Readying for new leadership at HFM

The HFM BOCES Board of Education on Wednesday discussed the organization’s role in providing students access to needed services ahead of new District Superintendent David Ziskin’s official start date on Aug. 5. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

JOHNSTOWN — The Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES Board of Education on Wednesday discussed the organization’s role in providing students access to needed services ahead of new District Superintendent David Ziskin’s official start date on Aug. 5.

While reporting on their attendance of the Rural Schools Conference at the beginning of this month, Board of Education President Joanne Freeman and Ziskin on Wednesday launched a discussion among the board members regarding the role of public schools and HFM BOCES in particular in addressing obstacles to student achievement that originate outside of school.

“With rural schools,” Freeman said, “they really encompass the whole student and that seems to be what we’re getting back to, when you see a student having consecutive bad days, you try and work with them to find out what the root cause is, like it could be that there’s nobody in the house in the morning to feed them, but it effects their education and temperament in the classroom.”

“We heard a great deal about the work schools are doing to address and meet the needs of students growing up with rural poverty and the challenges that that poses and the traumas that many kids in rural settings and urban settings can face. When you talk about the whole child I think it relates very nicely to the work that’s been done in this region,” Ziskin agreed.

“In particular, not accepting poverty as an excuse or a barrier in our schools, but instead how do we work to overcome and have the appropriate strategies to ensure students who do face challenges are able to learn,” he continued.

Ziskin, who has attended the regular board meetings since his appointment as district superintendent on May 29 effective on Aug. 5, was also authorized in May by the board to attend the Rural Schools Conference ahead of his official start date.

As Ziskin assumes his new position, the board members have stated their intention to examine HFM BOCES’ programs and practices to develop future plans for the organization under new leadership. Freeman and Ziskin’s reports spurred a discussion on the role of HFM BOCES to ensure students are receiving needed resources.

“As we look at goal setting or as Dave looks at his involvement in the broader community, I think we’re really dealing with the symptoms of a problem,” Board of Education member Harry Brooks said.

Brooks, a former superintendent at Northville Central School District, noted that oftentimes common issues that schools are tasked with addressing actually start at home.

“Kids come from home and they bring all of those problems with them,” Brooks said. “The real root causes have to be addressed in a bigger picture.”

Brooks suggested that while school districts and HFM BOCES cannot provide all of the support services that students and families may need, the organization could work with local agencies to facilitate connections between individuals and needed services.

Ziskin supported the idea, noting that it falls in line with the stated mission of the organization, “through collaborative partnerships and innovative leadership, HFM BOCES creates opportunities that prepare individuals for lifelong success.”

Ziskin went on to suggest that HFM BOCES could serve as a conduit between students and families and agencies working to promote the social and emotional health of students.

“We have families who sometimes struggle to identify and engage with the services that their children may need and schools absolutely should and it’s appropriate for them to serve as that conduit,” Ziskin said.

Deputy Superintendent Lorraine Hohenforst noted that HFM BOCES already serves in this capacity to some extent in accordance with district policy under which teachers who observe students in need of support, refer the student to meet with school counselors who then communicate with the student’s home district and may direct the student to additional school services or outside resources.

In a region where the need for mental health services has grown over recent years, Ziskin recommended approaching component school districts through the superintendent advisory committee to gather information on needed resources that districts lack and may be unable to fund on their own that HFM BOCES could potentially provide as shared services.

“We will reach out into the districts and get closer connected, we will work with them to identify areas where we can help them overcome the barriers that the kids from the most challenging circumstances face,” Ziskin said.

The board responded positively to Ziskin’s ideas and continuing the discussion once Ziskin formally assumes his position as head of HFM BOCES next month.

“We look forward to having you on board, I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be doing a lot of running,” Freeman said.

By Patricia Older

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