Jolyn Safron for Kingston City School District Board of Education

I am running for the KCSD Board of Education and am asking you to vote for me in the Board of Education Election/Budget Vote on May 20, 2014.

  • Born in Michigan and graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Science, concentration in Computer Science
  • Resident of the Kingston City School District for the last 24 years
  • Worked as a computer programer at IBM for 11 years
  • Husband Sean works at IBM; 2 daughters – Mira in grade 10 at Kingston High School; Julia in grade 7 at J. W. Bailey Middle School
  • Active at Kingston Alliance Church as Church Board secretary, Christian Education director, Sunday School teacher, and co-director of several children’s ministries of the church
  • Past president of Hudson Valley Youth Chorale
  • Involved with school parent groups at Edson Elementary School, J. W. Bailey Middle School and Kingston High School
  • Served as Edson District Wide Parents’ Council representative; currently Bailey PTO Secretary (3 years) and KHS Parent Association president (2 years)
  • Current DWPC co-chair serving for a total of 5 years
  • Co-founder of Kingston Action For Education

Parent involvement is essential in the education of our children. Parents can be involved in many different ways and successful parent involvement looks different from family to family. My passion throughout the time I have been a part of the Kingston City School District has been focused on

  • how parents can be involved in the education of their children,
  • how parents can be informed,
  • how parents can confidently ask questions or raise concerns when they need to,
  • how parents can have a voice in the educational process.

Communication between home and school is vital and an area that can always be improved. With the additional layers of confusion and complexity added by the Common Core Agenda and the impact it has on our local school district, there is even more need for the board of education and administration to work with parents, teachers, and the community to find solutions that work for everyone and provide the best education possible for the children of the Kingston City School District. I am running for school board to help parents and caregivers be active partners in the education of their children and to get their needs and concerns successfully addressed by the school district.

Of course I will also dedicate myself fully to the many responsibilities of a school board member as I work with the other 8 members of the Kingston board of education to oversee and manage the school district’s affairs, personnel and properties.

Jolyn Safron Bio

Please plan to attend Meet the Candidates Night hosted annually by District Wide Parents’ Council on Tuesday May 13, 2014 6:30pm at Kingston High School to hear answers from all the candidates for school board to questions posed by members of the audience.

If you have any questions that you would like to pose to me personally before Meet the Candidates Night, please do not hesitate to contact me.  You may use the contact form below or obtain my e-mail and/or phone number from the attached Bio sheet.

April and High-Stakes Tests are just around the corner

April means the start of ‘test season’ especially since Common Core with the increased emphasis on high stakes testing via the New York State Tests and SLOs (Student Learning Objectives)  was implemented.  There are SLOs at the beginning of the year to set benchmarks and some high stakes testing throughout the year but things really kick in about now.

Upcoming spring testing was a topic of discussion at the March 6, 2014 District Wide Parents’ Council meeting and the DWPC Parent Calendar has been updated with known test dates K-12.  Regents tests and other tests that actually affect a student’s grades are not listed.

The Kingston City School District has clarified for parents that “[KCSD] does not have a practice of leaving students without exams to just sit and stare at their classroom walls.  [They] believe in treating all students with respect and compassion.”  The remainder of the response in Setting the Record Straight changed slightly since being initially posted this afternoon as to whether the students refusing the tests would be in a separate location or with the other students taking tests so that might vary from school to school but parents can be confident that their children will not ‘sit and stare’ during the time state tests are administered.  Be sure to get the written letter refusing the test submitted soon though if you believe that your student should not take the state tests.

New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) issued a statement today expressing concern that some districts might require students to give a verbal refusal of the test in addition to the written letter submitted by the parent.  However I believe that all Kingston students will indeed be treated with respect and compassion during the administration of the state tests and parents who have decided to refuse the test for their child can rest confident that their child will not be forced to give a verbal refusal.

Parents might be interested in checking out documents on the NYSED Office of State Assessment website such as school administrator’s manuels or teacher’s directions for the various New York State tests to see the extremes that our teachers and administrators are forced to go to to ensure that the tests are ‘secure’.  One could be excused for thinking they were entering a maximum-security facility on testing days rather than an educational building.

