District receives results of water quality testing at LHS

A letter from Superintendent Dr. William Silver:

As you may know, this September Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new law that requires public schools in New York to test all water outlets currently or potentially used for drinking or cooking purposes for lead levels.

Per the law, if the lead level from a water outlet exceeds the state’s action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), the district will take immediate action to remedy the problem. To put this number into perspective, the NYS Department of Health uses the 15 ppb action level to promote remediation of a water outlet rather than to identify a health-based or exposure level.

Like many school districts around the region, Liberty Central School District test results show elevated levels of lead in several water outlets. At this point, we now have preliminary results for all three schools. The results are available on the district’s website, www.libertyk12.org.

At Liberty High School, 189 water sources were tested and 33 showed elevated levels of lead, most of which were sinks in the science labs.

As a precaution, all of the affected sinks have signs posted on them and all of the drinking fountains have been shut off. The district will collaborate with engineers and environmental specialists to determine next steps, which could include the replacement or remediation of water pipes and fixtures. As a follow-up, additional water tests will be conducted to determine if the replacement/remediation was successful.

The health and safety of students and staff is a top priority for the Liberty Board of Education and school administration. We will continue to test all our school buildings and will keep you updated as we learn more.

According to the EPA, lead in drinking water is rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning. Additionally, human skin does not absorb lead in water so even if water contains lead over the state’s action level, it is safe for hand washing, cleaning, or science applications. For more information about lead levels and drinking water, visit the EPA’s website.

Please be assured we are taking the necessary steps to address the situation and to ensure the safety of our students and staff throughout the district.

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Liberty grad reflects on journey at ESL Night

At the district’s tenth annual English as a Second Language (ESL) Night on Aug, 25, Irais Leon, class of 2016, explained how her support system of friends, family and teachers helped her to learn English and excel in Honors courses.

“I start college on Monday,” she said. “I’m going to be a nurse.”

Irais went on to say that parents who speak little or no English can still contribute to their children’s education.

“Please don’t let your children slack off or fall behind,” she said. “Push them. Take advantage of their teachers. Help is available.”

These may have been stark words to contemplate, but Irais’ message was clear – the only way students are able to make it through school is with strong support from school and home.

Her words were met with wild applause and sentiments were echoed by Mrs. Medina, Mr. Hall and Ms. Shamro, who explained that all parents can be helpful in their children’s achievement, regardless of their language or literacy level.

Teachers then gave pledge to the families in attendance that they would do all they could to provide a quality education for their children, but also told them they wanted to partner with families to ensure their child reaches his or her highest potential.

The night was a way for students and parents meet with their principals, teachers and nurses. Particular attention was paid to supports available to help students meet educational expectations and about the school’s procedures and practices. Representatives from PRASAD, Hudson River Health Plan, Sullivan County Adult BOCES, Child Care Council, Literacy Volunteers, Liberty Public Library and the Youth Economic Group were available to answer questions, provide insight and pass out translated materials.

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Liberty students in grades 3-8 see growth in state test scores

Proficiency rate up from previous year

Student achievement in the Liberty Central School District is moving in a positive trend, but local test scores were still below statewide averages on New York state assessments, according to data released by the State Education Department (SED).

In late July, SED released district and school results for the English language arts (ELA) and mathematics assessments taken in spring 2016 by students in grades 3-8.

As in the past, students’ scores on the tests are converted into a scoring range of 1 through 4 meant to indicate their degree of proficiency in the Common Core standards for the grade level. Scores at levels 3-4 indicate proficiency (4 means that a student excels in the standards), while levels 1-2 indicate a student is below proficiency.

Results show Liberty students’ combined levels 3-4 proficiency rates were 19 percent for ELA and 25 percent for math, compared with statewide results of 37.9 percent for ELA and 39.1 percent for math.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bill Silver attributed the district’s positive results to the hard work of students and teachers, increased experience with the Common Core, increased use of technology across the district and changes made by the state in response to parents’ and educators’ concerns.

Although Liberty students’ scores were below statewide averages for proficiency, they did reflect an increase in performance compared to the 2014-15 school year. The district’s proficiency rates for ELA and math increased by four percentage points each.

