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School Board to Focus on Middle School Instruction

Considers Funding College Credit Courses

By Jann Wiswall

Strengthening the curriculum and providing more teacher resources for middle school students is the top instructional focus for the board and school district in 2015-16.

The Middle School made significant gains in its 2015 rankings among Western New York schools over 2014. It ranked No. 46 of 194 schools this year, compared to No. 64 of 205 schools in 2014. Among public middle schools, it ranked  No. 21 of 151. It rated four stars in math and three (top 50 percent) in English and remains the highest ranked middle school in Cattaraugus County.

But those improvements don’t tell the whole story. In certain areas and certain grades, test results show much more can be done to improve not just rankings and test scores, but the entire educational experience for middle schoolers, especially seventh and eighth graders.

As a result, during its first meeting of the official start of the school year on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the board and administrators discussed adding teaching aides and other tutoring support for middle school students this year.

Elementary School Principal Connie Poulin pointed out that the addition of teaching support for grades 3-6 has had a measurable impact on what students have learned and been able to demonstrate on tests over the past two years.

“We know that providing more resources works – the elementary test results prove it. Let’s use the same strategy for our middle school students,” Poulin said.

Other top areas for the board’s focus is completion of the strategic plan that is under way, adjusting to the new facilities, providing more technology education to go along with new equipment, and, perhaps, funding new security, technology and telephone systems if the school receives a state-sponsored “Smart Schools” grant.

The board also discussed the pros and cons of the district budgeting for the cost of college-credit course fees and books for all students.

MS/HS Principal Bob Miller explained that enrollment this year is good for these courses, but he knows there are many students who are academically strong enough to benefit from the classes but whose families cannot afford them.

“Many kids never consider them because they don’t or won’t ask their parents or anyone else for the money,” he said. “While these courses really are the cheapest college courses around, they’re still out of range for some families.”

While it’s possible to look to private sources for funding individual students, Ward pointed out that it is not possible for the district to provide funding for some students and not for others. And offering assistance only to students who show interest won’t identify students who would never ask for help. The board will continue the discussion over the coming weeks.

In other business, Superintendent Mark Ward reported that construction work at the school is now in the finishing phases.

“There are lots of little things to do, but most areas are within a week or two of completion,” he said.

“A couple of needs have been identified, however,” he said, both of them items that were eliminated from the construction plans for budget reasons. One is padding for the multi-purpose room bleacher seats. The other is something to protect the wood veneer at the sides and bottom of the stage.

Ward said that some actual costs of the entire project came in lower than expected in the end, so there is about $100,000 still unspent. The board authorized Ward to purchase the padding for the seats (at a cost of approx. $5000) and asked him to provide pricing for a proposed retractable curtain to protect the veneer, which he thought would run in the $20,000 range.

The next meeting of the Ellicottville Central School board is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the high school library.

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