Positive Reports in Mid-Hudson Times

There were three articles in the August 3 Mid-Hudson Times about outstanding projects and accomplishments by Newburgh Free Academy staff.

"NFA dancers perform at Disney World" by Jessica McAleese, was about a summer trip to Florida by the NFA Dance Ensemble. The dance students performed, received instruction, and participated in mock-auditions.

"They were really excited and it was a great experience for them," Clifford said. "A lot [of] my students are interested in maybe pursing futures in dance and this was a real life opportunity that will help them decide if it is something they want to do as a hobby or something they want to make a career out of."

In "NFA drama teacher publishes collection of plays" (also by Jessica McAleese) NFA drama teacher Terry Sandler was interviewed. Mr. Sandler's work has recently been published.

"My students make me the artist I am," he said, explaining that by getting published he is hopefully teaching them an important lesson about following their work to fruition.

Finally, "Summer a time for competitive running" by Bond Brundgard discussed Friday evening open track events organized by NFA Boys Track Coach Malcolm Burks.

These meets started 12 years ago, and Burks said they needed to help ensure athletes can train and compete away from their varsity and collegiate seasons.

They are for just about anyone who wants to compete.

The Dance Ensemble performance was also covered in this article in the Record.

Can't find the story about Mr. Sandler's publishing online, but here is another interesting one.

Here's the google cache of the summer track events story. (MHT site is not working.)

Quick Links

Little time to write things up these days. Here are some links that may be of interest...

And as a counterpoint to the David Coleman presentation, please see this recent post at Empowered by Play.

Words of Wisdom from Dr. Lilian Katz

"We are doing earlier and earlier to children what we shouldn't do later." These words of wisdom were offered by Lilian Katz - in reference to the current trend of aligning curriculum and programs in an effort to prepare children for the next step in their education. I had to applaud. In that one sentence, Dr. Katz summed up a good deal about how early childhood education (and education in general) in this country has gotten off track.

Criticism on attendance and busing

There were a couple of articles in the June 15 Record about the Newburgh School District...

NFA hoops situation worries activist

By Justin Rodriguez

An internationally known human-rights activist and expert on sports issues said he "hasn't seen a situation as abusive" as the alleged preferential treatment of Newburgh Free Academy boys' basketball players and their poor graduation rate in decades.

Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, learned of the transgressions surrounding NFA's basketball team through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"Assuming that everything that has been written is true, and it appears that it is, these players weren't really students," Lapchick said. "They played at a state championship level, but it was OK for them to cut class. You hear about this kind of thing across the country. But not like this. Nowhere do you see a handful of players not graduating. It is abusive to the players."

State: Newburgh district could save millions on busing

By Doyle Murphy

NEWBURGH -- State auditors say the Newburgh School District could save millions with a smarter busing plan.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released the findings on Monday after his examiners reviewed two years' worth of the district's transportation costs from July 2008 to June 2010. Auditors claim inefficient busing cost Newburgh an extra $2.2 million and the district's failure to monitor contracts and file paperwork correctly could have cost it almost $1 million more in state aid.

"The District did not include expenses on claim forms, did not properly file contracts and did not effectively follow up on claims," according to the report.

Transportation amounted to $15.3 million out of the district's $230 million budget in 2009-2010.

The audit report and district response letter is available here.

Newburgh Schools Superintendent Appointment Press

The Mid Hudson Times covered the appointment of Superintendent Pizzo in its February 23 issue. The article is available online here.

New York Times Newburgh Coverage

The New York Times article, In Newburgh, Gangs and Violence Reign, includes this mention of the Newburgh School District:

A sense of how embedded the gang culture has become can be gleaned at the local high school, the Newburgh Free Academy.

Two years ago, Torrance Harvey, a social studies teacher, and Mark Wallace, the school's violence prevention coordinator, created a class where students could come and talk about issues important to them. During a recent session, Mr. Harvey drew a diagram on the board with the word "community" in the center and asked the class to define it. The students rattled off the usual institutions: churches, schools, law enforcement. But high on the list they also called out "gang-bangers," "drug dealers" and "crackheads."

