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District cancels exam week classes

The City of Tonawanda School Board did a major about-face Tuesday evening by voting to change the school calendar by canceling regular instruction during the Jan. 25-28 exam week.

The district's calendar had been set since February, when the board approved the schedule without incident. At the time, administrators decided to continue holding classes during the exam week, when many districts would just mandate students to show up for their Regents and local exams.

Board members didn't notice the scheduling change until some parents began to complain about it.

"I'm embarrassed, and I supported [the original schedule]," said Board President Sharon Stuart, who asked administrators to give the board a "heads-up" when they make major changes to the schedule.

Mary Beth Scullion, assistant superintendent of instruction, explained they decided to hold classes during exam week to help raise academic achievement for students. She noted that there was no objection from other district administrators, principals and union representatives when the new schedule was approved.

"If we're saying that time with the teacher is what's needed, wouldn't we want more instruction time?" Scullion asked. "We believe that having students here in school is important. We want them here with us."

Several board members disagreed.

They voted 4-2 to cancel classes for high school students that week. They also dismissed the regular school day for a handful of students taking a Regents exam scheduled for Jan. 11.

"It's got to be about the kids," said board member Demelt Shaw. "We have to provide for a fair, just environment for these students. If we have a few students of poorer quality, then it's even more important."

Board members questioned administrators about the schedule change for about an hour. By the end of the regular meeting, they praised them for their work, despite overturning the calendar.

"We missed it, and we should take responsibility for it," said board member Elizabeth Olka, who voted against the measure.

"The comments made here tonight were valid, but our emphasis from the get-go was to get kids in their seats and teach them," said Superintendent Whitney Vantine.

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