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Webutuck ‘split four ways down the middle’ on re-entry plans

WEBUTUCK — Though their minds were preoccupied with thoughts about the district’s re-entry plan for the 2020-21 school year following the statewide shutdown in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, members of the Webutuck Board of Education (BOE) reviewed the latest updates from the North East (Webutuck) Central School District at its meeting held via videoconference on Thursday, July 30, at 7 p.m.

Sharing “a bit of levity during this very challenging time,” Director of Student Services/Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Eraca commended summer school teachers for doing an outstanding job in engaging the students and “making the best out of a very challenging time.

“I think they’re learning a great bit about what’s working and what’s not in terms of remote learning,” Eraca said.

Additionally, Eraca said she’s been looking at examining and implementing Orton-Gillingham training for next year. According to the Orton-Gillingham Academy website at www.ortonacademy.org, the approach for teaching entails a structured method of teaching literacy to those who struggle with reading, writing and spelling, such as those with dyslexia. Local families may recognize this approach as the cornerstone for teaching at the former Kildonan School in Amenia. This opportunity for training was presented to the Webutuck district this past February, Eraca reminded the BOE, and will be hosted this year by the Wappingers Central School District. She reported that she is looking to send about five Webutuck teachers to that program through various grants that the district has been awarded.

Following Eraca’s updates on the district’s participation in the Harvard study on rural education strategies, Business Administrator Robert Farrier informed the BOE that the septic system component of its capital improvement project is moving along and that a building conditions survey conducted by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) identified a couple of general items that need to be addressed in the district, such as cracked cinder blocks and items in its bus garage.

Under his report, Superintendent of Schools Raymond Castellani explained that while the district is set to discuss reopening plans, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) have allowed for all school districts, if they would like, to delay one week. Having said that, he said the district would like to take a little more time “to cross some t’s and dot some i’s” and that there were still two meetings scheduled  to get the plan “as fool-proof as possible knowing it can change in a split second.” Because the district is waiting to see if there is any more information from the state, he reported that Webutuck was granted a one-week extension from NYSED to submit its re-entry plan.

Delivering an overview of the re-entry planning process, Castellani shared the results of the re-entry survey distributed to Webutuck families. Shocked by how the survey was “legitimately split four ways down the middle,” he reported that, among the results, 27% of the survey’s respondents said they weren’t going to send their children back to school while 22% of the respondents said they were going to send their children back to school and 26% of the respondents said they were going to send their children back as long as certain qualifications were in place.

“We have the unknowns,” Castellani said, “and no matter what radio station you listen to, what newspapers you read or what television station you watch, there are different feelings about what’s going on in the world… What we try to do is have our students and faculty and staff safe and deliver an education.”

Members of the public spoke up with their thoughts and questions about the re-entry plan.

“I’m actually relieved to hear that we are receiving extensions to the district’s reopening plan,” Webutuck teacher Tammy Nethercott said. “It will provide the opportunity to better develop a comprehensive plan, which will address our district safety and learning needs and I think we really truly need the time to be able to do that… This is not a time to make mistakes and then correct them; we’ve got to have things up and running as efficiently and safely as possible.”

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