School boards weigh future electives

ST. JOHNSVILLE – The Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville school boards met Wednesday and discussed what the merged district will have to offer with electives and special education.

School officials reviewed the elective courses each district currently offers to students and went over the possible electives the merger will allow them to add.

However, that won’t be for a year or two after the new district starts.

Oppenheim-Ephratah Principal Brett Barr discussed the electives each district offers – a combined total of 75 electives – and some ideas the districts’ boards and teachers have discussed including more honors and advanced placement classes, business classes, and anatomy and physiology.

Barr said the merged district will have to set its schedule with state-mandated classes before adding more electives, but the staff members will continue to discuss new ideas.

“Master schedule plays a huge part in it – how many slots are available,” he said. “There are certainly a lot more classes we would like to add.”

Oppenheim-Ephratah Board President Ben Conte said the merged district most likely won’t see new electives for another two years.

“When you put together a master schedule, you start with seniors first. So senior requirements, junior requirements, then electives,” Conte said. “I think [electives are] more down the road. Right now, we’re trying to get the newly merged district together. [But] I think the teachers can talk and come up with new ideas.”

Ann Drummond, St. Johnsville’s chairwoman for the committee on special education and school psychologist, said along with getting used to a new district, the special education teachers will have to adhere to a new state mandate for special education.

Drummond said beginning in the 2013-14 school year, special education students will be required to pass five Regents exams – in English language arts, math, science, global history and U.S. history – with a 65 or higher, just like the other students.

Previously, special education students could graduate with a certificate based on their achieving goals specified in their individual education programs provided by their teachers.

“They’re going to have students drop out,” she said. “Those are the students we are going to have to put effort into … They’re going to be made to take those Regents courses they didn’t have to.”

Oppenheim-Ephratah special education teacher Dolores Hayes said they typically designed programs for the special education students based on a pass or fail grading.

Hayes explained if a student was passing with a 65 or higher, they would get their passing grade. But if they were failing, they would only be graded with a P for pass or an F for fail.

“If they didn’t meet every part of their criteria, they would get an F. It was really for self-esteem,” she said. “When they see their grades are up, they’ll get their confidence back up.”

Both teachers said they have a goal of teaching the district’s special-education students in-house, rather than spending more money to send their students to a Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Drummond said St. Johnsville used a Crossroads program to train the school’s staff for special education, eliminating the need to send a child out of the district. She said sending a student to a local BOCES can cost the district $50,000 per student.

The two districts will hold their next joint meeting March 13 at 7 p.m. at the St. Johnsville High School.

Hayes also said the districts will host a meet-the-candidates event before the election for the new Board of Education on March 19.