Summer online learning to begin

Questar III’s summer online high school credit recovery courses will begin on July 6. In the face of increased requirements, limited resources, and scheduling conflicts, online learning is a cost-efficient and effective way for school districts to help their students get on track for graduation. Course content is provided by Apex Learning, and courses are taught by New York State-certified teachers employed by Questar III.

Questar III offers credit recovery in English 9, 10, 11, and 12, Economics, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Earth Science, Biology, Global 9 and 10, U.S. History, American Government, Spanish I, Spanish II, Health, and Physical Education. Many of these are courses that are necessary to meet graduation requirements.

Students who enroll in online courses should be self-motivated and possess good time-management and organizational skills. Many schools offer an opportunity for students to do their online work during assigned times in a school building so that they can stay focused and have access to extra help.

Jeff Elliott, Questar III’s specialist for distance learning, says the courses are great for students and districts. “School districts find our online learning summer school program of benefit since it provides them with an opportunity to offer their students the ability to recover course credit during the summer, even when they don’t offer summer school locally,” he says. “Students enjoy the flexibility to login and study their coursework at any time of the day or night and complete the assignments and assessments at a faster pace if they choose.”

Chatham High School guidance counselor Jim Lombardi echoed Elliott’s sentiments, saying, “Questar III’s online summer credit recovery courses have allowed students who were either reluctant or unable to attend a traditional summer school the ability to stay current with their credits.”

Students work with their guidance counselors to enroll in the courses after filling out a student registration form and a student contract for online learning. The student contract confirms that students are committed to academic integrity and success and appropriate online behavior. Enrollment is rolling, so students can contact their guidance counselors if they are interested in enrolling in online courses this summer.

In addition to Questar III’s summer credit recovery courses, the Distance Learning department offers a number of credit accrual courses during the school year, including financial literacy, reading skills and strategies, sociology, and more. To find out how your district can sign up for Questar III’s online learning programs, contact Jeff Elliot at (518) 479-6981 or JElliott@questar.org.

2015 Adult Education graduation

AdEdGrad1Cheers and clapping filled the auditorium at Ichabod Crane High School as 28 adults received their high school equivalency diploma June 16.

Questar III District Superintendent Dr.  Gladys I. Cruz and Director of Strategic Initiatives Jim Church spoke the graduates and congratulated them on their achievement. Several graduates also spoke at the ceremony.

English for Speakers of Other Languages student Zinnie Benschop said during his remarks that while learning English, he now understands several phrases that aren’t quite what they seem.

“Now I know when someone says ‘come again’, I don’t have to leave. Just say it again,” Benschop said.

There was an audible “aww” from the audience when Kari Baird came off stage after her speech and her son ran up to her and gave her a hug and a kiss.

The High School Equivalency (HSE) diploma is available for anyone aged 19 or above without a high school diploma. Statistics from the New York State Education Department show unemployment rates are about four percent lower for individuals with a high school diploma or HSE, and salaries are on average about $10,000 higher per year than individuals without a high school diploma or HSE.

Congratulations to all the graduates!

For more information from NYSED about the HSE process, visit this link.
To see photos from graduation, visit our Facebook page.

Students get unique view of history

Photos from Samsung 931Students at Questar III’s George Washington School had the opportunity in late May to hear from two archaeologists from the New York State Museum. Laura Fitzpatrick, a teacher at the school, thought of the large exhibits at the museum during a Social Studies unit on the early Native Americans of the state.

Fitzpatrick contacted the museum and was put in touch with archaeologist Barry Dale. She explained the unit the students were working on and asked about the outreach services the museum offered.

“They were eager to work with me to create a presentation appropriate for my students,” Fitzpatrick said. Her students were learning how early Native Americans relied on natural resources to survive, and how finding artifacts helps tell the story about how they lived.

Dale brought artifacts collected from all over the state, including some that were 8,000 years old, Photos from Samsung 910to the school on May 28. Classes took turns coming to the library for a brief presentation from Dale. Fitzpatrick said the students were eager to ask questions and find out more about what archaeologists do.