Central to the problem, Mr. Harvey and Mr. Wallace said, is the lack of jobs and activities available to young people. The city has no supermarkets, one Boys and Girls Club that is closed on weekends and a virtually nonexistent bus system, leaving young people without cars too far from the only steady source of employment, at regional malls well outside of town.

"Kids are energy," Mr. Wallace said, "and if they don't have some place to go, where are they going to go? The corner."

Mid Hudson Times Covers Newburgh BOE Candidates

Thanks to the Mid Hudson Times, there is at least a little information about the Newburgh School District's Board of Education candidates available. There was also a "Meet the candidates" event sponsored by the Parents of Color Advisory Committee last week. Unfortunately I did not learn of it until after the event.

Mid Hudson Times, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, page 5

Four seek three school seats
By Jessica McAleese

This year, there are four candidates running in an election to fill three vacant seats on the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Board of Education. Newcomers Nathan Vesely and John Giudice will appear on the ballot along with incumbents Pamela Resch and Runston T. Lewis.

The annual school budget vote and school board election will take place on Tuesday, May 19.

Runston T. Lewis

Lifelong Newburgh resident and veteran school board member Runston T. Lewis had several reasons for running in his first election 19 years ago.

"At the time there were no minorities on the board and I felt that we needed more representation," he said.

Lewis, who currently serves as the school board president, also felt he had a lot to offer the children of the district.

"I'm proud of the progress that has been made but we still have a ways to go," he said.

Now seeking his eighth term, Lewis said that his primary goals are to repair the board's damaged relationships with labor unions and address the high dropout rates among Newburgh students.

If re-elected, Lewis said he is also looking forward to continuing to implement the district's reconfiguration plan to create a grade 9-12 high school and expanding ideas when it comes to alernative education.

"If we don't figure out how to teach these so called 'at risk' kids, they will wind up on the street or in prison," he said. "We have an obligation to provide them with a quality education and give them every opportunity to succeed."

Pamela Resch

Although Pamela Resch says she has seen some significant progress during her six years on the school board, she says there is always room for improvement.

"We've made some tremendous strides in the past few years," said Resch, a New Windsor resident. "There have been a lot of changes that I'm proud to say I've been a part of and I'd like the opportunity to continue to see it all through."

Resch, a mother of four, is seeking re-election to what would be her third term on the school board. She said she became involved in education when her first child began kindergarten and it didn't take long for her to decide to run for a spot on the Board of Education.

"I've always been a real grassroots parent," she said. "I had a passion for education and at the time there was quite a bit of turmoil on the board and a lot of people were encouraging me to run."

The most challenging part of her involvement so far, Resch said, is balancing the needs of the students with a responsibility to the taxpayers.

"It's our job to look out for everyone's interests but for me, the kids always come first. They always have and they always will."

John Giudice

If elected to the Newburgh Enlarged Cit School District Board of Education, John Giudice says he has one major goal he would like to see accomplished: to change the way school districts are funded.

"I want to try to stabilize school taxes and take the burden off of homeowners," he said. "It's just not fair the way things are done."

While he admits it may not happen overnight, Giudice vows that if elected, he would be sure to put pressure on the state to seriously consider the matter.

"I strongly believe in enforcing a dress code and that is something I will bring up to the board," said Giudice, whose two daughters graduated from Newburgh Free Academy. "I would also like to see more security in the schools to address the gang problems."

A former Newburgh city council member and a mayoral candidate and currently a city water department employee, Giudice feels he has a lot to contribute to the district's school board.

"I am a good listener and I can be vocal when I need to be," he said. "I think that's very important."

Nathan Vesely

Nathan Vesely, a lifelong resident of the City of Newburgh, has been attending the district's Board of Education meetings regulary and he says he doesn't like what he sees.

"I think we need a little bit of a change," said vesely, citing staff cuts as a major area of concern. "Something has to be done about all these layoffs."

A retired maintenance employee, Vesely first ran for a seat on the school boad last year. He lost the election but that didn't stop him from throwing his hat in the ring once more.

