Schools attend CTE summit

On November 18, more than 85 superintendents, high school principals, school counselors, business leaders and BOCES staff attended the sixth annual Career and Technical Education (CTE) alignment meeting hosted by Questar III BOCES.

The group met at Questar III’s Conference Center in Castleton to design meaningful grade 9-12 career pathway for students in four diverse career areas including:

  1. Alternative Energy
  2. Health Occupations
  3. Media Communication
  4. Engineering

During the meeting, attendees broke into four smaller groups for facilitated discussions focusing on one career area. The conversations identified how to better prepare students to be successful, and what district counselors and teachers needed to do to develop and implement the pathway for students.

CTESummit-002Questar III Assistant Superintendent Andy DeFeo said this annual meeting has been used effectively to implement changes in CTE programs that allow the BOCES and school districts better serve student needs.

“We have worked hard and you are the driving force behind our programs. Proof that pathways work is seen in increased student attendance, retention, and technical endorsements. The challenge is providing articulated and aligned experiences for students so they are college ready,” said DeFeo.

Questar III Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Superintendent Gladys Cruz provided an update on the NYS Board of Regents plan to provide multiple pathways to increase graduation rates and college and career readiness.

The new plan provides for a “4+1″ graduation option through which students can take four Regents exams (ELA, math, science and social studies) and select a comparably rigorous exam in one of the following areas: career and technical education; science, technology; engineering and mathematics (STEM); the arts; bi-literacy or the humanities. Currently, students must take five Regents exams to graduate, including two social studies exams. Under the plan, students could replace one of these social studies exams with an SED-approved assessment.

Cruz said the plan would enhance BOCES Aid and expand access to P-TECH Schools.

Questar III Career Development Specialist Ted Hennessy also provided a statistical breakdown by school district of graduate success.

For more information please visit Each program has a fact sheet listing high school and college credit available, curriculum and materials used, courses recommended to take before enrollment, and a video.

QIII students honor veterans

Questar III’s Rensselaer Educational Center (REC) in Troy and Columbia-Greene Educational Center (CGEC) in Hudson each hosted their 11th annual Veterans Day Luncheon to celebrate and honor our local veterans for their service to our country.

In Photo: Greene County American Legion Members Tony Manno, World War II Veteran and Greene County Commander Tim Burch, Viet-Nam Veteran both of Catskill Post # 110  with Questar III Students.

In Photo: Greene County American Legion Members Tony Manno, World War II Veteran and Greene County Commander Tim Burch, Viet-Nam Veteran both of Catskill Post # 110 with Questar III Students.

Area veterans, along with a guest, were invited to the complimentary lunch, held at both the Hudson and Troy locations. Veterans were served by the Culinary Arts and Introduction to Food services students.

REC Principal Anthony Defazio thanked the veterans for their service before the meal was served. “I would like to start by saying how honored we are to serve each and every one of you. It is one of our favorite events and it brings a lot of joy to the building,” he said.

Greene County Commander Tim Burch, Viet-Nam Veteran of Catskill Post # 110 attended the luncheon at CGEC and said, “Questar III students were a breath of fresh air displaying exemplary self-confidence and hospitality to all veterans who attended this celebrated event. The highlight was talking with the students who possessed positive attitudes and reverence towards the veterans.”

CGEC Principal Heather Lansing adds, “The students and staff are all involved in this event, as our way of saying thank you and expressing our gratitude to our local veterans.”

Grad follows pathway to employment

Allan McNeil reported to his new job with CommutAir for training in September, just weeks after receiving his certification in Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) from Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC).

McNeil, a 2013 graduate of Averill Park High School, completed the two-year Aviation Maintenance program at Questar III’s Rensselaer Educational Center (REC) in Troy. A considerable amount of the course material covered in McNeil’s first semester at MVCC was a review of what he had studied in the Aviation Maintenance program at REC.

McNeil had originally registered for the Automotive Technologies program at REC, but decided to switch after attending an information session for the Aviation Maintenance program, which was new at that time.

Allan McNeil on the right.

Allan McNeil on the right.

“Learning about planes, being around them, the reason they fly, is very cool, and not many people get to see that side of aviation. I would 100 percent recommend the program at REC to other students. It gave me an idea of what I wanted to do, and kept me interested to learn,” said McNeil.

In addition to his new job, McNeil is taking classes at Hudson Valley Community College to complete his Associate’s Degree in Applied Science. He said he would like to eventually attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida to complete a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics.

According to Boeing, the commercial aviation industry will require 584,000 maintenance personnel over the next 20 years to accommodate the demand for new and replacement aircraft. Technicians work for a variety of employers, including major airlines, aerospace manufacturing, aircraft MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) companies, military and the Federal Aviation Administration.