Students received posters to take home about the way artifacts are excavated and a timeline of artifacts the museum has found.

“This was a great opportunity for our students who may not have the opportunity to go to the New York State Museum, and Barry was very accommodating to our students and their needs,” said Fitzpatrick.

Second year for science fellowship


Twelve science teachers in the Capital District will be participating in Questar III’s Summer Science Research Program this summer. This selective fellowship offers science teachers the opportunity to work in a science lab for two summers, four days a week, alongside a professional scientist or researcher.

Currently in its second year, the fellowship also provides professional development and an opportunity to collaborate with the group on lesson plans and science activities one day per week. Speakers from all over the region come to speak to the fellows about an array of topics. The program also allows teachers to attend seminars and give presentations throughout the academic year. Participants receive a stipend, as well as funding for classroom equipment.

Science Fellows_sean-higgins-3

Sean Higgins, first-year fellow, assists a student with an in-class science activity.

Fellows are placed in a variety of locations for their internships, including but not limited to the University at Albany’s Cancer Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Wadsworth State Health Labs, Momentive, Albany College of Pharmacy, and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. The summer culminates with each fellow presenting their work to the entire group; administrators from the fellows’ schools are also invited to the presentations.

The institute is modeled after a program started at Columbia University in 1990 by Dr. Samuel Silverstein, the John C. Dalton Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics and Professor of Medicine at Columbia University. The program increased student achievement and improvement in meeting NYS graduation requirements. After the Columbia program’s success, Silverstein collaborated with Questar III to help establish the program upstate.

Questar III Senior Science Specialist Jane King says that the program gives teachers the hands-on experience they need to know how to do science research, resulting in new and improved lessons in the classroom.

Science teacher Nichole Mantas at Lansingburgh CSD was placed in the Royzen lab at the University at Albany last year, working with organic chemists. “It truly teaches you how to actively think. We want our students to act and work like scientists, historians, mathematicians, poets, and engineers, but as teachers, once we leave college, how often do we get that opportunity? In research, you’re pulled out of your comfort zone to once again think like a scientist because you are a scientist,” she said.

Maple Hill teacher Nathan Porter was placed in the College of Nanoscience and Engineering last year. “I see more confidence in my students,” he said of the experience. “I think going through the program has given me a better idea of how to scaffold the process with them—where they need to start and where the need to be in the end.”

He says that now, instead of offering his students step-by-step instructions for a lab activity, he builds “one-sentence labs” that encourage students to navigate their way using the scientific method.

Cairo-Durham teacher Sean Higgins is looking forward to his first year with the program. “It will give me more real-world experience, more information that I can bring back to my students,” said Higgins. “Plus it’s nice that they provide funding for equipment so that I can do some of these labs and experiments in the classroom.”

Students gather for PR/HYLI Reunion

PRHYLI Reunion-19On Tuesday, April 28th, student delegates from the Capital District gathered at Questar III BOCES for their Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PR/HYLI) reunion. During the reunion, elected officials, student delegates, parents, and trainers shared their experiences regarding the PR/HYLI local trainings and weekend Institute activities.

Assemblymembers Crespo and Moya speak to Capital Region PRHYLI students

Assemblymembers Crespo and Moya speak to Capital Region PRHYLI students

Hon. Marcos Crespo, Chair of the NYS Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force and Hon. Francisco Moya, Executive Member of the NYS Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican & Hispanic Task Force attended the reunion event.  Both Assemblymembers shared their personal stories about their early involvement in politics. Their stories further encouraged students to become active members in their Hispanic/Latino communities. They also answered questions from students about becoming an active participant in government at a young age.

