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Arkport Central Talks Mask Mandates, BOCES

February 10, 2022

By Jasmine Willis

ARKPORT — There was a lot of talk about what the school is doing to make education better for the students in the district at the board of education meeting held on Feb. 9 at 6 p.m.

Arkport Senior, Ember Sharp was given her graduation diploma at the regular board of education meeting with President Patrick Flaitz presenting the certificate. Sharp thanked her family and teachers for being there for her, and giving her the opportunity to make this happen.

Special guest, Kelly Houck, Greater Southern Tier BOCES district superintendent presented the board of education with an indepth program outlining what the organization offers the students, and what the future projects will do to enhance a growing learning experience.

“BOCES would not exist without the 21 school districts. There would be no reason for BOCES. This truly is a collaboration of BOCES and your school districts working together to bring great learning experiences to kids every day. We are really grateful for the strong partnership we have with Jesse (Harper) and your entire school district. Jesse is such a great advocate for Arkport and celebrates kids participating in the BOCES program. These kids are greatly prepared and a great representation of your school district,” she said. “Our BOCES is one of the last merged ones in New York State. I don’t think another merger is in our future. BOCES was created in 1948 as a way to level the playing field across the state. Opportunities for kids can be different depending on where you call home. NYS Legislator created BOCES to make sure there was a vehicle made to provide programs across the state.”

Houck said the collaboration helped financially across the state. There are three campuses attached to the GST BOCES; Elmira, Cooper, and Hornell. There are several special education programs and P-Tech programs. GST BOCES has 900 employees to support the campuses and the students. There are 46 Arkport Central students going to BOCES.

“The kids are our north star, so it is always about making sure they have a great experience every day. It is about working together to keep costs down and provide services that are needed. Your kids are doing great things there. I am so impressed every time I go visit the classrooms. It is incredible what these kids are accomplishing,” she said.

“It provides an experience to widen circle and network to benefit them in the future. All students appreciate the real life replication of the work environment. Our kids are learning how to be great people. Our building trade kids are building homes for people in need and learning about humanity too. These are all great skills on how to be a great human too,” she continued.

Houck talked about the solar project coming to the Elmira location. Only that location has what is required for the approval of this kind of solar field.

“The project is being prepped and ready for the site. The kids are draining the ponds, clear the land, and prepping the site. Even though not all the kids are physically there the other kids are sharing connections and ideas across the sites. These kids will be monitoring the solar fields and using the energy. They will be able to put a solar project on their resume, and not many adults can say they have done that,” she said. “We are also working on a capital project for all three sites that will be put to a vote in all districts. This will not put any costs on the districts, but will allow it so BOCES will handle the costs. Anyone can go and vote on this project that will be put to vote on March 22. It will provide underground utilities on all campuses, gyms and multi-purpose rooms at two of the sites, and more. We wouldn’t be able to work on that until next summer.”

Arkport Superintendent Jesse Harper said the district is looking towards phase three on the library project. The administration went with some students to look at several libraries in the city. It was impressive to see what other districts have done to enhance the learning experience at their locations. Harper was interested in making it a functional multi-purpose room, but wants to stick to mostly making it a place where students will get what they need academically.

Arkport Library Media Specialist, Katharine Houy has been appointed the new librarian for the space coming.

Arkport Elementary Principal Claire Smith and Arkport Secondary Principal Koby Hahn toured multiple libraries in the greater Rochester area to get an idea of what they would like to see in their school.

“We saw things that we loved about each one, and talked to the people who live it every day. We wanted a multi-purpose room, but saw first-hand how it got to be too much for other districts. It looked like something you would see at an Apple Store in these places. It was too crowded and the kids got distracted on other things. A lot of them looked like a college set up. The one we were really impressed with was the one in Webster,” Smith said. “We wanted to talk the pros and cons with each of them. We found out what looks good on paper might not always be functional.”

Harper added that when he spoke with Houy she was looking more for a quiet place for students to come and learn. He was originally interested in a multi-purpose room as well, but after listening to the principal’s concerns, he will think about the project some more.

Harper showed some slides on the possible tax levy, tax rates, and debt services going into the budget. He talked about the school not being responsible for the evaluation of homes, but that comes from the towns and villages. This is an equalization rate that is more important than the tax rates.

Arkport Teacher Tina Broderick has gotten approval for a puppy to be trained by Therapy Dogs International to be a permanent service dog in her classroom for the students. The puppy will be trained on site, and be with the students for 12 weeks to get used to them.
Harper discussed parents letters he received about the mask mandates and the possibility of a vaccine mandate if it was to ever occur. As of now the governor has taken away the mandates for businesses to wear masks, but Harper has not heard yet about schools. He talked about the idea of writing a letter personally from the district, and involving other superintendents to ask that the governor allows them to handle this issue as a district. Harper personally feels the mask mandates should be removed from his school district. The parents asked around the community about what parents would do about the mask mandate and a possible vaccine mandate and the answer impacted 86 students. Harper said this impacts 25 percent of the student population in these letters. The school district is looking for answers on how to overcome the mask mandates and keep the students in a safe and growing environment.

“These parents came to me with these letters that included 86 of our students. They put some deep thought into this. All they did was ask one simple question. They didn’t ask for any reason behind it, but just wanted to know what other parents would do in this situation. We want to do what we can to keep our students here. We don’t want to put our students in the middle of this. We want to handle this in our school. I want to talk to other superintendents about writing a letter, and write one about our perspective. They are putting our schools through this major life choice,” he said.

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