For more information on the Aviation Maintenance program at the Rensselaer Educational Center.

QIII launches tablet pilot program

Questar III student Virgil Wellington is using an iPad to complete an assignment at Sackett Educational Center.

Questar III student Virgil Wellington is using an iPad to complete an assignment at Sackett Educational Center.

More and more you’ll see it. Doctors, mechanics, pilots and others are switching from the old pad and paper to a more sophisticated tool: the tablet computer. Not only is the tablet computer useful for software and applications specific to those professions, it is proving to be useful in an academic environment as well.

This year Questar III BOCES, along with Schodack CSD, Coxsackie-Athens CSD and Open Room, a division of Classbook, a Schodack-based company that provides advisory services nationwide to help K-12 schools in building lasting digital ecosystems, has implemented a tablet pilot program with select student populations to test this theory in a classroom setting. Teachers are already reporting increased student engagement and organization, and students are excited to come to school.

A collaborative approach

Questar III and OpenRoom collaboratively supported and launched a 1:1 iPad pilot program at Schodack CSD during the 2013-14 school year for at-risk freshmen and sophomores. During that time, teachers, students and parents reported seeing a remarkable improvement in the students’ behavior.  Students using the iPad actually received an average six points higher on their final exams than students not participating in the pilot program, according to Schodack CSD Superintendent Bob Horan.

The district purchased the iPads through funding sources at Questar III and donations through ClassBook., Questar III provided support for implementation through a contract with the South Kent School in Connecticut, facilitated by ClassBook. South Kent School has been a ClassBook client for 9 years and spent the last 3 years immersed in an entirely digital environment.

“We’re seeing success across the board with increased academic performance and attendance,” said Horan. “Students are much more organized than before and those students who weren’t excited about school now are.”

Given the success in Schodack, Questar III has implemented its own pilot program at its Sackett Educational Center, a high school for students with special needs, and in two Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs: Criminal Justice and Aviation. Schodack CSD and Coxsackie-Athens CSD also participate in the program, utilizing the training offered by Questar III, and the advisors from Open Room, The two districts also purchased their tablets through Questar III. Schodack opted for the Lenovo ThinkPad this time around for comparison purposes.

“The [OpenRoom] advisors have really helped us clarify our vision for this and got us thinking about professional development and capacity,” said Coxsackie-Athens CSD Superintendent Randy Squire. “They’ve helped us look for solutions to expand our digital system and clarify our vision.”

Over the summer, Schodack CSD teachers as well as Questar III Model Schools Coordinator Carolyn Strauch provided training to teachers so that on day one of school students were ready to receive their devices and teachers knew how to incorporate them into their lessons. Questar III will continue to provide training and support throughout the program as needed.

A digital tool with benefits

Students use the tablets in a multitude of ways. They use apps like Notability to take notes and Google Drive to submit assignments to their teacher, all without a single sheet of paper. Textbooks are never forgotten at home because everything is loaded onto the tablet, and with apps like Kindle, students can highlight text and look up words with ease.

In addition, the devices allow students and teachers to communicate in real time outside of regular school hours. They can email or use chat features, even utilize video conferencing. According to Questar III Criminal Justice teacher Amy Gillettt, this has been highly beneficial.

“My kids and I communicate regularly outside of class thanks to the iPad. If they have a quick question about their homework they can reach me and I can answer them within 10 seconds. There’s no more of this ‘well, I didn’t know what to do, so I just didn’t do it.’ Just the ability to do that has been huge,” said Gillett.

The iPad also allows Questar III students to organize their materials in a coherent fashion, eliminating lost assignments and materials due to bulky binders and backpacks.

At Sackett Educational Center, teachers are reporting increased organization and engagement. Erin Madigan said the iPads have made it easier to keep students on track and their work has been spot on.

“Kids aren’t scared to try new things on the iPad because they see it as cool and fun, which may psychologically relieve some of their anxiety,” said Madigan.  “They’re having fun doing things like note annotation and they’re doing it naturally.”

Students who’ve avoided work in the past are now excited to do school work on their iPads.

“It is much easier to do work. I can keep track of things and I’m able to get all of my work done,” said student Dillon Lilley. “I like to come to school and use the iPad.”

Preparation for college and careers

The tablets are helping to prepare students for day-to-day tasks required of them in college and in careers. In the CTE classes, Questar III students are using applications specific to their field. All students get the advantage of knowing how to use the technology widely used in higher education and in the workplace.

