Updated: May 29, 2020
By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director
Are we dreaming, or is the end of school just three weeks away? The past 10 weeks have been surreal! With so many loose ends and much to be decided about the next school year and beyond, it is hard to feel any sense of closure.
Our uncertain future should give all of us pause. What is the best way to move forward into our uncertain future? Like you, I do not have a simple answer. However, I do believe that the challenges we face will best be met with a spirit of collaboration with existing and new partners.. There is truth in the aphorism “There is strength in numbers”. In this issue of the CASDA newsletter we take a closer look at the importance of successful collaborations in P-21.
We are offering a double dose of podcasts this month with James Dexter, District Superintendent WSWHE BOCES and Dr. Jason Lane, Interim Dean UAlbany School of Education. WSWHE BOCES and UAlbany continue to be strong CASDA partners. In 2020 – 2021 CASDA moved its main office to the UAlbany School of Education Catskill Building and opened a satellite office at the WSWHE BOCES Ballard Road Training Center. Each of these moves is part of a plan to leverage collaborations to ensure CASDA’s fiscal viability and program excellence. I spoke to Mr. Dexter about collaboration and partnership in K-12 from the BOCES perspective and I had a conversation with Dr. Lane about collaboration in higher education especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the pandemic presents unique challenges, public education faced a future fraught with uncertainty about budgets and programs, during the depths of the Great Recession. This is hardly ancient history. The long-term repercussions of this dramatic economic downturn left many districts barely able to keep their doors open let alone provide basic programming. Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) introduced in 2009 and a tax levy cap limit formula reduced aid and restricted the ability of school districts to increase their local tax levy. Crises often present opportunities along with challenges.
In 2015, CASDA was enlisted to facilitate a collaborative venture called the True North Consortium. Comprised of the eight small rural districts in the WSWHE BOCES, True North was initiated to identify opportunities created by the dire financial challenges described in the report, “Small, rural schools in the Adirondacks are facing a crisis that threatens their ability to provide students with a quality education”. CASDA facilitated focus groups which elicited a number of emergent themes including the need for “greater collaboration among the True North Districts” and “building stronger partnerships with businesses and communities”.
The report identified opportunities for consideration to build on strengths unique to each of the districts. Cultivating stronger partnerships and utilizing collective capacity involved expanding shared professional development, continuing a robust regional conference day and exploring distance learning or web conferencing to enrich programming. Another opportunity identified leveraging BOCES Aid to share positions and services when practical. Leveraging distance learning, video conferencing and instructional technology was another point of emphasis of the report. Sound familiar?
What can we learn from the True North Consortium experience? Collaboration and partnership have always been part of the public education reality. School districts have often been compelled to explore collaboration during crises. When a crisis is perceived to have abated, a regression to previous practices often occurs in the name of a return to normalcy. The difference today is school structures are being fundamentally shaken financially and programmatically to an unprecedented degree. This combined public health and economic crisis may well cause a fundamental shift in the teaching/learning paradigm. For the sake of sustainability, collaboration and partnership will not be a temporary option, it is a long-term necessity.
The final newsletter for 2019- 2020 will address the topic of educational sustainability by asking the question, what have we learned from our experiences over the past three months? Until next time, feel free to call on CASDA as we have been and will continue to be of service to the educators of the Capital Region. Be well!