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News of Otsego County

Nick Savin

Superintendents Ponder When, If Schools Reopen
IN TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

Superintendents

Ponder When, If

Schools Reopen

By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Brindley
Crankshaw

With schools closed at least until April 29, Otsego County superintendents are planning for the possibility of a longer-term closure.
“Everyone is trying their best under very difficult circumstances,” said ONC BOCES Superintendent Nicholas Savin. “You have that tension of planning and doing the best for the students, with the thought of, ‘When are you planning to…?’”

Upstate, coronavirus cases have started to level off, but the virus is still active here. So far, there have been 45 cases in Otsego County, two of those ending in death.

Though children typically are not at risk for severe complications from the virus, they can have mild cases that spread to others in their orbit.

Savin’s role is to lead discussions among ONC BOCES superintendents as they determine what is best for their districts. Each superintendent must chart their own district’s course.

The uncertainty over the timing of students’ return has slowed plans for distance learning, but that is about to change.

In Cooperstown, Superintendent William Crankshaw and staff are meeting to craft a plan for more
in-depth teaching for the remainder of the school year.

“We are already in the stages of planning what instruction might look like if we continue to be closed,” he said.

So far, students have been working off packets that have been sent home at different times. Each grade, and in some cases each teacher, has decided the degree to which they have contact with their students.

Some parents have been critical of the level of guidance and involvement from teachers, while others have offered praise, Crankshaw said.

“It’s hard to call the learning packets instruction at this point,” he said. District staff is in the process of reaching out to every family to determine their level of internet connectivity, while trying to find ways of making distance learning “as meaningful as possible,” he said.

He expects to be able to give more details next week.

So far, Savin said, teaching plans vary district by district, often depending on the level of internet connectivity of students and teachers.

Oneonta Schools Superintendent Thomas Brindley said his teachers will continue to follow the approach they have been using all along.

“What we are doing now is working as well as we can under these circumstances,” he said. “We are always trying to do things better, but for now we are sticking with the instructional approach we have in place.”

His teachers have been using digital formats to connect with students. Like Cooperstown’s teachers, Oneonta’s are all following the same basic plans and covering the same content with grade levels, though their approaches and use of internet connectivity may vary, he said.

To Savin, the work and planning for distance learning will still be useful even if school reopens soon.
“We are going to learn a lot about the manner in which we can use the digital platform for learning and how distance instruction could take place,” he said. “There will be a lot of growth from this as people see that we have the capacity for distance-type learning. It will mean growth and professional development for the staff.”

Fears About Football, Tied To Drop In Pupils

‘LIVE BIRTHS’ & ENROLLMENT

Fears About Football,

Tied To Drop In Pupils

No decisions have been made yet about the future of football, or any other funding choices in the 2020-21 school budget, CCS Board of Education President Tim Hayes tells 200 fans gathers in the high school cafeteria Wednesday, Feb. 12. At right is Vice President Marielle Ainsworth; at left, Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTESGO.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.COM

COOPERSTOWN – Matt Phillips, CCS ’02, shared a poignant story of his family’s affection for Redskins (now Hawkeyes) football, and the 200 fans in the CCS high school auditorium applauded.

“If not for football,” said Phillips, today Clark Sports Center’s Activities & Group Reservations director, “I wouldn’t have come to school.”

The football program has bad years, then rebounds, parent Matt Phillips, CCS ’02, told the crowd.

Cooperstown varsity football has had bad years, for sure, but always rebounded.  “My senior year,” he said, “we won one game.  My senior year, we were undefeated.”

Today, his daughter Leah plays with the team, continuing a family tradition.  “She even talks about playing in the NFL someday.”

The term “Life Births” – a term that floated through the room as the school board contemplated a wide round of cuts to the 2020-21 budget; the budget vote and school elections is May 19 – could trump the fans’ and others’ concerns.

“We are forced to make decisions that don’t feel great,” Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw said that evening: In 2007, there were 1,048 K-12 pupils; today there are 850, a 19 percent drop.

“Life Births” are compiled annually by ONC BOCES Superintendent of Schools Nick Savin for all 19 school district in his purview, nine in Otsego County.  Based on the number of births in a district any one year, he projects those numbers forward:  for instance, babies born in 2015 will enter kindergarten this fall.

If fewer seniors are graduating in June than kindergarteners are arriving in September – and this goes on year after year – a school district is headed for trouble.

For the 2019-20 school year, CCS has 79 students graduating, and only 50 kindergartners entering, a 37 percent drop, by far the largest among the ONC BOCES schools.

