January 28, 2009

Teacher Resource Center threatened

North Country education resource left out of budget


PLATTSBURGH — For more than 24 years, the North Country Teacher Resource Center has offered vital services to area educators, school districts and an array of educational organizations.

But Gov. David Paterson did not include funds for teacher centers in his executive-budget proposal, and without that money, the center will have to close.

"This would have a significant impact on the area," said Kathleen Fessette, assistant director of the North Country Teacher Resource Center. "This is the one entity that pulls everyone together."

Representatives of the center, as well as area educators and student teachers, have started a letter-writing campaign and are relying on word-of-mouth to keep the center open. But with the economy in shambles, the outlook could be grim.

"This is a very difficult time for our economy," Fessette said.

The New York State Legislature created teacher centers in 1984 to help educators effectively infuse new technology, though since then the concept has evolved to support the needs of a host of educational institutions. Teacher centers are governed by Policy Boards composed of teachers, administrators and representatives of post-secondary education, business, cultural and community organizations.

There are more than 130 centers statewide that are linked by seven regional networks, enabling school districts and educators to share resources and plan collaboratively.

The North Country Teacher Resource Center serves 17 public-school districts, private educational institutions, Plattsburgh State and Clinton and North Country community colleges. The center, which is housed at Plattsburgh State, also partners with organizations such as the Transportation Museum, Battle of Plattsburgh, Adirondack Weight Management, Mission of Hope, North Country Cultural Center for the Arts, League of Women Voters and North Country correctional facilities.

"Those partnerships would be lost," Fessette said. "We also serve about 1,800 educators."

The Center is grant funded through the New York State Education Department.

"This is a large grant that keeps us going, and without it we would have to close shop," Fessette said.

One of its most important missions is to provide area teachers with the professional development they need to maintain their certification.

"The greatest impact would be for teachers not to have the resources we have," Fessette said. "The reality is we are an important resource to the community."

Dr. David Hill, Plattsburgh State's dean of education, health and human services, agrees.

"It is incredibly vital," he said. "It is a major resource for teacher workshops and teacher networking.

"It is critical."

He stressed that Plattsburgh State students benefit immensely from the services provided by the center, utilizing workshops and training offered by area educators.

"I know that the budget crisis is real, and it is significant, and it hurts," Hill said. "I just wish it didn't have to hurt like that."

Fessette, an educator from Peru Central School, came to the center as a teacher in residence and after half a year knew it was where she wanted to be. She'll return to the classroom if it closes, but she worries what that cost would be to the area.

"The budget isn't finalized yet," she said. "So we'll have to wait and see."

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