Vesely, who has served on the district's health and safety committee and facilities planning committee, said his primary goals are to maintain the conditions of the school buildings and ensure financial responsibility. As a former district employee, he says he is very familiar with the school's buildings and staff and he feels that is something that would help make him a valuable contribution to the board.

"I got along with everybody," he said.

Sentinel Editorial and Response

The Sentinel published a not so well reasoned editorial on October 26. This prompted a spirited response from an elementary school principal in the Newburgh School District on November 9. The Sentinel deserves credit for publishing such a critical response, and for their usually more supportive attitude toward educators, which the response letter acknowledges. The principal has provided a necessary dose of reality and reason to the conversation, well worth a read.

In Praise of The Sentinel

What sources are there for news about the Newburgh Enlarged City School District? The district website is hopeless, and the Times-Herald Record's coverage is very limited. The Sentinel newspaper does a creditable job of printing the Newburgh School District's news releases.

The Sentinel is published two times a week, and includes several articles about school activities. In the October 26 edition there are blurbs, most with photographs, about:

  • A special program at Temple Hill Academy where nurses from St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital visited with students.
  • A reading program at Meadow Hill that was kicked off with an assembly with singer and songwriter John Farrell.
  • Children's Country Day School receiving a $2,500 grant from Empire State Bank.
  • Washington Street Pre-K students visiting a local appple orchard. The same story appears word for word, with the same picture at the Hudson Valley Press website.
  • Washington Street Pre-K students "adapting to the classroom".
  • Windsor Academy being visited by the Vails Gate Fire Department.
  • An NFA art teacher, Yvette Lewis, is spending three weeks in Japan on a Fulbright Scholarship. That sounds like quite an honor!

The publisher of the Sentinel has a website at

Innovative ESL Summer Program

Here are two slightly older articles about the challenge the Newburgh School District faces teaching ESL students.

From the New York times, November 1, 2006: For Hispanic Parents, Lessons on Helping With the Homework

Here in this city of 30,000, where 36 percent of the school population is Latino, most of them Mexican immigrants, the school district is working hard to help parents immerse themselves in school from kindergarten on.

Carmen Vazqueztell, the district’s director of bilingual education, runs six workshops a year for parents, instructing them on monitoring homework and reading to children in Spanish, then having the children paraphrase the stories. Peter Gonzalez, the district’s bilingual liaison, pinch-hits for parents and helps students do homework.

And from the Times Herald-record, August 6, 2007 Course helps kids to grow; Literacy program uses books, gardens

The Newburgh School District, Orange County's largest and most diverse, is trying something new with its older elementary kids this summer. It's called "To Grow From Who We Are," a four-week multimedia literacy program that encourages students to explore their identities as they practice new language skills.

"This is about finding our roots," says Carmen Vazqueztell, the district's director of bilingual education. Hence the tiny gardens.

Students planted their window boxes on the first day of the program, the same day they started reading "Seedfolks" by Paul Fleischman.
The City of Newburgh, which anchors the school district, is three-quarters minority, with a large Spanish-speaking population. In the past 10 years, the number of English as a second language, or ESL, students enrolled in Newburgh schools has nearly doubled. The district enrolled more than 1,500 ESL students last year -- more than the total number of kids in the average Orange County high school. Of those, 94 percent are Hispanic, but there also are Chinese, Uzbekistani and Jamaican students.

This summer program sounds truly innovative and inspirational. Carmen Vazqueztell is doing great work for the Newburgh community.

Creating Something Where There Was Nothing

At a dedication ceremony last week for a new playground at Horizons-on-the-Hudson Magnet School a student is quoted:

"At first there was nothing out here," said sixth-grader Savannah Ordonez, a member of the school's "Gardening Option" program, "and then we started clearing it out and planting. Now it's the most beautiful part of the school."

As she, and all students in grades 2 through 11 thoughout the district suffer the first bout of new district mandated "benchmark assessments" this week, we hope that Savannah remembers that there was at least one time when she and her classmates took a place where there was nothing and created something beautiful. And there was at least one time when teachers took the risk to try something with no guaranteed outcome. And there was a time to design, create, build, and accomplish something real.

