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Chappaqua School Board Discusses Teaching Method, Budget

School board has its first meeting of the new year.

The Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education's Jan 12. meeting was marked by two very different points of interest. The meeting began with a heart-warming send-off to a well-loved art teacher, followed by the presentation of a promising and growing elementary-level teaching format, and ending with news about the school budget for the next two years.

Retiring Teacher

Horace Greeley High School's Academic Commons, the location of the Board Meeting, was adorned last night with the artwork of Deborah Crosby's students. The board began the meeting by saying goodbye to Crosby who was retiring after 36 years of service. After an introduction by District Supervisor David Fleishman, Horace Greeley Principal Andrew Selesnick gave a speech about the many years of great work Crosby has done for the school.

Elementary School Small Group Instruction

Led by Deputy Superintendent Dr. Lyn McCay, a presentation on small group instruction at the elementary school level was given. Along with the Deputy Superintendent and Superintendent, the three elementary school principals and two assistant principals provided a video and analysis for the five board members and about 30 people in the audience.

Small group instruction is one of four basic formats teachers use to instruct in the classroom. It is characterized by a group of two to six students working with one teacher and follows a predetermined structure. According to Douglas G. Grafflin Elementary School Principal Mike Kirsch, small group instruction "allows teachers an opportunity to apply a new strategy...and students to feel comfortable in the setting. It's about setting the student up for success."

Additionally, small group instruction acts as reinforcement and support to the whole class instruction format. "Small group instruction allows teachers to engage students more fully," Kirsch said. "It provides students the opportunity to get more help, and teachers a chance to reteach strategies to those who need it."

The Board asked a few questions.

Jay Shapiro asked how many small groups are there in each class? Kirsch answered that it's pretty frequent, explaining that almost all kids are pulled into groups at some point – some, of course, more frequently then others. Shapiro also asked if the teachers are aware of and keep track of which students need help. Westorchard Elementary School Principal James Skoog answered that teachers keep careful logs and records of who gets help and needs help, and it as used as a tool to help monitor the students.

Janet Benton asked why small group instruction has become a focus now. Eric Byrne, Roaring Brook Elementary School principal, answered that it was simply the right time. "With all the literacy work done in the district lately, it just felt like the logical step," he pointed out. McKay added: "It's like a golf swing. You can always get better and we always want to improve." Skoog added that small group instruction creates a new level of instruction and is a new way to teach the students.

Shapiro asked if class size impacts small group success. Byrne admitted that class size will be an issue for small group instruction. Clearly, larger classes will allow for less small group instruction opportunities.

Preliminary Budget Discussion

The preliminary budget discussion was centered around two parameters: a two-year projected budget, the district's reserves and discussion about how they should be used.

"In these tough economic times, it is very difficult to predict the future," said Fleishman.

Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow reiterated this unpredictable financial forecast for the board, but offered hopeful budget projections nonetheless. For the 2010-11 school year, a projected 5.2 percent increase is projected. If current programming remains the same, a 5.9 percent increase is projected for the 2011-12 school year.

In terms of revenue projections, Fleishman stated that these are hard to rely on because state aid is unpredictable. He fears that Albany will be making cuts in education that will affect all districts in the state. Additional, Chow noted there is only one more year of stimulus money, so revenue may decrease.

The on-going discussion will continue at the next board of education meeting.

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