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EDITORIAL BOARD: LPCS Superintendent Roger Catania

August 28, 2014
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn spoke with Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Roger Catania on Thursday, Aug. 21 at the LPN office, 6179 Sentinel Road, Lake Placid.

LPN: School starts on Thursday, Sept. 4. What can parents and students look forward to this year?

CATANIA: Every year is new, and every years starts out with a high level of optimism and enthusiasm. The kids are a year older, and they're starting a new grade with a new teacher or new sets of teachers. Sometimes you're going into kindergarten or sixth grade into a new building. Sometimes you're in ninth grade. Sometimes you're going to be a senior. So for the kids, I think it's really important for us to remember how new everything is every year. And that's exciting.

Article Photos

Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Roger Catania poses with the historic Lake Placid News editorial board.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

From my angle, on one hand, not everything's new, and that's a good thing because I think we have a really strong group of teachers and a terrific staff, so the buildings are in good shape. I think our principals, who were all new last year, are not new this year, and I think that's probably a good thing. They're starting their second year, and they're really confident and ready to go, and they know what to expect.

So in some ways, things are new for the kids, and in other ways, they are stable. And stability in the Lake Placid Central School District is a good thing right now.

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LPN: All principals were new last year, and while you're not new to the district, this is your second year as the superintendent. Could you remind readers who you have for principals?

CATANIA: We have Brian Latella, who is the principal of the elementary school; Theresa Lindsay, principal of the middle school; and Dana Wood, principal of the high school.

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LPN: What's the feeling from the administration going into the year?

CATANIA: I think we're really confident that we're looking ahead to a really positive year. I just mentioned that enthusiasm and optimism that kids are going in with, we're going in with that, too. I emphasized stability, but there's plenty of new things.

A year ago, kids were going into their elementary school classrooms, and this year one of the differences is technology. There's just a lot more technology there. A year ago, we just had a couple of digital projectors and a couple of smart boards. And now, we're got at least a digital projector in every classroom and probably more. We have a lot more in terms of access to the computers and iPads and those kinds of things.

In the middle and high school, we have five or six new mobile labs, so 110 new laptops that teachers in classes can access on a regular basis. It's not that we haven't had good technology, but we haven't had it to the extent that teachers and kids could be confident on a daily basis that they could access them.

And then we have a whole group of teachers who have spent a lot of time since last spring, and this summer, working on ways to utilize technology to improve the learning environment. We're really looking to not just have new technology but to make use of it so learning is much more engaging and much more enlightening for kids.

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LPN: Explain what the Strategic Planning Task Force committees have been doing this summer.

CATANIA: We started the strategic planning activity back in December (2013), and that meant lots of discussions with lots of people around the community, within the schools and outside of the schools, about what was important to them. And we took what people had shared with us and tried to organize those in themes. And those themes came out into six strategic goals (students first and foremost, education, community outreach and involvement, leadership, technology and finance). We decided to go back to the people and say, "Here are the goals that we talked about. What can we do to make some of these happen?" And so, over the summer, groups of people have been getting together on a regular basis and talking about these goals and trying to craft those into some kind of an action plan. What are some concrete ideas for the schools to in some cases improve education, in some cases enhance communication and in some cases improve technology.

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LPN: These aren't just school staff, these are members of the entire community, volunteers from parts of the community.

CATANIA: We have members of the business community. We have parents. We have teachers. We have students. We have administrators. So yes, that's right, there's a pretty wide swath.

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LPN: A community approach to education.

CATANIA: That's our goal is to include the entire community in helping to define the school and its offerings.

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LPN: As you go through that process, what's your message to the public?

CATANIA: It would be an invitation for them to join us in these discussions and join us in participating in what comes next. Definitely tune in, and be ready. We really do want people's input. We had a lot of input this summer, but we could have fit more people in committees.

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LPN: What kind of concrete ideas have you heard this summer?

CATANIA: I know, Andy, that you're on the Communication Task Force, and one of the things we're talking about is helping to share with the community more of what's going on in the schools, including the administration and the students. I know you've graciously invited us to take advantage of the Lake Placid News and contribute to the paper, which we plan to do.

I'm on the Leadership Task Force, and one of the things we've talked about is to develop leadership initiatives in each school. By leadership initiatives, I mean to provide some kind of a structure in which kids can learn and practice different aspects of leadership, taking a student who may be elected a student council president and finding them an avenue to develop their leadership skills. We really believe that the qualities of leadership can be expanded in every person, so we want to find different opportunities for kids to be able to express that.

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LPN: What kind of challenges do you see as far as the budget?

CATANIA: Well, the budget's tight. Last spring, when we put together the budget, we had to make some hard decisions. That meant eliminating some staffing. That meant eliminating some resources that we normally wanted to include. But what we're trying to do is prioritize what's most important and funding that. We have a 17 million-dollar-plus budget, and that's a lot of money but it's also restricted because we have so many fixed costs and so many costs that increase at a higher percentage than we're allowed to with this property tax cap. So we know that every dollar that we spend has to count, and we also know that every dollar that we can save, when it has the least impact on kids, will count.

One of the task forces is called Students First and Foremost, and it's "How do we prioritize the needs of kids?" One of the things that we're doing when we're making financial decisions is we're saying, "OK. Where does this fall in the priority?" If it has a large impact on students, then that has to be a high priority, which means we need to find a way to fund that. If it has a much lower impact on students, that may mean it's an area we can reduce or cut in order to fund these higher priorities. So it's really a matter of making some hard decisions and trying to maintain the strength of the school district rather than let the financial restraints detract from the essential parts of schooling, what we do with kids, which is so much about the classroom, so much about extracurricular activities, so much about teachers, coaches and students and really valuable programs that if you lose some of those things, kids really miss out. We want to maintain those as best we can.

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LPN: You have a history with the school district, coming from a background as a guidance counselor. How has that experience helped with your current job as school superintendent?

CATANIA: It's probably helped me in some ways and probably in other ways it hasn't. ... My job as counselor was primarily to pay attention to students and their needs. What is it that we can do in the school to make the student experience the most positive? And that meant working directly with kids, listening to kids and their families. What are their goals? What are their interests? What are their needs? And then working really closely with teachers and seeing how things played out on the ground.

It doesn't have me as closely connected with students, which is for me unfortunate because I really enjoy my time spent with students. I would say that's the most rewarding part of education. In this position, I can reflect back on that and really access those ideas that have developed. And I think it allows me that extra window into these key components of schooling. So when we're trying to sort through what it is that we're doing well, what we're still in need of tweaking to make it better, and what I've found over the years that kids and families have been most interested in developing or most concerned about.

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LPN: How can the public find out about the different things going on in the school district?

CATANIA: The quickest place they could look would on our website (www.lpcsd.org). On the front page of our website, we have on the upper left-hand corner a calendar. If you click on where it says "full calendar," what you get is a monthly calendar which has all of the activities of the school district from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

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LPN: Is there anything you'd like to add?

CATANIA: We're really excited that the community is going to really have the first experience with universal pre-K. It is a really big deal because it represents not just a good pre-K program ... but an opportunity for the first time for all kids to attend. Because of the costs associated with private preschools, it has not been possible for all kids to attend a really high quality pre-K. And now, that's going to change. And that's a really important thing in this community.

 
 

 

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