Although it was specifically planned to discuss personnel matters, discussion at the special meeting of the Garden City Board of Education, held last Thursday, ranged from class size to the athletic program, issues raised by members of the community.
The meeting began with the board passing a resolution, presented by Superintendent of Schools Stephen Leitman, regarding certified personnel. Included in this resolution and questioned by community members present at the meeting, was the resignation of Assistant Superintendent for Business Daniel Bryan, and the appointment of Eileen Hussey as the interim assistant principal at the high school.
When questioned, the superintendent explained that Bryan, who has a young baby, took a position closer to his home so he could spend more time with his family. His resignation goes into effect on Aug. 21. School Board President Linda Leone noted, "We will be advertising for the position and things will be running as smoothly as possible even given the transition time."
When a resident asked about Eileen Hussey's appointment as interim assistant principal at the high school, it was explained that she has been a biology teacher in the high school for approximately 28-29 years and for the last 11 years has been the department chair. It was also noted that she has NYS Administrative Certification. This is a one-year appointment for Hussey. "We have had an opening for the assistant principal's position and we have gone through an exhaustive search and felt, at this particular point, it would be best for us to have an interim in place to keep the building running smoothly for the school year and that we would look at alternate ways of proceeding with the search next year so we can find a permanent candidate," said Leitman.
Following the personnel discussion, one parent questioned the first grade class size, noting that many parents had heard a rumor that for the coming year, the first grade class size may be between 24-26. "We're concerned," noted the parent. "Do we need another teacher and is that going to be the number of students in a class?" Leitman responded that every week he reviews the class sizes with the principals in each of the schools. "There are some question marks in the elementary schools and one of the things that we are making a commitment to, is that we will not exceed the board of education policy with regard to class size," stated the superintendent. "The only problem is at Stewart School, if class size goes over a certain quota because until the building construction is complete we don't have any additional room to add any classes, but the principals and myself are going over that on a constant basis." One of the things that is being done right now, according to Leitman, is the review of how many students are leaving the district in relation to how many are coming into district schools. As they get into August, noted the superintendent, and they have more accurate numbers, he and the board of education will make some further determinations with regard to class size. "Rest assured that this is a concern of the superintendent, the principals and most assuredly, the board of education and we want to make sure that the class size does not exceed the board of education policy," said Leitman.
The parent then questioned the current board of education policy which allows for 25 students in a first grade class. "We feel it's too many. I was a school teacher for 10 years and I feel it's too many," she said.
"This has been the position of this school district for many years," said Leone. "We have listened to the public who have informed us, as you have yourselves, about the fact that 25 students can be considered too many for a first grade class. However, given the constraints that you have, in terms of classroom space availability, as well as the fact that if we were to consider the number, it wouldn't be for the first grade alone, it would be districtwide because we cannot single out one grade." Leone went on to note that anyone driving around the community can see that the district is very busy adding on to and refurbishing the buildings and until that refurbishment is completed, the board cannot make a determination with regard to any change in class size policy.
"We won't argue pedagogically, whether or not students can learn better in smaller groups, but we're saying we're doing the best we can right now," said Leone. "Twenty-five is the goal that we have held to and that we continue to keep as our focus."
Joseph Calamari questioned how many students were not promoted to the next grade, to which the superintendent responded, "None, that I'm aware of." Leitman went on to note that every student graduated on time, with no seniors attending summer school.
Another resident used the special meeting as an opportunity to speak about a negative experience he had a couple of years ago with the athletic department and to encourage the district to correct the situation. The resident explained that when his son played for a JVB team often the practices and games were canceled so the coach could scout the varsity games. He noted that the JVB teams were often neglected and that when the ninth grade was moved from the junior high to the high school, he and other parents questioned what would happen to these students who may not be athletically able to perform on the varsity teams, at which time they were assured that these students could participate on the JVB teams. "I'm asking you, please, during this school year, could you make sure that boys and girls have JVB teams," asked the resident.
"The district, this year will be reviewing the entire program and looking at all the teams, participation in all the teams and really evaluating where we're going so we get a clear focus on what we want to do and be sure it's in concert with our philosophy," stated Leitman. "This is something that hasn't been done for a long time and it's something we will be doing this year. We will be reviewing the entire athletic program from beginning to end."