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Irwin wins SCCUDD's billboard contest

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, May 13, 2021 -- Watkins Glen High School senior Matt Irwin is the winner of the Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) billboard contest for county students in grades 7-12.

His billboard features him and his race car after a big win with the message “Enjoy Graduation. But make it to Victory Lane alive! Don’t Drink And Drive!”

The idea came to Irwin naturally, as he is a an actual local race car driver who will be attending the NASCAR technical Institute in Mooresville, NC after graduation to study engine building, fabrication, and pit crew with the dream of one day being a NASCAR driver.

“It was fun being part of this contest, especially seeing my car on a billboard,” said Irwin. "I am very grateful for the opportunity and to everyone who voted for my billboard.”

All students attending Odessa-Montour Central School, Watkins Glen Central School, and Bradford Central School were eligible in the contest, including homeschool students residing in Schuyler County.

The contest was for substance abuse prevention messages targeting prom and graduation.The winning billboard is being displayed on Route 14 in Montour Falls during the months of May and June.

Billboard entries were to have a message that informs, persuades, or states facts about substance abuse. Students were encouraged to look up facts and statistics and gain knowledge of why these substances are harmful to youth

Billboard entries were placed on SCCUDD’s social media, where the public was encouraged to vote.

“Matt’s creative and personal message is exactly what we were thinking of when we were forming the contest,” said SCCUDD Project Coordinator Ward Brower.

SCCUDD is a group of community members, businesses, and agencies that work to prevent, reduce, and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth.

For more information, or to become involved with SCCUDD, visit it online at www.schuylercounty.us/sccudd, or follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo in text: Matt Irwin and his billboard. (Photo provided)

School Board OKs 'Pandemic Persistence Honorarium' of $750 per district worker

WATKINS GLEN, May 5, 2021 -- The Watkins Glen School Board Tuesday night approved a one-time "Pandemic Persistence Honorarium" awarding $750 to each employee of the district who has worked there the entire school year and is a member of one of the district's five associations or a non-member Civil Service employee.

The move came, said Superintendent Greg Kelahan, in recognition of "the great challenges" faced by district workers and "the mental, emotional and physical toll" imposed by the pandemic on the school staff as it worked its way through ever-changing regulations and the need to adopt a new and flexible way of delivering education.

"The Board of Education has been very interactive with staff and recognized the terrific burden" its members shouldered this school year, he said. The honorarium "has been in the works for weeks," he added, with district officials meeting with presidents of the five associations representing administration, teachers, clerical, general and transportation workers.

The amount was selected, he explained, so that each worker would have about $500 after taxes. The money, about $170,000 in total, comes from the fund balance, and has no effect, he said, on the upcoming 2021-22 budget.

The amount paid to anyone working less than the full year would be prorated, he added.

The board also:

--Approved the appointment of three new teachers and two coaches:

Katalin Boroczky -- Teacher, Science
Ismael Villafane -- Teacher, Spanish
Julie Powell -- Teacher, Special Education
Ian Chedzoy -- Modified Lacrosse Coach
Mark Moskal -- Modified Lacrosse Volunteer Coach

--Heard a report from District Business Manager Amy Howell on the upcoming budget vote, set for May 18 in the Board of Education meeting room on the north side of the high school building. Hours will be 12 noon to 8 p.m.

The $27,120,691 budget, while showing a 2.42% increase in expenditures, calls for no increase in the tax levy, which stands once again at $9.6 million. The estimated taxes per $1,000 of assessed value will be $10.90, the same as this year.

Voting will take place at the same time on three School Board vacancies, two for three years and one for two years. The candidates are James Somerville, Joseph Crane, Michael Myers, Heather Dawson, Joe Stansfield, Barbara Schimizzi, Brittany Oliver and Amanda Voorheis.

Photos in text: Superintendent Greg Kelahan and Board President Gloria Brubaker at Tuesday night's meeting.

WGHS graduation date set for June 20th

WATKINS GLEN, April 22, 2021 -- The Watkins Glen School District, after changing the graduation date from June 19 to June 26 in a bow to Juneteenth, has settled instead on Father's Day, June 20.

The initial date change angered some parents and students who had made plans for the weekend of June 19-20. The district, on advice of counsel, had moved the date fairly late in the planning stages -- in March -- in deference to Juneteenth, which is now a holiday in New York State.

Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day among other names, is a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and celebrates African American achievements. It falls on the anniversary of the 1865 pronouncement by Union Army General Gordon Granger that proclaimed freedom from slavery in Texas. The holiday originated in Texas, and has spread across the U.S., with official recognition varying.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Oct. 14 signed into law legislation designating Juneteenth as an official public holiday in this state.

Watkins Glen Superintendent Greg Kelahan said that the district, in response to the objections aired by several parents at a School Board meeting in late March, sent out a survey to district families asking if they preferred June 26 or a different date, June 20.

"A considerable number were comfortable with either," he said. But enough liked the 20th that the change was made to that day, a Sunday. "If it works for the community, it works for us," he added.

The ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m., although potential pandemic restrictions might force two ceremonies, back to back, with one in the late morning followed by one at 2 p.m.

Photo in text: School Superintendent Greg Kelahan at Wednesday's meeting.

WG School Board sends budget to voters; WGFA chief airs rift over union proposal

WATKINS GLEN, April 22, 2021 -- The Watkins Glen School Board Wednesday night unanimously approved a proposed budget that will be sent to district voters on Tuesday, May 18. Voting will be from 12 noon to 8 p.m. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 4.

The plan calls for a total 2021-22 district budget of $27,120,691 -- a $641,814, or 2.4%, increase in spending over 2020-21. But it also calls for no increase from last year's tax levy of $9,600,000.

In includes estimated figures, such as for salaries for members of the Watkins Glen Faculty Association, with whom negotiations are currently underway.

There is an increase in the Transportation Budget of $107,702, reflecting an increase in wages and fuel as bus use in a post-pandemic climate rises.

District Business Manager Amy Howell, in her proposal to the board, noted that with the tax levy unchanged, "if tax assessed valuations are increased by Schuyler County, taxpayers within the district will likely see a decline in their school district tax bill per $1,000 of value. If there is no change in valuations, the estimated real property tax will be $10.90 per $1,000 in value."

The budget vote will be accompanied by a vote for three members of the School Board -- two for terms of three years each, and one for a term of two years. Candidates include incumbent Barb Schimizzi along with Jim Somerville, Michael Myers, Amanda Voorheis, Joseph Crane, Joseph Stansfield, Heather Dawson, and Brittany Oliver. Incumbent Kris Clarkson is not seeking re-election, and Board President Gloria Brubaker is stepping down before the end of her term.

Tenures granted:

The board approved tenure for a number of district instructors. They include teaching assistants April Simmons, Renee Riley, Richard Campbell, and Christine Irwin; Speech Pathologist Melissa Burns; and teachers Cheryle Earl (Math), Jason Westervelt (Physical Education), Kelsey Pinette (Music), Nichole Chaffee (Elementary), Jeannette Gilbert (Elementary), Emily Richmond-Handley (Art), and Margaret King (Special Education).

Library budget presentation

Watkins Glen Library Board President Judy Phillips offered a brief presentation to the board on the library's proposed $204,262 budget, a decrease of 0.78% from the current year.

A public hearing on the plan is set from 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, May 4 via Zoon (e-mail SavardT@stls.org to attend). The vote will be held on May 18.

Rift with Union

Watkins Glen Faculty Association President Jeannette Lasko spoke to the board about a current situation the union finds unsettling and confusing. Her presentation follows:

"Good evening, members of the Board of Education:

"Four years ago, the Watkins Glen Faculty Association met with our Board of Education as we embarked on a search for a new superintendent. We discussed our hopes for a leader and what we wanted in the years to come. Two years ago, the WGFA Executive Board was invited into discussions during a BOE executive session. Hoping to build on these experiences, the WGFA reached out to you last week with an invitation for some friendly conversation. We had hoped to discuss our current climate and culture and to chat about our visions for the future.

"But unfortunately, I never received a reply from anyone on the board, and we were informed that the district is filing an improper practice charge against us for our request. While we have yet to receive the formal paperwork from the Public Employees Relations Board on this charge, we were directed by the district’s Labor Relations Specialist/attorney to cease and desist requests for conversations with the Board of Education. In essence, the teachers and staff of your district were told that they can’t talk to you. Our only option, as directed by the district’s LRS and attorney, is share our thoughts in the public comment portion of a formal meeting.

I’m still not exactly sure what was inappropriate about our request as we had no intention of discussing anything regarding contract negotiations. We wanted to talk about ways that we can come together to make our district what we know it can be. We wanted to talk about collaboration on decision making. We wanted to talk about ways to show our staff that they are important and valued. We wanted to talk about methods for open communication and discussion. We were excited to sit down with the elected leaders of our district for transparent and friendly conversation. But unfortunately, we were met with unnecessary legal action.

"I’m not sure where we go from here. except to say our offer for conversation still stands. As a result of the prospect of litigation against the WGFA, we are now hoping you will come to us. Organize open forums. Send us surveys. Call us. Show up in our hallways and stop by our classrooms. We want to talk to you. We want you to know the truth about how our schools are operating and how we are often misrepresented and how at times it seems there is an intention to divide us rather than bring us together.

"But also, that we educate the students of this community every day with compassion, enthusiasm and dedication. We see the key to a successful relationship and partnership is open communication."

Photos in text:

From top: Watkins Glen School Board President Gloria Brubaker, Watkins Glen Library Board President Judy Phillips, WGFA President Jeannette Lasko, and School Board member Kevin Rumsey at Wednesday's meeting.

New members of the WGHS Chapter of the National Honor Society. (Photo provided)

15 join National Honor Society at WGHS

WATKINS GLEN, April 16, 2021 -- Fifteen students were inducted Thursday into the Watkins Glen High School Chapter of the National Honor Society in a ceremony at the school.

Joining the NHS were Abby Congdon, Kelsey DeMillo, Douglas DiGregorio, Molly Dunham, Andrew Hayes, Cameron Holland, Connor Karius, Isabella La Face, Nolan Ormsbee, Jordannmarie Simpson, Anya Simpson, Kimberly Smith-Brown, Luke Spahalski, Benjamin Swinnerton and Melanie Wysocki.

Veteran members explaining the Four Pillars of NHS included: Maria Brubaker on Scholarship, Kayla Palmer on Leadership, Briana Hayes on Service, and Aislinn Klemann on Character. Other members include Bryce Kelly (the chapter president) and Shannon Ervay. All six are seniors.

Photo in text: Candles are part of the National Honor Society induction ceremony. (Photo provided)

Graduation date change draws some fire
at Watkins Glen School Board meeting

WATKINS GLEN, March 30, 2021 -- The Watkins Glen School District's decision at mid-month to move the date of graduation from June 19 -- Juneteenth -- to June 26 drew an audience of about 20 people, both parents and students, to Monday night's School Board meeting.

And speaker after speaker was unhappy with the change, insisting that the district administration created problems for many people that didn't need to be created.

Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day among other names, is a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and celebrates African American achievements. It falls on the anniversary of the 1865 pronouncement by Union Army General Gordon Granger that proclaimed freedom from slavery in Texas. The holiday originated in Texas, and has spread across the U.S., with official recognition varying.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Oct. 14 signed into law legislation designating Juneteenth as an official public holiday in this state. The district administration decided earlier this month to change the graduation date after a communication from the school attorney indicated "his belief that it is in the best interest of the school district to respect the intent of the Juneteenth holiday," Superintendent Greg Kelahan explained in an email exchange with a parent, Sophie Till-Mooney, who was unhappy with the change.

"Just as we demonstrate our reverence for those we honor on Veteran's Day and Memorial Day," Kelahan went on, "our school attorney believes (as do I) that it is the intent of the holiday originators that we, as a nation, take one dedicated day each year to honor those people who experienced enslavement and those who dedicated themselves to emancipation of the enslaved. Anything that detracts from such intended reflection would appear inappropriate."

A half-dozen speakers -- mostly parents of graduating students -- addressed the board over the difficulties the move is making to long-established plans that cannot be changed, including for out-of-town visitors. And even such visitors who can change their plans, one speaker pointed out, will find that the June 26 weekend is a race weekend that logjams available housing.

The first speaker, Sophie Till-Mooney, said that three things are wrong with the district's decision to change the date:

1.) It came far too late to be fair for planning purposes. The holiday was designated in October, so why was the decision not made much earlier?

2. There is no existing law that prohibits graduation from occurring on Juneteenth.

3. The race weekend complicates matters from housing and logistical standpoints.

Another speaker, Stacey Edwards, said she had asked around and found many other school districts continuing to hold their graduations on that date -- as were various colleges. She said she Googled to see what districts had changed their graduation dates and found just one: Watkins Glen.

And she said she agreed with another point made by Till-Mooney: the two celebrations -- Juneteenth and graduation -- "are not mutually exclusive."

Debbie Kelly also spoke emotionally about her long battle with cancer and how she has pointed toward key moments with her graduating son, Bryce, the class salutatorian, who will soon be entering the U.S. Naval Academy. In fact, she said, the induction date at the Naval Academy is June 26, meaning Bryce will not be able to attend his own graduation if the June 26 date is retained.

And Rich Greenberger said he thought celebrating both events -- graduation and Juneteenth -- on the same day "is the way to go." He said "something doesn't smell right" about the way Superintendent Greg Kelahan simply told the board "this was the way to go," adding: ."Let's celebrate, not sow discord."

Board member Jessica Saks asked the rest of the board whether there "is going to be a reconsideration." She said she had thought "a lot of schools" had changed their dates, but if no others had, and the Watkins salutatorian won't be present as a result of the change here, then she might agree with the speakers.

And board member Theresa Butler wondered if the change had taken into account the post-June 19 graduation plans of students, such as those entering the military other than Kelly,

Board Vice President Barb Schimizzi, in charge of the meeting in the absence of President Gloria Brubaker, moved on from that discussion to other board business, but came back to the issue just before adjournment.

The board, she said, would discuss the matter further, but "I'm not going to guarantee that we're going to change our minds."

Photos in text: Speakers Stacey Edwards (top) and Sophie Till-Mooney, and School Superintendent Greg Kelahan at Monday's meeting.

SCCUDD holding 7th-12th grade contest

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, March 10, 2021 -- The Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) is holding a billboard contest for Schuyler County students in grades 7 through 12.

All students attending Odessa-Montour Central School, Watkins Glen Central School, and Bradford Central School are eligible, including homeschool students residing in Schuyler County.

The contest is for substance abuse prevention messages with a “Prom or Graduation” theme. The winning billboard will be displayed during the months of May and June 2021.

Billboards created must have a message that informs, persuades, or states facts about substance abuse. It can be about nicotine/tobacco/vaping, alcohol, and/or prescription drug abuse or illegal drug use and how it is harmful to youth. The message can be about one or all of these topics/substances.

Students are encouraged to look up facts and statistics and gain knowledge of why these substances are harmful to youth. Students are encouraged to be creative and think about a message that would reach youth. They are also encouraged to NOT use scare tactics.

Billboard ideas may be submitted until March 29. Those billboards that are accepted will be displayed on the SCCUDD Facebook page and be voted on by the public. Voting will begin on March 29 and end April 4 . The billboard with the most votes will be announced the following week.

“We are very much looking forward to the creativity of the teens of Schuyler County. Our grade K-6 contest last fall was not only creative, but also educational and fun to be a part of.” said SCCUDD Project Coordinator Ward Brower. The SCCUDD K-6 billboard contest winner was Kaiser Kiklowicz, a 5th grade student from Bradford, whose Billboard titled “Fall into Healthy Habits” was displayed on Route 14 in Montour Falls from November to January.

Information regarding contest rules or entry are being provided at each school’s main office, or people can contact SCCUDD directly at 607-535-8140.

SCCUDD is a group of community members, businesses, and agencies that work to prevent, reduce, and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth by collaborating with community partners, promoting prevention education and substance-free activities, and implementing environmental strategies. SCCUDD works to reduce youth use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, as they can cause lifelong problems. SCCUDD’s vision is a connected community where youth have education, resources, and drug-free options to help their journey to become happy, healthy adults.

For more information, or to become involved with SCCUDD, visit SCCUDD online at www.schuylercounty.us/sccudd, or follow SCCUDD on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

B.C. Cate to offer full-day 3PK in the fall

MONTOUR FALLS, Feb. 11, 2021 -- The Odessa-Montour Central School District wishes to identify families with children eligible to attend a full-day three-year-old Pre-Kindergarten program at B.C. Cate Elementary School this September.

If your child resides in the Odessa-Montour Central School District and will be three years old on or before December 1, 2021, he/she is eligible for this program. Transportation will be the responsibility of the parent.

To express your interest in the program, call the school at 535-7267, ext. 1900 by Friday, March 19. Expressing interest does not guarantee entrance into the program. Class size is a maximum of 15 students. Schuyler HeadStart also holds its own three-year-old program, which you may want to express interest in as well. Please call HeadStart at 535-6814.

From left: School Board member Craig Bianco; Hunt Engineers' Jeff Robbins; recently retired teacher Kathy Meierjurgen, honored by the district for her 27 years of service.

Glen School Board OKs sports moves; Brubaker announces plan to step down

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 8, 2021 -- The Watkins Glen School Board Monday night approved agreements with the Odessa-Montour School District renewing the merger of the two districts’ wrestling and football teams.

The board also received an update on how the remaining $3 million in funds from its 2017 capital improvement plan will be utilized; voted to expand the geographic area in which its sports teams might play; and heard Board President Gloria Brubaker announce that she plans to step down from the board on June 30 after 20 years of service and with two years remaining in her term.

The Brubaker news came after Board Clerk Renee Angle announced that there would be two vacancies up for grabs in the School Board election in May -- seats currently held by Barb Schimizzi and Kris Clarkson, both for three-year terms. She said nominating petitions could be picked up at the district office starting Feb. 19.

Brubaker said she thought it only fair to announce her intention now, before the petition period begins. She explained after the meeting that “It’s time. I’ve paid my dues” with two stints on the board, the first for four years and the current one in its 16th year.

Brubaker, who won a three-year term last year, said she had been hoping at that time to win the one-year term that went to Clarkson, completing the term of the late Kelly McCarthy. “But I missed it by six votes,” she said. She had been hinting at a resignation earlier this school year, and said now: “It’s time for younger people to step up” to serve on the board.

The vote on the sports merger renewals came after one speaker at the meeting had urged such approval, rather than keep parents at both school districts wondering. Before the votes, which were on the agenda, Superintendent Greg Kelahan voiced opposition to the wrestling move, citing the increased possibility of Covid-19 exposure that could lead at the very least to quarantine. “There will be a time when we end up in quarantine” through sports interaction, he said, adding: “It’s going to happen. ... I don’t want interscholastic sports to close down academics.”

But the board approved the merger unanimously, and the issue now goes to the O-M School Board. If approved there, four wrestlers from Watkins Glen will join the Odessa squad, as a few did last year.

The football renewal allows -- if approved by O-M and if there is sufficient interest -- for Modified and Junior Varsity squads, along with the varsity.