Among the many topics discussed during the 2015 PR/HYLI reunion, Trainers Theresa Longhi, Ruth Nova De Los Santos, Danny Ramirez, and Yesenia Valle, explained the student selection process for the PR/HYLI weekend. The Capital District Delegation selected 12 students to attend the 2015 PR/HYLI. Eight of the selected students were seniors and six of those seniors were awarded scholarships during the 2015 PR/HYLI Student Delegate Recognition Dinner.  The scholarships were awarded as follows:

$2,000:
Jonathan J. Adorno- Amsterdam High School
Alexandra Betancourt-Pérez- Niskayuna High School

$1,500:
Maia Loi- Shenendehowa High School East

$1,000:
Mario E. Vásquez- Maple Hill High School

$700:
Sabrina Medina- Rensselaer Junior Senior High School
Catherine Wislous- Colonie Central High School

The $7,900 awarded to the Capital District Delegation was just a portion of the $37,960.00 in total scholarships awarded by SOMOS, Inc. at the 2015 PR/HYLI Student Delegate Recognition Dinner.

Board appoints Cruz as new DS

Robert Gibson and Gladys Cruz

Robert Gibson and Gladys Cruz

The Questar III Board of Education appointed Dr. Gladys I. Cruz as district superintendent at its April 16th meeting. Effective May 1, 2015, Cruz will serve a dual leadership role – acting as both a field representative of the commissioner of education and chief executive officer of the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).

“Gladys Cruz is a highly respected and experienced school leader,” said Questar III Board President Robert Gibson. “The board was unanimous in its conviction that Gladys has demonstrated the ability to lead and work cooperatively across our region and beyond – and we are very excited to appoint her as our next district superintendent. Her prior experiences with our organization will enable Gladys to move Questar III forward in providing even stronger support and opportunities for the education of our children and the school districts that we serve.”

Cruz is well-known across the region and state. Over a 30-year span, she has established a distinguished career as a teacher and education leader. Since joining Questar III in 1998, Cruz has served in a number of leadership positions including chief operating officer/deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, director of school improvement and BETAC specialist. During her tenure she has expanded Questar III’s School Improvement services, initiatives and relationships with staff development networks and the New York State Education Department.

Cruz began her career as a teacher in Puerto Rico and her education experience ranges from K-12 schools to universities in New York State and Puerto Rico. In addition, she worked briefly as director of curriculum services for the New York State Education Department.

She holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction and a master’s degree in curriculum development and instructional technology from the State University of New York at Albany. In addition, she holds a master’s degree in bilingual education and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and English from La Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico.

Cruz said she looks forward to continuing her work in support of local students and school districts. “I am honored to accept this extraordinary opportunity to lead such a collaborative, innovative and responsive organization. Moving forward, we will continue to put a focus on student needs, collaboration and high-quality programs and services,” said Cruz.

Cruz’s three-year contract provides a total annual salary of $166,762, which is equal to the salary cap set by law for all BOCES district superintendents in New York State.

Questar III earns safety award

Questar III is one of 131 Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and school districts in New York State to receive the Utica National Insurance Group’s “School Safety Excellence Award” for 2015.

Utica National officials presented the award to Questar III BOCES at its 35th annual school safety seminar in Saratoga Springs, NY. This is the seventh consecutive year that Questar III has been honored. Questar III received a certificate from the insurance company to commemorate the organization’s safety efforts.

Questar III’s Health and Safety Service provides safety and security audits, program development, training and consultation to assist school districts in compliance with a number of state and federal mandates, including emergency management planning, blood-borne pathogens, hazard communication, personal protective equipment, lockout/tagout, indoor air quality investigation, pest management and playground inspections. The service also provides on-site consultation, emergency notification communication and AED/CPR/First Aid training.

Utica National’s School Safety Excellence Award Program helps participating schools and BOCES enhance their overall safety through measurable assessment. The program evaluates school districts and BOCES on several categories, from playground safety to indoor air quality, with specific, quantifiable data-gathering surveys.

“Safety and health concerns continue to be a priority in our school districts,” Utica National Regional Manager Mark Aquino said. “Districts that go ‘above and beyond’ to provide a safe, healthy and focused culture for learning are to be applauded, and we’re pleased to count Questar III BOCES among them.”

Aquino also noted that an added benefit of following the safety program is the chance to pinpoint specific threats to safety.

Germantown advances to world finals

Students from Germantown Elementary School advanced to the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. The Division I winning team for the “Pandora’s Box” problem tied for second place at the State Finals Saturday at Binghamton University.

