Owego Free Academy was one of the first in the state to close, on March 13, 2020, due to a power given to individual counties per Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order. With this closure, the fate of graduation ceremonies for the approximate 170 Class of 2020 members, and the school’s movement forward, will be based on guidance from the state and county.
We caught up with the Owego-Apalachin School District’s Superintendent on Wednesday, Corey Green, and talked in-depth about the foreseeable future for academics at Owego Free Academy, what the response to the pandemic was like for the school as a whole, and about what a graduation ceremony might look like this year; the ending of a school year, completely interrupted by a world-wide pandemic.
“It’s been quite the disruption,” Superintendent Green said of the school closure and pandemic, adding, “but the students have been great.”
Superintendent Green noted that Senior Class members are discussing options, and there is a survey located on the district’s website, https://www.oacsd.org, for the community to offer ideas regarding graduation.
In the meantime, Superintendent Green noted, we sit and wait.
With the school’s closure happening in mid-March, administrators and teachers had to immediately jump on-board with learning based technology in order to continue working with students throughout the pandemic. Superintendent Green described it as a smooth transition.
“We’ve been committed to technology,” said Superintendent Green, adding, “This made things tremendously easier.”
The hardest part, he did note, was getting connected. But soon, and according to Superintendent Green, residents were able to gain the connection needed by using their cell phone, if they had a good enough connection. Other issues, he noted, were resolved.
With connections ready, students’ iPads were sent home, and programs were put in place for continued education during the pandemic. Altogether, approximately 2,000 iPads have been distributed, according to Superintendent Green, for the entire district, grades kindergarten through twelve.
The Owego Elementary school grounds, in the interim, has been serving as a place to not only distribute students’ meals during the week, but also a staging ground of sorts for food giveaways hosted by a variety of organizations such as Tioga Opportunities, Inc., the Food Bank of the Southern Tier and Tioga County Rural Ministry, to name a few.
“The building is really equipped for that type of thing,” Superintendent Green said of the food distribution storage and staging that has taken place at the grounds.
Food giveaways are still taking place on Mondays and Thursdays at both the Owego Elementary School, located off of George Street in Owego, and the Apalachin Elementary School, located right off of Pennsylvania Avenue in Apalachin. Visit https://www.oacsd.org to learn more.
As for moving forward, Superintendent Green spoke of the uncertainties, to include summer school options.
“We’re planning to have something to engage students,” said Superintendent Green, adding, “It will most likely remain a remote option.”
And in the midst of all of this is a tax vote. Superintendent Green described it as “challenging,” and based much of this on the uncertainty of if and when state aid payments would arrive.
Superintendent Green optimistically cautioned there could be another stimulus, but it wouldn’t arrive until after a June 19 budget vote for the O-A School District, a budget that is tax-capped at 1.82 percent this year.
It will be difficult, echoed the superintendent, but he added, too, “Right now we’re okay. We have eight to ten retirements we can’t fill, as well. Most schools are in the same position.”
Either way, the Superintendent’s focus, today, is on the Class of 2020, and the hopes that they find a way that will honor them appropriately. More information will be disseminated in the coming weeks.
As for the fall of 2020 commencement of education, also an unknown, Superintendent Green agreed that the state would be dictating most of the directives through the counties. They are as prepared as ever, however, to face the challenges.
“Our goal is to keep our programs, and we’re waiting to see what [state] aid cuts might be,” the Superintendent concluded, “We’re waiting.”