October 28, 2021

Opportunities top education stories

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Orinthia Montague becoming the president of Tompkins Cortland Community College was among the top education stories this year.

The new year promises new beginnings for school districts, either in the form of new school leaders, efforts for state approval on a charter, a revamped educational structure or a hope to reverse enrollment trends.

District reorganization

The Cortland City School district will wind down its facilities study in January, after embarking on it earlier this year with an eye toward possibly creating a middle school and reorganizing spaces, maybe even closing an elementary school.

The district hired the firm Castallo & Silky in March to conduct the $34,000 study and the firm is scheduled to report its findings Jan. 23

District leaders are considering the benefits of a middle level education, targeting the early adolescent ages. It is considering whether to create a standalone middle school or carve out space in the junior-senior high school to accomplish this.

The district faces aging buildings and $37 million in looming repairs, considering whether it should close a school to save money.

Superintendent Michael Hoose said the next year should bring a clearer direction. “I hope the consultants come up with a viable proposal to enhance the educational experience for our students and help with our fiscal situation,” Hoose said.

“If a school is closed or a middle school is created, the earliest would be September 2019, just the logistics of construction and moving staff and all that,” he said.

Reversing a trend

Tompkins Cortland Community College named its fourth president in July: Orinthia T. Montague, replacing Carl Haynes, who was president since 1994.

Montague, a Jamaica native, came to TC3 with her most recent experience as vice president of student affairs and chief diversity officer at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota.

She envisions TC3’s enrollment increasing and improving retention through various initiatives like a summer institute for prospective students, which would coach them and bring them up to a college ready level. She also wants to partner with community agencies to address the local work force needs of Tompkins and Cortland counties.

“I want to do more community outreach things, to bring the community into campus and for us to get out and help the community,” Montague said last week.

Montague started an initiative where faculty and staff can sponsor certain floors in the residence halls. She
sponsors one and visits monthly, chatting or cooking with student to show the faculty cares. Meaningful connections like that can make the difference between a student staying or transferring elsewhere, she said.

Elusive charter

Following rejection in November, leaders of the proposed Truxton Academy Charter School plan to try again next year to win state approval for a charter to operate in the former Hartnett Elementary School in Truxton.

The Truxton Academy Charter School board heard in November that the state Board of Regents rejected its bid for a charter. It was the latest in a string of disappointments.

The charter school board tried three times before getting the project’s letter of intent accepted by the state for review, only to be persuaded to withdraw the proposal from consideration by the Board of Regents in 2016.

Cindy Denkenberger, spokeswoman for the group, said this time the board will submit the application through the more rigorous SUNY Charter School Institute — to which the school board had initially applied in early 2016 and later withdrew in favor of seeking the state Education Department’s approval.

At its Jan. 8 meeting, the charter school board will decide what experts, if any, to retain as it proceeds with the application. For example, grant writers with expertise in curriculum.

Proposals would be due by March 2018, said Michelle Bianchi, director of charter school information for the SUNY Charter Schools Institute. Final approval would be delivered in May and the earliest approved opening date would be the fall of 2019.

New school leader

Both Homer and Dryden central school districts will search for new school superintendents in 2018, after their superintendents announced they would be leaving, one to retire, another for a different post.

Nancy Ruscio announced in October that she would retire effective June 2018 from the district she has led since 2011.

Ruscio oversaw the district as its graduation rate increased to 93 percent this year from 79 percent when she started. She also said the district increased participation in Advanced Placement courses, while maintaining success in those courses, making the College Board’s AP District Honor Roll twice in the past three years.

The district posted the position and was planning to complete its advertisements for the post in December, with interviews beginning early 2018.

Dryden Superintendent Sandy Sherwood left Sept. 1 to become superintendent of the Herkimer Board of Cooperative Educational Services and the board of education has gathered community input on what qualities it wants in its next superintendent.

The district expects the application period would close in February with interviews in March and an appointment made by the end of April. The schedule calls for the new superintendent to begin work July 1.