Those so-called high-risk sports teams, and those from other sports, were constrained by district rule from traveling to any sports site beyond contiguous counties, but a lengthy discussion on the issue swayed the board to allow longer travel, the rationale being that any potential Covid-19 cases could be encountered just as easily closer to home. Distance did not seem a determining factor.

The board also discussed -- at the urging of another parent -- the rule barring spectators from Watkins sports events. Kelahan explained that the rule was put in place through agreement of the three school superintendents in the county -- at Watkins, O-M and Bradford -- along with Schuyler County Public Health.

While some board members voiced the thought that limited attendance -- say two people for every participating student -- might be manageable, Athletic Director Rod Weeden brought that thinking to an end when he said the Interscholastic Athletic Conference had ruled against spectators.

He said some schools had instructed their coaches to pull their teams from the court or field of play while on the road if any spectators were present. Parents upset with the rule, he said, should consider the effect they would have on a sports program if they had Covid and attended a game -- prompting a quarantine that could effectively torpedo the short, compressed seasons of both teams.

The board also supported virtual league championship events for the boys swimming and boys and girls bowling teams. The IAC bowling is this weekend, originally scheduled at the Valley Bowling Center in Waverly but altered at the insistence of participating schools so that each competing school will bowl at its home lanes. Both Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour will be bowling Saturday afternoon at Harborside Lanes, their home alley in Watkins Glen.

The $12.65 million capital improvement project has seen such things as classroom renovations and construction of artificial turf football, baseball and softball playing fields. The remaining $3 million came available primarily through a reduction in roof replacement costs originally thought to be $5 million, but now (thanks in part to warranties) coming in at $2.8 million.

Hunt Engineers’ Jeff Robbins told the board the $3 million will be used on a number of projects involving aspects of the school identified as needing upgrade or correction, including: improvement of the lobby outside the high school auditorium; replacement of seven old and outmoded transformers; repair of various sections of asphalt; repair of ramps, stairs and sidewalks outside the Field House; replacement of old drain lines; replacement of 1967 era wall tiling; repiping a fire suppression system; replacement of the gymnasium bleachers; replacement of panels and bottom seals on the gym divider wall; replacement of pool starting blocks; and other infrastructure improvements.

Robbins said that after a state review, he hopes for bids in the spring, construction beginning this summer, and completion by the summer of 2022.

Photos in text: From top: Superintendent Greg Kelahan; Board President Gloria Brubaker; and a slide from a presentation about the capital project.

School Board OKs hoops conditioning plan

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 19, 2021 -- The Watkins Glen School Board gave the go-ahead Tuesday night to a basketball conditioning program in the Field House gym, to start as soon as possible.

Superintendent Greg Kelahan said the board approved by consensus a plan prepared by Athletic Director Rod Weeden calling for such things as shooting and dribbling drills as well as other conditioning. Not allowed: defensive or other drills that result in body-to-body contact.

"They decided it was time to let Rod move forward with it," said Kelahan. "It didn't take much convincing; they were already leaning in that direction."

The drills will start as soon as coaches are lined up, he said, although "they probably already are."

The board also heard from football coach Trevor Holland asking that the board consider options for football conditioning "on the chance there is a season" this spring, something the state offered months ago as a possibility.

"But I can't see the state approving football at this point," said Kelahan, adding that the board isn't ruling out conditioning for it, but "waiting to hear more from the state ... and waiting to see how the basketball goes."

"Honestly, anything to help the kids," he said. "These are the dark days of winter, and I like to think there's some light at the end of the tunnel."

By approving the basketball conditioning, he said, "at least we're taking baby steps."

The board also:

--Barely discussed Governor Andrew Cuomo's budget, unveiled Tuesday, because "the governor didn't tell us much."

--Voted to change a scheduled Superintendent's Conference Day on Monday, Feb. 1 to a day of instruction instead, with parents to be notified soon.

Photo in text: Superintendent Greg Kelahan (File photo)

Ferguson on President's List at Cortland

CORTLAND, Dec. 31, 2020 -- Hailey A. Ferguson of 5704 County Road 11, Alpine, NY, has been placed on the President's List for the Spring 2020 semester at the State University of New York College at Cortland.

To be eligible for the President's List, a student must be full-time and have earned at least an A- in all courses.

Ferguson, a graduate of Odessa-Montour High School, is majoring in Psychology. She is in the SUNY Cortland Class of 2022.

Attending the meeting remotely were (clockwise from top left) District Clerk Renee Angle, Board President Gloria Brubaker, Superintendent Greg Kelahan and District Treasurer Amy Howell. All but Brubaker were placed in quarantine by Public Health after a Business Office worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Watkins still eyes Jan. 4 start of in-school plan, but teachers union chief urges delay

Superintendent says Jan. 4 remains the start date; discusses winter sports

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 16, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School District’s plan to go to a nearly full-time in-school schedule “is still on our radar” for Jan. 4, Superintendent Greg Kelahan told the School Board Tuesday night, but the Watkins Glen Faculty Association is not happy with the speed with which it is being done.

WGFA President Jeannette Lasko told the board near the end of its meeting that a weekend survey of the association’s 121 members -- seeking input on “how the teachers were feeling” about the full-time in-school plan -- drew 106 replies.

Of those 106, she said, “only half have confidence in the protection of their health and safety” under the district’s plan. “We feel like it’s a rushed decision” -- that district officials were “moving fast ... and there are so many unknowns.”

Lasko suggested to the board that “you delay the full opening until mid-January or the end of the semester,” and that the return be “phased in.”

Superintendent Kelahan responded afterward by saying he wasn't surprised by Lasko's assertion that half of the teachers are concerned -- in fact, that he was surprised the percentage wasn't higher. "Everybody's concerned," he said. "But we share a common concern: that everyone is safe."

The district opened the year with a hybrid system of education, with most students attending school in-person two days a week and learning remotely the rest of the week, and the remainder attending remotely five days a week. The school has gone completely remote this month to help prepare for the full-time in-school plan. Kelahan said 85% of the district's parents "want their kids back full-time."

Kelahan last month announced the move to five-days-a-week for PK through 6th grade, with 7th through 12th graders going four days a week, with Wednesday remote. Preparations have included classroom reconfiguration and student schedule adjustments -- all done with "safety our top priority," Kelahan said. At the time of the announcement, he said that "on Jan. 4, we're opening to all the kids who want to attend.” The rest would continue learning remotely.

Elementary School Principal Jeremy Leroux and High School Principal Kai D’Alleva outlined for the board Tuesday evening the plans for their two schools, with Leroux saying he had not noticed any pushback thus far from teachers, and D’Alleva saying the biggest challenge was “finding a way to fit the students into the classroom” while maintaining social distancing.

But Lasko said the physical layout of the classrooms was a “hot” topic among teachers, with some experiencing “a panic moment” envisioning their reconfigured rooms filled with students. “Some were even talking about bringing in tape measures” to validate the proper distancing between desks; and some questioned the educational benefit to students whose desks will be abutting, and facing, classroom walls.

Lasko, who is very supportive of the district's full-time mask rule, suggested that signage be used to reinforce the rule. She also invited the School Board to visit some classrooms to see for themselves what might be concerning teachers.

The Board ended the public meeting and went into executive session without addressing her concerns, but Kelahan said after that session -- dealing largely with personnel and money issues -- that "we're still on for Jan. 4."

Remote Attendance

Kelahan and other members of the district business office attended the meeting remotely, having been placed in quarantine after a member of the business office tested positive for COVID-19. Kelahan -- now in his sixth day of quarantine -- said he was "taking very seriously the direction of Public Health," which approved "a staggered attendance" of the business office employees -- without multiple workers in the office at one time -- so that bills, mail and payroll could be handled.

“This is bad enough," Kelahan told the board, "but it could have been far worse.” He said he is well, and that other members of the business office are, too. The one person who tested positive "exhibited symptoms," he said, which prompted the test leading to the quarantine. But that person "is feeling better today."

He touched on the recent announcement by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association that winter sports postseason tournaments were canceled, saying it was highly unlikely that Governor Andrew Cuomo would green light any competition involving “high risk” sports such as basketball and wrestling.

And while there appears a chance that bowling and boys swimming -- and perhaps indoor track -- seasons might be permitted starting on Jan. 4, they would almost certainly be done remotely, with one school’s bowlers, for instance, rolling their games in their home alley, while the competition was bowling at its home lanes.

“If kids can’t be in the same pool or same bowling alley or on the same track," said Kelahan, "is that really legitimate interscholastic competition?”

However, he conceded that both bowling and swimming can be "pretty easily controlled as to interaction; we can keep them spread out" -- and that he won't actively oppose either sport, although to his mind they will be conducted on a "club" level. As for indoor track, he said he realizes it might be popular among athletes barred from high-risk sports, but that there are "no venues. That could be a tricky one."

Athletic Director Rod Weeden supported participation in as many sports as possible, telling the board he wanted “to give the kids something to help them stay mentally and physically healthy." He noted that it might be possible to host a bowling competition, with one school on one side of the bowling alley, and the other school on the other end -- although Kelahan said later that such a scenario won't happen.

“If nothing changes by Wednesday,” Weeden said -- if the state didn’t change the rules yet again -- he planned to send out sign-ups to the students for all the winter sports, with the understanding that basketball and wrestling probably won’t happen.

If there are any competitions in any sports, virtual or otherwise, there would be no spectators allowed at either practices or contests, he noted.

Board member Theresa Butler responded by saying: “I don’t think the kids care about spectators. They just want to do something."

Photos in text: From top: WGFA President Jeannette Lasko; Board member Theresa Butler; board members Jessica Saks and Craig Bianco; and Athletic Director Rod Weeden.

O-M looks at plans for sports, school play

Special to The Odessa File

ODESSA, Dec. 12, 2020 -- With high school sports on hiatus since last March and doubts about a return to on-field competition in the air with the resurgence of the coronavirus in the state, area school officials are nonetheless hoping for some bowling and boys swimming matches in the new year.

Both are still on the slate approved by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA), with practices starting in January. It has put on hold those winter sports considered high-risk in a pandemic, specifically basketball and wrestling.

The Odessa-Montour School Board heard from Superintendent Chris Wood at its meeting on Thursday, Dec. 10, that plans are being formulated to start those bowling and swimming practices on Jan. 4, with controlled competitions following in an abbreviated season.

"What we're doing," said Wood, "is trying to gauge the level of interest" among the O-M students. If the interest is there, he said, then plans for bowling and swimming will likely move forward.

Wood submitted a report to the board from Athletic Manager Greg Gavich that outlined the situation, and another from the school music department that outlined plans for a controlled, remote, streaming presentation of the hoped-for school play, "The Wizard of Oz."

Gavich's report said, in part:

--The season would be 8 weeks "as opposed to the traditional 14 weeks," thus calling for 57.1% of coaching stipends.

--"Weekday matches and meets would be virtual events – our teams would compete at our home facilities and submit their scores/times to our opponents at a designated time to compare for results. Saturday contests could be conducted in person if facilities are available and meet the capacity requirements."

--"We could host bowling events, but our pool capacity would make it virtually impossible to host a swim meet."

--"Basketball and wrestling are currently on the 'high risk' sports list and are not approved. If they are approved for play prior to January 4, a basketball schedule is in place (11 or 12 regular season games). There would be no spectators allowed." Live streaming is under discussion.

--"With the gym capacity issues for basketball (maximum of 50), having cheerleaders would not be allowed at events." Therefore, the feeling of coach Trina Shepherd is that it's not worth offering cheerleading. (Competitive cheer is currently still on the high-risk list.)

--Intramurals might be an alternative for high-risk sports like basketball and wrestling -- "such as foul shooting, three point shooting, pushups, sit ups, etc."

The fall sports season, he added, would start March 1 and run through mid-April, if given a final go-ahead. It would be 8 weeks instead of 12, with sports currently approved being boys and girls soccer and girls swimming. O-M and Watkins Glen might combine their swim teams.

The "biggest obstacle would be weather conditions," Gavich wrote, saying O-M "might have to play most soccer games away on fields with artificial turf (Watkins Glen, Notre Dame, Waverly)."

Superintendent Wood told the board that Gavich would "update everyone as events change," adding: "We have opportunities available to offer our students what would be beneficial for their social and emotional well-being. (Gavich) has seen first-hand the benefits of off-season workouts for soccer. The girls who participated enjoyed the camaraderie with each other and had fun while improving their skills and their physical conditioning."

School Play Proposal

The report from the O-M Music Department to the School Board outlined a producton following remote and strict safety guidelines. The board, well aware of the drain on student morale created by the pandemic, seemed receptive.

"For the musical this year," the Music Department said, "we would like to finally put on "The Wizard of Oz." The department has several ideas to keep this safe for everyone:

--"Pre-record all the dialogue one scene at a time, in small groups (spaced around the auditorium, each student with an individual microphone). We would follow all the current music ensemble rehearsal guidelines to keep things as safe as possible, including limiting recording time to half an hour, with a break to allow the aerosols to clear.

--"Pre-record all the music one voice at a time. This would allow students to sing unmasked.

--"Re-block the musical to use more of the auditorium space, allowing for safe distancing practices while walking through the show (this would be done silently, as all the audio is pre-recorded).

--"Make masks part of the costumes, so all performers are always masked, even though they will be running through the show silently with the pre-recorded audio.

--"Live-stream two or three broadcasts of the kids acting the show with the pre-recorded audio. Again, the students would be silent throughout, removing the need to clear the room every half hour."

Schuyler Hospital to provide telehealth services to SUNY CCC students, faculty

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, Dec. 9, 2020 -- Schuyler Hospital, a member of Cayuga Health, has partnered with SUNY Corning Community College (SUNY CCC) to provide "augmented" telehealth and telemedicine services to SUNY CCC students, staff and faculty.

“Telemedicine, typically, is the patient, the doctor and a camera,” says Christine Bonarski, nurse at SUNY CCC. “At the SUNY CCC Health Office, we can augment that by doing an assessment of the patient before the virtual appointment with a Schuyler provider, to record vitals, check ears, lungs, etc., and provide that preliminary health information to the doctor or Nurse Practitioner.”

The Cayuga Health Medical Director, Dr. David Evelyn, will provide initial oversight and non-patient-specific standing orders. This service has already benefited SUNY CCC by allowing expansion of COVID testing on campus. With the expanded testing, several COVID cases have been identified early, which has helped keep the number of COVID cases in the SUNY CCC community low.

“Schuyler Hospital provided COVID-19 testing twice this fall at the Corning campus, including 110 tests on move-in day for students residing on campus in Perry Hall,” said Rebecca Gould, Schuyler Hospital President and CFO. “SUNY CCC has really helped Schuyler Hospital expand its reach and increase its visibility in the community, as many people in the region attend SUNY CCC and we can care for them through our partnership.”

“Once a COVID-19 vaccine is available we may be able to set up a clinic on-site and have Schuyler administer the vaccines,” said Bonarski. “And, similar to COVID testing, Schuyler can provide flu clinics. We are also looking into adding more testing services, such as strep tests and urinary tract infection testing.”

“The partnership between Schuyler Hospital and SUNY Corning Community College strengthens the community as we work together to provide a safe and healthy environment for our students and community members,” added Gould.

About Schuyler Hospital

Schuyler Hospital is a 25-bed critical access hospital, with a 120-bed skilled nursing facility attached. Schuyler Hospital’s main campus -- overlooking Seneca Lake -- is located in Montour Falls, New York. For 100 years, Schuyler Hospital has been the primary healthcare provider in and around Schuyler County. It has evolved over the years into a network of providers, programs, and services that reaches throughout Schuyler County and into neighboring counties to meet the healthcare needs of a population of over 32,000 residents.

About SUNY Corning Community College

SUNY Corning Community College, with its main campus in Corning, New York, is a two-year college serving the Steuben, Chemung and Schuyler counties region of New York. SUNY CCC is part of the State University of New York system. https://www.corning-cc.edu/

About Cayuga Health

Cayuga Health (CH) has two hospitals, Cayuga Medical Center and Schuyler Hospital, as well as a multi-specialty group, Cayuga Medical Associates. Combined employment, including affiliated organizations, is over 2,200 employees. CH is clinically linked to Mayo Medical Laboratories, Rochester Regional Health for cardiac services, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the University of Rochester for Neurosciences.

Watkins district going virtual on Nov. 30, and then nearly full-time in school in Jan.

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 23, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen school district is planning to abandon its hybrid education plan after Christmas break, bringing as many students into school on a full-time basis as want to attend -- or nearly full-time.

First, though, the district is going to all-remote learning starting Monday, Nov. 30, right after Thanksgiving break, through Dec. 22, right before Christmas break. During that time, says Superintendent Greg Kelahan, the district will prepare for full-time in-school education for those students who prefer a classroom education to learning remotely.

Preparations will include classroom reconfiguration, student schedule adjustments and transportation -- all done with "safety our top priority," Kelahan noted in a message emailed to parents Monday.

"On Jan. 4," he added in a phone interview, "we're opening to all the kids who want to attend" -- five days a week for grades PK through 6, and at least four days a week for grades 7-12. It looks like Wednesdays might be a virtual attendance day for those 7th through 12 graders, Kelahan said, due to staffing issues.

But the district will, with that exception, abandon its hybrid plan adopted for this school year, in which two groups of students split time in school, each going two days a week, with Wednesdays virtual.

With the new plan, "anybody who wants can still be virtual," said Kelahan, but if they choose that route, they will be locked into it "until at least mid-spring."

He said he surveyed staff members and received "overwhelming support" for a full-time in-school schedule, and said the idea was well received by the School Board.

"I think we can do it," he said. "We're good to go." But first, there are the preparations, including determining which students are opting for remote learning and which for in-school instruction. He said parents have access to a survey form on which they can express their preference.

By going full-time in school, he added, chances are improved for a successful startup in winter sports, if they are -- as planned -- allowed starting in January. The district will not, however, participate in any pre-season preparation. The decision on pre-season, Kelahan explained, is in the hands of each individual district -- and Watkins is opposed to it.

In the meantime, he said he hopes people start taking COVID-19 more seriously -- deciding, for instance, against holiday travel. Such activity, he said, "mixes germ pools" and makes the fight against the pandemic that much more difficult -- including keeping it out of school.

Photo in text: Superintendent Greg Kelahan (File photo)

From left: Watkins Glen School Board members Jessica Saks, Craig Bianco, Kris Clarkson.

School Board nixes conditioning program, Gators request; in-school closure eyed

Kelahan weighing possibility of fully remote learning through holidays

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 17, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board voted 4-3 Monday night to reject a request to extend the district's student conditioning program into the winter; turned back, 5-2, a request by the Glen Gators to use the school pool; and heard Superintendent Greg Kelahan say he is considering transitioning the district to a fully remote education system through December.

Conditioning Program:
The conditioning program, whereby students gather after school for sports activities under the guidance of a coach, was previously approved for the fall over the opposition of the superintendent. While one of the autumn activities -- swimming -- took place indoors, the discussion Monday focused on how all winter conditioning activities would be indoors and thus carry a greater risk of Covid-related infections. Voting in favor of the program: board members Jessica Saks, Kevin Rumsey and Theresa Butler. Voting against it: Board President Gloria Brubaker and board members Barb Schimizzi, Kris Clarkson and Craig Bianco.

Bianco said that if the Covid infection numbers in the county were down "in two or three weeks" he would reconsider, but that "I don't think today is the right time."

