Posts Tagged ‘education’

No bomb found after Watertown High School evacuation

Police and school officials searched Watertown High School for a bomb after a threat this morning forced evacuation. They were assisted by C.J., the explosive detection dog. Photo: NYS Police

Police and school officials searched Watertown High School for a bomb after a threat this morning forced evacuation. They were assisted by C.J., the explosive detection dog. Photo: NYS Police

After a bomb threat this morning, Watertown High School was evacuated, according to a press release from the Watertown City School District. Police, school officials and a bomb-sniffing dog found no evidence of a bomb. They’re currently investigating the bomb threat. Here’s the complete text of the press release from the school district:

The Watertown High School was evacuated today in response to a bomb threat that was discovered at approximately 11:45 a.m.  Upon a thorough sweep by our school district’s School Resource Officer, New York State Police with “CJ” a trained bomb threat dog, as well as specially assigned WHS staff members, no evidence was found that a bomb was in the building.

Our deep appreciation goes out to the Watertown City Police Department, New York State Police, and Watertown City Fire Department for their quick response to our call for assistance.  I also would like to commend all the Watertown High School staff and all of our 9-12 students who cooperated and truly worked together to maintain a safe environment throughout the evacuation process.

Our first priority in these circumstances is to assure the safety and welfare of students and staff.  Our second priority is now to conduct an investigation using both anecdotal evidence and camera data to identify the person(s) who may be responsible for this criminal act.

Cuomo announces Trudeau/Clarkson biotech partnership

From left, Clarkson University President Tony Collins, Empire State Development President Ken Adams and Trudeau Institute President and CEO Ron Goldfarb hold up a copy of a memorandum of understanding committing the three to a $35 million biotech partnership. The deal was signed Wednesday at the Lake Placid Conference Center. (Photo:  Chris Knight, Adirondack Daily Enterprise)

From left, Clarkson University President Tony Collins, Empire State Development President Ken Adams and Trudeau Institute President and CEO Ron Goldfarb hold up a copy of a memorandum of understanding committing the three to a $35 million biotech partnership. The deal was signed Wednesday at the Lake Placid Conference Center. (Photo: Chris Knight, Adirondack Daily Enterprise)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in Lake Placid today, making a couple of announcements. First, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reports, the governor unveiled a new biotech partnership between the state, Clarkson University in Potsdam, and the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake. Cuomo said the state is pledging up to $35 million toward the effort over a three-year period.

In a press release, the governor said Clarkson and the Trudeau Institute are “major assets” in the state. “We must harness these strengths to continue to strengthen our innovation economy. This transformational partnership will allow for the best and brightest minds to collaborate and undertake world-class research and development, building the region into a global leader in the biotech industry and driving new opportunities and jobs in Northern New York.”

The paper also reports the governor said New York will do everything in its power to make two Saranac Lake hotel projects happen: the Hotel Saranac, which the Roedel family has asked the state for $5 million to buy and renovate, and a new high-end hotel on the shore of Lake Flower. Malone-based developer Chris LaBarge has asked the state for $2 million for that project.

And the governor said the state’s going to spend $12 million for various repairs at Whiteface mountain. Money from the state’s NY Works infrastructure program will go to fix the toll road up the mountain; the toll house at the road’s base; the castle at its top end and an elevator inside the mountain that leads to its summit.

Here’s the press release on that last announcement. In that release, the governor says it’s about time the repairs are made: “For too many years the Highway has been in a state of disrepair, causing serious inconveniences for motorists and bicyclists…The North Country is truly one of the most scenic and special places on the planet, and today the State is continuing to support the region and help draw tourists and outdoor enthusiasts to come experience all the Adirondacks have to offer.”

There’s a lot more detail in the press releases, if you’re interested, and we’ll have more on all these stories as they develop.

Can you do this 1st grade math homework?

Can you do this homework problem? Photo: David Sommerstein

Can you do this homework problem? Photo: David Sommerstein

The NCPR news team is interested in hearing about your experiences with and opinions about the new Common Core standards in New York’s schools. Please e-mail news-at-ncpr-dot-org and share your thoughts with your name and where you live. We’d love to hear from parents, students, teachers, school leaders, and anyone else with insight into how Common Core is reshaping our education system.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the controversy surrounding the Common Core, how parents are raging against state education commissioner John King, how teachers fear they’re being assessed unfairly, and how there’s widespread agreement that this has all happened very, very quickly.

But if you don’t have a child in school, it’s hard to know what the Common Core actually is, in terms of what’s happening in the classroom and what parents are reacting to.

