Nyack School District Superintendent is ‘Building Bridges’ for Today’s Students to Cross into Tomorrow’s World

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BY BARRY WARNER 

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Superintendent Dr. James J. Montesano

The Nyack Public School District, according to Superintendent Dr. James J. Montesano, serves a diverse population and sees supporting instructional shifts in the classroom as the essential element to ensuring students are prepared for today’s highly competitive global world.

Students need to demonstrate their ability to think critically; communicate effectively; analyze data quantitatively and abstractly; be adaptable, be innovative and creative and take a risk now to “venture outside the lines.” Through a problem-based curriculum, students are grappling with problem-solving every day, building a grit and growth mindset.

Montesano says his district is supporting teachers in becoming ‘bridge-builders’ for student-centered classrooms, shifting the culture of instruction. “In these classrooms, teachers are strategic facilitators, pulling up a chair with individual students and small groups to challenge and support diverse learners, building their critical thinking skills,” he said.

The Rockland County Times interviewed Dr. Montesano about the implementation of the 2014 Board Referendum; Waldron Community Center; The Proposed 2016-2017 School Budget; The New Logo; Changes in the K-12 Social Studies Curriculum; STEMscopes NGSS; Project Lead The Way (PLTW) K-5 Launch; PLTW Gateway 6-8; PLTW 9-12 Engineering; PLTW 9-12 Biomedical Science; The Guidance Program and Inspire Nyack.

The 2014 Board Referendum funded a synthetic turf on the high school athletic field. Many high school teams often played or practiced on fields away from the area. It brought all the team sports to one place, making it a lot easier to provide for safety of the athletes.

It also opened up opportunities for the town recreational programs to use the fields. The practice field at the old high school will be used for the modified sports programs.  Funding replaced an outdated fire alarm system, upgraded boilers windows and roofs plus made improvements to technology programs and school security.

To optimize learning opportunities to a diverse population of students, services were brought to the Waldron Community Center for academic support that included help with the SAT, bilingual sessions, importance of attendance, English, Language Arts, homework help, computer access plus social and emotional development exercises.

The Proposed 2016-2017 Budget, if approved, maintains class sizes throughout all the schools and supports new initiatives including Aerospace Engineering, Advanced Music Technology, Biomedical Engineering, Financial Literacy and CPR training for all students.

The New Logo contains the phrase, ‘Building Bridges’ for today’s students to cross into tomorrow’s world with equity, innovation and optimism. Surrounding the bridge graphic are the 7 Cs of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, content mastery, communication, compassion and cultural awareness.

The K-12 Social Studies Curriculum is shifting toward an inquiry model using 21st century skills. Shift # 1 moves from facts to concepts and content knowledge; from breadth of topics to depth within topics and from recall to transfer and connections. Shift # 2 from teacher as disseminator to teacher as facilitator of investigations; from students learning facts from textbooks to investigating social sciences using multiple sources; from students retelling interpretations to students reconstructing interpretations and reconstructing conclusions. Shift #3 from textbook-focused instruction to students learning to read, discuss and write like social scientists and from students learning content knowledge to students integrating and applying concepts, skills and content knowledge.

STEMscopes NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) is a comprehensive online K-12 curriculum that helps students master the NGSS through scientific investigations, engineering challenges and content- connection videos to explore science concepts in the real world.

PLTW K-5 Launch leverages innovative, project-based basis that fosters collaboration and builds critical thinking skills. For instance, in the science of flight module which is aligned the third-grade standards, students learn about the forces involved in flight as well as Newton’s Laws of Motion. They design, build and test an experimental model glider to find out how air and other forces affect its flight.

PLTW 6-8 Gateway encourages middle school students to engage their natural curiosity and imagination through creative problem solving through topics like coding and robotics, flight and space plus DNA and crime scene analysis. In the unit on Automation and Robotics, students learn about mechanical systems, energy transfer, machine automation and computer control systems. Students then use a robotics platform to design, build and program real-world objects such as traffic lights, toll booths and robotic arms.

PLTW 9-12 Engineering has students engaged in investigating topics such as sustainability, mechatronics, forces, structures aerodynamics and circuit design which gives them the opportunity to learn about different engineering disciplines before beginning post-secondary education or careers. For instance, in the Introduction to Engineering Design  course, students work individually and in teams to design solutions to a variety of problems using 3D modeling software and use an engineering notebook to document their work.

PLTW Biomedical Science is a four-course sequence that allows students to investigate the roles of the biomedical professionals as they study the concepts of human medicine, physiology, genetics, microbiology and public health. They examine the structures and interactions of human body systems and explore the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

In a Guidance Program Review, the District conducted a review of guidance services offered to students in grades 7-12. It included interviews with staff, small group parent and student forums in the Middle and High School levels and parent and student surveys, grades 7-12. Recommendations included establishing a position for a full-time Director of Guidance, K-12; guidance counselor staffing changes; developing a K-12 guidance curriculum based on student skill acquisition leading them through critical processes such as transitions between schools; creating a communication plan to assist all staff, students and families to be well-informed and to evaluate the college planning process.

The Foundation to Inspire Excellence in Nyack Schools, Inc. helps to develop, implement and maintain educational excellence in the Nyack Public School System. At a community event held in March, 2016, $33,000 was raised to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related educational programs, such as a Mac computer lab at the Nyack Middle School. Other initiatives of the Inspire Nyack Foundation include contributions to robotics, science assemblies, science fairs plus teacher grants.

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