January 20, 2022

COVID remains front, center

Race, school sale among other top 2021 education issues

Sarah Bullock/staff reporter

Tricia DiFulvio, a McGraw High School math teacher and instructional coach, calls on Katie Millard, 12, right, while Luke Sauttery, 12, middle, and Ian Teeter, 12, left, listen during class recently.

Education changes, both local and national, created a new learning landscape in 2021 for students and educators navigating COVID ramifications, critical race theory, the sale of the Virgil school, drops in enrollment and the search for a new TC3 president.

Here are the top education stories from 2021:

Students who need face-to-face interaction struggled to learn online, according to parents and educators, and school districts are trying to figure out ways to help kids recover academically.

McGraw Central School District created detailed learning records on students and it became obvious that students who had not had in-person instruction in 2020-21 suffered academically, said Superintendent Melinda McCool in November.

“Given the considerable learning loss experienced by many students during the pandemic, learning recovery programs will be essential,” wrote Fernando M. Reimers, director of the International Education Policy Masters Program at Harvard University in his book “Primary and Secondary Education During Covid-19: Disruptions to Educational Opportunity During a Pandemic,” completed in October and to be published in 2022. Reimers is also a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Commission on the Futures of Education.

“To identify what needs to be remedied, assessment of students will be necessary as well as differentiated responses by schools and for different students,” he added. Those responses could include extended learning time – longer days or longer academic years — accelerated programs, dropout prevention programs. And even more online teaching.

The 64-campus State University of New York system required all students to vaccinate for the fall semester, unless they had a health or religious exemption. By Oct. 1, 92.5% of SUNY Cortland’s students were fully vaccinated, the college reported.

The college also announced Aug. 3 it would require all students to wear face masks on campus at all times in response to the Delta variant spread. All students, vaccinated or not, were required to comply with requests for testing starting Sept. 20.

President Eric Bitterbaum also asked students in September to give and receive contact information with their classmates and close contacts so the Cortland County Health Department could do COVID contact tracing.

After Thanksgiving break, students were asked to consider a vaccine booster to protect against the Omicron variant, and the college hosted a COVID-19 vaccine booster and flu shot clinic on campus before winter break.

Contentions over critical race theory led to headlines across the nation and Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a proposed law banning state funding for teaching the theory and allowing parents to sue public schools that do.

However, It’s not taught in greater Cortland area public schools. In fact, it’s not taught below the college level anywhere.

“We don’t do critical race theory,” said Rebecca Stone, the superintendent of the Marathon Central School District in early December. “You won’t find a school district that does critical race theory.”

Experts and educators said the multi-discipline theory was taught only at the college level and examines racial inequalities around the world. The “critical” refers to critical thinking and deep analysis, not criticism of any one race, said Jennifer Lynn Stoever, a professor of English and critical race theorist at Binghamton University.

Critical Race Theory began in Harvard Law School in the 1970s and its founders focused on how the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s failed to eliminate white supremacy in America.

The legal scholars focused on how American laws were shaped by racist interests and assumptions.

“They wanted to understand why racial inequality continued to exist after all of the changes made to racist laws in the Civil Rights Movement,” Stoever said. “While no one expected racism to go away overnight — it took hundreds of years for it to take root in the way it did — most people didn’t expect it to continue impacting American life at the level it has.”

Voters in the Cortland Enlarged City School District decided Dec. 14 against selling the former Virgil Elementary School.

The proposal to sell the former Virgil Elementary School, closed in July 2019, for $360,000 to a developer who planned to convert the building into apartments failed, 228-269. Virgil voters in particular opposed the plan, 41-138.

Evan Souzas, who owns The Community Restaurant on Main Street in Cortland and several buildings and apartments in the city, had planned to create market-rate apartments on the 4.6-acre lot, which traditionally attract retirees, young professionals and small families.

Souzas estimated rents would be $850 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Student enrollment drops

Student enrollment in almost all greater Cortland area school districts fell at least 13% over the past eight years, state statistics show. That exceeds the area’s population loss over the past decade.

Educators say they see parents move to homeschooling during the COVID-19 pandemic as one factor, but there is also a decade-long dip in births and population in Cortland County.

The 13% drop also exceeds the state enrollment, which was 9.1%, down to 2.46 million from 2.69 million.

The Cortland City School district lost 14% of its students since 2011-12, state data show. Enrollment dropped to 2,259 in 2020-21 from 2,640 in 2011-12.

Dryden lost the greatest portion of students locally, falling 20%, to 1,371 in 202021 from 1,719 in 2011-12.

Other districts:

  • Homer: Down 14% to 1,853 students. n Groton: Down 13%, to 811 students. n Marathon: Down 13%, to 637 students

Tompkins Cortland Community College continues to search for a new president after former President Orinthia T. Montague left Aug. 23 to become the president of Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee.

TC3 hired Pauly Group Inc., a Springfield, Ill.-based search consulting firm that focuses on administrators for community and technical colleges, to help with the search. Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Paul Reifenheiser is the administrator in charge until the next president is hired.