My daughter’s in first grade. She gets two to three pieces of homework a night – math, spelling, and reading a (very short) book. That, in itself, has been a shock to the system for us and our six year-old. But that’s a debate for another day.

We took the photo above of a particularly perplexing math homework problem. My wife, my daughter, and I stood and puzzled over this one for the better part of ten or fifteen minutes before we took a shot in the dark and moved on.

Can you solve it?

I now know that “doubles plus one” means, for example, 4+4+1=4+5=9. The kids are learning to memorize “doubles” as a shortcut to adding without having to count fingers every time – 1+1, 2+2, 3+3, etc. They use many ways to reinforce the concept and the memorization, including drawing pictures, changing where the equal sign is, etc. “Doubles plus one” is just extending the concept. The idea, according to Common Core, is that students are improving their “fact fluency” and finding “repeated reasoning and structures”. In other words, they’re learning strategies to add faster. Cool.

The teachers and the students talk about this in the classroom. The thing is, the parents are left out of the loop. The homework doesn’t tell the parents what a “doubles plus one” is. The result is parents get frustrated trying to help with something they can’t seem to understand. And we’re not talking trigonometry here. This is adding to 10. I’m sure some parents just walk away. Lots of parents are talking about this stuff in the hallways as they wait to pick up their kids at school.

I have to say, this problem is really not far from average. The directions on the homework sheets are frequently obtuse. At least one that came home was grammatically incorrect.

I’m in no way blaming the teachers. I love my daughter’s teacher. I bet she, like so many other teachers, is frustrated, too. As Steve Todd of St. Lawrence & Lewis BOCES told me, one of the biggest problems with the Common Core right now is a lack of communication with parents on the concepts taught because the teachers haven’t had time to develop their own curricula or properly digest the curricula they’re using.

“The instructions on the assignment sheet may not communicate what it is the teacher is hoping for the student to be working on,” says Todd. “The student asks the parent for help and the parent is at a loss because they say, oh golly, this is different from what I’ve seen. That’ll get easier with time, and I think much of this, in my book, I would chalk up to the speed of the implementation, and that’s one piece of the process that is still a work in progress.”

This one piece of homework is one tiny slice in the big story about implementing the Common Core in New York. We want to hear more stories from more points of view.

As I mentioned above, we’re interested in hearing from as many of you as possible who are having an experience with the Common Core, as a teacher, as a student, as a parent, as an administrator. Please drop us a note at news-at-ncpr-dot-org (that’s a regular e-mail address but writing it that way helps avoid our account getting filled up with spam (or so I’m led to believe)). Make sure you include your name, where you live, and the best way to reach you.


Harvard students pull epic fail in geography

Still for Harvard Crimson video. Apparently crimson for a reason...

Still from Harvard Crimson video. Apparently crimson for a reason…

As reported in today’s Ottawa Citizen, a roving reporter for the Harvard Crimson had little trouble discovering an awkward lack of geo/political awareness among some students on campus.

Confronted with the challenge of naming the capital of Canada, only one could get it right.

And that student was… Canadian.

Here’s the video that went along with the question.

The poor dears.

In some respects, stories like these are too easy. Who doesn’t like to poke fun at Ivy Leagues and feel equal-to or better-than, given the chance? So I’ll come clean and admit that when my own family first considered a job transfer to Ottawa, we had to look it up on a map. We knew it was in Ontario, and it was the capital, but the “where is that?” part was decidedly fuzzy. (Sort of like Canberra. Which is somewhere in Australia, obviously. But where, exactly?)

So, here’s my question, or several questions. What’s happening? Is this state of affairs because schools don’t require that sort of rote memorization anymore? Is it because of smart phones and search engines? (Why clutter your head with details that are one click away?)  And does it signify? Is it that important to carry basic facts in your own brain cells, or is that sort of subject mastery not worth much anymore?

For anyone who would enjoy reviewing this topic here’s a list of world capitals, a list of U.S. state capitals (also in quiz form) and of Canadian provincial capitals.

President Obama addresses college affordabilty in Buffalo

College costs. Chart: The White House. Click to enlarge.

College costs. Chart: The White House. Click to enlarge.

In western New York today on a bus tour to promote new initiatives in financing higher education, President Obama gave a speech at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His address, lasting approximately half an hour, outlined a number of steps to make college education a better bargain for families, and more widely accessible to families of limited means.

A complete transcription of the president’s address is available on the White House website.

Tune in tomorrow to The Eight O’clock Hour for more coverage of the president’s travels in New York, his education plan, and his stops in Syracuse and Binghamton.


Tech gadgets and social media – what’s healthy, what’s not?

