Saratoga County

Forum to view changing face of Clifton Park-Halfmoon

Shenendehowa Central School District Superintendent Oliver Robinson will team up with Pete Bardunias

Students from Germany, Taiwan and Singapore learn English and exercise their talents in Shenendehowa schools. Their parents work, shop and socialize in the community.

A small but noticeable influx of new foreign residents and ethnic minorities is calling the southern part of the county home or doing business here, making a long-homogeneous area less so.

Many of the people moving here from out of the area come to work at the high-tech businesses and educational institutions.

“We’re much more diverse than people think,” said Oliver Robinson, Shenendehowa Central School District superintendent. “More and more, this region is becoming much more attractive for people moving into the area.”

At a glance

What: Public forum on cultural changes in the Clifton Park-Halfmoon community and the impact the changes will have on schools, businesses and families.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library, 475 Moe Road, Clifton Park

Who: Oliver Robinson, superintendent of Shenendehowa schools; Pete Bardunias, president of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County; and Phillip Naftaly, sociology and anthropology professor at SUNY Adirondack.

Registration: Requested in advance. Register at through the calendar of events or call 371-8622.

The shift is noticeable in the district’s English-as-a-second-language classes, where several years ago fewer than 20 students needed help. Today, more than 100 students speaking 30 different languages are enrolled, Robinson said.

Most of the non-white students at Shenendehowa are of Asian descent, including Indian, Robinson said.

Families of other cultures are moving here from Austin, Texas, with the opening of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta, and from downstate, as well. And German families move here because GlobalFoundries has a plant in Dresden.

“This region is a pretty hot marketplace,” Robinson said.

Robinson will team up with Pete Bardunias, president of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County, and Phillip Naftaly, a sociology and anthropology professor at SUNY Adirondack, for a forum on how cultural changes will affect southern Saratoga County. “A Community Conversation” will be hosted by the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library at 2 p.m. Sunday.

The library asked to collaborate with the school district, which has a diversity committee on which two librarians serve, Robinson said.

For people moving to the area, Clifton Park and Halfmoon are often attractive areas to do business and settle because of the proximity to the Capital Region’s three cities and the highway system, Bardunias said.

“It’s also a very attractive place for real estate,” he said.

The Shenendehowa district’s reputation draws people with children.

“We offer courses here that some local universities don’t offer,” Robinson said.

As a result of the growing cultural diversity, Bardunias expects to see differences over time in how products are marketed and see some new products offered. For example, people moving here from Europe may find the canal system an attractive form of recreation, since canals are popular in many parts of Europe.

Tour boat rides are common in Amsterdam, Bardunias said.

“It could actually be a boon for those waterways and those businesses that are on them.”

People from Europe and Asia also use more mass transit than is available in upstate New York, and it’s possible that demand from new residents could lead to additions to the existing public transportation system.

“We do have some of the core elements that could somewhere down the line result in some additions,” Bardunias said.

The semiconductor industry and GE’s technologies attract temporary visitors from afar, too.

On Tuesday, a group of about 15 people representing Tunisia’s chambers of commerce toured GlobalFoundries and GE. Tunisia has 77 GE turbines and its representatives got to see where people here can control the movements of their turbines from across the globe.

The delegation educated the Americans, including Bardunias, on the country’s exports, including fish and olive oil, and so the two groups established a relationship.

“They went home with big smiles on their faces,” Bardunias said. “Next time GE wants to do business over there, they’re going to be able to greet them with a smile.”

For the school district, a focus on cultural diversity also prepares students to compete in a global market, Robinson said. And it challenges the district to accommodate students from other educational systems, such as when German students demand more advanced placement courses because they’ll need them back home to graduate and get into German universities.

Adding more AP courses to help those students benefits the rest of the high school’s student body, Robinson said.

Dealing with cultural differences means more than connecting with someone from a foreign country, Bardunias said. The differences between the way upstate and downstate residents interact and do business can be subtle yet important.

Bardunias moved his family to Clifton Park from Putnam County in March 2011, after he took the job at the chamber. It’s hard to put his finger on what’s different exactly, Bardunias said, but generally, people upstate seem more laid back.

“They have a very friendly demeanor,” he said. “People tend to give you extra time to get to know them. But at the same time, it’s also very intense.”

Upstate residents also are more reluctant to intrude into others’ lives, compared to people living downstate, which can have business implications.

“You have to be aggressive,” Bardunias said of doing business downstate. “You have to be willing to stand in a circle of strangers and introduce yourself.”

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