LAKE PLACID — A commission charged with retooling state education heard from North Country stakeholders Tuesday.
Cooperation, flexibility, workforce training, technology and the state-aid formula were key components of messages delivered at the Lake Placid Conference Center.
College administrators, school superintendents, parents, students, workforce directors and civic leaders brought a spectrum of issues they believe need to be reworked throughout New York’s education system.
The hearing was one of 10 scheduled around the state for the New NY Education Reform Commission, founded in late April by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Development Corp. CEO Paul Grasso, representing the North Country Workforce Investment Board, said that public-school classrooms are often “teacher-centric” and not student friendly. He suggested increasing technology use so students can access the information they need to improve learning.
The region’s Workforce Board urged the commission to ensure education becomes
more collaborative between schools and employers.
The same message wove through comments from Garry Douglas, co-chairman of the North County Economic Development Council, and John Jablonski, president of Clinton County Community College.
Both leaders said the Cradle-to-Career initiative in Clinton County — part of the national Strive Network — has brought education into focus for local and business communities.
Jablonski said their model, called “Thrive,” works with the community as the unit of analysis — not school grades or teacher qualifications.
“If Clinton County is to thrive,” he said, “we must address the issue of education attainment and workforce development.”
Their process combines efforts from industry, business, media, community leaders, elected officials, chambers of commerce and schools, Jablonski said.
“We are working toward a shared accountability with differentiated responsibility.”
Other panelists discussed concern with the draconic state-aid formula and with how it does and doesn’t account for rural economics.
Viola Schmid-Doyle, a national board-certified teacher from Canton, noted the North Country’s poverty rate grew from 13 percent to 23 percent over the past few years.
And, she observed, state-aid calculations do not adjust for changes in poverty rate.
Grasso offered insight from the Connecting Business to Education program Workforce Investment held in recent years.
He said they found a huge discrepancy between how teachers view student readiness and what employers found with new hires.
In a survey done two years ago, he said, area teachers suggested high-school students were 75 percent prepared for entering the workplace. But in the same survey, employers said students were 85 percent unprepared for the workforce.
Clarkson University President Anthony Collins, who is co-chairman of the North Country Regional Economic Council with Douglas, said students coming through the state Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) core programs are the lifeblood of the economic future.
He suggested the commission find ways to revise academic requirements to allow a variety of pathways for students to attain graduation and to include credit for experience.
Other panelists urged the commission to include hands-on learning, internships and other types of high-school diplomas to guarantee success for every student in New York.
Joe Pete Wilson, principal of the Adirondack Early College High School program, described collaboration between North Country Community College and schools in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
He said they have found “fewer than 2 in 10 eighth-graders are on target for college.”
He asked the commission to consider early student access to college financial assistance, so kids can pay for college credit courses taken in high school.
Douglas Gearhardt, an attorney with Harris Beach, said the state education system should be revised to allow school districts to share services with towns or villages or other schools resources such as libraries, garages, payroll departments, educators and administrators.
Other panelists questioned whether teacher seniority was the best measure for success in education and discussed how budget cuts have affected rural schools.
Presiding Commission Chairwoman Elizabeth Dickey, who is president of the Bankstreet College of Education in New York City, said several repeating themes have turned up in hearings held so far.
New York’s disparate tax base — the difference between wealthy school districts and modest ones — struggles under the current state-aid formula. And leaders in other regions also seek more refined school-based connections to business and industry.
The hearing record will be used to inform changes to state education policy.
“We’re not the deciders,” Dickey explained. “We’re the idea machine.”
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