Texting in class. Photo: Andy Nguyen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Texting in class. Photo: Andy Nguyen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

This past Friday the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario voted to ban the use of cell phone in classrooms. According to CBC news:

The new rules state that mobile devices should be turned off and stored during school hours, unless special permission is given.

Justification for such a ban was set forth on the union’s website in April of this year.

“A province-wide ban on cellphones and other personal electronic devices would do a great deal to support teaching and learning in our classrooms,” said ETFO President Emily Noble.

Noble stressed that cellphones and other personal electronic devices have no place in Ontario classrooms.  “They disrupt classes, distract students and can lead to cyber bullying and harassment of school staff and students,” she said.

Every generation of parents and educators gets to wrestle with the pros and cons of new tech toys and what limits should be set. (My mother would insist the radio must be off while doing homework, while I argued it was only too easy to listen to music and finish that task at the same time.)

For some reason this topic has generated a spurt of recent coverage. Monday’s edition of The Takeway with John Hockenberry had a segment on a summer camp that tries to teach good tech balance. (This is detailed further in a story by WYNC.)

Here’s a look at three new books on the topic of children and their relations hip to technology by Dwight Garner in the New York Times: “Resisting the Siren Call of the Screen – 3 books Offer Ways to Cut the Cord, If Only Briefly“.

The books discussed are: The Distraction Addiction by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang; The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner-Adair with Teresa H. Barker and The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. (Note: not the Katie Davis that has done reporting for NPR.)

Many of the reader’s comments that followed the NYT article argued this is a problem that needs to be solved by engaged parents who have a good relationship with technology and family life themselves – and not every parent stands ready to lead by example.

Where do you come down on getting the tech/life balance right in your life and in the lives of children?

University of Ottawa plans school of government

University of Ottawa. Photo: Jean-Phillippe Daigle, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

University of Ottawa. Photo: Jean-Phillippe Daigle, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

What comes to mind when you encounter the term “school of government”? Probably Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, though there are a fair number of similar graduate programs in the public-policy analysis field.

The University of Ottawa recently announced it plans to establish Canada’s first such school of government, beginning in 2014 (with student enrollment targeted for 2015). That institution is arguably an excellent fit for the role. It is the largest bi-lingual university in Canada and is located within walking distance of Parliament Hill and associated government buildings.

According to the university web biography, current president Alan Rock is a “is a three-time University of Ottawa alumnus having graduated from the University of Ottawa High School before completing a Baccalaureate in Arts in 1968 and a law degree in 1971″. Prior to becoming president in 2008, Rock was a prominent Liberal politician, first elected to parliament in 1993. He went on to be a cabinet mainstay whose portfolios included stints as Minister of  Justice, Health, Industry and Infrastructure.

A decade ago, Rock was among the top contenders vying to replace Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, a role that eventually went to Paul Martin. Rock also served as Canada’s Ambassador to the UN from 2004-06. In short, he draws from a deep, broad background of government expertise.

The Ottawa Citizen wrote more about the proposed school in this article/interview from Aug 11. In it, Rock was asked how his own strong Liberal Party background could be kept neutral, so to speak:

Rock: “I guess it will be the kind of institution that the professors make it. I’m president of a university which is not a Liberal university nor a Conservative university. It is a university, and this is going to be a school of government.

“I fully expect the professors, when they gather in the school, will do just as they’re doing now in the faculties and departments, which is to pursue their academic interests, their teaching responsibilities, their research projects with an open mind. This is truly non-partisan, this university, and the school of government will be the same way.”

In a related angle, former federal budget officer Kevin Page now holds a 3-year post at the University of Ottawa as the Jean-Luc Pepin Research Chair on Canadian Government. The Ottawa Citizen reports Page hopes to establish a fiscal studies institute there too.

There’s continued interest among economists, planners and academia on ways higher ed does (or does not) stimulate local economies. The New York Times recently had an article on just that: “Colleges help Ithaca Thrive in a Region of Struggles” (8/4/13). Ottawa is already considered a “government town” in terms of economic activity and employment. Adding a school of government should contribute to that, though it may not do much to diversify the local landscape.

The University of Ottawa was also in the news this week over a far less-flattering situation: admissions to their school of journalism have been suspended for the coming academic year while the school is restructured. This comes in the wake of a “scathing” report that recommended the program be shut down or completely overhauled. (The university reportedly expects admissions will resume in 2014.) Meanwhile some existing students in the program are concerned about where this may leave them, in terms of education and reputation.

