December 26, 2006

Moravia school fosters success

Middle school gains spot on national list of schools to watch

Moravia Schools

Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Moravia Middle School eighth-grader Nick Dwyer works out a math problem during his accelerated math class Thursday morning. The middle school was recently one of seven in New York state recognized on the national “Schools To Watch” list for academic excellence and for initiatives that address social and developmental needs of students.

Staff Reporter

MORAVIA — Bruce Yaw has witnessed an evolution in the last seven years.
Moravia Middle School has evolved from a mediocre performing school to a school that empowers both teachers and students, he said.
“Our mission is to be a place where everybody is somebody,” Yaw said.
Yaw has been a teacher at the school for 20 years.
He cannot pinpoint the exact moment or day when the change started to occur, but it had to do with Bruce MacBain, principal of the middle school.
Yaw, a foreign language teacher, said before MacBain’s arrival at the school there was a high turnover rate of teachers. Now, there are teachers such as English teacher Jeff Green, who has worked at the school for six years and “loves it.”
The state has noticed a change, too.
In October, the Education Department and the New York State Middle School Association placed the middle school on their Schools to Watch list. Six other New York schools made the list.
This year’s honorees joined 87 other schools in 14 states that have been on the list since 1999.
“Schools to Watch” are recognized as those that illustrate excellence in academics and programs that help the social and developmental needs of students. To make the list, a school does not have to have above average test scores, but steady improvement of its programs.
Moravia educators cite their interdisciplinary, inclusion and other programs as the reason for the success.
MacBain said the interdisciplinary program is a connection between the core subjects, or intertwining of the disciplines. For instance, if students are learning about the American Revolution in history, in English they may read a book about the Revolution. In home economics they may learn the foods a Revolutionary War soldier ate or listen to music from the period in music class.
Superintendent of Moravia Schools William P. Tammaro, who also made his arrival seven years ago, said in the past, the subjects were “taught more individually. There wasn’t so much collaboration. We (now) teach it so that it is all combined.”
Tammaro said classes overlap and students get to choose which classes they would like to be a part of.
Kristie Engres, 14, said she liked the interdisciplinary method.
“You don’t get confused,” said Engres, an eighth-grader.
“I like it here,” said Leanna Nares, 13. “They make it fun with the different programs.”
MacBain said the students at Moravia Middle School may be _No. 1 in New York state when their academics coupled with their preparedness for life is taken into account.
“(Academically) we are in the upper 25 percent in the state,” MacBain said. “But I don’t think academics is the only measure.”
In the latest state assessments for mathematics and English language arts, only one school district’s seventh- and eighth-grade students performed better in Cayuga County — Weedsport Central School District.
MacBain said that “in the last three years we have jumped 30 points on state assessment tests and we have maintained that.”
Teamwork has also played a part, educators said.
In the beginning of the school year students are taken to a ropes course where they are given a variety of tasks that require teamwork and trust. MacBain said not only does teamwork help prepare students for academics, but for life.
“We need them to work as a team in their academic program,” MacBain said. “They need to be able to work as a team. We are preparing them for life and academic programs.”
Yaw said teachers also practice teamwork.
“Every day we get together during the school day to dialogue,” said Yaw. Teachers of core subjects — math, science, English — meet when the students are at classes such as music and gym.
He said at the daily meetings they tackle things that need to get done in a timely fashion.
There is also the three-strike program. Every three weeks students who show good behavior get to go on an outing with teachers and classmates. Yaw said it could be bowling or a visit to the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse. If students have three or more discipline referrals they are not allowed to attend the trip.
“It provides them the opportunity to hang out,” Yaw said. “It changes our role as teachers. I learn so much about my kids on the bus ride and they learn a lot about me.”
Another program has a different take on the traditional homeroom.
Yaw and 11 of his colleagues are house leaders. There are only 12 houses; six in the seventh grade and six in the eighth grade. Each house is a different team.
House leaders can be compared to homeroom teachers, but house leaders do more than take attendance. They know their students’ names and how they perform on quizzes and tests. They build a relationship with their students. According to Yaw, they are motivators.  
Megan Stayton, 13, sees her house leader as a friend.
“I think its cool,” said Megan, a seventh-grader. “You get close to one teacher and you can talk to them.”
House leaders are also in charge of motivating their students to get their team’s name engraved on the house cup at the end of the year. Teams compete to get their names on the cup by acquiring points for their academic achievement.
Yaw’s team, the Sacapuntos — the Spanish word for pencil sharpener — received the cup for the first semester. Students were given pizza, wings and root beer as a reward.
Other team names include the Supernovas, Radical Redemptions and  Kula Kids.
MacBain said that all the programs in place have contributed to high-achieving students.
Another component that MacBain said has enhanced the school is its inclusion program, in which special need and other students are engrossed in the same curriculum and classroom.
Special needs teacher Erica Lenea said the program works because every child’s need is looked at individually.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference (between a special needs child and other children),” Lenea said. “We differentiate instruction for everybody.”
She said she co-teaches with other teachers, such as Green, and she offers strategies to make the curriculum one that all students can be a part of.
She said the stigma of being a special needs child is decreasing at the school because of the inclusion.
“They (students) look at me as a teacher who is going to support them,” Lenea said.
MacBain said the process of changing Moravia did not happen overnight.
“They (previous administrators) were already beginning,” MacBain said. “It wasn’t like going from total darkness to enlightenment.”
MacBain is positive Moravia Middle School will again be on the Schools to Watch list.
“We keep growing,” MacBain said. “We are in a spirited atmosphere.”



