Pelham Board of Education discusses changes to calendar, grades, budget amid pandemic

Pelham Board of Education discusses changes to calendar, grades, budget amid pandemic

The Pelham Board of Education met via a video call on Wednesday to discuss the next phase of distance learning, new orders from the governor regarding spring break and district decisions regarding third quarter grades.

President Jessica DeDomenico began the meeting by stating that she wanted to “reiterate our board’s pride for our administrative team, teachers and staff… The administrative team and our teachers have worked around the clock for the past few weeks to thoughtfully create the next phase of our distance learning approach.”

Superintendent of schools Dr. Cheryl Champ said, “The reality of going back to school on the 14th is probably not realistic” and explained that the new phase is sustainable for the long-term school closure. Champ thanked community members as well as district staff for the flexibility that she has observed during this transitional period.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday morning that all public and charter schools in New York State are required to continue learning through the week of Apr. 6, regardless of previously scheduled spring breaks. To keep in compliance with this new order, Champ said that during the upcoming week students would continue to receive assignments and materials from their teachers through Google Classroom, though students will not be attending the online classes that began on Wednesday. At the middle and high school levels, this week will include long-term assignments and serve as an opportunity to make up any outstanding work from the third quarter. Teachers from all levels will not be available for live meetings or office hours, but can be reached through email during the week.

In his report on authentic learning, Dr. Steven Garcia, assistant superintendent for curriculum, said that while there is no set standard among districts regarding grades during these unprecedented times, the district has been especially mindful about “holding students harmless” for their circumstances, and so decisions were aimed to benefit all students, regardless of disadvantages resulting from family situations or compromised health. 

Grades for the third quarter will be based off of work completed up to March 12, the last “live” day of instruction. However, students still have time to make up any outstanding work from the third quarter until April 17. Third quarter grades will be visible on Campus Portal on April 23, at which point students and parents will have the option of either accepting the letter grade or choosing a pass/fail option instead.

“We really need to give students the benefit of the doubt in understanding their own home situations,” said Pelham Memorial High School Principal Jeannine Clark.

In regards to final grades and exams, Garcia said that when and if students return to school, the district will determine how the district will handle these end of the year issues. He said that making hard decisions too far in advance will put the district at a disadvantage later on, noting the situation changes rapidly and that the district is adapting to new expectations daily.

This year, Advanced Placement exams will be 45-minute online tests administered remotely. Garcia said the College Board is allowing students registered to take APs to be reimbursed, should they decide that they no longer want to take the exams.

The high school community service requirement for graduation has been waived for the class of 2020, as students cannot perform acts of community service at this time. Clark said some seniors have not yet logged any community service, further supporting waiving the requirement.

Eugene Farrell, director of counseling for PMHS, said most seniors and juniors have met with their guidance counselors virtually to discuss the college decision and planning process, since some were unable to meet in person before closure. Regarding standardized testing, the administration of the April ACT exam has been rescheduled to June 13, and the March and May SATs have been cancelled, with the next SAT being tentatively set for the first weekend in June. Farrell said the district is aiming to offer additional summer testing opportunities.

Assistant Superintendent for Business James Hricay said the budget vote and board elections have been rescheduled to June 2. 

According to Hricay, changes to the state budget will affect funding received by the district, with the district’s aid projected to be about $241,000 less than anticipated in January, mostly from reductions in foundation and building aid. Sales tax levels will have a negative impact on district revenue. Hricay confirmed that while this figure will also be reduced, he does not know by how much lower. In addition, Hricay estimated that that decrease in interest income will range from $450,000 to $1,000,000. The total allowed increase in taxes was originally projected at 3.15%, but Hricay said that it could rise to 3.31%.

Trustee Jessica Young reported on the bond steering committee’s discussions on the projects at Prospect Hill and the middle and high schools. The committee met on March 26 and 30, and the bids for the three projects came back favorably. For the work at the middle and high schools, Young advised the board to accept two out of the three contracts that the committee received.

Champ said the principal searches for the high school and Siwanoy were still underway, with possible appointments coming in the next two to four weeks.

The board’s next meeting is April 22 at 8:15  p.m., presumably via videoconferencing again. The video recording of the April 1 meeting, and all other meetings, is available on the district website.