Gators Request: The Gators coach, Jason Westervelt, thanked the board for placing the club's proposal on the agenda, something it had failed to do at its previous session. He assured board members that the plan, limited to children within the school district, would be safe. But some board members were concerned both about safety and about setting a precedent by allowing a club to use the pool -- which they feared could lead other clubs to seek use of school facilities. Kelahan voiced opposition to the plan, saying -- as he did with the conditioning program request -- that while the program offered physical and mental benefits to the students -- he is "laser focused on academics" instead of extracurricular athletics. Only Saks and Butler voted in favor of the Gators' proposal. Brubaker, Rumsey, Schimizzi, Clarkson and Bianco voted against it.

Remote Education: Kelahan noted that 23% of the district students are currently studying remotely. That's up from slightly below 20% at the start of the year, the increase coming in part with the recent two-week transition to full remote learning after Covid cases had left the district short on teachers. (The district is operating on a hybrid plan -- remote for that 23%, and a mix of in-school and remote for all others.)

Now, Kelahan said, he was considering closing classrooms -- in-school attendance -- and going fully remote through the end of the calendar year, a move that would be dependent in part on what, if any, action New York State might take against Schuyler County for a burgeoning positivity rate. That action, it was explained, could affect the county as a whole or a designated part of it -- where a "cluster" of infections might be occurring. The Schuyler town with the most cases thus far is Dix, where the school campus sits.

That specter loomed as Schuyler County Public Health on Monday adjusted its 7-day positivity rate of Covid-19 cases to 4.9% from a reading of 3.4% on Saturday. School officials said they had been informed by Public Health that the change was made to coordinate the Schuyler department's rate with one published by the State Department of Health. (A check of State DOH rates later Monday night showed a 7-day Schuyler average at 4.6%, with a one-day rate Sunday of 1.9%.)

With the state imposing color-coded restrictions on clusters -- high infection areas -- Kelahan was concerned that a Yellow, or precautionary, designation might be forthcoming later in the week for Schuyler or part of it. More stringent designations are Orange and Red. Under the Yellow, he said, the district would have to random test 20% of students and staff over each two-week period of the designation -- the test period having been increased Monday from weekly.

Such a designation, Kelahan said, might trigger a decision by him that moves the district to all-remote education through the calendar year. Tied to that, he said, was the expectation that many people will likely be traveling during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to visit relatives elsewhere. By not holding classes in school during the November-December holiday period, he told the Board, the district would avoid students bringing to class any Covid exposures they might have picked up on such trips.

Any decision, he added, would be made with students, staff and parents in mind as he tries to find "what is going to be the lane that gives us the best chance of success."

A decision, he said, would be made by the end of this week.

Photos in text: From top: Superintendent Greg Kelahan, Gators Coach Jason Westervelt, board member Theresa Butler and Board President Gloria Brubaker at Monday's session.

WGHS alum Bascom is making his mark by marketing social media stars, brands

By Rob Kurcoba

Watkins Glen High School alum Charles Bascom has become one of the marketing forces behind some of today’s most popular and up-and-coming social media influencers and athletes.

Bascom is the founder and CEO of Wealth Garden Entertainment, a branding and marketing company based in Los Angeles.

The company has nearly two dozen current and former NBA, NFL and NHL stars on its client roster, including former New York Knick Nate Robinson and two-time NBA all-star Carlos Boozer.

Bascom also works with musicians like rappers Calboy and A$AP 12vy, social media influencers like Karlie Redd from VH1’s reality show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, and Instagram models like Jasmine Rae from MTV’s Wild’N Out. He assists each entertainer by building their reputation on social media and by securing brand sponsorships and endorsement deals.

“It’s challenging because each client needs to have a different approach to how we do business,” said Bascom. “But it’s also really exciting to work with so many different people and to reach countries all over the world.”

Bascom moved to Watkins Glen when he was 12 years old and graduated in 2012 from WGHS, where he set multiple records running track and field while also earning one of the highest GPAs in his class. He earned an MBA from Coastal Carolina University before becoming a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch. Bascom left the company in 2018 to found Wealth Garden Entertainment.

“I chose to become an entrepreneur because I want to make a bigger impact for my family and community than what a nine-to-five could provide,” said Bascom. “As an entrepreneur, my work ethic determines my growth, not politics or tenure.”

Wealth Garden played an essential role in booking the undercard for the upcoming boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, Jr. -- a celebrity fight between Jake Paul and Nate Robinson, set for Nov. 28 on pay-per-view. Bascom’s company is also starting a new clothing line and has even partnered with a South Korean company to market rapid COVID-19 testing kits in the U.S. through his celebrity clientele.

Bascom attributes his success to his time in Watkins Glen, noting that his high school track and field experience taught him many valuable lessons.

“There are a lot of parallels between sports and business," he said. "Patience, dedication, facing adversity -- I learned you need to have all these traits to compete at a high level. Learning how to deal with the highs and lows of my track career have carried over and assisted in the growth of Wealth Garden.”

Bascom added that the future of Wealth Garden is bright, and even expressed a desire to one day turn the company into an African American-owned bank. You can read more about him in an upcoming issue of Bleu Magazine, which celebrates African American entrepreneurs, creatives and professionals.

Photo in text: Charles Bascom (Photo provided)

School Board members Craig Bianco, left, and Kris Clarkson at Monday's meeting.

Watkins School Board gets update on virus; sidesteps discussion, action on Gators' plea

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 3, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board Monday night heard from the county Public Health director concerning the pandemic, and sidestepped a discussion of the use of the school pool by The Gators swim club.

Public Health’s Deb Minor, director in both Schuyler and Yates counties, updated the board on the latest trend in the spread of the coronavirus, and praised the district for its efforts thus far in combining education and safety.

Speaking from a remote location, Minor said the total number of cases in the county since the onset of Covid-19 had reached 153 that day, and that the positivity rate for the past 7 days had averaged 3.2% -- with an average rate of 3.0% over the past 14 days. Both figures are higher than the average in the Finger Lakes region, she said.

The current upward swing in infections is “expected to continue into the spring,” she said, adding that “we are seeing more serious symptoms,” and not all in the elderly. She said any success in battling the spread in the schools is contingent on “our partnership with the school district,” with whom Public Health “works very closely.”

After mentioning the quarantining of a number of teachers and students in the district over recent days, she said “we don’t take quarantine lightly. It takes away civil liberties for a time” and “is difficult for people to cope with. But it’s the only way we can minimize the spread to others.”

She said the district’s adoption of a hybrid educational schedule -- with students attending school in two different groups, each group on-site two days a week, and remote on three days -- has been helpful. “It seems to be reducing spread,” she said. Infections, she noted, were not as a rule emanating from the schools, but rather coming from family and other social gatherings.

She touched on the possibility of a county mask mandate, saying it was being discussed with Finger Lakes and Southern Tier health representatives, but that she wanted “a little more insight on whether it’s the right thing to do.”

When asked by Superintendent Greg Kelahan whether Public Health was considering ordering the Watkins Glen district to go fully remote, she said that Governor Andrew Cuomo “has taken that authority away from us.” Besides, she said, she thought the district was “doing a wonderful job.”

In other business:

--Kelahan told the board that a proposal to increase the number of in-school days for Pre-K through 2nd graders had hit a roadblock with disagreement about the plan among teachers. But he said he would continue to work on it.

--Kelahan said his decision to put the district on full remote this week, while driven by positive Covid-19 cases and attendant quarantines, was not caused by the virus directly but rather by the temporary loss of a number of teachers. “It wasn’t feasible” without those teachers "to provide quality on-site instruction and supervision," he said. "It was a matter of management.”

--The board heard from Gators swim coach Jason Westervelt and from student and swimmer Kendra Fish, both of whom had spoken at the previous board meeting in support of the Gators’ use of the school pool for training. Both stressed the safety measures that would be taken, with Westervelt pointing to Minor’s earlier assertion that the spread of Covid-19 is mostly generated by family contacts and social gatherings outside of school.

Said Fish: “We can do this safely.” She pointed to the fitness and mental health benefits of providing such an outlet for youth, concluding: “Please allow us to use the facility in a safe manner.”

The board -- which at the previous meeting had decided to look at Westervelt’s written proposal despite opposition from Kelahan to the plan -- did not include it on Monday night’s agenda, nor was it added when the Gators subject was brought up by Westervelt.

“The timing is wrong,” said School Board President Gloria Brubaker afterward. “It’s not that we’re opposed to the idea.”

Photos in text: From top: Superintendent Greg Kelahan, School Board President Gloria Brubaker, and student Kendra Fish at Monday's meeting.

Bradford 5th grader wins SCCUDD contest

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 3, 2020 -- A Bradford school district 5th grader has won the Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking's (SCCUDD) billboard contest for Schuyler County students in grades kindergarten through grade 6.

The winner is Kaiser Kiklowicz, whose billboard “Fall into Healthy Habits” encourages youths not to smoke, vape, drink alcohol, or do drugs.

All students attending Odessa-Montour Central School, Watkins Glen Central School, and Bradford Central School were eligible, including homeschool students residing in Schuyler County.

The contest is for substance abuse prevention messages with a “seasonal” theme. The winning billboard will be displayed during the months of November and December 2020.

Billboards created were to have a message that informs, persuades, or states facts about substance abuse. Messages could be about nicotine/tobacco/vaping, alcohol, and/or prescription drug abuse or illegal drug use and how it is harmful to youth.

Students were encouraged to look up facts and statistics and gain knowledge of why these substances are harmful to youth.

Entrant’s billboards were placed on SCCUDD’s social media, where the public was encouraged to vote. Kaiser’s billboard drew more than 600 views, received the most votes, and was shared many times.

“It was a fun and educational project that we are hoping to make an annual event," said SCCUDD Project Coordinator Ward Brower. "Kaiser’s message reached a lot of people on our social media.” It will be displayed during November and December on a billboard located on Route 14 in Montour Falls.

Photo in text: Contest winner Kaiser Kiklowicz (Photo provided)

Video competition set for grades 6-12

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Oct. 20, 2020 -- The Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking (SCCUDD) has announced a video competition for Schuyler County students in grades 6 through grade 12.

All students attending Odessa-Montour Central School, Watkins Glen Central School, and Bradford Central School are eligible, including homeschool students residing in Schuyler County.

The team project is focused on promoting positive, healthy messages to the entire community through the eyes of youth. Their work will be recognized and celebrated at a red-carpet event on May 15, 2021 during National Prevention Week.

Recognizing Red Ribbon Week, which takes place each year from October 23 through 31, is where the students will get this year’s theme. This year’s National Red Ribbon Campaign is “Be Happy. Be Brave. Be Drug Free.” The theme is meant to be broad enough to allow youth to use their creativity and interpret it from their point of view.

“The youth have a lot of talent and creativity in this county, and with all that is going on right now with Covid-19, this project will give them a creative outlet that many of them need,” said SCCUDD Project Coordinator Ward Brower.

Information about contest rules or entry will be provided at each school’s main office, or people can contact SCCUDD directly at 607-535-8140.

For more information about Red Ribbon Week visit redribbonweek.org, and for more information on National Prevention week visit samhsa.gov.

SCCUDD is a group of community members, businesses, and agencies that work to prevent, reduce, and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth.

For more information, or to become involved with SCCUDD, visit it online at www.schuylercounty.us/sccudd, or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

With Kelahan opposed to Gators' swim proposal, School Board decides to look at it

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 20, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board dipped its toes in the water in response Monday night to a request to allow the Glen Gators swim club to use the high school pool.

But it didn't commit one way or the other. With Superintendent Greg Kelahan clearly opposed to the request, the board decided nonetheless to at least look at the proposal -- by Gators coach Jason Westervelt -- and go from there.

Westervelt pitched the proposal on the same day the county recorded its first two Covid-19 related deaths, and amid a spike in Covid cases that had Kelahan suggesting this was the wrong time to do anything other than concentrate on academics and getting kids back in the classroom. The district is currently on a hybrid attendance schedule that has students in school two days a week and remote learning on three.

“There is a way,” said Westervelt to the board, “to do this extraordinarily safely.” Gathering at the school pool at the end of the day, he added, is “the safest time, without interaction” with other students.

He said youth sports were conducted all summer safely, providing the kids with much-needed physical activity. While the Gators have been able to swim outside, “When the weather turns, where do they go?”

His pitch was supported by swimmer Kendra Fish, a member last year of the school’s varsity swim team. She lauded her coaches for helping to “keep our spirit up” by providing summertime activity, and said they had taught her not only about swimming, but about “life in general.” And she had “no doubt” that the Gators’ use of the pool would be safe.

Kelahan had a different take, which triggered some board conflict. He said while Westervelt’s plan “is wonderful,” he was not about to support it “at this time.”

“My commitment,” he told the board, is to providing as much in-school education as possible. “Everything else will have to wait. If they don’t like my decision, they can speak to you. I don’t support this. It’s not the time, as far as I’m concerned.”

While “some in the audience are interested in advocating” for the Gators, he added, “it’s not a proposal I’m presenting to you.”

When Board President Gloria Brubaker suggested that Kelahan should present board members with Westervelt’s written proposal “so we can see it,” board member Kris Clarkson objected.

“Why do we need to look at it?” he asked. “I feel like we’d be going behind Greg’s back. It should have stopped with Greg. This is what we hired him for.” He added: “I thought we were keeping clubs out.” If the board permits the Gators to use the pool, he said, “where is it going to stop?”

Kelahan interjected that “taxpayers have the right to appeal any decision I make.”

Barb Schimizzi said she and her fellow board members should “get the information and decide if we want it on the agenda.”

Board member Kevin Rumsey added that any discussion should take place “after it’s on the agenda. Right now, we’re just going to get the information.”

Kelahan, with the board in a clearly majority agreement, subsequently emailed the proposal to its members, who will decide whether to proceed further.

*****

Kelahan also reported on the board’s wish, at its last meeting, that he explore the possibility of greater in-person attendance -- either four days or five -- by pupils in Pre-K through Grade 2.

He said a survey sent to parents gauging their interest was lacking in returns -- about 40 were outstanding after a Friday deadline -- and that he was not getting uniform support for the idea from teachers. “I don’t think the entire teaching staff is on the same page,” he said.

And with 25 active coronavirus cases in the county and the first Covid deaths reported Monday, he said, “I don’t believe this is the time for us to be considering this.” With the uptick in county cases and “no consistency” among teachers’ views, he said, “I don’t know how to put forth a proposal” that would be deemed acceptable.

However, he said he would continue to seek survey responses from parents, talk to teachers and report back to the board.

Photos in text: From top: Superintendent Greg Kelahan, Swim Coach Jason Westervelt, and School Board member Kris Clarkson.

Wood: In-person education is going well

ODESSA, Oct. 9, 2020 -- With 21 school days under its belt, the Odessa-Montour school district has experienced many more positives than negatives, Superintendent Chris Wood told the O-M School Board Thursday night.

Wood said that while “we know that any moment, things could change,” he is buoyed by the upbeat nature of the students he sees in the hallways five days a week. A total of 615 students are attending classes in person, while 140 are studying remotely.

He said that on the negative side of the ledger, the work being done remotely is “hit-or-miss,” with teachers spending an inordinate amount of time trying to find students. “It’s a struggle for staff to get hold of some of them,” he said, although the district has made it clear that the students who chose remote learning “will be held to the exact standards” expected of those attending classes in person.

Of the 140 remote learners, he said, “70 percent are doing fantastic,” but that staff members are spending too much of their time trying to connect with the remaining 30 percent of those students. All the while, he added, “we are trying to be cognizant of extenuating circumstances.”

Among the positives, he said, is the fact that the district had now held classes on campus for 21 days, with a single positive coronavirus case the only notable blemish, causing the temporary quarantining in their homes of students from a Hanlon Elementary School classroom.

Overall, he said, “the students seem overwhelmingly positive in the morning,” with attendance up from normal times and disciplinary cases sharply down.

“The kids are doing an outstanding job wearing their masks and doing what’s asked of them," he added. "They’re thankful to be back.”

He said there had been just two “mask issues,” one involving “a very small boy” who was just learning about the need to wear his, and “one high school issue, since remedied.”

The district was heading into Day 22, while students in other districts -- with hybrid attendance, where students attend school some days and remote-learn on others -- “have just nine days” in a classroom setting.

The five-days-a-week system adopted by O-M will have its bumps along the road, he said, but “if it was an easy task, every district would be open five days a week, and there would be no problems.”

But challenges aside, “I’m just happy to have the kids back.”

Photo in text: Superintendent Chris Wood (File photo)

School Board member Jessica Saks, left, attended the meeting remotely, shown on a screen near in-person district clerk Renee Angle.

School Board OKs conditioning program, eyes full week in-school for PK-2nd grade

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 6, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board, in a two-hour and forty minute meeting Monday night, took two significant steps in the face of the coronavirus.

First, it approved, by a 4-3 margin and after lengthy debate, a proposal to institute a “Covid-19 Off-Season Workout and Conditioning Program” for students in grades 7-12. It begins today, Oct. 6, and runs through Nov. 24, weather permitting.

Second, it unanimously backed a move to have Superintendent Greg Kelahan prepare a detailed proposal reflecting one offered by teacher leaders in grades Pre-K through 2 that envisions a return of students in those grades -- who are attending school two days a week as part of the district’s hybrid attendance plan -- to classroom attendance on either four or five days, the final number to be determined.

That subject also generated lengthy discussion, with talk including the idea that such a return might incorporate more grade levels, either Pre-K through 6 or even Pre-K through 12. The subject has been raised in the face of growing dissatisfaction on the part of teachers and parents with how the hybrid model is working.

Some of that dissatisfaction was voiced at the meeting by parents disillusioned with the remote learning part of the hybrid plan, one of them asking the board to alter its rule preventing a return to class of any remote students until the end of the first semester. She wanted a return available for her kids at the six-week mark, which is upcoming. She said she has been checking with other districts offering classes five days a week, but would prefer not to have her children transfer from Watkins.

About twenty Watkins district staff members -- teachers, teacher aides and counselors -- were on hand, with one of them saying the turnout was to show the Board the level of discontent with the juggling act of teaching in class and remotely. “It’s not working,” she told the media before the meeting began.

Workout and Conditioning Program: The plan was passed over the objection of Kelahan, who saw it as “a little too close to having preseason practice” for cross country, soccer, and girls swimming -- all fall sports shut down by the Interscholastic Athletic Conference and Section IV until spring.

Kelahan was outspoken about the IAC and Section IV actions, saying “they bailed on us,” Watkins Glen having been one of the schools in the section in favor of fall sports. “They let us down,” he added. “But I don’t think it’s appropriate to work around IAC and Section IV rules. If this is just conditioning, fine. But it can’t look like practices. Unless it’s truly a generic fitness and conditioning program, I have a problem supporting it.”

The proposal reads in part: “Getting athletes engaged in conditioning workouts during this phase of the Covid-19 pandemic is essential to their physical, mental and social well-being. In addition, initiating a structured program will allow our athletes the ability to participate safely under the New York State Department of Health and New York State Public High School Athletic Association guidelines. We have noticed some of our students are joining outside community/club activities, which do not provide the same level of oversight a school-run program could offer. It is also unintentionally creating a greater divide between those with the means to pay for such outside programs and those who cannot afford them.”