Test books and scoring materials must be kept secure. You are not to discuss the test, show it to anyone, or photocopy the materials, as the security of the test could be breached.   2014 Common Core English Language Arts Tests Teacher’s Directions p. IV

Teachers and administrators who engage in inappropriate conduct with respect to administering and scoring State assessments may be subject to disciplinary actions in accordance with Sections 3020 and 3020-a of Education Law or to action against their certification pursuant to Part 83 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education. – 2014 Common Core English Language Arts Test Teacher’s Direction p. 1

Pages 11-14 of “2014 Common Core English Language Arts Test Teacher’s Directions” contain the directions that the teacher administering the test must read word-for-word to the third grade students on Day 1 of the test and then make sure that the students totally understand.  Five pages of directions!!  Only four pages of directions for day 2 of testing and three pages of directions for day 3 so it gets a little better each day – whew!

Music in Our Schools

With school budget season upon us, I would like to pause for a moment and reflect upon music and arts in our schools.  Many would say that when times get tough, this is an area where money should be cut but I beg to differ.

I had the privilege of listening to children grades 5-12 from throughout Ulster County sing at the All-County Choral Festival on March 1, 2014.  All three groups of singers (elementary, junior high school and senior high school) sang with enthusiasm and did an amazing job after their full day of rehearsal.  The music was varied in style and very enjoyable to listen to.  The elementary and junior high school choruses had songs in foreign languages as well as with clapping and/or other choreography to add to the excitement of the song.  It was obvious that the teachers and students had all worked hard to prepare for this concert.

In this atmosphere of enjoyment contrasted with the yearly rounds of budget cuts, I read the President’s message with a somewhat heavy heart and have received permission to share it for your contemplation.

We would like to thank you for joining us in our celebration of music in the Ulster County schools.  Parents, students and teachers have worked hard to produce the beautiful concert you will hear today.  And even as we take pride in today’s performance it is equally important that we consider the environment in which it has been created.

We are continually called upon to defend and justify the importance of music.  We are asked to provide scientific data to prove that music changes lives, shapes neuro-pathways, creates social bonds, sensitizes the emotions, and develops compassion for our fellow human beings.  Students and teachers of music have always known this.  The president of Cornell University David J. Skorton stated on June 26th, “It is through the study of art, music, literature, history and other humanities and social sciences that we gain a greater understanding of the human condition than biological or physical science alone can provide.”

The current path of education leads us away from what matters most.  As Diane Ravitch has pointed out, the concept behind a ‘race to the top’ is fundamentally flawed.  There is no race where everyone wins.  The democratic ideal is educational equality, not winners and losers.  When the value of education is reduced to a formula then the essence of education is lost.

The health of music education reflects the state of education as a whole.  How long can the canary sing in this environment?  You are about to hear a wonderful concert.  You will be inspired, moved and uplifted in spite of over-testing, cuts, and reductions of music departments county-wide.  The canary is still singing, but for how long?

We don’t have to claim that participation in the arts raises test scores.  That’s not the point.  The arts are far more valuable.  They awaken our soul and spirit and they don’t need any more justification than that.

- Dr. Barbara Wild & Mr. Randolph Loder, Co-Presidents, UCMEA

Perhaps you attended the All-County Band Festival last weekend or will be joining me in attending the All-County Orchestra Festival this weekend.  Perhaps you enjoy other musical venues put on specifically by Kingston school district students.  Maybe your focus is visual arts rather than music or maybe sports or some other aspect of the many wonderful experiences that Kingston offers to our students beyond just “reading, writing and arithmetic”.  Please be involved in the budget process and urge the Kingston Board of Education to continue their focus from past years and retain our wonderful music and arts and other programs that make KCSD such a rich experience for our students.  Also remind our board of education that as we continue to deal with the Common Core Agenda not everything can be measured by STEM and high-stakes testing.

Additional opportunities for you to get involved include an online budget survey that the district will be posting on March 24, 2014 and the third budget forum on April 7, 2014 6pm at the Cioni administration building.

Parent Highlights for March 19, 2014 Kingston Board of Education meeting

Lots of interest for parents on the agenda for the Kingston Board of Education meeting this Wednesday March 19, 2014.  The meeting will be held at John F. Kennedy Elementary School.

5:00pm – 6:00pm Public Hearing on the Veterans Tax Exemption

6:00pm Video welcome by John F. Kennedy Principal Dr. Perez who will be out of town.  After the video, the BOE will go into executive session.

