Members of the Benton Hall Academy Chorus sing a medley of tunes from The Greatest Showman before the regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting on April 10, 2019.

by Dave Warner

Before the board meeting ever got underway, students from Benton Hall Academy performed for parents and administrators in the Benton Hall Academy auditorium, giving them a preview of their upcoming concert.

According to music teacher Emily Rozonkiewiecz “We have third through sixth graders here and these kids rehearse after school one day a week and during recess one or two times a week, giving up a lot of their free time to do this.”

The whole fourth and fifth-grade chorus will be performing in a full concert on May 9th at BHA.

The group of about 35 students sang one medley of songs from the movie The Greatest Showman.

Once the students were finished, board members moved to the library to start the regularly scheduled meeting.

First to speak was Jessica Kelley, a resident of Little Falls and Professor at Herkimer Community College. Kelly’s daughter is a student at Benton Hall Academy and she had spoken at the February meeting about her concerns regarding literacy education.

She said, “Since then I’ve met with Dr. Levatino and Principal Long about the issue. We have come to the conclusion that Beatrice (her daughter) is getting the state minimum that is required in literacy and that she will be taught by a teachers aid for the remainder of the year.”

She went on to say that she had grave concerns about this as an institutional practice.  “I was told that she’s there for 20 minutes a day, which works out to about 60 hours for the year. I was also told about the great opportunities that she has in EBD. That works out to be less than 20 hours a year.”

Kelley looked up the City’s results on the state placement tests and found out that “We are way below average on level four placement.”

She felt that the school board needed to make a policy where all students have the same quality of educator for the same number of minutes per day. She also felt that adding EBD was good, but not at the cost of losing the librarian.

“That’s concerning when we look at our literacy scores. Librarians are leaders in literacy education,” stated Kelley.

The discussion then turned to the possible grant that Little Falls may be receiving.

Robin Robinson, Administrator of Initiatives & Grants, gave a presentation to the board regarding some details about the grant.

The program is an early intervention type, where skilled individuals, called Family School Navigators, go into the homes of pre-schoolers, working to discover problems and find solutions for them before those problems affect the child’s performance in school.

Robin Robinson said “The program first started in Dolgeville. This person was able to go into the home and knock down the barriers for the kids and the parents. That’s where it started.”

“We (United Way) decided we were going to invest in the 0-4 population. We helped fund the Family School Navigator as we call them. We now have them in Dolgeville, CVA, Rome, BDS, Holland Patent, Remsen and the Town of Webb,” she said.

“Families in those communities are now reaching out to the Family Navigators to engage with the school. All good stuff,” stated Robinson.

Robinson continued “We are looking to go into four new schools. We took their stats from them and did our homework. They would be Little Falls, Herkimer, Adirondack, and Camden.”

“The grant pays for what they identify as a case manager at no cost to the school district.  This case manager is essentially a liaison between the school district, communities, and birth to pre-k children,” said Dr. Levatino.

“They look at our makeup and culture and the needs of these students and this case manager works with these students, teachers, and faculty. They will go to the homes and know how to support them in every way possible. If the child does not have a proper bedroom, they’ll work on that. If it’s about social skills or weakness in an academic area, mental health, or if the mother or father doesn’t have a job, they’ll make those types of connections,” he said.

All the school district had to do was write a letter of request for the grant, which has been accomplished. “There is no cost to the district. We do believe that this is highly needed,” Dr. Levatino said. “It’s approximately $37,000 a year plus benefits.”

The district should find out if they have the 3-5 year grant in June of this year.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for May 8, 2019, at 6 pm, in the Benton Hall Academy Library.