brenda DeRusso looks through a book of detailed maps designating flood zones within the city of Cortland. DeRusso has been an important resource for area municipalities, businesses and residents, guiding them through the recovery from natural disasters, such as the recent flooding in Marathon, Cincinnatus and McGraw. The news media and some municipal officials call her “The Disaster Lady.”

Staff Reporter

For local schools, hospitals, nursing homes — any and all critical public facilities — the booming voice of Cortland County’s “Disaster Lady” on the other end of the phone isn’t always a welcome sound.
“If I’m calling, they know the fur is about to hit the fan, or it already has,” said Brenda DeRusso, who in September will mark her 20th year as the county’s emergency manager. “They’re not always glad to hear from the me, but they know I’m calling with important information.”
In many ways the administrative face and voice of Cortland County both before and after disasters such as floods, heavy snowfall or windstorms, DeRusso has been at the forefront of the county’s efforts to receive assistance, earning her ominous moniker in 1986, her first year on the job.
Members of the news media, covering the aftereffects of severe windstorms that devastated the county that summer, dubbed DeRusso the “Disaster Lady” because the only contact they had with her was disaster-related.
“It’s not exactly flattering, but the nickname has stuck, and I guess my reputation precedes me,” she said. “They know I can help them with what they need, and hopefully they can help me get the word out on what needs to be done to respond to emergency situations.”
Since 1986, DeRusso has dealt with three emergencies that warranted federal disaster declarations — the flooding this year and last, and severe flooding in 1996.
She also points to the blizzard that blanketed upstate New York in March of 1993 and the blackout that shutdown much of the East Coast in August of 2004 as notable emergencies during her tenure.
“It’s a very reactionary position,” DeRusso said of her job. “You can be working on one project and then the scanner goes off and you’re tied up for a week with something else.”
In an emergency, DeRusso manages the county Emergency Operations Center in the County Public Safety Building on Greenbush Street, where she keeps in close contact with agencies like the National Weather Service, and coordinates information between the Sheriff’s Department and other EOC activities.
“She’ll be in the EOC before even the hint of a disaster is looming,” County Administrator Scott Schrader said of DeRusso. “She takes her role very seriously and she’s very dedicated to making sure the EOC is prepared for a response.”
While her managerial duties during an emergency may be the most important function of her job, DeRusso sees the greatest workload in the aftermath of local disasters.
“I always say, the more the water recedes, the more the paperwork rises,” she said.
As the county’s local liaison with both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State Emergency Management Office, a large part of DeRusso’s job is haggling with those offices over the availability of state and federal assistance.
After flooding this year in late June and early July, representatives of the FEMA and SEMO initially told DeRusso Cortland County had not suffered enough damage to be eligible for federal funding, an assessment she refused to accept.
“Being a big lady with a big mouth, I insisted that they send another team out for another evaluation, and they did,” she said.
Although she was informed of the visit at 6 a.m., July 4, and although she spent her holiday touring the county with FEMA and SEMO, DeRusso’s persistence paid off, as the county was ultimately deemed eligible for federal assistance.
Solid numbers won’t be available for another 60 days or so, DeRusso said, but based on conversations with FEMA and SEMO representatives now working in the county, she expected state and federal aid for municipalities for the June and July flooding to exceed $3 million.
Between last year’s flooding, which warranted $2.6 million in federal aid, the 1996 flood and the 1986 windstorms, which totaled $3.6 million in assistance, and the most recent flooding, DeRusso will have helped county municipalities secure well over $9 million in aid over the course of her tenure.
“It’s great to know we’ve got someone in the county like Brenda looking out for us in terms of federal funding,” said McGraw Mayor Jay Cobb, who’s worked extensively with DeRusso this summer. “She puts in a ton of time, battering people on the phone, working to get us some assistance, and I think she’s a real asset to the county.”