Certified coaches will be providing their services on a volunteer basis. Soccer and running activities will be outside, Swimming and weight training will take place in the Field House. Safety protocols established by the state will be followed, including the use of masks, social distancing and sanitizing and cleaning. Temperatures will be taken before each workout, and no spectators will be allowed.

Said one parent: “We have to get the kids active, to boost their mental well-being.” Said another: “For years, pediatricians have urged reduced screen time. We do not engage students enough. If we don’t, the price down the road will be enormous. This is not a reflection of our teachers’ hard work. Our children and teachers deserve much, much better.”

Swim coach and teacher Jason Westervelt, an outspoken advocate of the conditioning program, told the board that despite the challenges of the pandemic, this was “an opportunity to be a leader. I think we as a district and a School Board can do that -- can get the kids involved. There’s a safe way to do it. The kids need to get off their screens -- to look forward to something at the end of the school day."

Athletic Director Rod Weeden, who prepared the conditioning proposal, said more than 100 students had signed up, and that he expected more if the board approved the plan. He said he disagreed with the superintendent's objection, since “we’re not competing against anyone else, not other schools. Athletics are a huge part of growing up and of mental health. I hope you allow this to happen."

Kelahan stressed his opposition more than once, saying it was philosophical in nature. “I have no problem supporting generic conditioning," he said, but does object that the plan is set up by sport, which offers “a swim group, running group, soccer skill group and weight training group.” Swimming, soccer and cross country were postponed until spring by the IAC and Section IV, he said, so holding them in any form in the fall is no less than a veiled effort to create “a preseason.”

The board debate saw Theresa Butler strongly advocating for the proposal on the basis of need and the disparity that exists between parents who can afford to pay for sports outside the district and those who can’t. Kevin Rumsey backed her, and when it came to a vote, they were joined by Barb Schimizzi and Craig Bianco. Voting no were Board President Gloria Brubaker, Kris Clarkson and Jessica Saks -- who is out of town but joined the meeting remotely.

The Pre-K through 2nd Grade Plan: This was presented to the board in written form by the teacher leaders in each of those four grades (Tara Dykshoorn in Pre-K, Vickie Everett in Kindergarten, Jennifer Titus in 1st Grade, and Salle Cocca in 2nd Grade).

It envisions taking the kids in the Blue and Maroon groups of the district’s Hybrid plan -- those attending school two days a week -- and providing them with a fuller week of in-school attendance (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday). The board discussion raised the question: Why not five days?

The proposal set the stage for Kelahan to discuss the general dissatisfaction that the hybrid system has generated. He said, among other things, that Governor Andrew Cuomo set the tone by declaring that parents and teachers would determine if schools were open -- that “Superintendents and School Boards have not been making the decision. If I convinced the Board to open, there would be teachers saying ‘I won’t work here.’ And if I went the opposite way,” urging strictly remote learning, there would be outrage from both teachers and parents. “That’s the dilemma the Board of Education has -- that teachers get to decide with their feet if we open or not.”

But something needs to be done, he said, because the hybrid system -- with its combination of in-person and remote teaching -- has left the instructional staff “frayed. At some point, we have to say this is futile. The hybrid is an exercise in futility. It’s not attending to the social or emotional needs of the kids. At some point we need to put a toe in the water -- take an incremental move toward a full opening.”

The challenges of the Pre-K through Grade 2 plan, he said -- as with any grades -- would include ensuring safety; meeting transportation needs; classroom space constraints (with social distancing); the increasing number of Covid-19 cases in the state and nationally (“It’s not a good PR time”); the fact that some schools “are closing their doors,” including Horseheads Monday for at least a couple of weeks); new teacher assignments for the kids (“some families will call" complaining), and new personnel assignments (drawing complaints from staff).

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Kelahan said. “A significant percentage of the community will be unhappy no matter what we decide.”

In the ensuing board discussion, Saks said any decision should be made based on “what’s best for the kids,” not how it looks. Clarkson said any move not supported by the teachers might cause some to leave, while Rumsey said he’s been hearing “from a lot of people who want the kids back in school full-time.”

When the board asked Kelahan if he supported the Pre-K through Grade 2 plan, he said “the superintendent is a manager. If you decide to open” the entire school, “I’ll make it happen. If you decide to open Prek-K through 2, I’ll make it happen. If you go to a remote system, I’ll make it happen.”

When pressed for a preference, he said: “All the kids back. That’s my preference. It comes down to a level of tolerance for students, teachers and parents.”

Responded Butler: “It’s not working now. Something’s gotta change.” Answered Clarkson: “It has to be done safely, though.” To which Kelahan said: “I’m happy with any forward motion,” and pointed to the Odessa-Montour and Dundee districts with their five-day-a-week classroom attendance.

Brubaker weighed in with the difficulty of such decisions. “If anybody thinks this is an easy job ... it’s hard to please everybody.”

And with that the board voted unanimously to hand the ball to Kelahan, who will weigh the teacher leaders’ Pre-K through Grade 2 proposal and report back to the board on how much of the proposal works, and what it would mean for such things as class size.

After that, it’s the board’s move.

Photos in text: From top: Superintendent Greg Kelahan; Athletic Director Rod Weeden; board members Theresa Butler, Kevin Rumsey and Craig Bianco, and Board President Gloria Brubaker.

Union, superintendent weigh in on lawsuit

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 23, 2020 -- Both sides have been heard from publicly in the wake of a lawsuit filed by the Watkins Glen Faculty Association against the Watkins Glen School Board, the school district and School Superintendent Greg Kelahan.

The lawsuit asserts that the district has adopted a policy contrary to executive orders and to the district's own reopening plan, effectively blocking teachers with vulnerable health conditions from working remotely during the pandemic. (See Lawsuit.)

Association President Jeannette Lasko told Spectrum News: "It's my hope that we can settle this quickly and easily. It's sort of a shame that we have to spend this amount of time and money going to these lengths to get things that people need just in order to stay safe at their own jobs."

Kelahan issued a statement saying: "We have every reason to believe that the district’s position will be vindicated in court. Please know that the safety and security of our staff and students remains our top priority at all times."

Watkins Glen School Board members Kris Clarkson and Theresa Butler.

Watkins School Board fields complaints about hybrid system, eyes open practices

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 22, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board heard Monday night from two parents and four teachers dissatisfied with the district's hybrid education plan, and edged tentatively toward an after-school sports open-practice policy for students in grades 7 through 12 currently lacking in school athletics of any kind.

The two-and-a-half hour meeting opened with a 45-minute executive session, part of which might have dealt with a lawsuit filed by the Watkins Glen Faculty Association in state Supreme Court in Schuyler County. The suit, against the School Board, the district and Superintendent Greg Kelahan, alleges that the district, contrary to Executive Orders issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo and contrary to its own Reopening Plan, effectively blocks remote work by teachers concerned about their health. It discusses one case in particular in detail, part of a 26-page filing. (See Lawsuit.)

But the public portion of the meeting made no mention of it. Instead, the session first focused on a letter to the board read aloud at the session by its author, Shannon Schamel, representing what she said was a small group of parents that thinks the hybrid teaching approach adopted by the School Board is not working effectively for either the in-person students or those learning remotely. Among the issues is what she said was an “insufficient” tech support system.

She was backed by another parent, the mother of two students, who said that neither one is benefitting from the hybrid framework, and that it “will impact them for years to come." She had no answer to the instructional malady, but said the district “needs to go back to the drawing board. You need to reassess what’s going on.”

Teacher Beth Powell said that instructors “are struggling as well,” finding that engaging kids remotely and in class is “challenging” and needs more discussion.

She was followed by three second-grade teachers, Nora Frisk, Sally Cocca and Jackie Bubb, all of whom argued, as one put it, that “the kids are not getting the education they need. We need to re-evaluate. The kids are suffering” from the system’s split personality, requiring a teacher’s attention both in the classroom and “staring at a screen” while in contact with remote students.

Said another: trying to “engage 7-year-olds” in such a setting while doing battle with faulty or balky tech equipment is “turning this into a debacle that diminishes education for everyone."

Said the third: “We trouble-shoot as much as we can” on the technology, but “we’re struggling to engage. We’re desperately -- all of us -- hanging on to some semblance of education. We were going to give it a try. But we don’t feel like the hybrid is helping anyone.”

Superintendent Kelahan responded by saying that “everybody is frustrated” by the limitations imposed by the pandemic, a situation exacerbated by the positive Covid-19 case that last week led to the quarantine of 38 Watkins Glen High School students and six teachers, including one substitute.

“We're seeing problems like that across the state,” he said. “I’ve said it many times: this is not ideal, this is not desirable, it’s awful.”

He said that he was not “disregarding” the challenges enunciated by the second-grade team, but suggested that rather than try teaching both the in-person and remote students at the same time, the teachers should focus on the two groups separately. There was nothing in state or school regulations that said both had to be taught simultaneously; only that both groups receive substantive education each day.

After extensive board discussion, it was decided that grade leaders in kindergarten through sixth grade meet with administrators to discuss possible ways to mitigate the shortcomings described by the second-grade team.

More discussion went into a proposal to provide “open practices” for students in the 7th through 12th grades in sports considered low-risk. The swim teams’ Jason Westervelt first sought permission to use the high school pool for training for the swimmers, and later Athletic Director Rod Weeden explained a memo he had sent to board members outlining guidelines set forth by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association for such athletic activities.

Coaching would be voluntary, conducted by coaches already approved by the board, with all necessary certifications. Social distancing and mask wearing on the practice fields would follow those NYSPHSAA guidelines, and Weeden said he would “serve as point man” on any Covid-related questions. There would be a small cost, which he said he hoped the board “would look past” in approving the plan.

The board gave Weeden a partial go-ahead, to recruit students and coaches, and to report back to the board at its next scheduled meeting on Oct. 5, at which time a vote might be held on formally approving the program. The board edged toward a vote Monday night, but tabled a motion to do so -- partly to wait while board members digest the NYSPHSAA guidelines and partly to see, as Board member Craig Bianco put it, “what the fallout is” from the Covid-19 case that led to those 38 students being quarantined.

“I’m kind of stuck in the middle,” he said. “We all saw what one positive case did last week. We’re just treading water right now, waiting ... Don’t we want to first see the fallout from that case? One incident almost sank the ship. I don’t want it sinking in the second week.”

Photos in text: From top: Board President Gloria Brubaker, Superintendent Greg Kelahan, board member Jessica Saks and board member Kevin Rumsey at the meeting.

School Board members Barbara Schimizzi and Craig Bianco at the meeting.

At WGHS, positive virus test leads to the quarantine of 38 students and 6 teachers

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 18, 2020 -- If Thursday was a harbinger of things to come, then Watkins Glen school officials could be in for very long, very difficult and possibly very disappointing school year.

“This whole thing, everything, is weighing on everyone,” Superintendent Greg Kelahan said Friday, Sept. 18, the day after a Watkins Glen High School's student’s coronavirus infection led to the quarantine of 38 fellow students. Also quarantined were six teachers -- five regular staff members and one substitute instructor.

Thursday -- nine days after the opening of the 2020-21 school year -- was a day of rapid developments, as discovery of the student’s positive test set off a series of directives by Public Health. The student, Kelahan said, had “expressed concern” last Friday, Sept. 11, left school that day, and was tested over the weekend.

The school received word of the positive test result Thursday morning. In short order, the student, the family and friends in recent contact were quarantined, as were, later that day, the students and teachers in classes in which the student had been present.

The high number of students quarantined reflects the movement of teachers and students at the high school level. There is little of that movement in the lower grades, which accounts for a lower number of quarantines at Hanlon Elementary School in the Odessa-Montour school district, where a total of nine students were quarantined when one among them tested positive. One teacher was involved in that quarantine, which is set to end the week after next.

The quarantines at both districts are, as is standard, 14 days from the last point of contact with an infected individual.

The loss of six instruction staff at WGHS puts an additional strain on a system that is not deep in subs and, in any event, is already stressed by the many health and safety regulations adopted as officials try to keep the pandemic from spreading in the halls of Watkins Glen’s schools.

There is the worry, too, that one or more among those quarantined might test positive, though that has not yet happened, and might not. But that pressure, and the close and inherently nerve-wracking attention that all school staff have adopted as a matter of daily course, is taking its toll.

“It’s weighing on everyone,” Kelahan repeated, concerned that the instructional system as set up this year might -- should the future deal more such obstacles -- reach a point where educators have difficulty “satisfying our core mission.”

As for the point of contact that led to the student’s positive test, Public Health had not, as of early Friday afternoon, determined who, where or what it might have been.

“That was a fast progression,” Kelahan (pictured at right) said of Thursday’s events. He notified parents in an email late Thursday morning about the positive test, and then updated them with another message in the evening. In that one, he wrote:

“This afternoon, I notified you that a high school student in our district has tested positive for COVID-19. The student and the student’s family have all been quarantined by the Schuyler County Public Health Office.

“I was contacted by Schuyler County Public Health later this afternoon when they notified me that they made additional decisions related to this positive test. In consultation with the New York State Department of Health, our public health office has extended the quarantine numbers to include all this student’s classmates and teachers with whom this student shared a classroom last Friday (the last day the student attended school).

“It is important that we remember this is a public health crisis and decisions are made by health professionals. As a school, we take public health direction from the public health officials. The Schuyler County Public Health Office has notified -- and will continue to notify -- those students, student families, and staff members that must quarantine. As contact tracing continues, there may be need for additional quarantines -- you will be notified if this relates to you or your child.

“I have heard from parents and staff members who are, understandably, seeking further information and assurances. Please know that, when it comes to student health and safety, I will communicate as quickly and as thoroughly as I am able. However, I will not sacrifice accuracy for the sake of speed. I also must protect the privacy of all our community members and may not give information that might identify students, families, or staff members.

“If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, I will communicate as I have today. I will not communicate age, gender, grade level, address/neighborhood, or any other individual or family identifiers. While this may be frustrating, I ask that you always make personal protection decisions for yourself and your family that will keep you safe, regardless of who you may or may not encounter. I remain committed to student/staff health and safety in school just as I remain committed to protecting student/staff privacy.

“Please continue to contact me with any questions or concerns. I know you all join me in wishing a fast recovery for any of our students and community members who are impacted by this infection."

Students gather in front of Odessa-Montour High School Thursday prior to entering the building for the first day of school.

Odessa students return to class ... finally

ODESSA, Sept 10, 2020 -- More than 600 students in the Odessa-Montour School District returned to in-person education Thursday after a pandemic-induced absence of almost six months.

Students entered the B.C Cate Elementary School in Montour Falls and the Hanlon Elementary School and Odessa-Montour Junior/Senior High School in Odessa starting at about 7:30 a.m. -- some coming on foot, some transported by parents, and some on school buses.

Entry was through various doors. Those on foot and brought by parents were given temperature checks at the door; those on buses had their temperature checked upon boarding the vehicles.

"Finally," said Superintendent Chris Wood, "the kids have a day approaching normalcy." His hope: that more such days follow, and that a rhythm is soon established that leads to a successful school year.

About 120 of the school's 700-plus students have opted to attend classes remotely. More than 80% selected the in-person option, which has them attending classes five days a week. A similar schedule was adopted in Dundee, while Watkins Glen opted for a hybrid schedule that has half of its in-person students attending Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays.

Photo in text: O-M high school students enter the building Thursday morning.

Odessa-Montour administrator Veronica Lewis (in blue) directed students to various school entry points.

Left: O-M Superintendent Chris Wood talks to a parent arriving with a student. Wood was distributing numbered cards to those parents also planning to pick up their kids at the end of the day. Right: Hugs and thumbs-up signs were much in evidence.

Two of the many O-M students who rode to school on buses Thursday morning.

Watkins Glen school district staff member Ralph Diliberto checks a student's temperature.

At long last, Watkins Glen students return to class ... with masks, temperature checks

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 8, 2020 -- Watkins Glen students attended school in-person Tuesday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic forced a cancellation of classes last March.

Half of the students opting for in-person instruction attended Tuesday; the other half are scheduled for Friday under a hybrid scheduling plan adopted by the School Board. In coming weeks, the first group will attend Mondays and Tuesdays, and the second group on Thursdays and Fridays.

Students on hand Tuesday entered the school near the high school office and through the Field House, each getting their temperature checked before being permitted to attend classes.

If any had failed to fall within the parameters of temperature or were deemed potential infection risks, they would have been sent to a separate room for further consideration.

Superintendent Greg Kelahan reported that there were no notable first-day problems. He also observed how quiet the halls were with the limited number of students on hand, and with each wearing a mask -- a must if a student wishes to attend in-person.

About 15 percent of the student body has opted for on-line, remote instruction, with several others choosing home schooling that is not part of the district education plan.

Odessa-Montour schools open Thursday, with more than 600 of its 700-plus students set to attend in-person five days a week.

Photos in text:

Top: Watkins Glen School Superintendent Greg Kelahan welcomes a young student to school.
Bottom: A school staff member escorts a young girl to class.

Left: An arriving student is directed toward the Field House doors, where temperatures were being checked. Right: Students Abby Gibson, left, and Carlie Baker.

SCCUDD to hold K-6 billboard contest

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Sept. 7, 2020 -- The Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking (SCCUDD) is holding a billboard contest for Schuyler County students from kindergarten through grade 6.

All students attending Odessa-Montour Central School, Watkins Glen Central School and Bradford Central School are eligible, including homeschool students residing in Schuyler County.

The contest is for substance abuse prevention messages with a “Seasonal” theme. The winning billboard will be displayed during the months of November and December 2020.

Billboards created must have a message that informs, persuades, or states facts about substance abuse. It can be about nicotine/tobacco/vaping, alcohol, and/or prescription drug abuse or illegal drug use and how it is harmful to youth. The message can be about one or all of these topics/substances.

Students are encouraged to look up facts and statistics and gain knowledge of why these substances are harmful to youth. Students are encouraged to be creative and think about a message that would reach youth. They are also encouraged to NOT use scare tactics.

Billboards need to be submitted between September 14 and September 18, 2020. Those Billboards that are accepted will be displayed on the SCCUDD Facebook page and be voted on by the public. Voting will start on September 21 and end September 27, 2020 at midnight. The Billboard with the most votes will be announced the following week.

“We are very much looking forward to the creativity of the youth of Schuyler County. The younger that we can get children excited about and involved with substance abuse prevention the better,” said SCCUDD Project Coordinator Ward Brower.

Information about contest rules or entry will be provided at each school’s main office, or people can contact SCCUDD directly at 607-535-8140.

SCCUDD is a group of dedicated community members, businesses, and agencies that work to prevent, reduce, and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth by collaborating with community partners, promoting prevention education and substance-free activities, and implementing environmental strategies. SCCUDD works to reduce youth use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs that can cause lifelong problems. SCCUDD’s vision, say its leaders, is a connected community where youth have education, resources and drug-free options to help them on their journey to become happy, healthy adults.

For more information, or to become involved with SCCUDD, visit SCCUDD online at www.schuylercounty.us/sccudd, or follow SCCUDD on Facebook and Twitter.

