Massive construction, budget worries, school diversity, the march of technology, sustainability concerns. Being a school superintendent means dealing with a host of issues.
As the new school year ramps up, we caught up with the area’s two Superintendents, Dr. Kathleen Matusiak of the Irvington Union Free School District, and Dr. Howard Smith of the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns, to ask them to gaze into their crystal balls and give us a peek at what lies in store for their respective districts.
Q: What, if any, big changes are occurring in your district this year?
Dr. Kathleen Matusiak: As far as initiatives, we are extending our strategic plans, which have been very instrumental in guiding our initiatives over the last three years. However, we are adding two new objectives to our third goal – which has to do with
promoting citizenship and community among our school population – and those two initiatives have to do with environmental stewardship and global awareness.
Q: What can parents do to help you and the district reach these goals?
Matusiak: I’m going to be sending a letter [home] and explaining how they can be helpful, because environmental stewardship is all of our responsibility if we’re going to protect our earth.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your district this year?
Matusiak: Whenever I think of challenges I think of money. Last year we got hit with a tremendous number of tax certs right before we had to propose the budget, so that was over $4 million. And our fund balance is lower than we would like. Given the tight times that everyone is facing, given the fact that there will be other tax certs, even though I don’t anticipate they will be quite as big, that’s always the worry.
Q: What is one thing that parents would be surprised to learn about the school environment that their children are going into right now?
Matusiak: If it’s an incoming Kindergarten parent, then there will be some surprises as to how the children are learning math as opposed to how [the parents] learned it. It’s a standards-based curriculum, but it’s very conceptual in nature. Even though children do learn multiplication facts and they learn their basic operations, they learn it in a different way.
Q: What place does Technology have in your classrooms?
Matusiak: That’s actually one of our goals in our strategic plan, to ensure the effective integration of technology into instruction. Each year we’ve been able to add different types of technology. We continue to add SmartBoards to classrooms, and we have Mobile Laptop Labs, and this year the Irvington Education Foundation funded a teacher’s proposal to allow us to purchase Clickers – almost like an interactive response system. So for example if she is teaching, let’s say, a concept in science and she wants to have the children use Clickers to respond to whatever questions are being taught out there, [the teacher can] get a quick sense of who understands and who does not.
Q: One last question. Do you have any advice for parents at the start of the school year?
Matusiak: I guess my advice would be directed more toward Junior and Senior parents. I certainly understand sometimes the anxiety of parents when their children are starting the college process, because it’s mind-boggling and things have become so much more competitive and expensive. I guess what I would say is trust the professionals who are working with the students. Get involved yourself, of course, but in my mind, there’s really no need to get a [private] college counselor. Our counselors are top notch. We keep them abreast of all the best practices and information, and they really do a great job. And in the end, the students are going to end up in the right place.