TUPPER LAKE - The cursive nameplates adhered with Scotch tape to the front of the desks in Tracy Klossner's class were a little misleading during a group lesson about the fall of the Roman Empire Tuesday morning, April 11.
As students in Klossner's sixth grade social studies class clustered into threes to analyze the political, economic and social causes of the downfall of one of history's most powerful civilizations, one of the most powerful of visitors inhabited the seat of Logan Phillips.
The state's Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia, looked on as the students assessed the maroon, orange and blue maps of the Mediterranean and flipped through Macmillan School dictionaries. Just a couple of months before she will present new statewide standards to the Board of Regents, Elia toured Tri-Lakes schools and educational centers Tuesday morning.
New York state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia listens to L.P. Quinn Elementary School social studies teacher Tracy Klossner’s lesson alongside sixth grade students Lucy Edwards and Sierra Welch Tuesday, April 11.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)
She arrived at L.P. Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake after previous stops at Tupper Lake Middle-High School and Adirondack Educational Center in Saranac Lake. She also visited the Long Lake school later in the day. Since she was selected commissioner in 2015, this is Elia's first trip through the Tri-Lakes area. And L.P. Quinn Principal Julia Aubrey said it was the first time an acting commissioner had ever visited L.P. Quinn.
"We have some very small school districts that are isolated in the North Country," Elia said, "and I wanted to see how they were handling some of the requirements that we have in New York state. I've seen some wonderful teaching and great work being done collaboratively among teachers and I think some of that is due to the fact there are very tight-knit communities and school groups and school communities. And I know the districts in many cases have really benefited from stretching their students skills."
Upon meeting Aubrey as she walked through the front doors of L.P. Quinn, Elia asked the head of the school about how many students opted out from the state's recent third-through-eighth grade English language arts statewide testing (22 of more than 200 L.P. Quinn students), and if teachers preferred timed or un-timed state tests.
Making small talk and getting to know the movers and shakers in the Tupper Lake district, Elia said she's heard from many teachers across the state that their preference is un-timed tests.
Elia then walked the hallways of the school, greeting those from kindergartners to physical education teachers before sitting in with Klossner's class.
Aubrey said the district found out of Elia's planned visit about a month ago and selected the 25-year veteran Klossner not soon after. Aubrey smiled wide as her longtime colleague Klossner led her 80-minute social studies period through a "jigsaw" exercise, one where Klossner used both new technology such as a SMART board to time the activity, to more old school utilities such as the Macmillan dictionaries.
For Aubrey, it was a proud day to showcase what smaller schools in the heart of the Adirondacks can accomplish.
"Small districts do big things," Aubrey said. "You know, even though we may be considered a small district, there are so many great things that teachers do and that students are embracing here and the community effort that it takes to raise children and educate children, and that's so alive in this school."
Aubrey described the visit as nerve racking and exciting. Tagging along for the walk-through was Steve Shafer, the superintendent of the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES district. Shafer was also present earlier in the day when Elia toured Adirondack Educational Center in Saranac Lake, where mostly Tupper Lake students comprised the classrooms as Lake Placid and Saranac Lake schools are currently on vacation.
Elia's tour of the BOCES district comes at an interesting time as the 10 districts across the region - including Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid - are scheduled to vote on a proposed $18.5 million capital project in September. Among other improvements, it would include $4.93 million for Adirondack Educational Center.
Speaking Tuesday, Shafer said each district will decide whether or not to enter into an inter-municipal agreement by mid-June, otherwise each school would have to finance their share of the cost through the Dormitory Authority of the state, which would be more expensive. Shafer added that BOCES also recently met with Saranac Lake village representatives about an outstanding water line issue related to AEC and are conducting ongoing conversations with the state Department of Transportation's Region One about the matter.
As for Tuesday's tour, Shafer said the goal was to provide Elia with a cross-section of the programming at AEC while focusing on the center's New Visions program in computer coding and gaming for 12th-grade students. Elia also stopped at the center's natural resource sciences, building trades and cosmetology programs.
"One of the things that I would take across the state is the opportunities that districts in the North Country have used to offer just a myriad of courses and opportunities for kids," the commissioner said. "You have students that go into career or technical programs - online learning in combination - and many of them are doing particular coursework that is preparing them for whatever their interest is. Students taking higher level coursework getting college credit.
"I was so impressed with the programs at (AEC)," Elia added, "students have opportunities when they leave there they get certified and take the external exams that get them a certification in any of those career areas and clusters. (And) once they do that, they can use that either directly... right into a job, or take that interest that they have and go into a two year or a four year college and university. So it opens up great opportunities and really connects students to possible careers in their future."