The Div. I team from Germantown CSD tied for second place at the State Finals and will advance to the World Finals in May at Michigan State University.

The Div. I team from Germantown CSD tied for second place at the State Finals and will advance to the World Finals in May at Michigan State University.

Germantown was one of 18 teams from Region 4 (Rensselaer, Columbia, and Greene Counties) to advance to the state finals after the regional competition March 7 at Algonquin Middle School in Averill Park, sponsored by Questar III. The world finals will be held May 20-23 at Michigan State University.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international problem solving competition for students in grades K-12. Students are judged on their ability to use creativity and teamwork to solve a pre-selected problem. Teams from Ichabod Crane, Wynantskill, Brunswick, Troy, Hoosic Valley, Coxsackie-Athens, and Rensselaer School Districts also advanced to the state finals.

At least one team from Rensselaer, Columbia, or Greene County has advanced to the World Finals every year since 2007, including 13 in the past five years alone, with four advancing in 2013, and three in 2014.

For a full list of results from the state finals, head to scores.nysoma.org

How the RBERN supports districts

Over the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in the number of English Language Learners (ELLs) enrolled in public schools in New York State. In response to this increasing need to provide quality education to all students, the Board of Regents made significant changes to Commissioner Regulations Part 154 in September 2014, changing the legal requirements to educating ELLs. The Capital District Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network (RBERN) – based at Questar III BOCES – helps school districts, students and their families navigate these changes and other challenges facing ELLs.

The Capital District RBERN is one of eight in New York State that provides services to districts who have or who will have ELLs enrolled. The RBERN helps educators provide culturally responsive instruction while adhering to state regulations. It also works directly with parents, and students through the Puerto Rican Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (PRHYLI), which is also coordinated by Questar III.

“With the changing demographics comes an increased need for support to provide every child with a quality education beginning at an early age,” said Gladys Cruz, Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Superintendent at Questar III BOCES. “Through the RBERN, educators gain a better understanding of educating English Language Learners and as a result students have greater opportunities to be academically successful and prepared for college and careers.”

The RBERN provides professional development opportunities in the form of embedded coaching, and local and regional conferences, some of which feature national speakers. This will become especially useful for districts during the 2015-16 school year when the changes to CR-154 take effect. Fifteen percent of the required professional development for all teachers will be specific to educating ELLs. Fifty percent of the professional development Bilingual Education and English as a Second Language Language/ESL teachers must be specific to educating ELLs.

Hudson CSD Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino said her district utilizes the services of RBERN through embedded coaching as well as professional development for groups during Superintendents’ Conference Days and their summer institute. Teachers also reach out to the RBERN on their own.

The RBERN serves as a liaison between educators and the New York State Education Department. Since the new regulations were announced, the RBERN has been busy sharing the CR Part 154 changes and providing feedback to SED.

April Mlambi is a 4th grade co-teacher and middle school ESL teacher at South Colonie CSD. She said the RBERN staff are accessible and ready to listen to their needs.

“What’s so wonderful about the RBERN is that they come to us and see our challenges on the ground level,” she said. “They advocate on our behalf and have the ear of those in power in a way that we simply do not.”

The RBERN holds monthly meetings with ESL coordinators as well as focus groups with teachers to provide that feedback to SED. Mlambi said the focus groups allows ESL teachers – who are often isolated in their buildings – to bounce ideas off one another.

“The focus groups have been tremendously helpful in providing a forum to hear other educators’ challenges as well as to disseminate information,” said Mlambi.

In addition, the RBERN is part of the School Improvement Office at Questar III BOCES, home to more than 20 content specialists.

“We are constantly interacting with those content specialists which has afforded us to go beyond what we’re already doing and tap into their knowledge on those subjects,” said RBERN Resource Specialist Xrystya Szyjka. “ELLs take the same assessments as everyone else, so we’re all working on the same standards with the same goals.”

For additional information, visit the RBERN website at rbern.org. You can also sign up for the monthly e-newsletter full of announcements regarding professional development opportunities, SED updates, instructional tips and more.