The district saw a year-to-year increase of in its math and ELA results for nearly all grade levels, however; the state cautioned in its release about statewide scores that “while the content of the 2016 tests and last year’s tests are comparable and similarly rigorous, it is not possible to make direct comparisons of the 2016 results to prior years’ results because of changes to the tests this year.”

It is also important to note that there are additional factors which contribute to the district’s performance, including the number of students who speak English as a second language and the number of students who chose to opt-out of this year’s exams.

As in the past, these state assessments do not factor into a student’s grades for the year. Instead, teachers and administrators look to the assessment results as a way to gain insight into curricular areas that may need to be refined to support student learning.

“While the state may put importance on a given year’s test results, the larger purpose of education is making sure that students have the skills, knowledge and experiences they need to be successful in life,” Dr. Silver said. “Our students worked hard last year and should be proud of the gains they made. These results simply tell us there’s still more work for [the district] to do to help students meet today’s high standards.”

Parents can anticipate receiving information on their child’s individual performance on the assessments in September. For more information, please contact the main office of your child’s school.

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Regents approve new graduation pathway

At its June 2016 meeting, the New York State Board of Regents adopted a regulation that will allow all students statewide the opportunity to graduate with a Career Development Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential added to their high school diplomas.

In the past, the CDOS Commencement Credential was available only to students with disabilities. The credential indicates that students are ready for entry-level employment after high school and have met requirements related to employability skills and career exploration and training.

Students who earn the CDOS Commencement Credential will still need to meet current minimum academic requirements, including earning at least 22 credits and passing four Regents exams (math, science, English language arts and social studies).

In addition, students will need to meet all the requirements for the credential, which can be earned in one of two ways:

• Option 1: Several requirements fall under this option, including preparing a career plan, which includes information about a student’s strengths, career interests and goals, as well as a plan to reach those goals. Each student also must complete 216 hours of career and technical education (CTE) coursework and/or work-based learning (54 of the 216 hours must be work-based experiences) and have an employability profile that rates the student’s workplace skills. In addition, this option requires that students participate in a curriculum based on the CDOS learning standards, which include exploring career options, using academic skills (such as math) in work settings, possessing employability skills (such as the ability to work as part of a team, problem-solving skills and communications skills) and acquiring career-specific knowledge and skills to progress toward gainful employment. Learn more about the standards at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/cte/cdlearn/documents/cdoslea.pdf

• Option 2: Fulfill the requirements for one of the nationally recognized work readiness credentials, such as the National Work Readiness Credential, the SkillsUSA Work Force Ready Employability Assessment, the National Career Readiness Certificate WorkKeys and the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems Workforce Skills Certification System. Learn more at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/specialed/publications/CDOScredential-att5.pdf

The credential is available beginning in June 2016 for students meeting all the requirements.

The CDOS Commencement Credential is the newest graduation “pathway” approved by the Board of Regents, complementing students’ options to choose from four other pathways: 1.) arts; 2.) humanities; 3.) biliteracy; 4.) career and technical education and 5.) science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

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Board of Regents extends special education safety net

Certain students with disabilities will be allowed to graduate  without passing all required Regents exams

During its June 2016 meeting, the New York State Board of Regents approved an emergency action that will allow certain students with disabilities to graduate with a Local Diploma after their school superintendents review their coursework and certify the students have met minimum requirements.

This new graduation pathway (dubbed “Superintendent Determination Pathway”) goes into effect on June 20, 2016. The Board of Regents estimates that 1,300 students who wouldn’t otherwise meet graduation requirements will be eligible to earn their diplomas under the new process. An additional 900 students with disabilities who are in their fifth and sixth years of high school may also qualify.

This new pathway applies to students with disabilities who:
• Currently have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and are receiving special education services;
• Have not met graduation requirements under other safety net options (i.e., the “low pass” safety net option or the “compensatory” safety net option);
• Scored at least 55 on the English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics Regents exams or successfully appealed a score of 52 to 54;
• Are unable to demonstrate their proficiency on standard state assessments due to their disabilities;
• Have earned required course credits and passed all courses required for graduation, including the Regents courses that correspond with Regents exam areas (ELA, math, social studies and science);
• Can demonstrate graduation-level proficiency of the state’s learning standards in the subject area(s) where they were unable to pass Regents exams.