Canton Central spending $15m on renovation project

Hugh C. Williams Senior High School, Canton Central School District. Photo: Lizette Haenel

Hugh C. Williams Senior High School, Canton Central School District. Photo: Lizette Haenel

You may have heard on our air or read at that the Canton Central School District has had some money problems over the last couple years; more recently, the district has been considering a merger with Potsdam Central. It’s had to eliminate more than 50 staff members, and has been looking at much bigger class sizes and cuts to student activities.

It’s always slightly surprising when you read about an organization that’s in financial trouble spending money, even if the spending is from an entirely different budget — and so it was when I read this morning in the Watertown Daily Times that Canton Central is spending $15 million on a number of renovation projects throughout its complex. But it turns out the state is covering 89 percent of the costs of this project, so it’s not quite as surprising as one might have anticipated.

Some of the projects are urgent and necessary, like asbestos remediation in McKenney Middle Schoool, which Superintendent William Gregory told the paper is proving to be much more extensive — and expensive — than expected. Other projects are explicitly forward-looking, says Gregory:

Keeping the school building complex in updated condition also places the Canton district in a strong position as it looks to the possibility of merging with Potsdam Central School or other area schools.

‘It positions us to have an updated facility that could accommodate several hundred additional students should some form of merger or consolidation eventually occur,’ Mr. Gregory said.

Such projects include a new computer lab, bathrooms that will now be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, updated sports facilities, and changes to make the buildings safer and more secure.

Canton, Potsdam schools to get $25,000 from NYS for merger study


Hugh C. Williams Senior High School, Canton Central School District. NCPR File Photo

Hugh C. Williams Senior High School, Canton Central School District. Photo: Lizette Haenel

We’ve reported in the past on the Canton Central and Potsdam Central School Districts considering a merger. Now the state will fund a joint merger study to the tune of $25,000, a press release from State Sen. Patty Ritchie says. Here’s the text of that press release.


Funding Will Help Canton, Potsdam Explore Options for Increased Efficiency


State Senator Patty Ritchie has announced she has secured $25,000 in special funding to help the Canton Central School district cover the cost of a joint merger study with the Potsdam Central School District.

“It’s so critical that students here in the North Country are provided the best educational opportunities possible,” said Senator Ritchie.  “That’s why I’ve been working hard to secure increased funding and create a more equitable financial aid formula that benefits our local schools that are looking to be creative in finding ways to stretch every dollar.”

The $25,000 in special funding represents Senator Ritchie’s most recent effort on behalf of the Canton Central School District.  Last year, Canton received a total of $125,000 in unrestricted funding on top of the $1.752 million in additional school aid Senator Ritchie helped secure for the district over the past two years.

This year, the State Legislature increased its commitment to New York’s public schools with schools in Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence County receiving an increase of more than $25 million in aid—more than $7 million than originally proposed by the Governor.

More on this as it develops!



South Glens Falls schoolkids get $10,000 for backpacks of food


Photo: Clappstar, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Clappstar, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

We talk a lot about food here at NCPR, and lately, we’ve been talking a lot about subsidized food. Whether it’s what people are buying with money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, better known as Food Stamps) and the future of that program, or what’s being served at school lunch, it’s something that’s often on our minds (not surprisingly, as human beings who eat and care about others having enough to eat.)

Much of the news we see in the above-linked stories seems fairly dark — like that it’s hard for schools to provide healthier food for kids because they can’t afford it; or that neither the Farm Bill (which, of course, also plays a huge role in getting decent food to all of us) nor the SNAP program, many say, is as safe if they’re not in the same bill. So a piece of happy food news in the Glens Falls Post-Star caught my eye: Harrison Avenue Elementary School in South Glens Falls has won a grant to help it provide kindergarten through 5th grade students all over the community with healthy food to bring home over the weekends.

The $10,000 grant from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation and the General Mills Foundation will support the school’s “Nutritional Nuggets” program, which currently works with a Latham food bank to provide 25 families with backpacks full of food. Harrison Avenue Principal Joe Palmer told the paper that the grant might help the program expand next year.

It should come as no surprise that good nutrition is vital for kids’ development (and conversely poor nutrition can have powerful negative impacts.) Nutrition provided through schools (school breakfast, school lunch, and to some extent summer meals) constitutes one of the major sources of that nutrition for many poor children (here’s an interesting 2010 article on how rural households take advantage of federal hunger programs for kids).

There’s a lot more detail about this program in the article, but it did my heart good to read about it, particularly considering the acrimony that’s characterized the House debate about food stamps and farm aid. The fact that that aid is public and this grant is private makes for an interesting (and likely fractious) point of debate, but I’m just going to stop here and think of delicious, healthy, food.