7:00pm Expected return to public session and Public Comment

Topics of Note:

  • Dr. Chuck Khoury, Ulster BOCES, speaking about PTECH – Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools Program; here is an article from January about the PTECH program
  • JFK Playground donation
  • 2014-2015 budget update including announcement of a public hearing on the budget on May 7, 2014 at 5:30pm (note that the budget will have already been voted on by the BOE so it is too late to have any impact on the content of the budget at this time), voting locations (listed on the district website), due date of petitions for those who wish to run for the Board of Education – 5pm April 30, 2014, and information about registering to vote in the May 20 election/budget vote and absentee ballots
  • Two recalled teachers Lori Demercurio and Anthony Fabiano (teachers who had lost their jobs and now are getting their jobs back) – resolution P84
  • Amendments and authorizations to change who acts on behalf of the board/district for duties previously performed by Sandy Miller, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services, and Marystephanie Corsones, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction.  John Voerg, Assistant Supterintendent for Personnel & Administration, will be responsible for Special Education related areas/contracts previously covered by Sandy Miller (resolutions R01 and R08 revised).  Beth Bonville will take MaryStephanie Corsones’ place as the Title IX Coordinator, Title VII Coordinator and Title VI Civil Rights Act Investigator (resolution R01 revised).  Allen Olsen, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Operations, will be the responsible party for signing contracts for health services for students in non-public schools through the end of this school year (resolution R09 revised).  Sandy Miller was previously responsible for this authorization.
  • Proposed calendar for 2014-2015 school year:  1st day of school for students is Sept 3, 2014; Thanksgiving recess Nov 26-28; Winter recess Dec 24, 2014-Jan 2, 2015; President’s Weekend Feb 13-16, 2015; Spring recess March 30-April 6, 2015; last day of school June 25, 2015; assorted other individual days off/supt conference days available in the agenda for viewing
  • BOE vote on School Volunteers Policy #1250 – the only change from the version of the policy presented at the 2/19/14 and 3/5/14 BOE meetings is a statement that fingerprinting will be paid for by the district.  It appears that the BOE policy committee is not recommending any other changes in response to feedback received from the community regarding the School Volunteers policy.  See here for past discussion.

Sad day regarding the Board of Regents

Our New York legislature voted on four Board of Regents seats today.  Unfortunately the outcome of the vote did not do the right thing for our children or our educational system in my opinion.  Many who are concerned over the Common Core Agenda have called for the four incumbents to not be re-elected.  However politics came into play rather than what is best for the kids and three of them returned to the Board of Regents.  Apparently Regent James Jackson, responsible for Ulster County, decided to resign last night – reason unknown.  Josephine Finn, who somehow became a candidate after the deadline for candidacy had passed, was selected to fill the seat vacated last night by Regent Jackson so now Ulster County will be represented for the next 5 years by someone who did not even go through the proper process to become a member of the Board of Regents!

Here are two articles that explain the details of what happened today in the legislature as well as some background information regarding the Board of Regents here and here .

Action needed on Vote for Board of Regents today

Today the New York State Assembly and New York State Senate will be voting on four Board of Regents members. If you are satisfied with education in New York right now, do nothing. If you are NOT satisfied, call Assemblyman Kevin Cahill this morning and urge him to show up for the vote and vote NO on the incumbent regents.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill contact information:
Albany office (518) 455-4436 Kingston office (845) 338-9610
cahillk@assembly.state.ny.us

Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk has indicated that she WILL be voting NO on the incumbent regents. We need to contact her to thank her for the stand she is taking for our students and for education.

Senator Tkaczyk contact information:
Albany office (518) 455-2470 Kingston office (845) 331-3810
tkaczyk@nysenate.gov

If you are like me and did not even know what/who the Board of Regents was prior to six months ago, here is some information .

Extended Learning Day/Time from a Parent’s Perspective

The Extended Learning Day/Time discussion began for me back in December 2012 and has been fraught with unclear communication and lots of questions.

In December 2012 DWPC liaison Mrs. Bowers made brief mention of the possibility of an extended school day but when I followed up with her in an e-mail, she thought it would be for elementary school and was a long way off.  Later in the month Dr. Padalino mentioned the possibility of a mandatory 10th period at the middle schools at an Anna Devine/Robert Graves transition meeting.  This possibility raised a lot of concern in parents’ minds and was brought up for discussion at the DWPC January 3, 2013 meeting.

For anyone not familiar with middle school 10th period, it is an optional period at the end of the school day that students can use to get homework help, participate in clubs and do intramural activities among other things.  The regular buses take students home before 10th and the ‘late buses’ take students home who stay for 10th period.  Note that with the changes made to the middle school schedule this year ’10th period’ is now called either 19th period or activity period – at least those are the terms used at Bailey Middle School.

