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April 6, 2017 - New Walden Elementary School one option out of many

A Message from Valley Central Superintendent of Schools John Xanthis:

This year, Valley Central School District administrators, in collaboration with the Board of Education, began the process of creating a five-year strategic plan for our district. We are taking an honest and hard look at our district – our academic programs, our facilities, and our financials—and creating a vision for where we want to be in five years, as well as in the more long-term future,  and how we plan to get there.
As one part of this plan, the district undertook an audit of our facilities and it is clear that Walden Elementary School is in need of some building improvements.  It is currently listed as “unsatisfactory” in our most recent state-mandated building condition survey. Built in 1926, its last major renovation was in 1952. It is not handicapped-accessible. The students must eat in an underground room colloquially known as “the bunker.” In an area of New York State renowned for its lush forests and farmland, there is absolutely no green grass for students to play on. We know that updating Walden Elementary School will be part of our strategic plan, but we are still in the preliminary stages of investigating possible solutions. The idea of building a new school was one idea that I had discussed during a recent roundtable with other area school leaders during a meeting with Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress. Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress is an advocacy group for both education and the economic vitality of the Hudson Valley and at that meeting, school administrators discussed challenges to each of our school districts and what hypothetical solutions could be.
While we do know that particular improvements to WES are high priority items in our long-term plan, building a completely new school is one idealized option out of many. As they say, “shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars.” As part of our planning process, we have commissioned an enrollment census study and continue to reference our most recent building condition survey to ensure that we make responsible, data-based decisions that are in the best interest of our students and our residents. I have to reiterate that we are in the very early stages of exploring all of our options and we will not be making any final decisions in the near future.
I also would like to clarify the subject of the Maybrook Elementary School. The building is not vacant, but instead has been transformed into the Valley Central Alternative Learning Center. The program serves students with social anxiety and other mental health challenges who do not flourish in a traditional classroom setting. In the environment that the Alternative Learning Center has created since it launched two years ago, these students are transforming and thriving. It is the only standalone program of its kind in this area, and is a model of innovation for serving the needs of this growing population of students. In 2015, the New York State School Boards Association invited staff from the Alternative Learning Center and our Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Pupil Personnel Services to present at the organization’s annual convention in Buffalo, New York, which was attended by school board members from throughout New York State. Not only is this program effective and much needed, it is also financially prudent. The average cost for out-of-district programs is $72,000 per student. Keeping the students in-district saves taxpayers this expense and also keeps our students connected to our district, which helps them to continue to feel a part of the community.
As a district, we have a profound responsibility to ensure that each and every student receives an exceptional education that will position them for success in the 21st century. To do so, we must ensure that our facilities, our curriculum and our technology are all evolving as time progresses. We also have the responsibility to our residents to do so in the most financially responsible manner. As such, when we developed this committee, we made it a priority to ensure that a diverse group of residents were involved in the process. The strategic plan committee is comprised of Valley Central employees, board of education members, parents and residents who do not have children currently attending our schools. With such a diverse committee membership, I am confident that the finalized strategic plan will serve both our students and our residents well.