“At base, if you want a school, you have to build housing,” CCS board President Tim Hayes said in an interview, “affordable, quality housing … Until we start to create places for people to live in the community, I’m worried about the future of the community.”

Hayes served on the task force that created the Village of Cooperstown’s new Comprehensive Master Plan, approved last fall, which – to some community concern – allows larger homes to be broken up into apartments.

If there are no exterior changes, sufficient parking and other standards are met, village Zoning Enforcement Officer Jane Gentile can simply issue a permit; a project doesn’t have to go through the H-PARB, planning or zoning boards, said Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, who has played a central role in the comp plan and resulting zoning code.

Apartment houses – the Railroad Avenue neighborhood, in particular, is designated as appropriate – still require a special permit from the Village Board, she said.

It’s only been a few months since the new zoning was approved, but Falk said she’s unaware of any house conversions or apartment complexes being proposed.

In the 1970s and ’80, Hayes said, homes were being built in the district, but in the 1990s “preserving open space was more important than building houses for people who wanted to live here.”  Much of the surrounding towns of Otsego and Middlefield requires three-acre lots, he said.

That may be changing, Hayes said.  In addition to Cooperstown’s new zoning, the Town of Hartwick has contracted with Delaware Engineering for a Route 28 study.  The study wasn’t focused on housing, Falk said, but as survey results began coming in, housing needs were frequently mentioned.

With the largest employer in the county – Bassett Hospital, “a half-billion-dollar medical center” – just three blocks from Cooperstown Elementary, things should be different.

“Every day I see ads for employees at this medical center,” Hayes said.  “We definitely don’t have enough housing for people who want to live here.”

At last week’s meeting, Hayes and Crankshaw repeatedly said no firm decisions have been made about football or anything else.   The next of a series of “open budget discussions” is planned 6-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, in the high school library.

Savin, the BOCES superintendent, said that while CCS’ situation is the most dire this year, it’s not alone.  “In Oneonta,” he said, “they seem to have some growth in the younger grades.  Every other school in our region:  They’re either staying flat or losing students.”

He continued, “In more schools, because we have declining enrollment, the school boards and communities are looking at more collaborative ways of keeping their teams.  It’s appropriate, in my view.”

“That’s what the data does,” he said:  “It causes the right kinds of conversations.”

 

In Oneonta, Data Show Stability, Even Growth

‘LIVE BIRTHS’ & ENROLLMENT

In Oneonta, Data Show

Stability, Even Growth

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Tom Brindley succeeded retiring Superintendent of Schools Joe Yelich in 2018. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

ONEONTA – Enrollment in Oneonta City Schools, it turns out, hit bottom with this year’s 10th graders.

The 105 sophomores comprise the smallest class, K-12, among the 1,738 students currently in city comprise.

What’s more, Oneonta’s schools have by far the largest enrollment, more than double second-place Cooperstown Central, among the 19 school district in ONC BOCES.

And, according to the annual “Live Births” compilation prepared by ONC BOCES Superintendent of Schools Nick Savin, it will continue to grow, at least modestly, for the time being.

“It’s a great situation for us to be in,” said Oneonta Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brindley, who was at his desk Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the midst of winter break when students and most teachers were vacationing.

Where Cooperstown Central, where “Live Births” are plummeting, is looking for ways to make cuts across the board, including football, Brindley can look at “staffing needs related to those numbers” with some optimism.

Yes, staffing it determined to some degree by the teacher contract, but there’s also room for “best practices,” he said.

Brindley agreed the addition of housing – the Silver Creek development in particular – has brought new people to the city. But also, families are drawn to Oneonta by jobs at the colleges or hospital.

The schools are an attraction, too, said Brindley, a former policeman who was promoted from high school principal to the top job when Superintendent Joe Yelich retired last year.

“But also, the Oneonta Central School District has a lot to offer its students,” he said, and on purpose.
Because of a wealth of extra-curricular activities, seniors grade with “very attractive transcripts.”

Beginning seven years ago, when he was appointed OHS principal, “we grew our clubs and organizations to grow an environment where there’s something for everyone,” whether the graduate it going into the workforce, the military or on to college.

“Whatever ‘next’ is,” he said, “it draws them in.”

The sophomore class, at 105, was a sharp reduction from this year’s seniors (134), according to Savin’s numbers.  But with some ups and downs, enrollment continued to trend upwards, to 140 (this year’s sixth grade) to peak at 152 (this year’s third grade).

The last “Live Births” analysis shows 140 kindergartners entering the Oneonta district next September, a next gain of six over the 134 seniors expected to graduate in June.

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