As a result of the discussion at the January 2013 DWPC meeting, a DWPC member was assigned to gather input from parents regarding thoughts on making 10th period mandatory.  Input from more than 40 parents was gathered in short order and presented at a Board of Education Coffee & Conversation on January 10 and e-mailed to all BOE members.  Read parent comments/concerns in Mandatory 10th period parent feedback .  Parents then planned to speak at the board of education meeting the following week.  However through several different conversations parents received the impression that a decision regarding the middle school scheduling and the mandatory 10th period might be made before the BOE meeting so DWPC felt compelled to request an immediate district-wide meeting for all parents to discuss the concerns at hand.  Read DWPC Middle School 10th period letter to Dr Padalino and BOE .  DWPC heard back immediately from Dr. Padalino via e-mail that the mandatory 10th period had merely been mentioned as a possibility in a scheduling committee meeting and there was not a large scale movement to implement a mandatory 10th period.  Upon further discussion at the February DWPC meeting, DWPC thought we had assurances that if a mandatory 10th period (or an extended school day) were to be considered, parents would be involved in the discussion.

Fast forward to the September 18, 2013 Board of Education meeting where we find that the Board of Education has as one of their goals ‘Continue to explore the development of an Extended Day Pilot Program for this school year to assist those students who need additional support’.  Dr. Padalino then mentioned applying for the Extended Learning Time grant at the BOE meeting on October 16, 2013 and reported that results from the grant were delayed until January at the November 20, 2013 BOE meeting as part of the Superintendent’s Quarterly Goals update.  At no point in any of these meetings did the board or Dr. Padalino make any mention of the concerns parents raised back in January regarding the possibility of extended the school day.  What happened?  Did the entire board simply forget the concerns submitted by parents?

In January 2014 I decided I could no longer wait for the BOE to ask about the grant and I presented questions regarding the Extended Learning Time Grant during public comment.  Another parent also raised her concerns.  Dr. Padalino responded that he would discuss the grant at the February DWPC meeting which ended up getting snowed out.

Parental concern over the thought of our children spending more time in school and less time with family has continued to grow and has developed into Kingston Action for Education which will be organizing a Rally Against Extended Learning Day program on Wednesday March 19, 2014 from 3:30-5pm at J.F. Kennedy Elementary School.

As a result of the Kingston Action for Education (KAFE) activity, we now have some additional information about the Extended Learning Time Grant as well.  A variety of questions and answers with regards to the grant were posted on the district website today which are helpful in moving the discussion forward.

Action needed again regarding Common Core and New York Assembly bills A8929/A8844!

I apologize for such frequent legislative action requests (3 in 5 days).  Unfortunately some of our legislators in the New York State Assembly have decided they need to rush through bill A8929 when bill A8844, which has been worked on for months, has also been presented for consideration.  More on the politics of this when things settle down – for now I will just state that politics should NOT be driving the education of our children!

Bill A8929 was introduced to the education committee on Friday, voted on by the committee today (Tuesday) and is expected to show up for a vote on the floor of the assembly tomorrow (Wednesday) when the session begins at 9:45am.  If you are new to this saga of the two Common Core bills, you can read more details in my BLOG post from Monday.

What you need to do before Wednesday 9:45am:

  • Contact Assemblyman Kevin Cahill  cahillk@assembly.state.ny.us  (518) 455-4436
  • Contact Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver  speaker@assembly.state.ny.us  (518) 455-3791
  • Contact Assembly Education Committee chair Catherine Nolan  nolanc@assembly.state.ny.us  (518) 455-4851
  • Contact any other assembly members whom you feel you can influence
This is what you NEED to say when you make those calls/send e-mails VERBATIM:
The Edward Ra/Al Graf Bill (A8844) is going up as an addition to the Nolan bill (A8929), we expect YOU to support it.  We want A8844 to pass as an amendment to A8929.

The instructions above regarding what to say to the assembly members come directly from Assemblymember Al Graf.  This gets bill A8844 out of the education committee and onto the floor for a vote to determine whether A8844 (Ed Ra/Al Graf bill) is germane to the purposes of A8929 (Catherine Nolan bill).  (Germane definition:  relevant to A8929).

Assemblyman Al Graf discusses the Apple Plan upon which bill A8844 was based in this video .

Parent Highlights for 3/4/14 Kingston Board Of Education Meeting

The Kingston Board of Education will be meeting tomorrow March 4, 2014 at the Cioni Building on Crown Street.

Several items on the agenda caught my eye as being of particular note to parents.

The second reading of the School Volunteer Policy #1250 is occurring.  Changes previously discussed here and here.  The changes to the School Volunteer Policy are scheduled to be approved at the BOE meeting on 3/19/14.

The Superintendent’s Report includes the 2nd Century Project (the high school capital project) and the quarterly update on Board/Superintendent Goals (curriculum, facilities, budget, student achievement and transitions/redistricting). The November update on Board/Superintendent Goals had a lot of details about Common Core implementation, middle school changes, the KHS Scholar’s Academy and other topics that parents are often talking about so I recommend parents attend for this update if at all possible.