In these cases, the school district superintendent will be required to conduct a review to ensure the affected students with disabilities have met the required academic standards to earn a Local Diploma under this new graduation pathway. This is an automatic process; students or parents do not have to make a formal request. School principals and superintendents must sign a document prescribed by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) commissioner that describes the evidence reviewed and the decision rendered by the superintendent and the students and their parents must receive a copy of this documentation. If a student does not meet the requirements, the documentation must note that the student can continue to attend school until the end of the school year when he/she turns 21. A copy of the form must be included in students’ academic records and submitted to NYSED no later than August 31 of the year the affected students graduate.

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Liberty conducts voluntary water test

One water fountain turned off as a precaution; all other fixtures deemed fine

In response to state- and nation-wide concerns about lead in drinking water, the district voluntarily conducted a water test in April. Orange-Ulster BOCES collected water samples from various sources throughout each of Liberty’s three schools, including drinking fountains, classrooms and cafeterias, to test for lead.

During sample collection, Orange-Ulster BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) recommended that a single antiquated water fountain on the third floor in Liberty Elementary School be shut off. The water fountain was built with a lead fitting that could potentially seep lead into the water.

The fountain was immediately shut off. In its official report, Orange-Ulster BOCES reported that while the district’s water samples were within normal ranges, trace amounts of lead were detected in samples from the one antiquated fountain.

The piping surrounding the fountain was deemed lead-free by Orange-Ulster BOCES, which pinpoints the water fountain as the only source of lead, Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Silver said. The fountain will remain turned off until it and its plumbing can be removed and replaced. Although not considered to pose a threat, a second fountain on the third floor will be replaced so the two units match.

No lead was detected in any other schools or any other water sources at Liberty Elementary School.
Although there is no legal requirement for school districts to test for lead in drinking water, the district tested proactively to ensure students’ safety, especially in light of recent national and local news surrounding elevated lead levels in drinking water, Dr. William Silver said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lead in drinking water is rarely the sole cause of lead poisoning. For more information about prevention and risks to lead exposure, please contact your family physician or log on to the EPA’s website.

You may also contact Dr. Silver at (845) 292-6990 and speak with his secretary, Tania DeFrank.

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LES prepares for computerized ELA testing

Starting this week, fourth-grade students at Liberty Elementary
School will take computerized tests in English language arts to help
prepare for New York’s official transition to computer-based state
testing next year.

In a memo last fall, the New York State Education Department (SED)
invited all New York schools to try out computer-based testing in
this spring’s field test, to give administrators, teachers,
students and state officials a chance to see how they work in real
school settings.

Liberty Central School District is among more than 900 schools
participating in the field test.

Only fourth-grade students are taking part in the field tests. The
field tests will be available on iPads and administered between
May 23 and June 10.

Districts will have the option of offering online testing for the
actual state exams in 2016-17, and both computer and paper state
exams will be offered through 2020. The transition to
computer-based testing is meant to be slow in consideration of
each district’s technological infrastructure and different
logistical challenges.

This transition stems move from the state’s “commitment to meeting
the needs of 21st century learners, while at the same time
improving test delivery, test integrity, scoring validity, and
turn-around time on testing results,” Executive Deputy
Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin said in the memo.

Field test results do not affect student grades or factor into
accountability ratings for districts, schools or teachers. Rather,
the tests are given to help ensure questions used in future state
exams are appropriate and fair for all students.

The web-based test delivery platform includes accommodations for
students with disabilities, English learners and English learners
with disabilities. Students also will have access to on-screen
math tools, such as calculators, protractors and rulers, approved
for their grade level.

The 40-minute tests will be administered to just one grade and in
one subject and won’t count on student transcripts or toward final
grades. The purpose of the test is to help the district pinpoint
any technical issues and to help get students comfortable with the
technology.

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Comptroller’s report praises Liberty for fiscal responsibility

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli recently released a report commending the Liberty Central School District and its board of education for installing sound financial checks and balances for transactions made during the 2014-2015 school year.

“District officials and the board have taken a more proactive role in effectively managing its financial operations. This includes adopting realistic budgets and reviewing expenditures for cost savings where possible,” according to the 12-page audit released by DiNapoli’s office on April 1.

The audit examined transactions made between July 1, 2014 and Nov. 30, 2015 and referred back as far as July 1, 2012 to gauge the consistency of the district’s financial operations.