Homer seeks $6,000 from Time Warner

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The town is seeking $6,000 in franchise fees from Time Warner Cable after an audit was conducted on its utility bills.
“The audit company has informed us that Time Warner has not fulfilled their responsibilities to us,” said Town Supervisor Fred Forbes.
The town has a franchise agreement with Time Warner in which the utility must pay 4 percent of its gross revenues from Homer customers to the town, Forbes said.
Mike Caton, utility and billing analysis specialist for Computel Consultants, the Earlville-based auditing firm, said Time Warner underpaid the town by $6,000 within the last six years.
“Well it just appears as though they aren’t providing the proper amounts,” Caton said. “Basically something hasn’t been resolved.”
Time Warner will pay the town about $24,000 in franchise fees this year, Forbes said.
This is the first time the town has had an audit of its utility bills since he started as Homer town supervisor more than two years ago, Forbes said. He was unsure if other utility audits have been conducted.
Caton said his audit company works with several hundred municipalities. He said it is fairly common for the company to discover that a utility has not fulfilled its end of the agreement.
Caton said Computel Consultants is in the process of negotiating with Time Warner over the issue.
He said negotiations would likely take several months.
Jeff Unaitis, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable’s Syracuse division, confirmed Time Warner is negotiating with Computel Consultants, but would not say to what extent it agreed or disagreed with the consultants’ findings.
He did say, however, that often Time Warner does not agree with auditors’ findings.
“Quite frankly in a lot of cases we’ll challenge an auditor’s findings because we don’t agree with them,” he said.
Unaitis said a town will often forgo pursing the fees owed, realizing that getting the money will mean that its residents, who are Time Warner subscribers, will have to foot the bill.
“It will go right back onto their cable bill,” he said. “A lot of times the town will say it’s not worth it to us.”
Forbes said as far as he understands, the town can get the money from Time Warner’s general fund instead.
“The auditor believes there may be recourse to get this from Time Warner themselves without going back and applying a surcharge,” he said.
Forbes said if for some reason that is not possible, and the only way to get the money is by levying town residents, the town would not seek the money.