Wood on football move: It was joint decision

ODESSA, Sept. 1, 2020 -- Odessa-Montour School Superintendent Chris Wood said Tuesday that the move by the Watkins Glen School Board Monday night to cut football from the budget (see story below) was discussed beforehand by him and Watkins Superintendent Greg Kelahan, and that it was a "joint decision" by the two districts.

The two schools have been playing football and baseball jointly in recent years -- their teams being known as the Seneca Indians. Watkins Glen in other, separate sports is known as the Senecas, and O-M as the Indians.

In a prepared statement, Wood said:

"Due to the anticipated loss of state aid in excess of $2 million, we are faced with making difficult decisions in our district. After much discussion, Watkins Glen Superintendent Greg Kelahan and I came to the joint decision to discontinue the football program for the 2020-21 school year. We are awaiting additional information on fall sports before making any decisions on our other offerings.

"I realize that this is a disappointment for some of our students. O-M administrators and staff look forward to restoring some sense of normalcy for all Odessa-Montour students as they are able to return to school full-time and in person next week."

Wood's reference to full-time applies to O-M, where more than 600 of the 700-plus students have opted to attend school in-person five days a week. Watkins has a hybrid plan that sees each student attending two days and spending the other days remote learning. And the $2 million is the expected shortfall at O-M if the state continues to withhold 20% of state aid each month. The possible Watkins Glen shortfall, it was announced Monday night, is $2.9 million.

Wood added, outside the statement, that school officials know the importance of extracurricular activities to the development of students -- whether athletics, music, theater or some other outlet.

But "safety is our top priority," he said. "Our first priority is bringing the kids back to school safely."

Meanwhile, the Seneca Indians football coach, Trevor Holland, when asked if he had expected the decision made by the Watkins School Board Monday night, said: "I knew that a decision was going to have to be made, but was hoping it wasn't going to be last night."

And looking down the road? "I'm not sure what the future holds," he said.

Photo in text: O-M Superintendent Chris Wood. (File photo)

From left: Board member Jessica Saks, board president Gloria Brubaker and board member Kevin Rumsey at Monday's meeting.

Watkins Glen School Board trims $710,000 from the budget, axing positions and football

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 1, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board Monday night -- in an effort to answer the loss of what could amount to $2.9 million in state aid, reduced the expenditures in the 2020-21 budget by $710,000 -- eliminating, among other things, a season of football.

The cuts, which also included a clerical position, three teaching aide jobs (already vacant), and one administrator position, could be reinstated should the fortunes of the state and, thus, of the district, suddenly change. But in a climate where the state is already withholding 20% of state aid payments -- and could make the cuts permanent -- the board felt it was time to start acting now.

By doing so, Superintendent Greg Kelahan said, the board would "communicate to the community that it is taking action" in a situation fraught with uncertainty.

The only thing the board seemed certain of was the unlikelihood that football would be a possibility. In fact, said Athletic Director Rod Weeden, with the fall sports season delayed until Sept. 21 and football limited at that point to non-contact practices, a football season simply "won't happen. There's no way it's going to happen with the restraints" imposed thus far by the state.

Besides, he added, "There's no way to put a schedule together" at this late date, even if the state were to clear football soon -- unlikely given the questions swirling around sports considered less of a risk. (Not mentioned: the possibility that any number of districts might opt out of sports until January. That was the position taken by Section VIII in Nassau County.)

Weeden's assessment convinced the board, after board member Theresa Butler had objected to the idea of canceling the sport that has long been the fall's crowd favorite.

Considering that the board had already agreed to cut the clerical position, three teacher aide positions and an administrator job, Gloria Brubaker wondered how it could cut academic jobs "but not sports?"

After Weeden's explanation, board member Craig Bianco set the tone of the agreement to follow by saying: "It pains me to say ... but saving money from sports right now so we don't have to cut academics later is the way to go."

The clerical position cut, Kelahan told the board, would save $50,000, the three teacher aide positions $60,000, the administrator job $110,000, conferences, field trips and contractual partnerships $100,000, cuts in transportation and maintenance purchases $100,000, cuts in material and supply purchases $250,000, and football and cheerleading $40,000.

Kelahan presented the list of potential cuts -- there were many more possibilities rejected for now by the board, including a couple of elementary teaching jobs, a music position, half of several other jobs, and participation in the New Visions program -- as options to consider, not as something he was recommending. "I'm not advocating," he said. "Not at all. I've identified $2 million in reductions for your consideration."

Also a possibility -- but not yet acted upon -- was the use of savings funds and of funds from reserve accounts. The latter would have to be repaid in five years with interest.

After the meeting, Kelahan said he recognized the hot-button nature of cutting football, but said he believed "the state has made that decision" by failing to clear the sport like it had soccer and cross country. "We're just freeing up the money."

Could football be reinstated? Well, Kelahan said, "If the Governor decided tomorrow that it was a viable option, we'd look at it. There is not a board member who wouldn't support football."

Photos in text: From top: Superintendent Greg Kelahan, and board members Craig Bianco and Theresa Butler at Monday's meeting.

Return of high school sports is good news, but financial issues abound at local districts

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Aug. 24, 2020 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement Monday that certain high school sports -- soccer, tennis, swimming and cross country -- can resume on Sept. 21 was hailed by many as great news, but not without concern.

Odessa-Montour School Superintendent Chris Wood said he was cautiously optimistic, but still keeping an eye on various, often shifting state signals.

While acknowledging the physical and mental health benefits from athletics and the pride a school takes in its teams, Wood pointed out that without the full complement of state aid, and in light of stringent distancing requirements in Physical Education class and the Arts, the return makes little sense financially, physically or from a simple fairness standpoint.

"We have got to get guidance from NYSED (the State Education Department) on all of this," he said, adding that considering financial constraints, the constantly changing regulations emanating from the state -- from NYSED, the Department of Health and Governor Cuomo -- and the continuing uncertainty about whether Covid-19 will spring up after students start gathering in school, "I have to ask, Do we have sports (in the immediate future), or do we not have it? I'm not convinced we have it."

Consider, he said, the funding. The state has told districts it is releasing to them 80% of the promised state aid for the upcoming school year, but hasn't said whether or when the remaining 20% is coming. If it doesn't come for the entire fiscal year, that would mean a $2 million shortfall at Odessa-Montour.

"We can't get an answer on the 20%," he said, adding that if the delay drags on, "What am I supposed to do? Sit here hoping it will come in? When do we get the money? They've got to help us somewhere."

Overall, "It makes no sense," he said. "Kids in Phys Ed class have to stay 12 to 14 feet apart. But now they're saying it's okay to put a bunch of sweating athletes out on the field, often in close proximity. How safe is that?

"And I can't put a band in a band room" due to distancing guidelines, he added. Considering the congestion likely on an athletic field, "There's a huge discrepancy there. How is that fair?"

Down in Watkins Glen, the sports issue came up at a meeting of the School Board Monday evening. The board spent little time on the financial end of it, with Superintendent Greg Kelahan saying afterward that "we've budgeted for the programs."

The Board members discussed whether those students opting for remote learning would qualify to play athletics. Kelahan told them the state allows that to occur, but that the board could adopt its own, contrary, policy.

"We can't deprive sports from a kid," said Board member Kris Clarkson. "That would be awful." The Board agreed with Clarkson, but also specified that any student learning remotely would have to find his or her own way to and from sports practices. School-provided transportation would be far too expensive, the Board members agreed.

"This Board and community are very committed to athletics," said Kelahan after the meeting. As for the cost if the 20% of state aid is not forthcoming? "We'll just have to figure it out."

One annoying addition to the sports scene, he added, is a new dictum from the state that spectator attendance at sporting events will be limited to two people per athlete, with social distancing observed. "Every time we turn, there's something else coming at us," he said.

The matter of finances is, sports aside, an overall concern -- so much so that Kelahan suggested one immediate cost-cutting measure would be the elimination -- through layoff or furlough -- of personnel who, under the current, mandated pandemic rules, are perhaps not currently needed.

If the state does withhold 20% of state aid -- and Business Manager Amy Howell told the Board that it has already started doing so, beginning in June -- the district would face a shortfall in revenue of $1.8 million to $2 million across the full year.

The state, he said, announced Monday that districts can draw funds from certain reserve accounts they had previously been prevented from drawing down, but with repayment plus interest due within five years.

With that daunting option in front of them, and Kelahan's suggestion that the district "reconsider personnel and programs," the Board decided to meet next Monday, Aug. 31, to discuss the financial picture.

"We need an alternate revenue stream," Kelahan said.

Photos in text: O-M Superintendent Chris Wood (top) and Watkins Glen Superintendent Greg Kelahan. (File photos)

Watkins Glen School Superintendent Greg Kelahan motions at a power-point photo of a Watkins classroom with desks spaced to meet social distancing requirements.

Watkins, O-M districts conduct sessions, explain school reopening plans to parents

Proposed 3/2, 2/3 plan at WG is 'off the table at this point'

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Aug. 19, 2020 -- Meetings to explain to parents the hows and whys of reopening plans were conducted Tuesday night by the Odessa-Montour and Watkins Glen school districts -- O-M’s second of three online sessions, and Watkins Glen’s first of three combination online and in-person sessions.

The Watkins event was held in the high school auditorium, with the intent to limit the number of parents on hand to keep the turnout within state rules on attendance at public gatherings. As it turned out, just eight parents showed up. Other parents tuned in online through a link on the district’s website. Superintendent Greg Kelahan said he would be checking Wednesday to see how many people viewed the presentation online.

The district fielded hundreds of written questions, many submitted just before the meeting and therefore not yet studied, said Kelahan, the meeting emcee. He was peppered with questions from the in-person audience, though, throughout the 90-minute session. He said the second presentation Wednesday would be altered so that questions are withheld until after he completes his report.

That report utilized a power-point presentation of the reopening plan, from health protocols to attendance procedures to laptop and ipod equipment to masks to recess to nutrition to temperature-taking (daily at three access points at the school). He said the power point would be accessible, along with the written questions (and answers), on the school website.

Not discussed: A seemingly growing sentiment the previous night, at a School Board meeting, toward a possible scheduling 3/2, 2/3 structure whereby each of two school groups (Blue and Maroon) would attend in-person a total of five times across a two-week period, the first group going three times one week and two the next, and the other group going two times and then three.

That would, if adopted, replace a 2+2 plan approved by the board last week, which has the Blue group attending school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the Maroon group attending on Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesday as a remote education day for everyone. (That 2+2 plan in turn had replaced an earlier hybrid attendance model that envisioned elementary students on campus each day, with secondary school students alternating.)

Kelahan had said after that Monday board meeting that teachers would be consulted to determine if they approved of the change.

Tuesday night, though, Kelahan mentioned the Blue and Maroon groups but a couple of times, each time saying they would be attending under the 2+2 plan -- so that each group is in school in-person twice a week, and at home three days a week. (In any such plan -- 2+2 or 3/2, 2/3 -- no more than half of the students would be in school in person at any one time.)

Efforts to reach Kelahan after the meeting by phone and by text were unsuccessful Tuesday night, so the plan's number of in-person days -- the status of the 3/2, 2/3 proposal, if it still existed -- was not clarified. However, in a text message Wednesday morning, he said: "The hybrid plan remains as adopted by the Board of Education last Wednesday" -- which means the 2+2 plan.

In a subsequent phone call, he said his administration team had taken the issue to teacher representatatives Tuesday, with the decision being made to stay with the 2+2 plan, leaving teachers the opportunity on Wednesdays to concentrate on students with special challenges and to interact with parents, as well as conducting remote learning (on an abridged schedule) for all of the students.

"So the 3/2, 2/3 plan has been removed from the table at this point," he said, adding that the entire reopening approach "is fluid, with adjustments undoubtedly ahead, whether coming from the Governor, the Health Department or the State Education Department."

The second Watkins parents’ meeting was set for Wednesday night, with the final one Thursday at 6 p.m.

O-M Superintendent Chris Wood, meanwhile, conducted his second parent meeting in two nights (the final one is Thursday at 6 p.m.), answering pre-submitted questions with no live audience present. He said he has received 67 such submissions from parents, students and other community members -- some with single questions and some with multiple questions -- in sum covering a wide range of topics.

With about three-dozen parents still to be heard from, he said, a total of 603 students are planning to attend O-M in person full time, five days a week, while 120 have chosen remote learning. Seven are opting for independent home schooling. Those 603 in-person students constitute 83% of the respondents.

While pursuing responses from those final three dozen parents, Wood said, “the numbers are solid enough so now we can proceed” with specifics on transportation and the myriad other aspects of running a district in a pandemic. Parents who have chosen remote education for their kids will be provided “a tutorial,” he said, on how that method of education will best proceed.

One thing both superintendents made clear was the fact that nothing about this pandemic-driven planning is stable.

“We’re in a constant state of rethinking our plans, for sure,” Kelahan told his Tuesday audience, adding that eventually “we’ll get all the kids back -- we just can’t do it yet.”

Photos in text: Superintendents Greg Kelahan (top) and Chris Wood (File photos)

Rotary Club awards scholarships, grants

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 13, 2020 -- Three Schuyler County graduating high school seniors and 11 community organizations benefitted from 2019-20 fundraising efforts by the Watkins-Montour Rotary Club.

Odessa-Montour Central School graduate Derrick Lewis and Watkins Glen High School graduates Scott Brubaker and Adrienna Solomon were each awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

Nine organizations received donations for specific projects through the Rotary Club’s annual community grants program. The organizations were Catholic Charities, the Dutton Peterson Library, Habitat for Humanity, the Hometown Heroes Banner Program, the Humane Society, Labor of Love, the Montour Falls Public Library, the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department and the Watkins Glen Public Library.

Additionally, Head Start of Schuyler County and My Place, A Play and Learning Center received donations designated by the Rotary Club to purchase books.

Glen School Board leans toward 3/2, 2/3 reopening plan; parents' meetings set

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 17, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board, in a marathon session Monday night, made clear its preference to change its plan so that students attend 3 days one week and 2 the next -- a 3/2, 2/3 schedule to replace a 2+2 plan adopted last week.

Superintendent Greg Kelahan said after the 3 1/2-hour online session that the board's preference would be relayed to teachers -- probably the next day -- with a decision imminent, possibly in time for the first of three meetings explaining the plan to parents. Those are set for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- emanating from the high school auditorium, where a maximum of 50 people will be permitted, including the administration team and some board members.

That will leave about 35 in-person spots in the auditorium seating, with everyone else who wants to watch doing so online. Kelahan said those 35 slots would likely be reserved for parents with no internet access or with other special circumstances.

The School Board session Monday started with a 45-minute executive session that ran until 6:15 p.m. -- and was followed by an open meeting that didn't end until 9:45 p.m. It featured a lengthy explanation by Kelahan, and extensive accompanying board discussion, about the reopening.

The public-be-heard portion of the meeting saw one resident, Dr. Ben Saks, tell the board that he favored full-time attendance for elementary students -- which was part of a hybrid plan the board favored before voting for the plan last week that placed all grades into two groups, one to attend Mondays and Tuesdays and the other to attend Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesday reserved for disenfecting the school. What, Dr. Saks asked, is different in other similarly sized districts choosing to offer students in-person, full-time schooling?

It became clear at Monday's session that disinfecting takes place every day, and that reserving Wednesday for that reason held little sway. Board members, led by Dr. Saks' sister, board member Jessica Saks, discussed at length the merits of the 3/2, 2/3 schedule, which among other things offers in-person students an extra day -- greater social interaction -- with classmates every other week compared to the 2+2 plan.

As for the number of students who might decide on the in-person route, no numbers are yet available. E-mails and, where needed, letters, were to be sent out this week asking parents whether they wanted their children in school or learning remotely, with a response deadline of Friday. At the board's urging, however, the deadline was changed to Monday, Aug. 24, the date of the next scheduled board session. (Odessa-Montour has received responses from parents of 685 of its 770 students, wth 82% planning to attend school full-time, in-person, five days a week.)

Also discussed, at great length, was the use of masks and social distancing -- with the board deciding that masks need not be worn when students are seated in class, situated six feet from their nearest classmates. And that distance was determined to be six feet from the edge of the work place -- or desk -- to the edge of the work space. "So it's really more like seven feet," said Kelahan.

Also discussed: where, exactly, students would have their temperatures checked each day. The plan was to check the temperatures at entry points at the Field House, the high school and the elementary school. That still seems to be holding, after discussion about bus drivers or, possibly, added monitors taking temperatures before or as a student entered the bus in the morning.

If it were to be the driver, he or she would have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), which would hamper the ability to drive. And if it were a monitor, that person would likely be an existing employee whose job, said Kelahan "would be repurposed." But as he also pointed out, "it would increase our cost, and we are so strapped right now." Besides, he added, "I don't want buses idling on the road while temperatures are being taken," thus holding up traffic.

"Nothing here is ideal or even desirable," Kelhan told the board more than once, stressing along the way that whatever plan is finalized, it can be altered as the school year progresses -- although students opting for remote learning must stay with it until the first semester is completed. Anyone attending school in-person can, however, opt for a change to remote learning at any time.

Among other matters raised was this: If a teacher gives a test to students in a Monday class that is identical to a test given to the other half of his or her students on Thursday, what is to prevent the Thursday test from being contaminated by information circulating from the Monday test? "Good question," answered Kelahan. "We'll figure it out."

Photos in text:

Top: One of the Watkins Glen classrooms with desks arranged with social distancing -- one of several such photos featured at Monday's meeting.
Middle: Watkins Glen School Superintendent Greg Kelahan (File photo).
Bottom: A powerpoint page -- one of many -- shown at Monday's meeting to accompany Superintendent Kelahan's report on reopening plans.

At O-M, high percentage plans to attend

ODESSA, Aug. 17, 2020 -- Odessa-Montour School Superintendent Chris Wood, in the first of three online presentations to the public on his district's planned reopening, said Monday night that 82% of responding parents will send their children to school for in-person, full-time instruction.

Wood, who in his report outlined the district's plan and answered questions submitted by parents to the district office, will present his report again Tuesday, Aug. 18 and Thursday, Aug. 20 at 6 p.m.

The survey respondents, as of Monday, showed 564 of the district's 770 students planning to attend in-person, with 85 yet to be heard from. A total of 115 students plan to learn remotely, with five opting for independent home schooling. Those numbers are equal to 82%, 17% and 1% of the 685 respondents. Wood said he would have updated totals later in the week.

Photo in text: O-M Superintendent Chris Wood (File photo)

Watkins Glen School Board unanimously approves a hybrid 'A/B' reopening plan

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 12, 2020 --The Watkins Glen School Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to adotpt a hybrid attendance plan for the coming school year in which all students will attend school on an alternating schedule: what is being called an A/B plan.

The board, which had originally leaned in favor of a plan that would have seen pre-K through 8th graders in school full time and 9th through 12th graders alternating, opted instead for a plan which Superintendent Greg Kelahan said means "we will never have more than 50% of the kids in school at one time."

According to the plan, Group A will attend on Mondays and Tuesdays while Group B learns remotely. Everyone will learn remotely on Wednesday, which will be reserved for maintenance staff to disinfect the school. Then Group B will attend on Thursdays and Fridays while Group A stays home, learning remotely.

Kelahan said the plan was adopted because "the most important thing is the health and wellness of our students and teachers."

