The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for educational institutions in Cayuga County, and officials explained how they handled them and what they plan for the future.
Local education officials provided an update on their operations during a virtual State of Schools event on March 25, available on the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce YouTube channel.
Auburn Enlarged City School District Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo discussed the developments facing the district. The district is aware that there will be assessments for grades 3-8 and regents exams this year, but it is unclear how these will be assessed, such as whether regents will be assessed for credit or s They will be used “more like a local measure to be used by school districts,” Pirozzolo said.
Pirozzolo had a chat with the state’s education commissioner about his concerns about the assessments a few weeks ago, saying, “We’ve never seen chronic absenteeism numbers (this high) we’re seeing that this year.” Chronic absenteeism is defined as an absence of 18 days or more during a school year. Since people quarantined due to COVID-19 had to be quarantined for 10 days, Pirozzolo pointed out that students who were quarantined twice exceeded that number. Sixty percent of students in the district face chronic truancy this year, Pirozzolo said, adding that “that’s a huge number.”
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“The conversation I had with the commissioner was, ‘When we give regents reviews, what do we assess? The kids have been out for two years, we have the highest chronic absenteeism rate we’ve seen in the past 20 years, so what are we really evaluating with those? “, He said. “We are waiting to know a little more about where we will be when the regents exams and the assessments come out.
Pirozzolo said another notable development is a capital project passed by voters in 2019. The projects included secure vestibules for security and updated HVAC systems. The district hopes it can soon hold “grand openings” at Genesee, Casey Park, Herman Avenue and Owasco elementary schools, inviting community members to see the upgrades.
The HVAC systems at Auburn High School and Seward Elementary School will be the focus of attention this summer, he said, adding that the district’s main focus for the following summer will be the Auburn High School and some site work at each of the schools.
Pirozzolo also spoke about additional topics, such as learning gaps and socio-emotional issues that students have faced due to the pandemic. He also spoke about the district hiring additional staff last year to mitigate these impacts. He also discussed foundation assistance — the most basic form of school assistance schools receive — that the district is expected to receive through the state’s continued efforts to fully fund the Foundation Assistance Formula. over a period of three years. The district’s current 2.5% tax levy for the 2022-23 budget could be reduced if it receives additional state funding.
He said Auburn should receive $3.5 million in foundation assistance for the next school year, but since the district argued it had been underfunded for 12 years, “a year to get more money is not going to solve all the problems that we have had, that have surrounded us for the past 12 years.”
Dr. Brian Durant, president of Cayuga Community College, said the college has largely focused on COVID-19 and institutional compliance with the SUNY system and state “as well as doing the right things. things, in the right way”.
Durant said SUNY still requires all CCC students with on-campus obligations to be vaccinated and fortified against COVID-19.
“We anticipate it will continue to be in place for the foreseeable future, and so it’s something different than what other entities, other companies are going through,” he said. “If you want to enroll in Cayuga Community College and be accepted, you’re welcome to attend, but if you want to be on campus, you’ll need to make sure you meet state immunization requirements tied to all SUNY campuses. This is not a decision of Cayuga (or) our administrators alone, it is our responsibility to complain about this particular policy.”
That said, CCC has focused heavily over the past two years on developing more online courses, programs, and services to support distance learning students. He also mentioned that the college does not believe this will change in the future.
“Using technology to support learners is a major part of today’s priorities in education, higher education, especially as we look to the future. We have always been a community college proud of our mission to to be an open-access institution available to citizens of the region to prepare for transfer and work,” Durant said. “What that means now for people, with the flexibilities of online education , to help overcome obstacles and other concerns, is an important part of achieving this particular mission and certainly our vision.”
Durant said the college secured funding and began construction of CCC’s Advanced Manufacturing Institute on the Fulton campus. He mentioned that the college hopes for a grand opening in December, but aims to open the institute in May. Durant also mentioned the culinary program as well as the opening of the Cayuga Culinary Institute in Auburn last July.
CCC was also able to obtain final approval for new programs. Durant said the college opened a new program in social services last fall and the CCC received approval for a transfer program “in the field of music.”
Other updates include securing funding for the construction of a Workforce Development Center in the former Cayuga County Cornell Cooperative Extension building. He said the project is not just about getting a new facility that would be an extension of the CCC campus. This site would house various agencies in the Cayuga County area, and the $3.2 million project is expected to kick off this summer with a goal of opening in 2023. The college is also developing the instruction’s next strategic plan, said Durant said.
Dr. Jonathan Gibralter, president of the Aurora-based private institution, praised Pirozzolo and Durant and spoke about the effects of the pandemic on higher education and the workforce. Although Wells lost several “very talented educators,” Gibralter said, during “The Great Resignation,” in which workers quit their jobs over the past two years, he noted that Wells also hired ” highly qualified and wonderful teachers and professionals to work at our campus.”
Gibraltar also discussed a public letter he sent in May 2020 saying that if students couldn’t return to campus this fall, Wells probably should have closed, which he said was true at the time. .
“It served to do exactly what I hoped. Many of our college friends, private foundations and alumni stepped up and gave more money in a short period of time that had never been given before. in Wells before,” he said. “It allowed us to confidently open our doors in July to a new class of four-year-olds, and we’re doing very well.”
Gibraltar said Wells is in the process of creating five new majors that will be “sent to New York State for approval within the next two months” in hopes of announcing and launching them next year. He also said the college was “closely tied” with Durant and the CCC to combine Wells’ hospitality management program with their culinary arts major and new culinary institute.
Gibraltar cited data showing that students who earn an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree “increase their earning potential by more than $1 million over their lifetime.” He also discussed the importance of encouraging young people to complete their K-12 degrees and go to college for a degree.
“While it might not seem to matter in the moment, in the long run the quality of their life matters a lot,” Gibralter said.
Gibraltar also referred to the water treatment plant that Wells owns, which is used by Aurora College and Village. He said Wells has been able to secure funding in recent years to make improvements to the water supply system, including a $1 million grant from the Northern Boundary Regional Commission last year. He said a federal grant of $160,000 will upgrade the water plant so it never goes offline and has the latest technology. Gibraltar said these renovations will take place over the next two years.
Managing Editor Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.