Warwick schools brace for state mandates

Warwick.Warwick Valley Central School District Superintendent Dr. David Leach has discussed potential changes coming from Governor Kathy Hochul regarding special education policy, zero-emissions school buses, and new school holidays.

| 12 Jan 2024 | 11:50

During the Warwick Valley Central School District’s first meeting of the new year on January 4, Superintendent Dr. David Leach cited potential changes likely to come from Governor Kathy Hochul regarding changes to special education policy, the acquisition of zero-emissions school buses and the adoption of new school holidays. Leach also reminded those present at the school board’s regular monthly meeting that budget season is just around the corner.

Leach said that Albany introduced a law mandating special education departments to establish “best practices,” especially regarding reading comprehension standards, by 2025.

The “good news,” Leach added, is that the practices WVCSD teachers are following currently support the new proposed literacy requirements.

Zero-emissions school buses

While the governor has stipulated that all new school buses purchased be zero-emission by 2027 and all school buses in operation to be electric by 2035, Leach and some of his colleagues say that timeline is too aggressive, and that while Hochul’s plan is well-intentioned, there’s a “need to slow down.” Leach and his peers’ concerns include the cost of transitioning to electric buses, plus the potentially limited space for charging infrastructure in some districts.

New holidays

The superintendent said that the additions of Juneteenth and Asian Lunar New Year observances to the school calendar are “well-intentioned, but it’s difficult to have a cohesive school year calendar.” Leach suggested adding a few school days at the end of August to compensate for these additions to the holiday schedule.

School safety

The Warwick school district will be seeking additional aid from Albany for school safety initiatives, in the interest of minimizing impacts to district taxpayers. Among the areas of improvement: staff training, keyless entry to the front of the school buildings, and bulletproof glass.

School budget

Budget conversations will begin within about a month, as Warwick Valley awaits input from the Legislature. Leach expects Governor Hochul’s proposal to come around the end of January, with the actual New York State legislative budget information likely to come in April.

Public comment

Concerned local parent, Stephanie Kowalsky addressed her concerns about fifth-graders being part of the middle school. These younger students, she believes, “don’t have the proper guidance or respect for authority” and noted issues with anxiety, self-esteem, bullying and discipline, among others. She also claimed class length was too long for fifth-grade attention spans and that they don’t have the maturity to handle interpersonal issues.

Leach said that the district uses a team-teaching approach at the fifth and sixth grade level; that the length of class time can vary by subject; and grades five and six, while in the middle school, are still considered elementary grades.

“Is there room for improvement?” he asked. “Of course.” As to Kowalsky’s suggestion of potentially re-opening one of the district’s closed buildings, Leach balked, as doing so could potentially cost the district “millions of dollars.”

Board member John Garcia noted that, earlier in his career, there “were always concerns with [grades] six, seven, eight, and nine” being put together, and that this is not a new issue.

Leach added, “I understand [Kowalsky’s] concerns...but I don’t want to discredit our teachers.” who work to help fifth graders make the transition to the middle school.