FORT ANN -- Sharing leaders for special education and curriculum development and tweaking their class schedules to expand distance learning are the latest ideas for collaboration among Washington County school districts.
Representatives from seven local school districts gathered in Fort Ann last week for the kickoff of the Washington County School District Collaborative.
This group is building on a study the seven districts did last year about ways to share services to save money.
“There’s a lot on people’s plates right now. The more heads we have together, it really helps,” said Jerome Steele of the Capital Area School Development Association, who led the meeting.
Two recommendations from the study have already been put in place. School districts are sharing courses through distance learning. Last year, only one of the seven districts had a distance learning laboratory. Now, all seven have one and are sharing courses such as health and nanotechnology.
Five of the school districts are sharing a chief information officer, starting this school year. Diane Quick was hired from Granville schools to collect data from the Argyle, Fort Ann, Granville, Hartford and Salem school and submit reports to the state.
School officials said they are pleased with the results so far.
Fort Ann Superintendent Maureen VanBuren suggested creating a similar shared position to coordinate special education services.
People have to wear multiple hats in smaller districts and Fort Ann has a principal who is also in charge of special education.
But VanBuren said it would be better to have one person who is knowledgeable about special education regulations and programs and the needs of the students handling the job for multiple districts.
“I think it will make our programs much more effective within our districts,” she said.
The initiative could lead districts to share classes, Van Buren said.
VanBuren acknowledged sharing special education services will not be as easy as sharing a chief information officer because of legal, political and emotional issues involved with the field of special education.
Granville Superintendent Mark Bessen suggested the districts share a curriculum coordinator to provide staff development for teachers and other tasks such as coaching for reading teachers.
“I think that would help all of our ELA scores,” he said.
School officials said they would like to collaborate on more distance learning courses. But an obstacle to that is the districts have different bell schedules.
Cambridge Superintendent Vincent Canini has been working on a common bell schedule for the seven districts. Right now, the earliest start time is 7:45 for Hudson Falls and the latest is 8:10 for Argyle. The length of periods varies from 40 to 42 minutes. The periods don’t line up neatly across districts, which makes sharing classes harder.
“It’s almost impossible if we stay at different units per class, because as the day goes on, it gets worse,” Canini said.
Other superintendents suggested the districts could strive for a common block of time during the day when periods almost align and make that the distance learning time.
School officials want to keep studying the issue. The group plans to meet again in January.