The September 18, 2013 BOE meeting minutes contain the Superintendent Goals that are being reported on at the meeting tomorrow.

Are there other topics that you think parents should particularly note as you read through the agenda?

What is the Common Core Agenda?

What do you think of when you hear someone say ‘Common Core’?

Do you think of the Common Core State Standards (or the Common Core State Standards Initiative CCSSI) which the states agreed to accept in exchange for Race to the Top money before they were even  written under the direction of two private nonprofit organizations, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)?

Maybe the Common Core tests come to mind – tests that were administered for the first time in New York this past spring and then the scores set to ensure that the expected percentage of student failures were achieved.

Or we have the teacher appraisal system (Annual Professional Performance Review or APPR) which uses the test scores as a big part of the rating but yet students are not supposed to worry/stress over the scores because they don’t impact the students in any way.

Perhaps you think of Common Core curriculum such as the EngageNY modules that are riddled with errors and causing children to cry at night when trying to do their homework.

And let us not forget the data being collected right and left about our children, without parental consent, that New York has agreed to share with a third party company called inBloom; over 400 data points – some data points associated with the standardized tests, some data points I have no idea why the state would need such as eye color, family voting status and bus stop times.

Some people mean one of these things when they say ‘Common Core'; some mean more than one.  I am joining a growing number of parents who are defining the horrible mess that we are fighting against as the COMMON CORE AGENDA.  I believe that the standards themselves have problems and they are an important part of the Common Core Agenda but not the only part.  The COMMON CORE AGENDA is the whole, ugly marriage of the standards, the data collection, the testing and the teacher appraisal system wrapped up into a package that is destroying our children, our teachers and our schools.  Hypothetically if the NGA and the CCSSO had written and released the Common Core Standards for everyone to use or not use as their school boards wished, WITHOUT penalties for NOT using it, WITHOUT using it to punish teachers and school districts, WITHOUT collecting our kids’ personal data and giving parents no say in the matter, none of the parents would be here fighting against Common Core; the standards would have failed or succeeded (I think failed) on their own merits.

This COMMON CORE AGENDA is why I don’t believe the standards will work (even if they were good standards) because truly they can not stand on their own and MAKE anything happen. If the intent is to force every state to achieve a certain level, the standards must have some teeth behind them to MAKE it happen. At the core, there is a philosophical battle over what is the purpose of education and who gets to make the educational decisions for children. And then you have to throw in issues like how to deal with poverty, dysfunctional families and students who don’t want to invest any effort in their own education.
The article New York should pull out of flawed Common Core was recently written by a New York parent Tricia Farmer and is a very good description of the various pieces of the Common Core Agenda that I have tried to describe in my post.  If I have lost you or you want further explanation, check out the article.  
Another parent Shelly Stevens has created the following videos that give further insight into the Common Core Agenda mess.  The words following the two video links are Shelly’s and not my own but she summarized my thoughts so well that I am going to let her close out my post.  Please give consideration to what she has to say and then consider what you are going to do with regards to the Common Core Agenda.

The Children’s Education Rights Movement

Why One NYS Mom Fights Common Core

WAITING WILL ONLY COST MORE LOST TIME IN OUR CHILDREN’S LIVES AND AFFECT THEIR AND OUR GREAT STATES’ FUTURE!!

So I leave you with one last statement that I wrote in a moment of passion recently:
Regarding Common Core, I’m not upset about “not understanding what my kids are bringing home”
I’m upset that the only 2 educators involved in the creation of these standards REJECTED them in a validation committee,
I’m upset that it was privately funded through lobbyist groups in DC,
I’m upset that this was not voted on in NYS (education without representation),
I’m upset that reading requirements include pornography, molestation, pedophilia, degrade the US military,
I’m upset that USA children are learning Singapore math with no evidence of its success,
I’m upset that over 400 personal points of data is being collected on my minor children and my family and fed to the state for them to do with as they see fit,
I’m upset that most public school teachers have a gag order on them to not be able to speak up without fear of loosing their jobs,
I’m upset that 70% of kids failed Common Core testing last year,
I’m upset that those failures hurt teachers in their evaluations,
I’m upset that our school districts will not be able to afford this new curriculum and neither will the tax payers in our district
…I’ve done my research and I want Common Core Standards, modules, and data mining ALL to STOP!

-Shelly Stevens

Helping parents navigate the ins and outs of public eductation in Kingston, New York