Press-Republican

January 11, 2013

State Education chief visits North Country schools

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — CHAMPLAIN — Students at Northeastern Clinton Middle School were paid a special visit Thursday afternoon by New York State Commissioner of Education Dr. John King Jr.

He stopped by as part of his two-day tour of the region, which also included a stop at Schroon Lake Central School Thursday morning, followed by a lunchtime engagement at which educators from CV-TEC and Crown Point and Northern Adirondack central schools made presentations highlighting work being done at their institutions.

The focus of the commissioner’s visit to the region, which was hosted by Champlain Valley Educational Services, was to get an idea of how schools are doing with implementing the state-mandated Common Core Learning Standards and Annual Professional Performance Review or teachers and principals.

“In particular, one of the things that we’re doing this year is trying to visit each region to see how implementation of the Common Core Standards is going and also to see how implementation of the new teacher and principal evaluations is going,” King told the Press-Republican.

STUDENT-LED LEARNING

While at NCCS, King spoke with administrators and visited several classrooms, where he observed students and teachers engaged in course work.

Middle School Principal Thomas Brandell said he hoped to show King how the school is making a shift towards student-led learning, which is a goal of the state’s education initiatives.

“I want to see him see students actively engaged in the learning process, and I want him to see it authentically,” Brandell said.

In one classroom, King looked on as students sat in groups and worked together on math problems.

He said he was “struck by their comfort level in discussing mathematical reasoning with their peers.”

That was encouraging, he noted.

COMFORT LEVELS DIFFER

After observing a social studies class in session, King said he took notice of the fact that students offered evidence to support their arguments, which is a key goal of the Common Core Learning Standards.

Through his conversations with area educators throughout the day, he said, he found there are variations in the degree to which teachers are comfortable with implementing the new standards, but school administrators are working to improve that comfort level.

“I’ve been impressed by the commitment of the principals and teachers to get the work done (and) get it done at a high level for the sake of their students,” he said.

King also noted that some area school teachers he spoke with seemed to embrace the Performance Review as an opportunity to develop professionally.

TWO THREATS

Two major challenges facing schools in the region, as well as in many states, King said, are a lack of resources and declining enrollment.

“Those two things together, I think, are a threat to educational solvency, and it’s really important that we figure out as a state how to ensure that students in small communities that may be losing population still have access to a world class education,” he said. 

“And certainly one of the things we propose at the department (of education) is to think about how to use regionalization to try to make sure you preserve opportunities for students and also to think about how you use technology to give students access maybe to courses or learning experiences that would be hard to support financially in a small community.

While at NCCS, the commissioner also took time to speak with students he met in the hallways, asking them what they most like and dislike about the school, as well as the types of activities they were doing in their classes.

Justin Trombly, an NCCS junior and vice president of the Student Council, told King that he most enjoys the people who comprise the school community.

“It’s generally a very warm and excepting environment,” he said.

BUSY SCHEDULE

Before leaving for an engagement at Clinton Community College, King sat down with seventh-graders Katarina Emerich and Miranda White, who interviewed the commissioner for an article they would write for their school’s news-writing club.

King told the Press-Republican that he finds the North Country to be a beautiful place and was happy to be able to visit the area.

“I’ve learned in this job what a big state we have,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to travel around a lot of the state, which is nice.”

NCCS Interim Superintendent Gerald Blair said he hoped King took notice of the good work being done by teachers at the school to engage students in their education.

“I think we do a fine, fine job, we have great results, and it’s an honor to have him come to our location,” he said.

Following his visit to NCCS, King was scheduled to attend a presentation on the Clinton County THRIVE Cradle through Career partnership at Clinton Community College, as well as a speaking engagement at the Westside Ballroom in Plattsburgh Thursday evening.

Today, he was stopping in at a number of other locations in the North Country.

Email Ashleigh Livingston: alivingston@pressrepublican.com