BOE Hears Proposals for New Programs & Staffing to Meet Student Needs

Note: This web story covers the first portion of the March 27 budget meeting – enrollment updates & projections; new program proposals; and staffing requests. To read the web story that covers the second portion and includes the Board of Education’s adoption of the proposed 2024-25 budget click here.

Continuing enrollment growth and the changing needs of students were the focus of the first part of the March 27 NCCSD budget meeting. This was the final in a series of annual public meetings to review the proposed 2024-25 budget. The livestream from the meeting and the presentation are available along with all prior meetings on the Budget and Finance webpage.

Enrollment Updates and Projections

“Over the last decade as North Colonie has added students, New York state as a whole has been losing students and actually declined by 9 percent,” Superintendent Kathleen Skeals said. “You hear people are leaving New York state, but that is not true of our area, and certainly not North Colonie.”

NCCSD’s current enrollment of 6,185 students reflects a 16 percent increase  – 838 students – since 2013-14 when 5,347 students attended. Showing a chart listing Niskayuna, Bethlehem, Saratoga Springs City, Ballston Spa, Shenendehowa, Burnt Hills, South Colonie, and Guilderland, all have declined between -1 percent and -13 percent since 2013-14, with the exception of Niskayuna which still only had a 5 percent increase.

“We are now bigger than a city school district, bigger than the city of Troy, bigger than Saratoga,” Superintendent Skeals said. “So we are among very big school districts in this region, Schenectady is the biggest, Albany is the second, Shenendehowa is the third and we are the fourth.

“So as we look at and think about how we balance our budget, it’s important to know this growth of enrollment means we have been adding staff every year for the last decade because we have to,” Superintendent Skeals added. “And we are forecasted to grow beyond the enrollment number we are at right now.”

District demographics have also changed in the last decade. The percentage of students who are homeless is now three percent compared to what was listed by the state as zero in 2013.

“That three percent is 186 students. That is 186 students who have housing insecurity in our district,” Superintendent Skeals said. “We look at 29 percent eligible for free/reduced lunch (up from 14 percent in 2013), and that’s 1,793 students. And when we look at nine percent limited English proficiency, that’s 552 students who are multilingual learners. Part of our work is to always be thinking about how we are best meeting our students’ needs, and what we can offer to meet those needs.”

New Program Proposals 

Superintendent Skeals introduced the following new programs for the proposed 24-25 budget:

Freshman Seminar (1.0 FTE): An advisory time for all freshmen to build connections and develop a sense of possibility for their time at Shaker. Focused on social-emotional literacy; executive management; disciplinary preparation; and opportunities at Shaker. The largest freshman class ever – 578 students is projected for the 24-25 school year.

“Take a Look at Teaching” (no new staffing): A senior elective which will count for English credit, students in the course will have the ability to learn about teaching as a profession, working toward a Level 1 Teaching Assistant certification. Some students will be eligible to potentially put those skills to use at our summer extended learning classes before they go to college, Superintendent Skeals said.

“In the next 10 years in New York state, there’s a huge percentage of teachers who will reach retirement age. And since COVID, the number of students in teacher preparation programs has declined. And one of the things we’ve been asking for a long time is how do we get our own students interested in the teaching profession?” Superintendent Skeals said. “So when we talk about what’s relevant and interesting, this won’t apply to all kids, and that’s OK, but for some it is, and if we can help shepherd in the next generation of teachers that’s great.” 

Athletic Trainer (1.0 FTE)NCCSD has added 18 interscholastic athletic teams in the last decade, and now offers a total of 98 interscholastic athletic teams – averaging 750-1,000 student-athletes per season, competing in over 1,400 contests per year.

Currently, the district’s part-time, stipend trainer covers only 15-20 hours per week with only 5-8 hours of game coverage. “We are the only Suburban Council district without an athletic trainer,” Superintendent Kathleen Skeals said. “This is really about the safety and well-being of our student athletes.”

Athletic training is also a high-interest career path for students so the individual in this position could also, after the first year, possibly teach an elective.

The Individual Arts Assessment Pathway (0.2 FTE): The New York State Blue Ribbon Commission in recent years has slowly started opening the door to the pathways option. Students can now complete a locally-determined 3-unit sequence and demonstrate through a collection of works that they meet the High School II Accomplished Performance Indicators in the NYS learning standards for the arts.

NCCSD is seeking to add a 0.2 FTE to an existing position in order to introduce a new guitar/songwriting music course that could assist students in achieving the arts pathway. 

“We have a significant number of students who join us as ninth graders come to us in high school interested in music in different ways, such as production and technology,” Superintendent Skeals said. “This is a great, equitable option.”

Director of Health and Safety (conversion of current position): This is an 11-month position to supervise the summer work conducted by our nursing staff as well as consultations with Needham Risk Associates, Colonie Police, and Colonie Emergency Services. Will continue to coordinate all nursing services as well as district safety planning.

“It’s no surprise to anyone that we live in difficult times and we have no greater responsibility than to the health and safety of our students,” Superintendent Skeals said. “It’s a position that’s overdue for a district of our size.” 

Shaker Garden Coordinator (1.0 FTE; contingent on receipt  of three-year grant): In addition to maintenance and development of the Shaker and elementary gardens, the position would do curriculum development/coordination; community outreach; and liaison to classes, such as LEP science, health, and special education. “The mission of the district gardens is rooted in food equity and nourishing all students, as well as educating all students about our diverse food system,” Superintendent Skeals said.

Staffing Requests

In addition to the staffing associated with the new programs (totaling only 2.2 new FTE), additional staffing requests are needed to address increased enrollment, which includes a full-time (1.0 FTE) social worker. 

“As we talk about the changing needs in the district, we have had so many people who have rolled up their sleeves to help,” Superintendent Skeals said. “However, Albany County has so many resources to support families and we need a social worker working districtwide to help families find those connections.” 

Other positions proposed and driven by enrollment numbers, include: ENL teachers (2.0 FTE districtwide); world language teacher(0.8 FTE secondary); special education teachers (1.2 FTE districtwide); special education teaching assistants (3.0 FTE districtwide); and seven positions of varying FTE at the secondary level.

“The information you presented is excellent, very thoughtful in terms of this budget,” BOE President Linda Harrison said. “The new programs are wonderful, particularly the garden. There is nothing that I don’t like here. It’s all very reasonable.”

Superintendent Skeals said the development of the proposed budget and what programs are needed to best support students is a team effort.

“I am very happy with the ideas that continue to be brought forward,” she said. “We always want Shaker High School to be ahead of the curve. We know it’s going to be a few years before the Blue Ribbon Commission says we have to enact pathways, but they are going to ask us to offer very different kinds of courses than we do now.

“So the new things we can try now – the new music course, the Shaker Garden course, the Freshmen seminar – if we start to build those kinds of programs, that kind of thinking, the more we can start now with a seed here, and a seed there, that just prepares us to say we’re ready when the state says it’s ready.”

The first budget meeting held March 5 was an introduction to the overall 2024-25 budget process as well as the proposed Capital Project to be included on the May 21 budget vote. Visit our Budget and Finance webpage for additional meeting summary information and how to vote in this year’s election.