The original plan, Board member Craig Bianco said during Wednesday's session, had classes in the younger grades packed to the point where "if a kid moved two inches, there would be a violation of social distancing rules. That's not the best way for a student to learn. It would be a prison-like setting instead of a learning setting."

Parents concerned about sending their children to school during the pandemic will have the option of keeping them home for remote learning -- an option that Kelahan said should keep home schooling -- education apart from the district's instruction -- at a minimum. Any commitment to Watkins Glen School District remote learning, the board said, has to last through the first semester. After that, a student can join the A/B schedule if desired.

Three remote sessions are being planned for next week which will serve as briefings for parents, while the plan will also be explained to teachers in another session. Board President Gloria Brubaker said she checked with Governor Andrew Cuomo's office and was told the meetings are not for debate from parents, but simply to inform them. Any questions they have must be submitted beforehand to the district office.

Brubaker prepared a statement, which reads as follows:

"I would like to start by saying we are in the middle of a pandemic. This is new territory for all of us. We have been handed down mandated guidelines from the New York State Education Department that must be followed. We as a board are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and staff.

"I also want everyone to know that we all want our students back in school. This includes the administration, the faculty, parents, students and the Board of Education, but we must do it in a responsible way. A way that keeps the health and safety of our entire school community first and foremost.

"As you have just heard, the board has decided that we will go with a blended hybrid model (A/B schedule) and a 100% virtual option that parents will have the option to choose from.

"For the hybrid model, the students will be placed in cohorts and the A cohort will be physically in school Monday and Tuesday while the B cohort will be at home and participate in live streaming.

"On Wednedsays, all students will be at home and live streamed. (This day may end a little differently so teachers could possibly have office hours for parents or students, upon request, or grade level/subject meetings to work through any kinks and to share what might be working well for some.)

"Thursdays and Fridays the B cohort will be physically in school while the A cohort will be home and participate in the live stream.

"Special Ed students who are in a self-contained classroom will go to school on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

"With the A and B Cohort plan and parents still having the option to keep their children at home for virtual learning, and with some parents choosing to drop their children at school so they are not on the bus, this should take care of the proper social distancing, with masks, on our buses and in our classrooms.

"At the next board meeting (Monday, Aug. 17), Mr. Kelahan will go into detail about exactly how this plan will work. There will also be three separate parent meetings and one teacher meeting to answer any questions regarding our school reopening plan."

Photo: Superintendent Greg Kelahan and Board President Gloria Brubaker (File photo)

O-M proceeding with its in-school plan

ODESSA, Aug. 12, 2020 -- The Odessa-Montour School District is proceeding with its plan whereby students who wish to attend school will do so -- while parents who prefer remote learning for their kids can opt for that.

Superintedent Chris Wood said Wednesday night that O-M is "going with the in-person," while surveying parents for their preference. Thus far responses covering 430 students have been received, leaving 330 yet to be tabulated. He said he plans to contact those families for their responses.

After a final number of in-school students is determined, he said, then transportation and cafeteria plans can be finalized. If a significant number -- say 300 -- opted for remote learning, he said, then the plan might change. Those who do opt for remote learning must commit through the first semester so as not to disrupt carefully crafted in-school plans.

Informational sessions will be provided online next week for parents on three different evenings. Any questions posed beforehand to the district will be answered at that time.

Wood said all of the plans are made with staff input, and that he meets regularly with Health Department officials to make sure shifting state rules and regulations are being followed.

He said 95% of his staff "wants to be back badly, and 5% want to be back, but are cautious." No teachers have expressed a desire to stay out of the classroom, he added.

"I believe we can do this safely," he said, "as long as the kids do as we ask" regarding masks and social distancing. "The biggest thing is that we can get them back safely."

Photo in text: O-M Superintendent Chris Wood. (File photo)

Hospital Auxiliary awards scholarships

MONTOUR FALLS, Aug. 11, 2020 -- The Schuyler Hospital Auxiliary has awarded $1,000 scholarships to two high school graduates who are planning to enter the healthcare field.

Samantha Dudgeon, daughter of Ted and Caminda Dudgeon of Cayuta, graduated in June from Odessa-Montour Central School. She plans to attend Finger Lakes Community College to study nursing.

Collin Gaylord, son of Jill Gaylord of Beaver Dams, graduated from Watkins Glen Central School in June. He will attend the University at Buffalo to start his education toward becoming a doctor. Collin is also employed in the Schuyler Hospital Dietary Department.

Scholarship awards are presented each year to graduating high school seniors who live or attend school in Schuyler County and plan to enter careers in the healthcare field.

Awards are based on academic achievement, volunteerism, and personal essays. Previous recipients have been in such diverse fields as orthopedics, dentistry, physical therapy, optometry, speech therapy, and pharmacy.

The Auxiliary awarded its first scholarship of $250 in1990. Over the next 20 years it grew to $1,000 scholarships. Funds for the awards are raised through the Auxiliary’s hospital gift shop and other fundraising events.

For more information about the Schuyler Hospital Auxiliary, call (607) 535-7121 or email info@schuylerhospital.org

Photo in text: From left, Collin Gaylord; Auxiliary President Sharon Malick; Samantha Dudgeon. (Photo provided)

School Board, residents weigh in as they wait for Cuomo's decision on school year

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 4, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board spent most of its 90-minute Zoom meeting Monday night discussing the possibilities for the upcoming school year, and heard from a half-dozen residents with a range of opinions -- some favoring in-school instruction, and one wishing to keep his daughters home rather than put them at risk in a pandemic.

The bottom line stressed by Superintendent Greg Kelahan and the board was that no plans and no decisions can be made until Governor Andrew Cuomo announces in the coming days what kind of education he will permit -- in-school, a hybrid of in-school and remote learning, or just remote learning.

The meeting followed by three days submission by the district to the state of a voluminous report listing possible educational plans, broken down into the three categories. Much of it was in bureaucratic language, and Kelahan told the board the district residents would be notified soon -- there is a target date of Aug. 15 -- with “a common language” explanation of what is being planned. That’s assuming the Governor has made his determination by then.

Kelahan opened the meeting by explaining that a large part of his job is risk analysis -- whether in determining the safety of bus transportation on a snowy or icy day, or in the purchase of playground equipment, or by letting kids use the school pool. “I have to think about these things all the time,” he said.

Now, he said, the decisions going forward regarding education in a pandemic age will be in the hands of the board. “You are all now superintendents,” he said. “You get to sit in my chair.”

He then pointed to a synopsis that he submitted to the board last week, with four new items added:

--We followed directions. That was what the detailed report to the state, in stilted language, was all about.

--No one knows, yet, what school can look like in September. This is because the Governor has to weigh in with his decision.

--I do not have the authority to let children learn remotely or to let employees work remotely. Again, the Governor has the authority.

--We had a great deal of participation by committees in preparing the state report. But not everyone is satisfied. This was in apparent response to criticism from members of the community in the days since the report was unveiled.

“There can be no decision yet” on what options the board might consider, Kelahan said. “Once, or if, the Governor says” home instruction is an option, “this will be a different conversation."

Reacting to comments from district residents in the wake of the report to the state, he said he found it frustrating “when I hear ‘You already decided to reopen.’ No. Who gets to decide? The Governor.” The district, he reiterated, “has plans for all three” contingencies: in-school, hybrid and remote learning.

Among board members, Jessica Saks said that while she was being “bombarded” with comments and questions, “all is for naught until the Governor makes his decision.” Added Kris Clarkson: “The Governor will decide a lot of things for us.” To which Kelahan echoed: “There’s no sense going further until we know what’s going to happen” -- until the Governor issues his directives.

When that decision comes, that will result in a direction, but not universal acceptance. “There’s no way possible,” Clarkson said, “that everyone’s going to be happy.”

And after further discussion, board member Craig Bianco suggested: “We’re beating a dead horse until we hear from the Governor.”

There was subsequent discussion about the use of remote learning in the future now that “life has changed,” as board member Theresa Butler put it. With what has been learned from the recent style of education, she said, the district can help absent students “digitally” instead of sending paper homework to them to complete in isolation.

Added Kelahan, with a smile: With digital learning now part of the landscape, “There will be no need to have snow days.” Schooling can just continue remotely instead. “Of course,” he said, he’d have to deal with the teachers’ union and attend to other potential obstacles before that vision might come to fruition. “I’d have to do this first, this second, this third ...”

And then he polled the board, asking if -- should remote learning be the path ultimately selected -- “all employees would work from school?” The answer was “yes.”

A half dozen district residents then took turns addressing the board. One, Dr. Shannon Schamel, a member of a parent advisory committee, said that a “consensus point” of the committee was that it “favored prioritizing in-person, full-time learning.” That, she said, would free parents to “keep working.” And in prioritizing, she said, the committee favored that “the youngest go every day” to school, in-person.

In fact, the preference among the speakers ranged from an insistence that in-school education was paramount to social development -- “critical,” said one of them, Jamie Coleman -- to the hope that parents will retain the option of whether to send their children to school or not. Said one, Erich Asperschlager, who has daughters in the first and sixth grades, “There are parents who don’t feel comfortable ... I don’t feel safe sending my children to school. I’m scared. Online learning is not great, but neither is getting sick.”

With a remote option in place, he said, fewer kids would be riding the buses, making social distancing easier there and in the classroom. “Giving parents the freedom to make health choices is important,” he said, expressing the hope that if the School Board is given the authority to make such a determination, “please give parents the option to have remote learning. I just want to keep my kids safe.”

Other speakers raised questions as to social distancing, air flow within classrooms, protocols in the face of infections or “extensive absenteeism,” disinfection protocols, and student training to help minimize the risks of infection.

In addition to the speakers, Board President Gloria Brubaker read a letter from one student who said there is a “need to get back to school” -- that remote learning, in essence, breeds isolation and depression.

The next meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 24 -- once again a virtual Zoom meeting.

Photos in text: From top: Superintendent Greg Kelahan, and board members Theresa Butler and Kris Clarkson during the meeting.

Options and uncertainty front and center as school districts offer reopening plans

SCHUYLER COUNTY, July 31, 2020 -- The Odessa-Montour and Watkins Glen Central School Districts have prepared plans for New York State regarding the various options being considered for educaton in the coming school year.

The plans, for in-school instruction, a hybrid of in-school and online education, and strictly online teaching and learning, were mandated by the state by the end of July. The Watkins Glen administration presented its proposals to the School Board Wednesday night, while the O-M admnistrators unveiled theirs Thursday night.

Both districts want in-school instruction, and each has proposals that address that desire in different ways. But the Superinendents of the two districts -- Chris Wood at O-M and Greg Kelahan at Watkins Glen -- caution that everything is still pretty much up in the air, contingent on:

-- an upcoming decision by Governor Andrew Cuomo as to what styles of education will be permitted in the face of the pandemic;
-- any potential uptick in the amount of infections in the school and community, and
-- any change in the amount of state aid granted to the schools. That last is largely contingent on action at the federal level, where Congress is still wrestling with how much money to provide the states for essential services such as education.

How each school will proceed varies, shaped largely by committee input and surveys. (And each offers the cautionary note that everything is subject to change.) Watkins Glen's Kelahan said he "removed myself" from the planning, leaving much of it to a 26-member "decision-making" group, with input from teacher, student and parent advisory groups, along with a survey of 333 parents. O-M relied too on surveys, of faculty and community, the latter from 400 families..

The Watkins Glen district posted its detailed, multi-page plan on its website late Friday, while O-M posted a plan on its website as well as sending a comminique to parents and media after meeting with local Health Department officials Friday morning. As they currently stand, the plans include the following:

Odessa-Montour: The hope is to have all students on campus all day, five days a week -- with the exception of immunity compromised students, for whom safeguards have to be established. The Health Department officials, with minor suggestions, approved the O-M plans during their Friday visit to the high school and two elementary schools, at each of which maintenance staff has set up classrooms with social distancing, as well as various sanitizing stations.

In the event -- whether by changing pandemic circumstance or gubernatorial fiat -- that full-time, full occupancy plan becomes untenable, the administration has focused on a hybrid plan whereby the lower grades, up through Grade 6, would attend every day. Students in Grades 7-12 would attend on a 3-day-on, 2-day off pattern. This would work alphabetically by last name, with, say, names starting in A-L in school on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday one week, and at home Thursday and Friday. The M-Z group would be at home those first three days, then in school the last two. The next week, they would flip, so that each student was in school every 5 of 10 days.

In either event, full school or hybrid, the older kids would start school earlier than in the past, perhaps at 7:30 a.m., with the younger kids starting later. The bus runs would be doubled, reducing the number of students on each bus in keeping with social distancing. Masks would also be required on the buses, as they would in the hallways on the way to class. Mask use in class was yet to be determined.

Also under consideration is whether any students would be using lockers, and how best to handle "specialty" classes such as art, music and physical education. In peril: interscholastic athletics, which Wood doubted would start in the fall (the current start date is Sept. 21), being pushed instead to three reduced seasons running from January to June. Concerts and assemblies are on hold, he added, as are semiformals and the prom, while field trips are unlikely.

When asked by a board member what might prevent any chosen plan from moving forward, the superintendent said an outbreak of Covid or a 20 percent reduction in state aid -- equivalent to roughly $2 million -- would send planners back to the drawing board.

The full O-M plan, 40 pages long, is available to download on the school district's website (click here). It contains feedback from surveys and advisory groups, instructional information for families, Return to School Protocols, and Campus Health & Safety Protocols.

Watkins Glen: Superintendent Kelahan, the morning after his board’s meeting, said districts had been told by Governor Cuomo that they should “structure to reopen” with in-school instruction if at all possible, and that that’s what the district is aiming for. What form that takes -- whether full attendance all day, every day, or a hybrid of in-school and remote learning -- remains to be determined. "I can't speak for the board on that," said Kelahan, "and I heard many different opinions from many staff, parents and students. I know that I don't have a preference. Much depends on what the Governor says."

Any in-school return raises many safety and logistical concerns, from transportation to food service to proper distancing to mask wearing to social distancing to how to respond in the event of a student or teacher showing a high temperature or falling ill. All of those variables and others are addressed in the published plan (Click here), which covers Health and Safety, Facilities, Child Nutrition, Transportation, Social Emotional Well-Being, School Schedules, Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism, Technology and Connectivity, Teaching and Learning, and Staffing. And each of those subjects is addressed in three different sections, whereby Everyone Returns (Plan A), Hybrid (Plan B), and All Virtual If Stay at Home Orders Go Into Effect (Plan C).

The board, after what Kelahan said was extensive discussion, decided at its meeting Wednesday not to increase the bus runs, one of many vexing considerations it will be facing as the school year nears and then unfolds. For instance, also closely studied was the right time at which to check each student's temperature daily: as he or she entered the school each morning, or earlier, at the bus stop. The decision: check temperatures at the school door.

A reading of the 70-page plan makes clear the complexity of the task ahead for the school district. The pandemic presents challenges that can change a school’s plans and approach at a moment’s notice, Kelahan said.

One positive note in a dark time, he noted, is that the state has given districts the flexibility to alter their plan in the case of a Covid outbreak. “If I feel our building is at the point where we can’t safely proceed” with in-school instruction, Kelahan said, “we might move to a hybrid or online plan” in concert with local health officials.

The Health Department will conduct an on-site review of the district's current plan and preparations "once the Governor announces what is allowed," Kelahan said, adding in a letter on July 29 to parents: "Until the Governor announces how districts may open, we are not able to share which structure our district will use in September."

Of the hybrid plans suggested, the preferred one would see Pre-K through 8th grade in school each day, with grades 9-12 alternating days on-site and remotely. That option foresees no stricture on the number of students permitted in the school. Another option would be necessitated if the governor directed an attendance limiter of, say, 50%.

No plan, Kelahan said, is “set in stone. These are living, breathing documents. The School Board can alter them, observing and adjusting."

Photo in text: The rear of the Odessa-Montour High School, where fencing along the driveway has been removed. This driveway can be used for dropoffs and pickups by visitors who will thus not have to enter the building. With the fencing gone, there is room for both entering and exiting vehicles.

School boards weigh mascots' status as traditions give way to cultural changes

SCHUYLER COUNTY, July 13, 2020 -- With the cultural landscape in America in the midst of change, local schools are not immune -- not where their sports teams, mascots and logos are concerned. The future of those mascots is being discussed.

"The conversation has been renewed and is starting to build momentum," says Rod Weeden, athletic director in the Watkins Glen School District.

"The question has been on our minds, given recent national news," said Odessa-Montour School Superintendent Chris Wood, "and the Board of Education and I have had initial discussions regarding our mascot."

The O-M sports teams are the Indians; the Watkins Glen sports teams are the Senecas. In those sports in which they've combined -- football and baseball chief among them -- they are the Seneca Indians.

There are more such team nicknames, or mascots, in the Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which is -- like O-M and Watkins Glen -- turning its attention to the issue.

The statements by the two school officials came in response to emails seeking information on the fallout from national movements against traditional symbols and in the wake of the decision by the Washington football team to drop "Redskins" from its name and to exorcise its accompanying logo.

At O-M, though, the matter is not the top priority. "At this time," said Superintendent Wood, "we are focusing our time and efforts on developing a plan to safely bring students back to school in the fall." (The district must submit a reopening plan by the end of the month, after which Governor Andrew Cuomo will be announcing which regions in the state pass muster for fall in-person classes.)

"Once students return," said Wood, "our primary focus will be on meeting social-emotional needs and narrowing the academic gaps while addressing budget concerns.

"In short, yes we are aware of the concern with our mascot," said Wood, "but, like everything else we do, our students need to be a part of the decision-making process. Stay tuned."

At Watkins Glen, Weeden expanded.

"This is certainly not a new controversy for schools. With the current state of the nation, this topic is being brought to the forefront again. People are asking some hard questions and ... I think the conversation certainly has to happen.

"The school board has asked some questions and is looking for information. I'm sure they have been approached by members of the community, as well. We can not bury our heads in the sand and hope this goes away. We need to ask ourselves many basic questions about what we want our brand to be.

"What do we want to be known for? Is our mascot and the imagining associated with it perpetuating a negative impact toward a race? If we do nothing and are told by the state that all schools must drop any association of a school mascot with a race of people, are we financially prepared to make those changes? I believe the school board has a duty to ask many of these questions and more and make an educated decision.

"I believe we all have a duty to educate ourselves on this topic and not just dismiss it through hateful comments toward those who want to educate themselves. Discussing things like dignity and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes is not just reserved for those of a certain political party, I believe it is a basic part of humanity. ...

"The ideals of the country are changing. We can look at the many companies and artists who have recently gone through new branding work in order to keep in line with societal changes. Schools are no different. There are many schools in New York State with Indian mascot connections and certainly many more with other mascots related to a race of people. In the IAC there are currently 5 schools of the 19 member schools with mascots associated with Indians.

"This topic is being discussed at the league level this week. I'm sure each of these schools are in a different place about discussing this issue. The impact is far reaching and has many implications historically, financially, and emotionally. I'm confident we will all work through this and come up with a solution that the majority can live with."

Photos in text: From top: The Indian on the O-M gym wall; O-M Superintendent Chris Wood and Watkins Glen Athletic Director Rod Weeden.