The report commended Liberty for its sensible fiscal management, noting that the district consistently uses its budget surpluses to fund reserves, plan for long-term projects and minimize the need for significant property tax increases.

The report noted that that although the unemployment insurance and retirement contribution reserves were over funded by $1.6 million, the district plans to transfer the excess to the capital reserve to help fund future capital projects.

In its recommendations to the district, the comptroller’s office suggested that officials closely monitor the profitability of its recent participation in the National School Lunch Program Community Eligibility Provision, a program that allows the district to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students and be reimbursed using a formula of the percentage of students who are eligible for free meals.

While the district’s involvement in the free breakfast and lunch program has increased its federal aid, the report noted that it is too early to determine whether it is cost-effective.

District officials said they agree with the findings and thanked state officials without disputing any elements in the report.

“Liberty Central School District appreciates how you have commended district officials for their ‘prudent fiscal management’ and will continue to closely monitor fund balance, reserves, property taxes and expenditures to consistently maintain financial stability,” Superintendent Dr. William Silver wrote in the district’s response, dated March 23 and included in the final report. “Additionally, officials will continue to monitor the School Lunch Program and the cost effectiveness of the Community Eligibility Program.”

As district officials and the board of education continue to develop the 2016-17 proposed budget, they will hold tight to their “do more with less” philosophy with the goal of ensuring that students get the best education possible without exceeding the district’s tax levy limit.

Residents can follow the budget development process by visiting www.libertyk12.org/budget or by attending an upcoming board of education meeting. Meetings are typically held on the second and fourth Tuesday each month at 7 p.m. During the school year, meetings are held in the library/media center at Liberty High School.

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District adopts Alternative Veterans Exemption

At its meeting  on Feb. 23, the Liberty Board of Education adopted the Alternative Veterans’ Exemption at the minimum level, which exempts a portion of eligible veterans’ property values from school taxes based on state law.

Liberty adopted the minimum level of exemptions for eligible veterans:
• Basic exemption – 15 percent off the assessed value of qualified residential properties (up to $6,000)
• Combat Zone exemption – in addition to Basic, 10 percent off for vets who have served in a combat zone (up to $4,000)
• Disabled Veterans exemption – in addition to Basic (and Combat Zone, if applicable), a variable discount based upon a service-related disability (up to $20,000)

While property tax exemptions for veterans have been in effect statewide since the 1980s, they have until now only been applied to the county and town portions of a veteran’s tax bill. In 2013, the New York State Legislature approved an amendment to expand the program to school districts, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in December 2013.

Veterans with already approved exemptions on file with their local municipality do not need to reapply for a school tax exemption. However, new exemption applications must be filed with the town assessor by March 1, 2016, for September 2017 school tax bills and January 2017 town/city/village tax bills.

Please contact your local town assessor for questions about eligibility and applications.

 

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Salad bars added to cafeteria choices

Students who have access to salad bars in their school cafeterias
eat three times more fruits and vegetables than their peers who
don’t. And these extra servings can add up to better health and
better grades. Thanks to a “Let’s Move” fundraising campaign,
Liberty Central School District is ensuring all 1,625 of its
students are offered plenty of fresh produce options, daily.

Beginning in June, students will be able to eat fresh vegetables
and fruit from a salad bar thanks to a grant from “Let’s Move
Salad Bars to Schools” its partner, the Whole Kids Foundation and
Cornell Cooperative Extension. “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools,” part of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, is an initiative to increase the healthy fruits and vegetables that children have access to in
school. The program launched in 2010 and has granted salad bars to
more than 4,100 schools, nationwide.

In July 2015, Liberty Schools’ Food Services Director Dara Smith
submitted an application through the “Let’s Move Salad Bars to
Schools” website to request the salad bars for the schools.

“The district was interested in using salad bars as a way to
encourage more students to participate in their meal program, as
well as to meet new federal school lunch nutrition standards that
require schools to serve an increased amount and variety of fruit
and vegetables each day,” she said.

The grant provides a complete salad bar package including the
Cambro brand bar, the pans, pan covers, tongs and ice packs to
keep the items chilled throughout the lunch service. Schools are
then responsible for providing the produce. Each of the salad bars
costs $2,825 and Salad bars have a useful life expectancy of 10
years.

If you have any questions please contact Dara Smith at
845-292-5400 ext. 2040.

Additional Resources:

Frequently asked questions

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