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Opt-out among big issues facing school boards across the state

Whether you’re in Albany or Amherst, Poughkeepsie or Peekskill, these are interesting times in education across New York State, a topic that takes center stage this week in Buffalo.

For the first time in five years, Buffalo plays host to the annual convention of the New York State School Boards Association beginning Thursday in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. The three-day conference will draw some 2,500 school board members, superintendents and educators from around the state, all of them looking for answers and comparing notes on some of the educational issues they’re grappling with at home.

Here are five:

Common Core: School Boards are on the front lines of the hot debate over standards that have led to growing public backlash and propelled a large “opt-out” movement across New York. The State Education Department won praise in September for proposing changes to more than half of the learning standards for math and English language arts, but how much will they actually change? And will it be enough? There has been so much interest in the proposed changes, that the state extended the public comment period until Nov. 14.

Grading teachers:  There may be a moratorium on using state test results to evaluate teachers and principals, but school districts are still looking for guidance on how best to proceed with these “Annual Professional Performance Reviews.” It’s sure to come up during Friday’s forum with State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

State Aid: Isn’t it always an issue for School Boards? After several years of cuts in state aid, school districts rebounded this year when New York delivered a record amount of funding to public schools. School boards will be looking for that trend to continue next year.

Opioid epidemic: School districts too are foreseeing an emerging problem with the rise in heroin and prescription drug overdoses sweeping across the U.S. Is student drug testing an option for districts facing a problem with heroin and other drugs? Do confidentiality rules apply if students disclose their drug abuse to staff? Schools are trying to understand their obligations and where they can turn for help.

Receivership: The state receivership law applies to a relative handful of the poorest-performing schools in the state – Buffalo has 20 schools in receivership - but there are still a lot of uncertainties since passage of the legislation last year. While the law gave superintendents unprecedented powers to help turn around receivership schools, or else face a takeover by an outside entity, questions about funding, progress and time frames still persist.

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