BLAUVELT, N.Y. -- Dr. Robert Pritchard begins his second year as superintendent of the South Orangetown Central School District as eager as the teachers and students. Perhaps even moreso.
“We’re ready to open,’’ Pritchard said last week in anticipation of Tuesday’s opening day at the five schools in the district, which includes more than 3,200 students. “This has been my best summer yet in how everyone has come together.”
Pritchard said students and parents will not see dramatic changes in school operations. But the school did have a busy summer. Teachers were trained on a new Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom model that puts students at the center of the learning environment. The model moves teachers from the front of the room to sit alongside students, and addresses student engagement, student responsibility for learning and academic rigor.
“It makes the classroom more student-centered and project-based,’’ Pritchard said. “I want to see students working harder than the teacher. That’s when I know students are owning the lesson and taking responsibility for it. Students can sit in flexible work groups and use wireless technology.”
The model has been used in several school districts in Westchester County, and is one of the centerpieces of Pritchard’s five-point focus during the upcoming school year. The district’s “Together we can” motto includes commitments to:
- Promote academic success for all students by ensuring equitable access to rigorous curriculum, aligned instructional materials, and meaningful assessments that guide instructional practice.
- Developing and retaining a team of highly-qualified staff through recruitment and professional development.
- Improving communications by building partnerships, implementing a variety of media tools, and developing meaningful family and community engagement strategies.
- Ensuring the health and welfare of students and staff by strengthening the foundation of a district culture that is responsive to the social, emotional, and physical safety needs of every person.
- Developing the instructional support infrastructure that leverages technology, operations, and business services while being mindful of financial constraints.
One of the newer components to learning in the district is a garden at William O. Schaefer Elementary School, for students in kindergarten through second grade. The school donated its first harvest in late June to Legacy X Food Box of Orangetown. Students harvested tomatoes, strawberries, cabbage, onions, peas, green beans, cucumbers and more throughout the summer. They also learned skills in math, science and other disciplines.
“Anything that is practical or hands on, the students retain the information much better and put their classroom skills and knowledge to thee test,’’ Pritchard said. “Solving real world problems using that information is important. They think about how they think.”
South Orangetown also conducted a STEAM camp for students interested in math and science, sent teachers to a writers workshop at Columbia Teachers College and formulated plans to enhance communication between the district and parents. It also worked to align its emergency protocols with state standards.
Pritchard came to South Orangetown last summer after previously serving as the Mexico Academy and Central School District near Syracuse. A West Point graduate, he took an indirect path to the education field. He served in Afghanistan, and served in the Army Reserves for 24 years. He has worked in the academic field since 1994.
“Both of my parents were teachers, and I felt like education was something I always wanted to do,’’ Pritchard said. “It’s just another way to serve your country. I think my career in education impacted my career in the service. Working at a middle school is a very complicated scenario. You have to stay organized. A lot of the tricks of the trade I applied as an administrator in the military are things that I learned from working in schools.”