By Kaitlin Lembo
RAVENA — While Brian Bailey, Ed.D., has set many goals for his first year as Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk’s superintendent of schools, there is one in particular that stands out to him.
“We want to establish good relationships with the parents in the school district,” Bailey explained. “We need to do this by being as frontward-facing with information and plans as possible.”
Bailey said that there are four reasons why parents often step back from their involvement in their children’s education. All of them have to do with their own education experience.
“Parents are either respectful of the work we do and don’t want to mess it up, or they believe we are capable and can see that their children are getting a lot of attention at school,” Bailey explained. The other two reasons are more indicative of a bad experience. “Or parents had a bad experience in their own schooling and feel unwelcome, and they don’t really know how to break that feeling.”
One change that Bailey is looking to implement is getting the graduation rate up from 82.5 percent to 85 percent. In comparison with neighboring school districts, this hike would put RCS on par with bigger districts like Bethlehem and Guilderland, which have graduation rates in the low 90s. RCS would surpass smaller districts like Berne-Knox-Westerlo, which had an 82.6 percent graduation rate in 2016. When Bailey took the RCS’ principal position in 2010, it was at 76 percent. They were gradually able to raise it to 89.2 percent for one year in 2015.
To boost the graduation rate up those 2.5 points, Bailey hopes that the new Chromebook program that RCS has implemented, along with the eventual use of open Wi-Fi in schools, will give students one-to-one access with computers as education becomes more digital. Currently, RCS has 13 Chromebook carts in the district, with most in the middle school.
“We want to encourage students to dig deeper in their education and enjoy what they are doing. The use of computers is such a great way to do that,” Bailey said.
In going digital, Bailey said that fields included in the STEAM program, which include science, technology, engineering, arts and math, are becoming more powerful.
“So much of those programs are digital. We need to provide students with those options.”
Another change that will be coming into RCS this year will be a new approach to the epidemic of bullying. Bailey said that the district will be partnering with Price Chopper CEO Neil Golub to participate in a program called “A World of Difference,” which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. The motto is, “Imagine a world without hate.”
“We are anticipating a meeting with Neil in the coming weeks to learn about the program and how we can implement it,” Bailey said. “What [it] provides us today is a new focus on what’s right and what’s wrong. Between this and using programs like Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), I believe we can make schools a much friendlier place.”
PBIS aims to reward students for good behavior through positive reinforcements. By doing this, students who are not perpetually in trouble are also rewarded and noticed for their good deeds throughout the school.
In order for these programs to work, parents and community members are encouraged to come out to monthly Board of Education meetings, which are held on the first Tuesday of each month. There will be a time for public comment, and Bailey says this time period is critical for communication between the school board and community members.
“We want people to come out and talk to us,” he said. “We want to hear from you.”
Among the character building improvements Bailey plans to implement at RCS this year are what he refers to as his “Five Steps” — the values of inquiry, collaboration, risk-taking, participation and empathy — which he says will help every member of the district to better succeed in the community.
“These five qualities apply to both students and staff,” Bailey said. “These qualities transcend into real-world traits that students will need. We want our students to be better prepared for college and beyond. We want our staff to be able to help each student and value the ability of each individual child.” A mailing describing the five steps was mailed to district residents after Bailey’s appointment as superintendent.
Bailey said that these qualities have helped him during his seven-year tenure at RCS. He first came to RCS as high school principal in 2010 after working at Guilderland High School and Schalmont Central Schools. He moved into the assistant superintendent position in 2013, serving under Superintendent Dr. Alan McCartney until his death, and then Interim Superintendent Robert K. Libby. Bailey was unanimously voted in as the district’s permanent superintendent on June 6. He officially took office on July 1.
“All of these milestones are because someone gave me a push,” Bailey said. “When I taught music, I was able to practice my craft every day. I now get to work with students and parents. I have a hand in influencing the system and making a difference in education.”
He obtained his doctorate from The Sage Colleges this past year. He said that this milestone, which was hanging over his head for a long time, was something that really helped shape his view on education.
“I was so lucky to do something important to me,” he said. “Doing this type of work makes you ask more questions, and it keeps you curious.”
One thing remains for sure. Bailey said he is excited for this year. Facing many plans, he said he could not be readier for the beginning of the year.
“We have a lot of oars in the water, but it’s exhilarating,” he said.