Questar III Assistant Superintendent Andrew DeFeo knows first-hand how the devices can be used in aviation. As a licensed pilot, DeFeo uses an iPad regularly on flights, something that just two years ago was not permitted. The iPad allows pilots like him to access maps, approach charts, weather graphics, document organization, file flight plans and more. It has replaced paper charts and even portable GPSs for many pilots. Students in the Aviation program have access to flight simulator apps which help them to practice on the ground as well.

“The tablet opens up a whole new area of learning opportunities including apps and tools used by professionals and communications tools such as email and video conferencing,” said DeFeo. “They have a real tool that professionals in the field use and that gives the students a competitive advantage.”

Through the iPad, students in the Criminal Justice program have access to subscriptions such as Evidence Magazine and the latest version of New York State Criminal and Procedural Law. Gillettt said the iPad will enhance the ability to work in teams during mock trials.

These students will have an advantage when it comes to jobs in the field. Police officers use laptops in their vehicles and many correctional facilities are moving away from lock and key and toward digital security.

All students, no matter the program or the district, are learning transferrable skills useful for college and careers. If they haven’t worked with a specific application or software, they’ll have the basic knowledge from their experience with the tablet to be able to determine how to use it.

In addition, students are learning how to be responsible. Students understand they are privileged to have the opportunity to use the devices and the expectations set for them.

“Students have really taken in to heart and they have a sense of pride in being part of something special,” said Gillett. “They understand there are high exceptions and they are taking it very seriously.”

Moving forward

This pilot program has allowed Questar III, OpenRoom and participating districts to work collaboratively to digitize the classroom, they’ve been able to share ideas and work through challenges.

According to Horan, the long-term plan for Schodack CSD is to have all students, K-12, using a device. The next step is to replace teachers’ desktops with tablets. Once teachers are comfortable, they will implement them in other grades.

At Coxsackie-Athens CSD, the long-term plan is to provide a device to every student in grades 7 – 12 that they can take home, and to have enough devices on hand in all classrooms and grade levels.

In addition to expanding the use of tablets to other Questar III programs, leaders at Questar hope to expand support to other districts interested in creating their own programs.

“We’ve been very appreciative for the opportunity to learn from Schodack as we too share the opportunity to provide a richer learning environment,” said DeFeo. “How we go forward is based on the outcome and feedback from students, staff and administrators.”

“Although we are still just sampling, the goal of this pilot is to expand over time,” said Questar III Chief Operating Officer Gladys Cruz. “I believe the one-to-one technology in schools is the wave of the future. Students must learn to use the technology that they’ll be expected to use in college, careers and as citizens of their community.”





REC principal honored

Questar III’s Rensselaer Educational Center co-principal, Tracy Racicot was recently honored as a 2014 Woman of Distinction. Senator Kathleen Marchione hosted the awards ceremony at the Canfield Casino in Saratoga Springs on September 24.

racicot_tracyThe “Women of Distinction” event recognized the work and accomplishments of 15 women from across the Capital Region. Applicants were nominated, some by family members, and then chosen by Shelia Lobdell of West Sand Lake and Susan Reynolds of Easton.

In her career in education, Tracy is always working on and thinking of ways to improve and better the learning experience of students. One of Tracy’s hobbies includes participating in triathlons. She was nominated by a fellow runner and triathlete. She volunteers as a coach and mentor of the No Boundaries 5k Training program

Through her efforts as a coach and mentor for the program, Tracy’s willingness and commitment to helping others has helped many individually, and in turn, improve the communities in which we all live.

“I’m honored to have been in the same room as the amazing women who were recognized at this event,” said Racicot.

In addition to volunteering as a coach, Tracy volunteers for Adopt-A-Highway for Capital District Triathlons, various road running races, and has organized activities for her colleagues such as the Workforce Challenge.


Students get lesson in decorum

This week, Questar III’s Criminal Justice students at the Rensselaer Educational Center (REC) learned military police decorum from The Troy Police Cadets.

CTE_students 003Most of the cadets are former graduates of the two-year Criminal Justice Program at REC. Students learned proper hand positioning for saluting, how to stand and make turns, as well as practice marching.

Criminal Justice teacher, Amy Gillet, who serves as the only civilian advisor to the Troy Police Cadet program, said the program provides a pathway to post-secondary learning and careers in law enforcement. “Entering the program at such a young age prepares students for the demands of the academy,” said Gillet.

CTE_students 039The Cadet program is designed so that students can experience the challenges and rewards of a police officer. Advisers and guest instructors teach police-related topics using both classroom instruction and hands-on activities. After a six-month probationary period, cadets may join police advisers on ride-a-long tours where the cadets will observe actual police calls.