Afternoon Club awards 3 scholarships

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, July 9, 2020 -- The Ladies Wednesday Afternoon Club has awarded its annual $150 scholarhsips this year to one graduated senior each from the Bradford, Odessa-Montour and Watkins Glen high schools.

The Bradford honoree is Adrianna Padgett, who plans to study digital media arts in college.

Marisa Alton is the O-M honoree. She will attend Finger Lakes Community College to prepare for a career in Elementary Education.

The Watkins Glen honoree is Elaine Majors, who will attend SUNY Potsdam with a dual major in Anthropology and Archeological Studies. She plans to be an archeologist.

The Ladies Wednesday Afternoon Club meets once a month. Its members, says a press release announcing the scholarships, "are very interested in obtaining knowledge, and staying current with everyday society ... Because they value learning so much, each year they are proud to present scholarships to Schuyler County High School graduates who have worked hard and shown that they can succeed, and also plan on attending a college or trade school."

Area lawmakers, education leaders urge state: Release school reopening guidelines

Special to The Odessa File

HORSEHEADS, July 8, 2020 -- U.S. Representative Tom Reed (R-NY), State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning), Assemblyman Chris Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes (R,C-Caledonia) and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio (R,C,I-Gowanda) Wednesday joined regional education leaders to call on New York State to give area schools the go-ahead to begin implementing plans to reopen in September.

Also on hand were GST BOCES Superintendent James Frame, Bath Schools Superintendent Joe Rumsey, Hornell Superintendent Jeremy Palotti, Canaseraga Superintendent Chad Groof and other school representatives.

The New York State of Board of Regents and the State Education Department announced in late April the formation of a School Reopening Task Force to oversee school reopenings. In June, the task force held a series of virtual meetings with four Regional School Reopening Task Forces representing teachers, parents, administrators, school board members and non-instructional school personnel, among others, to gather input on the protocols that will then guide New York’s 700 local school districts in devising their reopening plans.

School administrators across the area are relying on state officials to follow the plan it outlined and release its guidance as soon as possible.

Despite the significant time, effort and professional input that has gone into the Regional School Reopening Task Forces, over the past week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has reiterated that he alone will have the final say. On Monday, he said that the state Department of Health (DOH) and his own, previously formed Reimagine Education Advisory Council, are also working to develop “forthcoming” guidance, but gave no definitive timetable.

During a news conference Wednesday at the GST BOCES Bush Campus in Horseheads, area leaders stressed that schools need to start planning now to be ready for reopening in September and called on the governor to quickly release the necessary guidelines.

In a joint statement, Reed, O’Mara, Palmesano, Friend, Byrnes and Giglio said, “Our local county leaders, health professionals, educators, teachers and communities have demonstrated enormous dedication, discipline and responsibility throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our communities’ leaders have demonstrated they can be trusted with a careful and thorough reopening of schools that is focused on safety, first and foremost. No one cares more about the health and well-being of our students, families and school communities.

"What has been accomplished by administrators, teachers and parents to help students throughout this public health crisis has been remarkable. These efforts must continue to supplement ongoing instruction because in-person schooling is fundamentally important to the long-term health and well-being of our young people and their families. Nothing can replace our children being in school. It’s central to quality education, our ongoing economic recovery and the strength of our social fabric. Governor Cuomo needs to release the guidelines so that school administrators can get to work implementing a safe reopening for September. The governor can’t leave school districts, students, teachers and parents waiting until the final minute for guidance.”

The group highlighted the success of the regional COVID-19 response, praising the work of local officials and the ongoing cooperation of local citizens and communities to follow the safety guidelines recommended to stop the spread of the coronavirus and demonstrate the feasibility of safe reopening. The group also noted that the knowledge and experience gained over the past several months leaves them confident about developing and implementing safe school reopening plans for September -- if, they stressed, the state releases the necessary protocols and gives school districts ample time to thoroughly prepare their facilities and staff.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara speaks at the press conference held Wednesday at GST BOCES Bush Campus in Horseheads. (Photo provided)

Rutledge, Brubaker win Lions scholarships

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, July 2, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen-Montour Falls Lions Club has awarded Watkins Glen High School graduates Bethany Rutledge and Scott Brubaker $1,000 scholarships in recognition of their academic achievements, character, and community service.

The club's scholarship program is approved by the Lions Club Board of Directors and funded by the Watkins Glen-Montour Falls Foundation in remembrance of past High School Principals and Lions members John Cook and Bud Warner.

Scott Brubaker, winner of the Lions Club Outstanding Student Award, will be attending SUNY Oswego to study Broadcast and Mass Communication. Brubaker, son of Renee Riley and Brett Brubaker, has been an avid student of journalism and media and is pursuing a career in news reporting. The four-year Bachelor of Art degree qualifies graduates in media positions such as producer, news anchor, press secretary, reporter, editor, and media researcher.

Bethany Rutledge, winner of the Lions Club 2020 Cook-Warner Improved Student Award, has been accepted into the Canine Training and Management Program at SUNY Cobleskill. Rutledge, daughter of George and Pam Rutledge, has cultivated a commitment to animals and seeks to assist relationship building between animals and people. The four-year program will lead to a Bachelor of Techology degree that qualifies graduates in both private pet care businesses or government canine programs.

Photos in text: Bethany Rutledge and Scott Brubaker (Photos provided)

Odessa-Montour unveils Academic Awards

ODESSA, June 28, 2020 -- The Odessa-Montour School District has announced its Academic Award winners for the 2019-20 school year, as follows:

WELLS COLLEGE 21ST CENTURY LEADERSHIP AWARD: Reagan Bishop, Brock Sgrecci

MATH DEPARTMENT AWARDS
Algebra -- Shirley Sidle, Dan Spencer
Geometry -- Kathryn Adams
PreCalculus -- Madison Vogel
4 Year Math Award -- Derrick Lewis

TECHNOLOGY ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS
Certificate of Excellence in Technology:
Gage Arcangeli, John Jelliff, Derrick Lewis

HISTORY DEPARTMENT AWARDS
Economics Highest Average -- Alicia Nelson
Government Highest Average -- Samantha Dudgeon
Joseph Lemak Global Studies Award -- Madison Vogel
Edward Banfi U.S. History Award -- Brett Walters

PHYSICAL EDUCATION BABE RUTH AWARDS: JoLynn Minnier, Derrick Lewis
Grade 11 Physical Education Awards -- Malia Mertens, Brock Sgrecci
Grade 10 Physical Education Awards -- Annaleise Beckley, Gabriel Grover
Grade 9 Physical Education Awards -- Victoria Brewster, Jon Spencer
Senior High Health Education Award -- Tassia Garrison

USMC Scholastic Excellence Award: Derrick Lewis

NYS ATTORNEY GENERAL TRIPLE C AWARD: Megan Adams, Jared Rumsey

ENGLISH AWARDS
English 9 Award -- Kathryn Adams
English 10 Award -- Aidan Thurston
English 11 Award -- Emma Malnoske, Madison Vogel
English 12 Award -- Dylan VonNeida, Cheianne Webster
ACE English Academic Award -- Brooke Sikora

SPANISH AWARDS
Spanish II Achievement Awards -- Victoria Brewster
Spanish III Achievement Awards -- Camille Sgrecci, Aidan Thurston
Spanish IV Achievement Award -- Madison Vogel
ACE Spanish Achievement Award -- Grace Vondracek
5-year Spanish Achievement Award -- Paden Grover, Preston Harris, Grace Vondracek

BAUSCH AND LOMB HONORARY SCIENCE AWARD: Jared Rumsey

UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER FREDRICK DOUGLAS AND SUSAN B. ANTHONY AWARD: Emilee Chaffinch

SCIENCE DEPARTMENT AWARDS
Earth Science -- Marissa Marsh
Living Environment -- Sarah Barr
Chemistry -- Madison Vogel
Physics -- Derrick Lewis
Four Year Science Awards -- Hannah Chapman, Sara Gardner, Ryan Griswold, Preston Harris, Noah Hollenbeck, Derrick Lewis, Kara Reese, Brooke Sikora, Grace Vondracek

UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER GEORGE EASTMAN LEADERSHIP AWARD: Megan Adams

NYS OFFICE OF THE STATE COMPTROLLER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Derrick Lewis

ELMIRA COLLEGE KEY AWARD: Madison Vogel, Ida Sidle

ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY COMPUTING MEDAL: Emma Malnoske

CLARKSON UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL ACHIEVEMENT AND LEADERSHIP AWARD: Lillian Betts, Autumn Garrison

RUSSELL SAGE COLLEGE WOMEN OF INFLUENCE AWARD: Taryn Hoyt, Malia Mertens

UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER XEROX AWARD: Evan Underdown

RENSSELAER MEDAL: Megan Adams

KEUKA COLLEGE GEORGE H. BALL COMMUNITY ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Taylor Cain, Mackenzie Dundas, Hannah Hoose, Devon Mahaney, Samantha Sipes

PRESIDENT’S AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE (Must have 90 average and College Entrance Exam Scores at or above the 85th Percentile): Tassia Garrison, Brooke Sikora

FOUR-YEAR HONORS
(Seniors who have a 3-5/6 year average of 85 or above)
Marisa Alton
Shania Austin
Micah Brewster
Hannah Chapman
Samantha Dudgeon
Sara Gardner
Tassia Garrison
Ryan Griswold
Paden Grover
Preston Harris
Noah Hollenbeck
Derrick Lewis
Lydia Lynch
Ashley Monroe
Julia Paulisczak
Kara Reese
Brooke Sikora
Rhys Stermer
Faith Switzer
Caleb Thomas
Grace Vondraek
Brett Walters

Cars from the O-M school district traveled the WGI racetrack on Wednesday, June 24.

O-M seniors practice for graduation, circle the Watkins Glen International racetrack

SCHUYLER COUNTY, June 25, 2020 -- The graduating seniors in the Odessa-Montour High School Class of 2020 gathered Wednesday afternoon at the school athletic field for a practice run-through in preparation for their Friday graduation ceremony there, and then traveled caravan-style to the Watkins Glen International racetrack.

There, like their counterparts from Watkins Glen High School earlier this month, they were admitted to the track -- driving their cars, often with family members on board, four times around the famed circuit's long course.

They were led most of the way to WGI -- from the school grounds through the villages of Odessa and Montour Falls -- by siren-blaring fire trucks from the Odessa, Montour Falls, Watkins Glen and Burdett fire departments, and were greeted along the way by waving spectators, some bearing congratulatory signs.

It was all done under sunny skies and in moderate temperatures -- a beautiful day to help celebrate a class that has missed out on so much in this age of the pandemic.

Superintendent Chris Wood summed it up in the following statement.

"I wanted to extend a heartfelt thank you to all who have gone above and beyond to help an outstanding group of seniors this year. First, thank you to our seniors. They are the most resilient group of students in our storied Odessa-Montour history. They have continued to roll with the changes, no matter how difficult the times or how inconvenient the changes were.

"Second, the parents and community. They too have had to overcome drastic changes while wanting the best for the students. They have been extremely patient and understanding. And finally, school staff have gone above and beyond to try and be active in the students' lives, and many have done a great job thinking outside the box.

"Tonight we had our graduation dress rehearsal. The parents were, as expected, upbeat and positive. The students were all smiles. It was a shining moment in a not so shining time. The energy was fantastic. None of this would’ve been possible without our amazing fire departments. They provided a once-in-a-lifetime moment for our seniors, escorting them through the villages of Odessa and Montour as the seniors went to Watkins Glen International. Many of these volunteers are proud alumni, residents of the school district or the county. These are the first to rush into a building when needed; and were out in full force to do what was best for 52 students. To all of those courageous men and women: thank you.

"Thank you also to Watkins Glen International. WGI has partnered with the school district for seven years in various capacities. It has typically gone above and beyond for our Jr./Sr. Prom. This year, we were not able to have Prom. WGI was quick to reach out and ask if it could help us honor our seniors. Tonight, it allowed 60 to 70 cars onto the famed race track to allow us to do four laps. It is a world-class organization that went out of its way to help Odessa-Montour.

"Thank you to everyone who banded together to honor our students. On behalf of the Odessa-Montour District and Odessa-Montour family, your generosity, kindness and perseverance is truly appreciated."

Christopher J. Wood
Superintendent of Schools
Odessa-Montour Central School

Photos in text: From top: A student's car, senior JoLynn Minnier at the graduation practice, and Lisa Frost celebrating the passing parade on Main Street in Montour Falls.

At the graduation run-through, from left: Preston Harris, a senior's cap, and Kara Reese.

Schuyler Scholar honorees announced

SCHUYER COUNTY, June 23, 2020 -- Sixteen seniors from three school districts who finished in the top 10% of their class academically are being honored as Schuyler Scholars.

The annual designation -- this year without a traditional dinner celebration due to the pandemic -- is marked by the presentation to each honoree of a plaque.

The honorees, by school, include:

Watkins Glen: Scott Brubaker, Haley Dean, Aiden DiGregorio, Collin Gaylord, Travis Hill, Josiah Wysocki, Sarah Swinnerton and Enqi Lin.

Odessa-Montour: Tassia Garrison, Brett Walters, Derrick Lewis, Grace Vondracek and Brooke Sikora.

Bradford: Adrianna Padgett, Blaze Machuga and Joseph Miller.

O-M unveils Fine Arts Award winners

ODESSA, June 22, 2020 -- Odessa-Montour High School has announced its annual Fine Arts Award winners. They are:

Photo Enthusiast: Josiah Lynch

Most Artistic: Ava Zahuranec (8), Hannah Barr (8), Jade Madill (9), Tristan Harrington (9), Gabriel Grover (10), Camille Sgrecci (10), Mackenzie Dundas (11), Malia Mertens (11), Micah Brewster (12), Kaelyn Arnold (12), Ashley Monroe (12)

Artist of the Year: Gabriel Grover

Theater Award: Dylan Holton

Senior Musicians: Justin Andrews, Arron Arnold, Kaelyn Arnold, Shania Austin, Micah Brewster, Dylan Holton, Jacob Mayette, Julia Paulisczak, Brooke Sikora, Rhys Stermer, Jordan Thompson, Dylan VonNeida, Cheianne Webster

Semper Fidelis Marine Band Award: Micah Brewster

John Philip Sousa Award: Rhys Stermer

National Choral Award: Rhys Stermer

WGHS unveils its annual student awards

Watkins Glen High School
Virtual High School Awards
June 2020


Rotary Students of the Month: September -- Isaac McIlroy; October -- Scott Brubaker;
November -- Zachary Burrows; December -- Tristin Rose-Morley; January -- Gabe Planty;
February -- Travis Hill; March -- Miranda Rodriguez

Top 10 of Class of 2020: Collin Gaylord, Sarah Swinnerton, Travis Hill, Aidan DiGregorio, Josiah Wysocki, Haley Dean, Scott Brubaker, Enqi Lin, Elaine Majors, and Peighton Cervoni

Varsity Academic Marathon: Scott Brubaker, Haley Dean, Aidan DiGregorio, Collin Gaylord, Travis Hill, Elaine Majors, Tristin Rose-Morley, Olivia Stephani, Sarah Swinnerton, and Josiah Wysocki

University of Rochester:
Bausch & Lomb Science Honorary Award: Brianna Hayes
Fredrick Douglas & Susan B. Anthony Award for Social Sciences & Humanities:
Dylan Morse
George Eastman Young Leaders Award: Amanda Wilbur
Xerox Award for Innovation and Information Technology: Kayla Palmer

Wells College 21st Century Leadership Award: Kayla Palmer & Seamus Mooney

Rochester Institute of Technology Junior Awards:
Innovation & Creativity Award: Timothy Clifford
Computing Medal and Scholarship Program: Bryce Kelly

Elmira College Key Award: Kelsey DeMillo and Mikayla Holmes

Keuka College Award:
The George H. Ball Community Achievement Award: Kelsey DeMillo, Amanda Wilbur,
Heidi Gardner, Seamus Mooney, Dylan Morse

Alfred University Kazuo Inamori School of Engineering Award for Academic Excellence: Brianna Hayes

Sage Colleges Student Scholarship:

Student Sage Award: Shannon Ervay, Heidi Gardner, and Seamus Mooney

Boy’s State Recognition Awards: Isaac McIlroy and Collin Gaylord

Girl’s State Recognition Awards: Sara Benedict-Augustine and Adrienna Solomon

Ruth Warner Math Awards: Brooke Usher and Nikhil Manakkal

TIES Volunteer Awards: Shannon Ervay

The Pulitzer Prize of Excellence in Scholastic Journalism: Robin Zimba

FOWL Library Service Awards: Elaine Majors and Kayla Palmer

Francis W. Blake Sportsmanship Awards:
Kelsey Kernan and Elliott Holland

Barb Hughey Physical Education Award: Tristin Rose-Morley and Mason Neira

Water Safety Award: Peighton Cervoni

Senecas Football Award: Brandon Beaumont

Track & Field Award: Haley Dean and Elliott Holland

Mike Watson Wrestling Award: Zachary Burrows

Athletic Service Award: Scott Brubaker

Dr. Arthur J. Jackson Award: Peighton Cervoni and Isaac McIlroy

Coach Joseph J. Lemak, Sr. Award: Kelsey Kernan and Gabe Planty

T.J. O’Rourke Award: Adrienna Solomon

James Angelo, Sr. Basketball Award: Isaac McIlroy

Chemistry Regents Award: Kaitlin Asbury

Gerald Loughlin Biology Regents Award (Living Environment): Zachary Naylor, Matthew Sandritter, and Douglas DiGregorio

Physics Regents Award: Collin Gaylord

Earth Science Regents Award: Han Shun (Winnie) Liu

AP Achievement Award:
AP English Language and Composition Award: Haley Dean

English Regents Award: Eliya Stolpinski

Kate LaMoreaux Lover of Lit Award: Peighton Cervoni

Dugo-Bahns US History Regents Award: Haley Dean, Aidan DiGregorio and Collin Gaylord

Bahns-Dugo Global History Regents Award: Maria Brubaker and Dylan Morse

Marie Fitzsimmons Student Humanitarian Award: Zachary Burrows

Melissa B. Wilson Basketball Award: Aislinn Klemann

Valedictorian: Collin Gaylord
Salutatorian: Sarah Swinnerton

Watkins schools bid farewell to 10 retirees

WATKINS GLEN, June 17, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen School Board Monday night noted the retirement of 10 members of the school district staff.

They included:

Barb Dedominick: Elementary. Hired in 1988.
Karen Armstrong: Industrial Arts. Hired in 1985.
Mary Iandoli: Technology, elementary, middle school math. Hired in 1999.
Lindsey Starr: Teaching Assistant, attendance office, disciplinarian. Hired in 1998.
Linda Brown: Keyboard Specialist, Sr. Keyboard Specialist (high school and elementary school). Hired in 2010
Elaine Elsik: Typist, Keyboard Specialist, Sr. Keyboard Specialist (elementary and guidance). Hired in 1998.
Cindy Kain: Teacher Aide. Hired in 2005.
Jody DeVay: Teacher Aide. Hired in 2004.
Jeannie Andrews: Teacher Aide. Hired in 1997.
Gayle Sedlack: School District Treasurer, Public Library Treasurer, Tax Collector, Internal Auditor, Clerk, Business Manager. Hired in 1996.