We hope she remembers, yet we fear that by the third or fourth bout of "benchmark assessments" (there are four scheduled this school year!) she may succumb, and be tricked or brainwashed into thinking that filling in bubbles with a number two pencil is as important as having planted a seed.

Thanks to the staff of Horizons-on-the Hudson and all the volunteers who helped, for teaching creatively; thank you Senator Larkin, for finding funds for this project; and thank you to the Record for reporting this story.

Kozol on Testing

Jonathan Kozol spoke at Mount Saint Mary College in August. Here's a quote, via the Mid-Hudson News Network:

"The greatest difficulty that these young teachers face is the testing-mania, the madness of repeated obsessive testing, that the White House has forced upon our public schools under the law called No Child Left Behind, which is probably the worst, most destructive piece of education legislation that I have seen in my entire lifetime," he said.

Enrollment Increase

A little article in the Record gushes about how district enrollment "swells" to a "whopping 12,653 students". That is still less than 2003-04 enrollment of 12,716. The article also mentions:

And along with all those teens and tykes, the Newburgh district added 100 new teaching positions, paid for in large part by the state's Contract for Excellence initiatives.

100 new positions is substantial. Were all these new positions comfortably accommodated in the district's existing buildings?

Mandarin Chinese offered in several Orange County school districts

Congratulations to the intrepid students and wise administrators of Chester, Goshen, Greenwood Lake, Highland Falls, Minisink, Monroe-Woodbury, Tuxedo and Warwick schools. Mandarin is an excellent subject to study.

One thing's for sure: The kids seem excited to start school, even at this information session about a week ahead of time.

About 120 sixth-graders in eight local school districts will take Mandarin Chinese this year, thanks to a three-year $1 million grant from the federal Department of Education. Elementary school students in some of those districts, too, will begin a cultural exchange, communicating with students at boarding schools in China via an interactive Web site and through video conferencing.

Local students take new Chinese class, By Simon Shifrin, Times Herald-Record September 04, 2007

NCLB and Curriculum

The Record's Paul Brooks reports that a "Survey finds some mid-Hudson school subjects left behind".

It's terrific that the Record devotes some space to education policy. The impact of NCLB on local school districts should be examined and reported. However, the report this article is about appears to be Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era. While the report is valuable for the information it provides, it's not clear whether any local districts participated in the surveys or interviews used as data sources.

How has NCLB affected curriculum in the Newburgh Schools?

The Record has few facts to share. There is only this puzzling anecdote:

The Newburgh School District is one of six local districts under special attention from the state. The attention brings a "contract for excellence" and some additional money to improve scores.

The money is paying for an additional 25 teachers and the district has wedged another instructional period into the school day by trimming other periods.

"The students are not missing a thing," said district spokesman Tom Fitzgerald. "They are getting another period."

What subjects will the new period stress? English and math, he said.

Link the Record Forum about this article.

Boot Camp for Literacy

The Times Herald-Record published an article today, 'Boot camp' for literacy, about a new reading and writing class for junior high students which is part of the Extended School Year program in the Newburgh School District. The article is generally favorable toward the program.

"Every aspect of the new SRA/McGraw Hill literacy curriculum is timed and scripted. It tells teachers exactly what to say, how to say it, even what hand motions to use."

"Students in the program are grouped according to reading level. The lowest tested at a third-grade level and the highest at a fifth-grade level. At the end of the summer, the students will be tested again to track their progress."

Is there no other way to measure the effectiveness of this highly regimented program than to purchase exams from McGraw Hill? The Record runs a Reader Reactions forum where there are some comments.


perfunctory, adj. Of an action, deed, work, etc.: done merely as a matter of duty, form, or routine, and so without interest, care, or enthusiasm; carried out with a minimum of effort; formulaic, mechanical.

This ad was published at taxpayer expense in the Times Herald-Record on Saturday, July 28, 2007.