In 2006 —

Fire takes landmark building, city house teeming with cats

Staff Reporter

The nearly 125-year-old clock tower went up in flames in April, permanently changing the face of Cortland’s downtown.
The fire began at around 7:20 a.m. on April 11 where five fire departments— Cortland, Cortlandville, Homer, Dryden and McGraw — fought the blaze at 120 Main St. The Fire displaced about 30 tenants and five businesses while the power was shutoff to around 150 surrounding houses.
No one was injured in the fire.
The historic clock stopped at 8:10 a.m.
Starved five-year-old found in city
What may have been the most shocking legal story of 2006 is scheduled for trial during the first week of 2007.
Judy Gratton, 49, will stand trail in January on assault and endangering charges after being arrested during a drug raid at her Union Street home in March.
Police said when authorities raided the house they found Gratton’s 5-year-old handicapped son in a lice-infested crib surrounded by dirty diapers and garbage. Police said the child weighed only 15 pounds.
Gratton remains in Cortland County Jail on $2,500 cash bail. Jury selection for her trial begins Jan. 2.
Off-duty officer hits women in crash
Former city Police Officer Jeffrey Stockton struck two pedestrians with his sport utility vehicle while off duty in November at the intersection of Church Street and Central Avenue.
One of the two women, Lyn Briggs, 55, of 65 Central Ave., Apt 10, Cortland, died from her injuries on Dec. 2, two weeks after the crash.
Stockton, 38, of 16 Frank St., failed three of five field-sobriety tests after the accident, including reciting the alphabet.
Stockton told police he had “a few beers” before the crash and he was text messaging “a girl” on his cell phone at the time of the accident, according to court documents.
He was charged with vehicular assault, a felony, and driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor.
Since Briggs’ death, Stockton’s charges have not been amended and District Attorney David Hartnett has refused to comment on the case.
Stockton appeared Wednesday in City Court and is waiting on a date to be set in County Court.
Cat clinic raided
Nearly 300 cats were taken from a home and clinic on Wheeler Avenue in September, creating a mountain of work for local SPCA workers and an ongoing legal battle between Purr Fect World and the city.
Officials raided 7 Wheeler Ave. on Sept. 1, taking 279 cats from the property and charging Eugenia Cute, 51, and Lisa Alderman, 47, with 49 counts of failure to provide proper food and water to a harbored animal, an unclassified misdemeanor.
Purr Fect World, the nonprofit organization of which Alderman is president and Cute is a board member, agreed to pay the city a surety bond of $32,000 for the cost of caring for the cats while the criminal charges are pending. That amount is negotiated monthly as the SPCA attempts to adopt the animals out.
No date has been set for Alderman and Cute’s next appearance in City Court.
Homer teens arrested for assault
State Police arrested two Homer students in May after they shot six classmates with an airsoft BB gun in the parking lot of Homer High School. The gun fires soft plastic BBs.
Following the arrests, Zachary Walter and Terry Elwood, both 17, were indicted on numerous assault charges and faced the potential of prison time.
The charges were dismissed Nov. 2 when County Court Judge Julie A. Campbell ruled there was no evidence that any of the victims were assaulted.
Walter and Elwood were suspended from school for 14 weeks for their actions.
Walter has one charge still pending, endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, because one of the students he shot was only 15 years old at the time of the incident.
Teens help police officer in attack
Four teens were honored for their heroics after they assisted a city police officer who was being attacked outside the Youth Bureau during an arrest on Jan. 21.
When Doug Morse, 17, Jaime Case and Matt Smith, both 16, and Joe Bishop, 15, saw officer Eric Nilsson being assaulted by Lucas McCormick, the four boys jumped in to help, earning the recognition of the city and its police department.
The foursome received plaques from the Police Benevolent Association at the Youth Bureau in February for their actions.
Nilsson fully recovered from an eye injury he suffered during the fight. McCormick is serving time in state prison.
Man sentenced for Wickwire fire
A city man was ordered to pay nearly $74,000 in restitution and sentenced to 6 months in county jail after pleading guilty to burning down the last remaining Wickwire building.
Harlan Ward, 21, was ordered to pay $1,000 a month for the next five years and then one lump some of $13,939.14 for the damage he did when he set the fire in December 2005.
Ward pleaded guilty to third-degree arson and third-degree burglary, felonies, on Aug 8.
In his statement to police, Ward said others were involved in the crime but no other arrests have been made. City police are still calling the arson an ongoing investigation.