NEW HARTFORD — They say a church is the people and not the building, and Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES is the same, said District Superintendent Patricia Kilburn.
“People sometimes think the educational cooperatives are the buildings and the programs and services we provide but that’s actually not true,” she told the Utica City Schools Board of Education members at their December monthly meeting. “The cooperative is really the people that come together. They come together to talk about their needs. They come together to celebrate what they do well and to share those ideas, and they come together to shape the future of education for the children here at each individual school district.”
Kilburn made a special presentation to the school board that evening, explaining the relationship between BOCES and the various school districts it serves. She told them that the New Hartford-based OHM BOCES is one of the oldest BOCES in New York State, celebrating its 75th year in 2023.
New York State is divided into 37 educational districts, known as sole supervisory districts. Each contains multiple public schools, a district superintendent – in this case Kilburn – and a cooperative known as BOCES, an acronym for Board of Cooperative Educational Services, she explained.
Schools that are in the districts can choose whether they join that BOCES and if they do, they can find new and expanded educational avenues awaiting.
“Public schools have the right to join the BOCES, and when you do it allows you to work with the other public school districts who are members of your cooperative to create programs and services for children that can be shared, that may be cost prohibitive to do on your own, or are not as efficient to do as an individual district,” Kilburn said.
The 12 local school districts OHM BOCES serves are Brookfield, Clinton, Holland Patent, New York Mills, New Hartford, Oriskany, Remsen, Sauquoit Valley, Utica, Waterville, Westmoreland and Whitesboro. They are in a 549-square-mile area in Oneida, Herkimer and Madison counties.
OHM BOCES offers programs for both students coming in to their New Hartford facility and their home districts as well. Kilburn said there are 23,000 students from the 12 public schools within the cooperative who can find a variety of programs and services. There is career and technical education, early college studies in high school programs, school to career counseling, visitations and job shadowing and special education programs, to name a few of their programs.
They also offer the districts acutrements like technology and printing services, science kits and world language testing.
“You name it, usually BOCES can offer it,” Kilburn said.
The 37 educational cooperatives can also share services with other BOCES districts across the state, she added, with students able to get services from another nearby BOCES like Madison-Oneida, for example, while the Nassau BOCES gets science kits from the OHM BOCES.
Kilburn said they have monthly meetings of superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, counselors and others to talk about what they are doing and what they need. She encouraged all of the board members to come out and attend a meeting.
She recognized Utica Board of Education President Joseph Hobika Jr. for his own membership on the OHM BOCES Cooperative Board.
“You have a face at that table,” Kilburn told the board members.
She invited them also to come out to some of the upcoming events at OHM BOCES’ main campus on Middle Settlement Road in New Hartford, especially their annual meeting. There, the board members will hear about the budget they will vote on in May, meet the OHM BOCES board members and enjoy an “amazing” meal prepared by OHM BOCES culinary students.
Hobika said he has been on the OHM BOCES Cooperative Board for two years and complimented it as a “tremendous resource.”
“You are so open and at times educational in just the right way,” he told Kilburn. “We have some amazing kids who go there from all over the area and you are always working tirelessly to make sure that you are providing opportunities for everybody to benefit.”
“Utica and the BOCES have a great relationship and we want that relationship to continue to foster and to grow,” Kilburn said. ‘We want to support you; we want to support your administrators and your children with their initiatives for the future.”
The OHM BOCES Cooperative Board meets the second Wednesday of each month. The next meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 at the Howard D. Mettelman Learning Center at 4747 Middle Settlement Road in New Hartford.