PORT JERVIS - Student-designed classroom furniture and Galapagos Island visits via virtual reality goggles will be some of the ways Port Jervis students experience the increased influence of Mike Rydell next year.

A former science teacher, he arrived last year from Wallkill High School, where he was principal, to be assistant superintendent for instruction in Port Jervis. In July he becomes superintendent after a superintendent search outside the district.

Describing his plans, he said, “You’ll see students in collaborative groups with more instruction via group projects, continued focus on opportunities beyond the school day with our STEAM Enrichment Program for our elementary students, and noticeable changes in electives,” among other efforts.

One outcome will be triangular desks with dry erase surfaces that fit together for collaborative work in some fourth to sixth grade classrooms, Rydell says. In a pilot project last year, students used math and other academic skills to design furniture suited to their needs. Chairs with rolling castors and cushions for floor work will also be part of the décor. If pilot results are favorable, more classes will be involved.

“The universal sentiment was that traditional desks are not optimal,” said Rydell. “We want to get student input at all levels for classroom decision-making.”

In the middle school and high school, teachers will do less lecture style teaching. “They want students engaged,” he said.

In addition to more lessons involving student collaborations, technology will be increasingly available to each class, particularly chrome books, he said. The district will also have its own set of virtual reality goggles that take students to New York City, the ocean floor, the inner workings of the body, and beyond, as the technology becomes both cheaper and more expansive.

“The technology won’t be standalone — it’ll be incorporated to enhance subject matter,” said Rydell.

Summer school will also change. “We’ll revise the summer school model, especially elementary. We’ll have more hands on learning with science, technology, engineering, art, and math integration,” he said.

Teachers also will do more collaboration, he said. Their curriculum mapping will ensure that what they teach is consistent across grade levels and also prepares students for the next levels. A professional development committee seeks opportunities for teachers to learn new strategies.

“We’re looking at courses to make sure electives are student-centered,” Rydell said. “We want to expand how we prepare students for post-high school success. For instance, we’ll merge culinary and business electives for culinary arts and restaurant ownership and make it a track through high school. They can also have experiences with engineering and fashion design. We want to engage students now and enable success later.”

Teachers can propose ideas according to student interests. So next year an environmental science course with experimentation will be part of the curriculum. “There are local opportunities for research and observation,” he said.

As for security, said Rydell, “The school board recognized that each building required a security officer for the 2018-2019 school year. Hence our budget reflects an increase from two to four security officers. Additionally, an office has been created in the High School, Middle School, and Hamilton Bicentennial Elementary School to allow assigned police officers to remain in buildings as much as possible.”