Cincinnatus BOE discusses goals and hears concerns

The Cincinnatus Board of Education listens to public comments at its Jan. 26 meeting. (Photo Source: Chelsea Horak of The Cortland Voice).

The Cincinnatus Central School District Board of Education (BOE) met twice in January.

At the first meeting, the board approved the acceptance of donations and discussed their goals for the 2022-23 school year. The second meeting was a packed event where community members voiced their concerns over changes to a school dance in addition to the regular agenda.

The BOE’s next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 9 in the school library. Meetings are open to the public.

Donations from Community 

On Jan. 12, the BOE voted to accept a donation from Susan Matson in the amount of $1,350, which is designated for the Matson Encouragement Fund. Also accepted was a donation from four taxpayers in the amount of $8.01. The figure represents an accumulation of small tax overpayments which the taxpayers requested be donated to the school rather than be issued checks for amounts less than $2.

Board Goals

The BOE also discussed and approved their goals for the current school year during its Jan. 12 meeting. Goals include reviewing student progress and achievement on a quarterly basis, and conducting a self-evaluation of their own performance by June 30, 2023. Also included in the goals is the development of a community survey to collect stakeholder input. 

Community Voices Heard

At the Jan. 26 meeting, it was clear that the community was comfortable addressing the board, as the limited number of available seats led some members of the public to stand while they waited to speak on the topic of what had been marked on the school calendar as a father-daughter dance. Concerns had been sparked when rumors spread on social media that the dance would be canceled or replaced with a more inclusive alternative.

The meeting opened with public comment, but as one father admitted, “I think most of us are here because of hearsay,” referring to the chatter on social media, and turned it back to the board to provide clarification on the issue first.

Superintendent Todd Freeman explained that the intent was not to cancel a dance or take away a tradition, but rather to increase the opportunity for inclusion by calling the event a “Family Dance” or similar alternative. 

Freeman also acknowledged that the communication component meant that the intent was lost, and apologized for the short notice on the proposed changes, which came on the heels of a request by the PTO to change the date of the dance from Feb. 10 to this Friday. The date change was the result of the girls volleyball team qualifying for sectionals, meaning key parents from the PTO would be needed elsewhere on the original date, which had been printed in the school calendar.

Several members of the community responded, expressing that “Father-Daughter” was already a loose term, as grandfathers, step-fathers, uncles, and even close family friends have been bringing students to the dance for years, and were adamant that a name change was not necessary or wanted. 

As one father put it, “different circumstances might take a father away like jail, drugs, passing away, or just not being able to be in there”, and the dance is a way to celebrate the bond between the child and whoever is able to step into that role for them.

A member of the PTO added that a mother and son certainly would not be turned away or excluded, which led Freeman to raise the question of why the dance could not be advertised to reflect that. One reason that was raised by the PTO member was that around 200 people already attend the Father-Daughter dance, and “inviting the whole family” would overwhelm the 5 volunteers currently on the PTO, which sponsors and runs the event. 

This prompted a discussion between community members that more fathers and grandfathers would be willing to volunteer for an event specifically for mothers and sons, or for families, in order to keep the Father-Daughter Dance separate and to bolster the 5-member, all parent PTO. A substitute teacher and a father each commented about an observed erosion of “social wealth,” with less community involvement in things like coming to games and concerts even when they didn’t have a student playing.

The public comment portion of the meeting exceeded its 15 minute time limit by nearly half an hour and allowed for back-and-forth discussion in spite of the stated structure, which provided a forum for the community and the PTO to communicate in a way they previously did not have the opportunity for. While emotions ran high at times, the conversation remained respectful and the members of the public thanked the board for hearing them out. 

Freeman and BOE President Debra Kressler thanked the public for their time and let them know that they would be responding to each of them in writing, per BOE procedure, and the public departed before the rest of the meeting.

The Cortland Voice confirmed with Freeman that the father-daughter dance is currently scheduled for Friday.

Intramural Enrichment

The BOE heard from Alta Waltz, Megan Peck, and Melissia Custer about the Intramural Program they have been running for fifth and sixth grade students. The after-school activities are currently funded through federal funds as part of the district’s Enrichment program. Intramurals are held Tuesday through Thursday and have a core group of 15 participants, with some activities drawing up to 30 students. Students play sports, board games, and even go snowshoeing while learning skills like teamwork, leadership, time management and communication. The program helps prepare students for a more rigorous sports schedule as they reach junior high, and to socialize those students who may not wish to pursue a sport.

HUDL Camera System

The district is looking into the purchase of a HUDL camera system, which would allow the recording and live streaming of home and away games, as well as other events such as concerts. The $20k investment would be covered by BOCES aid, and is already in use in nearly half of the 105 surrounding districts. In addition to live streaming, the system would also allow student athletes to easily create their own highlight tapes to send to colleges.

BOE vice president Peg Peri noted that the purchase would be in balance with a similar sized expenditure of $30k made last year, which replaced outdated musical instruments, and that the camera system would not exclusively benefit the sports programs but also the arts. While plays are copyrighted and cannot be broadcast, concerts and other performances could be made available to the public in high definition.