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Heuvelton aims for regional high schools, has enough money for five years

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HEUVELTON – At the Heuvelton Central School Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, Vice President Dr. John P. Zeh said he is confident new legislation will be enacted at the state level to enable rural schools to form regional high schools.

Dr. Zeh, speaking of a conversation he had with Regent James C. Dawson of the New York State Board of Regents, said, “Within two years 50 percent of the rural districts in New York will be academically insolvent.”

Dr. Zeh added that 25 percent of rural schools will also be fiscally insolvent within that same time period.

“Dawson assured us there will be enabling legislation [for regional high schools],” said Dr. Zeh.

Currently Heuvelton Central School is working with St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, Morristown and Hermon-DeKalb Central Schools to study the potential benefits of a regional high school. Currently under state law no such entity may be created.

Superintendent Susan E. Todd said the conversation is centering on sending high school students from Hermon-DeKalb and Morristown to Heuvelton.

Ms. Todd said in terms of the amount of space Heuvelton Central School has, “our three school districts could combine under our roof.”

Ms. Todd said, in her opinion, a merger with a larger school district, namely Ogdensburg City School, wouldn’t meet the needs of the community.

“I think there’s a sentiment for small, rural schools to work with small, rural schools,” she said.

Ms. Todd said if the regional high school were to become a reality, academic classes in high school would rise to roughly 100 students per grade.

Ms. Todd added that a public forum for the school district regarding a regional high school is in the works, but the Board of Education wants to wait until they know more about the details related to such an undertaking.

In the meantime Ms. Todd said Heuvelton has enough money to continue running at current levels of state aid for the next five years.

“We’re probably one of the schools in the best shape financially,” said Board President Michael J. Davis.

But there is room for academic improvement.

English language arts and math assessments for Heuvelton students in grades three through eight show that, while at least 50 percent of elementary students are proficient in the subjects, achievement levels drop off substantially in grades five and up.

In fourth grade, for example, 60 percent of Heuvelton students are proficient in English language arts compared to 48 percent in fifth grade.

In math, 80 percent of fourth graders are proficient compared to 52 percent in fifth grade and 41 percent in eighth grade. The data was collected from 2011.

Ms. Todd said, “We want to see more than 50 percent of our kids being successful.”

Dr. Zeh said, “Half of the kids are to state standards. That’s not acceptable.”

The Board is looking for ways to improve the scores, including through the cultivation of a school culture that focuses on academic achievement.

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