At the end of the class, Gillet asked how many of her students would be interested in applying for the Cadet program; the majority of the class raised their hands. “What better way for my current students to learn than from their peers,” said Gillet.

The Troy Police Cadet Program is funded by the Troy Police Department. To qualify for the program, applicants must be between the ages of 14-21 years of age, be a resident of Rensselaer County and maintain a C average.





CTE students star in STEM ads

Questar III student films ad

Questar III student Chris Zwoboda films an ad at Albany Medical College’s simulation lab. The commercial will start airing in early September.

Two Questar III career and technical education (CTE) students recently starred in commercials promoting the region’s largest back to school expo.

Aviation Maintenance Technology student Brigit Swanson (Lansingburgh) and HVAC student Chris Zwoboda (Cairo-Durham) were paired with professionals from Albany Medical Center and Regeneron to promote the Back to School Expo in Albany.

The expo will be held at the Empire State Plaza on Saturday, September 20 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is designed to provide hands-on activities to introduce children to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in a non-traditional, non-intimidating setting.

The event also features entertainment, exhibitions, giveaways and a celebrity appearance by Peyton List (Emma from Disney’s hit show, Jessie).

Questar III is participating in the Back to School Expo for the fourth consecutive year.

Please visit for more information, including how to purchase tickets.


Mertz advocates for CTE

mertz_assembly_hearing_CTEOn Wednesday, July 16, Questar III Career and Technical Education (CTE) Recruiter Pam Mertz  provided testimony regarding the importance of CTE programs to the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Education on Graduation Pathways related to Career and Technical Education.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) called for the hearing in order to garner public comment on the importance of such programs and to position it as a valued pathway to graduation and careers for high school students. NYSUT advocates that a CTE assessment should be allowed in place of one of the five required Regents tracks in order for NYS students to successfully earn a high school diploma.

Mertz participated in a CTE task force, convening in November 2013, and helped develop recommendations to the State Education Department regarding CTE as a viable pathway to high school graduation.

Mertz works with high school sophomores interested in enrolling in CTE courses for their final two years of high school. She spoke about the feeling of excitement these students get when they learn about hands-on, project-based options available in their high school. She also discussed her role in educating parents about CTE pathways.

“This was a great opportunity for me to present at a public hearing and learn first-hand about the importance of advocating for CTE to New York State Assembly staff that has the influence to introduce bills to make CTE a viable graduation pathway,” said Mertz. “Both assembly members were genuinely interested in what I had to say and were particularly pleased to hear what I shared via student feedback.”

Also in attendance was New York State Education Commissioner John King, as well as New York State Board of Regents Vice Chancellor Anthony Bottar. Also delivering testimony were several BOCES district superintendents, teachers, local business and industry stakeholders, representatives from several local community colleges, several youth organizations and union and apprentice representatives.


Tech Valley summer camp

Students participating in the Tech Valley Summer Camp spent the day at Questar III’s Rensselaer Educational Center (REC) learning about renewable green technologies, and aviation, in preparation for their last day of camp where they spent the day on the third floor Observation deck at Albany International Airport, followed by the camp closing ceremony.

07 013The week long camp was for students entering 9th grade in the fall. During the week students visited the region’s top professionals in nanotechnology, biotechnology, advanced materials, alternative energy, aviation, information technology and robotics. Some of the different Tech Valley businesses that students visited and engaged in exciting, and fun hands-on activities were, Hudson Valley Community College, New York State Museum, Regeneron and Taconic.

Successful troubleshooting

kortum2Sergeant E.F. Stephen Kortum is stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with his wife and six-month-old baby girl.  Kortum’s job is to help handle transportation logistics for the United States Marine Corps. At 24 years old, he has already traveled the world.

Kortum, a 2009 graduate of Troy High school, said he owes much of his success to his time at Questar III BOCES. Kortum completed the Academy of Information Technology (AIT) at Questar III’s Rensselaer Educational Center in Troy. He was also enrolled in Questar III’s Challenge Program at Tamarac Secondary School.

kortumIn the AIT program, students work towards a Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) Certification. They learn about computer systems and how to install, configure and troubleshoot computer networks.

Kortum said School Social Worker Jane Govola and Teacher Deb Dedeo pushed him to have higher expectations for himself and to learn how to troubleshoot life’s experiences.

“Before Questar, I was having trouble in school and trouble with other people; I was probably going to be a drop-out,” said Kortum. “But the staff at Questar wouldn’t let me fail, it felt more like they personally wanted to see us succeed opposed to it just being part of their job.”

Although he enlisted in the military for another year, Kortum plans to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology and is interested in pursuing a career with Cisco.