Birchwood School Principal Jonathan Slaybaugh recently presented the Clarkstown school board with his school’s plan with focus on increasing the graduation rate and raising ELA scores for its elementary and middle school students. Birchwood in West Nyack enrolls students in kindergarten through 12th grade from age five to 21, whose significant emotional, behavioral and learning problems require a special educational setting and related services.
Slaybaugh said the state requires high school students to graduate in four years and the school did not meet that goal last year. Birchwood fell short of the requirement. Some students needed several extra months to complete their coursework. He noted that Birchwood may have 20 students in their senior year and if two do not graduate, that has a major impact on graduation rate.
To help address that, Birchwood has instituted an after-school tutoring program and implemented the Achieve 3000, a web based language instruction tool to help students.
Slaybaugh showed short videos of Birchwood students explain how different programs had benefited them. They included Nova Net and a program that guides freshmen through their first year of high school similar to courses offered to new college students. He explained that included a homework center, assistance with test preparation and organizational study skills.
The first year principal said the students are becoming more community minded and gave the examples of starting a food pantry, clothes closet and forming a student council. The group ran a used book sale and raised $150. The council used that money to organize a Pasta/Movie Night for the entire school.
Another example was the transition of the yearbook to a student run project. Slaybaugh noted the importance of these activities as outlets for students since the small school does not offer sports or electives.
The action plan to improve ELA scores included major changes to the library.
“One of the nice things we did this year was double the size of our school library,” he said.
The library was relocated with the help of participants in the summer work program and donations were solicited for new books and materials. To reinforce the message that reading is important, Slaybaugh said the school added a drop everything and read period. Students complete a response log about their reading.
Additionally there are specialized reading teachers to help students at the West Nyack school.
Slaybaugh completed his presentation by introducing ’s new logo to the board. It features the letter B with a bulldog mascot.