O-M seniors get signs, caps and gowns

SCHUYLER COUNTY, June 11, 2020 -- School officials in the Odessa-Montour Central School District took to the road Thursday, following six routes around the county to deliver signs, swag bags, and caps and gowns to members of the graduating Class of 2020.

Said one official: "It was so much fun. We decorated our cars, played music, and made lots of noise to get the seniors out of their homes, all while socially distancing."

In a year lacking in so many school functions, this one served as a prelude to graduation week, which will include a trip by seniors to Watkins Glen International on Wednesday, June 24 for three laps in their cars around the famed racetrack. Then comes graduation at 6 p.m. Friday, June 26 on O-M's Charles Martin Field -- the school's football and soccer field.

Photo in text: Among the seniors visited Thursday were Justin Andrews, left, and Caleb Thomas. (Photo provided)

Posters of the WGHS seniors have been placed along both sides of Decatur Street.

With graduation in the air, Watkins Glen and O-M plan their outdoor ceremonies

SCHUYLER COUNTY, June 9, 2020 -- Graduation, a time of celebration that seemed imperiled by the coronavirus pandemic, is back on the front burner.

With Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent reversal from his ban on stadium graduations to his approval -- but with a limitation of 150 participants -- local school districts have jumped on the opportunity, each reflecting the size of its graduating class.

Odessa-Montour: With a graduating class of 52, O-M has a big week planned -- with a graduation walk-through on Wednesday, June 24 in the O-M parking lot, and then a trip from there to the Watkins Glen International racetrack. School officials are hoping to line up a fire department escort from the school to the track, where each student will have the opportunity to drive (or ride) with family around the famed racetrack, behind a pace car.

Watkins Glen seniors visited WGI on Saturday, and the event was a big success.

Then on Friday, June 26 -- weather permitting -- Odessa's graduation will be held on the school football field, Charles Martin Field, with each graduate seated with two family members on the field, socially distanced from other attendees. Each graduate, with those family members, will first march along the track, with his or her accomplishments and academic and athletic awards announced. Each will then pose for photos with their guests on a riser before taking their seats.

The ceremony will include speeches by the co-Valedictorians, Brooke Sikora and Derrick Lewis, before each graduate is called up to the riser to receive his or her diploma. Pictures will be taken of that part of the celebration, as well.

If it rains, O-M is planning to hold the celebration the next day, June 27, at either 11 a.m. or 6 p.m.

Superintendent Chris Wood says that with all that the graduating seniors have been robbed of by the pandemic, “all I ask of Mother Nature is good weather on Wednesday, June 24, and on Friday, June 26."

Wood said he met with small groups of seniors this week -- meetings originally scheduled to discuss graduation alternatives before Governor Cuomo decided to permit stadium, in-person celebrations. The meetings were held anyway, with 47 of the 52 graduates attending to go over the new plans and the possibility of further changes.

“It was my best day in the last 100,” Wood said, “seeing students back in the building.”

If Cuomo loosens the 150-person restriction, the superintendent said, then the limit of two guests per graduate could go up, “and we’ll make adjustments. If it’s 200, then it will be three guests; if it’s 250, it will be four guests, and so on.”

Watkins Glen: The spirit of graduation kicked off with high spirits among students and family in the cars that circled the WGI track last Saturday evening. It is also evident in the posters that have been placed in frames and affixed to lawn running alongside Decatur Street near the school.

Those posters -- each graduate is pictured in a row of large photos on either side of the street -- were the result of fund-raising led by School Board President Gloria Brubaker and by Tammy Clarkson, wife of Board member Kris Clarkson. Unbeknownst to them, posters were also being offered by a company to districts around the area, so there are extras that Superintendent Greg Kelahan indicated would be visible at the graduation ceremony.

Actually, that’s ceremonies, plural, since the Watkins administration has devised a plan to enable graduates to invite guests despite Governor Cuomo’s 150-participant limiter.

Kelahan said High School Principal Kai D’Alleva and Senior Class Advisor Sam Brubaker came up with a plan to hold four graduations, each commencement exercise involving 21 of the 84 graduating seniors. They will be held on Saturday, June 27, on the school’s football field, at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

D’Alleva and Brubaker, he said, “are trying to maximize the experience for the kids.”

Each ceremony will be 45 minutes long, with the other 45 minutes between them used for transitioning to the next one -- for one group to exit, and the next group to enter.

Guests will be seated, socially distanced, on the field itself, while the graduating seniors will be on a riser in front of the grandstand, where diplomas will be conferred.

Kelahan stressed that the plan is tentative, subject to change if the Governor further changes his mind. If the 150-person limiter is increased, “we might combine the four ceremonies into two,” he said, or even into one if the limitation number were lifted or raised high.

“We’re doing what we can,” Kelahan said. “I don’t know how bigger districts are handling it." With the 150-person limit, those districts "would have to have ceremonies all day long.”

Photos in text: From top, Sign at O-M school, O-M School Superintendent Chris Wood, sign at WGHS, and Watkins Glen School Superintendent Greg Kelahan.

One of the WGHS seniors travels the track after the First Turn, along a scenic stretch.

WGHS seniors tour WGI as graduation nears

WATKINS GLEN, June 6, 2020 -- The Watkins Glen High School Class of 2020 -- robbed of the last three months of in-school activities and camaraderie by the pandemic -- got a special treat Saturday: a drive around the Watkins Glen International racetrack.

Track president Michael Printup said similar events have been held successfully at a couple of other International Speedway Corp. tracks. When Watkins Glen School Superintendent Greg Kelahan was approached to see if he was interested, "he jumped at it," said Printup.

The Odessa-Montour school district has also signed on for time at the track, although a specific date has not been announced.

The Watkins Glen school administration had hoped initially to get a photo of the class in the grandstand at WGI -- socially distanced from one another -- but that was vetoed.

Instead, the students -- one student and his or her family per car -- drove around and around the track behind a pace car, finally stopping at the finish line where, one by one, a class T-shirt and other memorabilia was handed to each graduate. The honorees and their families had to stay in their vehicles.

Each vehicle was urged forward -- as the one ahead of its pulled away -- by Superintendent Kelahan standing atop the wall separating the track from the pit area, waving a checkered flag. The students, for the most part, seemed delighted as High School Principal Kai D'Alleva and Senior Advisor Sam Brubaker handed them their packets.

The event coincided with the placement of photo banners featuring each individual student, held in sign holders and affixed to the ground along Decatur Street in Watkins Glen, not far from the school.

Photos in text:

Top: Superintendent Greg Kelahan waves the next car to the finish line.
Bottom: Senior Peighton Cervoni waves.

Left: Senior Drie Solomon. Right: Senior Scott Brubaker drove, accompanied by sister Maria, a WGHS junior

Two of the seniors' cars round the WGI track's First Turn. Most took the turn slowly.

Left: WGHS Principal Kai D'Alleva. Right: Senior Madeline Parker and her father.

Left: WGHS's Sam Brubaker starts the seniors' track laps. Right: Senior Karlee Meier lowers her mask for a photo.

The lights at Watkins Glen High School's Alumni Field were turned on Friday night as part of the school's distribution of graduation caps and gowns.

WGHS seniors pick up their caps and gowns

WATKINS GLEN, May 30, 2020 -- Graduating seniors at Watkins Glen High School returned to the school -- one by one in cars -- Friday night to pick up their graduation caps and gowns.

The students, whose daily school attendance ended back in March with the arrival in force of the coronavirus in the United States, showed up at the school one by one, staying in their cars -- some alone, some with a friend or two, and some with family --to collect the caps and gowns from masked WGHS personnel on hand for the event.

The distribution took place outside of the high school office entrance. The students, after being handed the items they came for, could then drive to the south end of the parking area and around its circle, and there get a look at the Alumni Field lights that have been darkened for so long but were bright on this night in honor of the graduates, and a look at the scoreboard, alight with numbers referencing the graduating class of 2020.

As for the graduation ceremony itself, plans are still being formulated.

Photo in text: WGHS senior Kelsey Kernan (at the wheel) and her parents sit in their car talking with faculty member Sam Brubaker.

From left: WGHS seniors Ali LaMoreaux, Gabe Planty and Isaac McIlroy.

Boxes with caps and gowns awaited the arrival of the students at WGHS Friday night.

The WGHS Allumni Field scoreboard as it appeared during the cap-and-gown pickup night.

WGHS's Valedictorian and Salutatorian

Watkins Glen High will graduate 84

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 27, 2020 -- Watkins Glen High School has released its list of 2020 graduates. It includes 84 students.

The district, meanwhile, is still looking at potential options for a ceremony that would be acceptable to state officials given the limitations created by the pandemic.

Watkins Glen High School
Graduating Class of 2020


David Armstrong
Dillon Bean
Brandon Beaumont
Sara Benedict-Augustine
Angelina Bravo
Scott Brubaker
Owen Buckley
Zachary Burrows
Jacey Carl
Madison Cary
Peighton Cervoni
William Chiacchiarini
Eleanor Clarkson
Dakota Clink
Haley Dean
Julia Delong
Nambdi DeSarno
Aidan DiGregorio
Hunter Doane
Austin Fedele
Garrett Gascon
Collin Gaylord
Merissa Green
Steven Gublo
Andrew Harrell
Austin Hazlitt
Andrew Herold
Andrea Heskell
Travis Hill
Elliott Holland
Dalton Ingraham
Katarena Jackson
Christopher Jacot
James Jensen
Makenzie Kellogg
Kelsey Kernan
Raiana Labonte
Alexandria LaMoreaux
Tyler LeRoux
Enkang Lin
Enqi Lin
Brittany Luke
Patrick Madaffari
Elaine Majors
Alixander Mathews
Isaac McIlroy
Pierce McKenzie
Karlee Meier
Damon Morgan
Jason Narde
Mason Neira
Madeline Parker
Jessica Peters
Gabriel Planty
Monet Price
Maggie Rhoads
Miranda Rodriguez
Kajsa Rolfes
Tristin Rose-Morley
Caleb Rozell
Bethany Rutledge
James Sager
Peter Sandritter
Zachary Schaffner
Nakendra Schwab
Dalton Shepherd
Derrian Shepherd
Bryson Simmons
Samuel Smith
Daniel Snow
Adrienna Solomon
Olivia Stephani
Eliya Stolpinski
Madelyn Suddaby
Sarah Swinnerton
Samuel Thorsland
Zackhery Torello
Cameren Underdown
Amber Updike
Hannah Warrick
Duncan Weber
Breanna Wilson
Josiah Wysocki
Sydnee Zigas

Odessa-Montour administration team members at a May 9 meeting included, from left: High School Principal Skip McCarty, Superintendent Chris Wood, and B.C. Cate Principal Jim Nolan.

Education in the Age of the Pandemic: budgets, remote learning and optimism

By Charlie Haeffner
Editor/Publisher


ODESSA, May 9, 2020 -- When Governor Andrew Cuomo announced what was pretty much expected -- no more school this academic year -- it was seen as the other shoe dropping.

No more classes. No sports seasons, not even shortened ones. No chance for seniors to enjoy their last year.

But while local school administrators remain upbeat -- optimistic about the future of education and, by extension, of the students -- there could be something else looming: a financial burden with a good deal more heft than a dropping shoe.

That burden is, for now, a specter. It is, specifically, a potential reduction of state aid. No district yet knows what kind of aid cut it might be facing, thanks to the drain on the state's coffers by the coronavirus pandemic, and because of the uncertainly of what, exactly, the federal government might do to help bail out the state's sinking hull.

Odessa-Montour Superintendent Chris Wood declines to put too heavy a spin on this threat. While laying out plans for various contingencies -- impossible to determine with any confidence, the situation in this country and state changing daily -- Wood points to times in the past when state aid was cut significantly, and yet the district managed to handle it; to adapt.

Part of that is the school staff, he said -- a "great" one "willing to work outside the box." And part of it is the community, which he lauds for its patience in this trying period. And part of it is just attitude. "We're gonna be optimistic," he said. "That's all we can do at this point."

Amid that backdrop, the O-M district and the Watkins Glen district School Boards adopted budgets this past week, not having any idea, really, what to expect from the federal government and the state. They are budgets with big what-ifs built in. And the boards approved them under a new edict: absentee balloting, with a deadline of June 9.

The Watkins Glen board approved a proposed budget Monday night totaling $26,478,877, representing a 0% increase in expenditures and a $0 increase in spending over the current year's spending plan.

"With the proposed budget," the district reports, "the tax levy would increase by the amount of $150,000 or 1.59%, which is below the maximum allowable limit by $192,669. The maximum would have been a 3.63% or $342,669 increase over prior year."

The O-M School Board, meanwhile, approved a spending plan Thursday night of $16,904,975 -- with a reduction of $400,000 in spending and with a good deal of discussion about the feared changes that might be wrought if the state aid reduction comes in at a significant level.

Once a budget is passed, it can't be increased -- only decreased. That leaves plenty to the imagination if a significant aid drop should occur. It is an unknown that gives pause, ranging in possibility from what O-M Board President Rob Halpin said was "anywhere from something we can deal with to something catastrophic."

About that vote:

Watkins Glen Superintendent Greg Kelahan voiced frustration at the order from the state that the public polling on the budget be done by write-in ballots -- creating a situation where the district (any district in the state, really) has to try and figure out who exactly, is out there with a potential vote. Anyone 18 and over residing in the district for 30 days can cast a ballot.

The vote is normally accomplished with legal notices and pamphlets sent out to known voters. But potential voters in the entirety are an oft-changing group for which no compenshesive list exists. This time, the state thinks, everyone out there who might vote should have a paper ballot that they can send back -- postage paid by the district.

"What was the governor thinking?" Kelahan asked. "We have to find everybody who votes. How am I going to do that?"

O-M Superintendent Chris Wood told the School Board Thursday that this new wrinkle poses a significant challenge. There might be one or two people in a household or apartment that the district is aware of, he said, but there could be two or three others they don't know about. And there are others it can not discover as easily -- folks new to the district, newly come of age, or never having voted.

O-M Board Clerk Mary Crippen said the district has a starting point with lists of past voters, but no lists of previous non-voters. "It's difficult," she said. "We're going to miss people."

And, it was noted at the O-M board meeting in passing, the new ballot process adds expense to the budget in the form of printing costs and mailings.

But Wood said it was just one of many challenges facing his administration. "It's one of those fun things we're going to be tackling," he told the School Board. "We'll do our best to get everyone the ballot," including posting notices urging anyone they missed to contact the district office.

The total number of potential votes our there? "Three to five thousand," Wood said -- a wide range reflective of the new, confusing reality.

Potential fallout

Maybe the federal government will come through and provide a life preserver of funding for New York State. Maybe, then, the state aid shortfall won't be extreme. But so many things have gone so wrong in so short a time, it's easy to imagine dire consequences.

For instance, if there were a significant aid decrease, what would get cut from the budget? That would spark immediate discussion, said Wood, who indicated non-mandated courses would be likely targets, as well as athletics. "Yeah," he added, "we may be not allowed to have fall sports" if the financial picture darkens.

But it all hinges on that aid, which Wood said he understands -- through conversations with other officials -- might be coming in late June.

To which Halpin replied, with no disrespect to those officials: "I have a difficult time feeling comfortable about that."

The bottom line, said Board member Karen Rock, is this: "We have no way of knowing anything until we get a number" on state aid.

"Right," Wood answered.

Budget vote

A whole different concern is passage itself of the budgets. While such plans have passed with regularity in recent years, what will a public hurting economically think of school spending plans? Will hard times translate into negative votes?

As Wood said to the School Board: "There is a lot of negativity out there right now," especially in the realm of social media. But at the same time he commended the public and the students for "their patience" in these trying times.

He said at a meeting Friday morning of his administration team that a budget defeat would lead to either an austerity budget that would trim certain preferred items from the spending plan, or to a second vote. That latter might be especially difficult to conclude by the end of the fiscal year, June 30, given the need to get printed ballots out again into the hands of the potential voters in the period from June 9 to the end of the month.

Graduation

One possibility that is developing is a graduation that is both physical and live-streaming in nature. As Wood outlined it to the O-M Board, the school's 52 graduates would -- if one potential plan comes together with the aid of health and law enforcement officials -- gather on O-M's Charles Martin Field, in front of vacant grandstands, the students spaced six feet apart. They would, one by one, walk along the track with their parents, in front of fellow graduates and the empty bleachers. The event would live stream for viewing by friends and relatives.

The achievements of each graduate would be enumerated on the PA system, and a diploma dispensed -- a photographer recording it for posterity. Possibly, Wood has indicated, trophies and other hardware earned by a graduate could be placed in a box for him or her to pick up.

Afterward, apparently, comes some icing. Watkins Glen International has invited the graduates to the racetrack, with students driving (behind a pace car) around the track two or three times. Then they would pose in a grandstand -- socially distant from one another -- for a group class photo.

The O-M board offered no objection to the WGI plan, which Wood said he would be finalizing the next day. Watkins' Superintendent Kelahan said his district was finalizing similar plans with WGI while also looking at various graduation ceremony "scenarios, both virtual and live."

Plus:

1. O-M administrators, at their Friday morning meeting, echoed Assemblyman Phil Palmesano's misgivings (see Palmesano) about Governor Cuomo's idea to "reimagine" state education to make it more remote than face-to-face.

Nothing, they said, can replace teacher to student education, live in a brick-and-mortar setting. There have been benefits from remote education -- and those can be incorporated into future teaching, they said. One possible benefit, suggested one with a smile: the elimination of snow days. Students could instead spend those days learning remotely from home.

2. Administrator Veronica Lewis and a grant writer obtained a $6,000 grant from the Community Foundation to obtain goods needed by district families who have lost their jobs or had their lives otherwise disrupted by the pandemic.

Forty families were contacted; twenty eight responded, and Lewis and a group of teachers shopped for them and arranged pickup of the goods by the families at the Odessa-Montour and B.C. Cate campuses.

3. The lights at Charles Martin Field behind the O-M school were turned on in the dusk Friday night from 8:00 to 8:20 p.m. in honor of the school's seniors -- the 20 minutes representing 2020 as part of a "Be The Light" campaign. The scoreboard was also lit, with a 20-minute countdown and the score knotted at 20-20. Watkins Glen was expected to follow suit on the weekend.

4. The O-M district was still mulling ways to present year-end and graduation awards to students, as well as how it might proceed with athletic honors. Wood said the media would be sent lists of the various honorees.

5. Superintendent Wood, in this difficult time, pointed to four positives through it all:

"How great the community has been."
"The parents and kids have been fantastic."
"The teachers have risen to the challenge."
"It's good to see we all have each other's back."

Photos in text:

Top four: O-M administration team members on hand for a Friday meeting included, from top: Superintendent Chris Wood; Hanlon Elementary Principal Rob Francischelli; Director of Special Programs and Curriculum Veronica Lewis, and Assistant Director of Facilities Kelly Cain.

Bottom two: Goods purchased for families through a Community Foundation grant; and the scoreboard on Charles Martin Field, lit for 20 minutes Friday night in honor of the O-M senior class.

The lights at O-M's Charles Martin Field were turned on for 20 minutes Friday night in honor of the graduating Class of 2020.

 

© The Odessa File 2021
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869

E-mail chaef@aol.com