SULLIVAN COUNTY Yesterday’s SCIL-Sr. (Sullivan County Interacademic League, grades 9-12) and Monday’s SCIL-Jr. (grades 7-8) meets are not just the last of the season but the last of the program as it exists now.
Come fall, seven of Sullivan County’s eight public school districts will be participating in SCIL’s successor, named SCAL (Sullivan County Academic League) to distinguish it from its predecessor.
BOCES Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Barbara Blakey said it will retain the academic challenges SCIL created and refined over its 18-year history while saving districts money and improving offerings, she added.
“We did not want to see this program go away,” Blakey said. “... We’re going to look at keeping as many aspects as we can.”
But it will be a change, and some of SCIL’s current leaders are afraid it won’t be for the better.
“It’s going to end up going by the wayside, and it’s a shame,” 17-year Monticello SCIL-Jr. Coach Donna Nestler lamented, especially of the switch from during-school to afterschool competitions. “I think we’re doing a disservice to our higher-level students.”
Monticello, in fact, won’t be competing in SCAL events at all, having opted instead to fund teams for Odyssey of the Mind competitions.
Superintendent Pat Michel likes SCIL but said the situation “just got too strange.”
Budget issues forced him to look at what the district was spending on SCIL (each district pays about $9,000 a year to BOCES to cover coaches’ salaries, meet materials, and transportation), and he found the same concern when he attended the monthly meeting of Sullivan County public school superintendents earlier in the school year.
He also discovered that the superintendents shared another concern: the removal of students and teachers (SCIL coaches) from their classes in order to attend SCIL events.
“The SCIL program was all done during the school day,” pointed out Roscoe Superintendent Carmine Giangreco, who supports the move to SCAL.
So does Sullivan West Superintendent Ken Hilton, who apparently helped save SCIL from extinction.
“I didn’t have an opinion when the superintendents began talking about it,” he said.
Those discussions were leaning heavily toward dropping the SCIL program entirely so much so that BOCES was preparing not to offer it for 2009-2010.
But then SW’s SCIL-Sr. coach, Marlene Kinch, invited Hilton to participate in a meet, and the combination of team-building and skill-building activities won him over.
“I asked the superintendents to discuss it again,” Hilton recalled.
What emerged was a directive from the superintendents to BOCES to revamp the program, keeping kids in class but still offering them a SCIL-type competition, all at a lower cost.
Blakey took on that challenge, but according to SCIL Coordinator Brian Tingley, she began without seeking input from him or other SCIL veterans.
Tingley has been helming SCIL for the past decade.
“SCIL is kind of like my daughter, and they’re taking her out on a date,” he remarked. “... To them, it’s just another program, and that’s kind of concerning to me.”
In fact, Tingley found out about the proposed changes in January but wasn’t invited to participate in SCAL’s creation until late March, after peppering superintendents and BOCES administrators with e-mails of concern.
It ended up, he said, being one meeting between three SCIL leaders and Blakey, with his team’s ideas for saving money falling on deaf ears.
In fact, it turns out the longtime biology teacher at Tri-Valley will not be retained as SCAL’s coordinator, that position being given to a yet-to-be-identified BOCES employee, said Blakey, helping to realize further cost savings.
Tingley, on the other hand, guesses his departure is a result of the superintendents blaming BOCES for their displeasure with SCIL, and Blakey (and the superintendents) blaming him for stirring up the districts with his emails.
“If they’re mad at me, I can take that, because it’s not about me,” he said.
Indeed, he said he would have helped them find a replacement in order to ensure the program would be well-cared-for. Now, he’s worried that SCAL is doomed before it even begins.
“As far as the day-to-day running of SCIL, they don’t really know what we do, I think,” he said.
Blakey, however, said it’s not personal it’s about meeting the goals the superintendents of the districts that fund BOCES asked her to accomplish.
“We tried to meet their needs,” she explained, noting SCAL is now part of BOCES’ slate of extracurricular CoSer (Cooperative Service) offerings. “... I think there is a controversy where there is no controversy.”
Blakey is at a busy planning point in the school year, whilst also operating under an interim superintendent at a BOCES potentially facing a merger with a neighboring BOCES. She said she didn’t mean to exclude anyone but had about a month to create the program.
“We moved as fast and as inclusively as we could,” she said.
According to BOCES and participating school districts, SCAL will replace SCIL’s 10 meets a year (six for SCIL-Sr. and 4 for SCIL-Jr.) with three afterschool meets during the week and three on Saturdays, spread out over the year.
The traditional grade separations of 7-8 and 9-12 have been retained, and SCAL is estimated to cost districts about $6,000 a year $3,000 less than SCIL.
“We felt there was so much value for students to participate in challenges beyond the school day,” Blakey said.
She also noted how many people are pleased with the results. That includes Tri-Valley Superintendent Tom Palmer Tingley’s boss.
“These changes are going to be good,” Palmer remarked, particularly happy that students and teachers won’t lose class time.
He added, though, that Tingley “did a great job” a thought echoed by Monticello Supt. Michel.
“SCIL was wonderful,” he remarked. “Both my sons participated in it.”
On Tuesday: SCIL’s founder weighs in, and other reactions.