By CASEY CROUCHER
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- State Education Department officials visited Amsterdam High School last week to review a state-funded program and praise the school on its success.
The high school's Clinically Rich Teacher Preparation Pilot Program is a partnership between AHS and the State University of New York at Albany, where graduate students participate in a year-long teaching internship in preparation for becoming special educators in high-needs schools like Amsterdam.
It is funded by the state Education Department's Race to the Top program. Race to the Top has invested $20 million into 13 education programs statewide; roughly $1.5 million has gone to AHS.
Educators originally thought the three-year pilot program's funding would expire at the end of this school year; however, SUNY Senior Vice Chancellor Johanna Duncan-Poitier and state education officials reviewed the success of the program, and got approval from the U.S. Department of Education to continue it for another year.
Melissa Greene, project coordinator of the state Office of Higher Education, attended a luncheon at AHS Wednesday to see the success of the pilot program herself.
"We just came to observe the residents teaching in the classroom today, and talk to the field officer and talk to the building administrator," she said. "So, we got to hear everyone's perspective and we're really excited."
AHS Principal David Ziskin said the partnership with UAlbany has been "very fruitful" and he's excited to continue next year.
Ziskin also said the school has improved from having 17 graduate students, dubbed "resident fellows," helping in the special education department.
Special education teachers at the high school are happy to hear the program will continue for another year.
"We're special ed teachers, and to be able to break the classes up into groups because we have extra help, and to be able to do more one-on-one instruction is a tremendous advantage," 10th grade special education teacher Jennifer Baxter said at the luncheon.
"Having the interns here helps us have more differentiated lessons, lets us motivate the students more and really makes our teaching more successful," ninth and 10th grade special education teacher Melissa Paul said.
Resident fellow Justin Hahn said his experience teaching at AHS has been the most valuable experience of his life.
"To compare the beginning of the year to the end of year -- we're independent now," Hahn said. "We received so much support and time from our supervisors and the program that they've prepared us with tools to be effective teachers. They never left us unsupported and we've grown."
Resident fellow Sam Frumkin said the best part of the experience was the amount of time he got to spend with the students.
"A normal student teaching position lasts two or three months, but we got to be here for nine months and that's a huge advantage," Frumkin said. "We've had the opportunity to form relationships with the staff, with the students and our supervisors."
Frumkin also said the support he received in the program was helpful to his growth.
"The best part of this is there's 17 of us [resident fellows] here together," he said. "So, we support each other and sometimes with regular student teaching you're left alone and you're the only intern in the school, but here we're part of a community that's getting a lot of support from SUNY Albany, a lot of support from Amsterdam, and a lot of support from the teachers."
Greene said the state is encouraged by the success AHS has seen with the pilot program.
"We're encouraged by the results we're seeing as far as how these residents are prepared for their own classrooms as well as the results we're seeing in their students," she said. "They're completing their assignments, they're very engaged in the classroom and there's just a very positive impact. The program seems to impact the whole building in a positive way, as you can see because everyone came to this luncheon."
Matt LaFave, supervisor and field placement director, thinks the program structures the resident fellows for the future.
"I think the program is innovative and the amount of support we give our students is good for them," LaFave said. "A year-long fellowship of getting mentored really provides them with a great understanding of what they'll be doing."