High school social studies teacher Emily Bradford was honored as Teacher of the Month.
A very large and diverse group, adults and students, teachers and parents, filled, to standing room capacity, Room 123 at Glen Cove High School on Monday, March 29 for a meeting of the Glen Cove School Board of Education. Some were there for the purpose of receiving honors and that was where the meeting began.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Ellen Freeley smiled as she remarked, "I'm very happy there is such a large crowd here tonight, because the Teacher of the Month who is being recognized is deserving of a great amount of praise and thanks. That teacher is Emily Bradford, social studies teacher at the high school." When the applause died down, Dr. Freeley continued. "Ms. Bradford is an excellent teacher whose skills are unparalleled. She takes her students to such a high level of performance at Teen Court and Mock Trial that Judge McCord has said to me that sometimes our students perform better at Teen Court than students who have finished law school."
Board President Janet-Bates Wilkins presented certificates to and congratulated students from elementary grades through high school for their participation in the New York State Schools Music Association's (NYSMMA) annual music festival. Dr. Freeley added her congratulations to the staff of the district's music department "without whom the children could not have succeeded so well." She also commended the students for possessing not just the talent, but the courage and personal confidence it takes to stand before an adjudicator and perform on one's own.
The next plaudits of the evening were bestowed on three Connolly School students whose artwork has been displayed at the Stonybrook Museum throughout the winter. Students of Mrs. Palazzo, the promising artists are Victoria Gill, Sasha Guerrero, and Olivia Goldson; the theme of the show was Colors of Long Island.
A little later in the evening, after the board approved some personnel actions, Dr. Freeley announced that among a number of other educators, Joseph Hinton, principal of the high school, had been given tenure. The packed room burst into loud and sincere applause, accompanied by a standing ovation addressed to a seemingly overwhelmed Mr. Hinton.
When comments from the public were accepted, one of the first to stand was Amanda Caruso, junior class treasurer. Ms. Caruso announced she was speaking on behalf of the student body, a number of whom were in attendance, and wished to address the question of what she called "the letting go of some teachers." She was quickly silenced by board members who explained to Ms. Caruso that discussion of personnel, by law, must be done in executive session and not in a public forum. When she asked how, then, the students could have their opinions and feelings voiced, she was told to make an appointment to address the board at an executive session meeting.
The board, administration and audience then got into a discussion, which became cross-conversations and then more of a hollering session when the subject of replacing honors classes with AP classes in the high school was raised.
At the crux of the matter was the administration's suggestion to the school board that the high school begin to eliminate honors classes in favor of AP classes. This having been argued and deprecated at earlier meetings, the administration came back with a compromise: embed an honors component in the Regents classes. The compromise was met with outcries from the public and questions from the board, who, according to members, had just heard of the compromise on Friday night.
Even with that fact unknown by the public, parents made it quite clear that they did not feel the board had put enough thought into the proposal, nor had listened to the objections of parents, students and teachers. Student Amanda Caruso took the microphone again, saying, "We came for another subject, but I'm glad we stayed for this one." She and classmate Max Feigman basically echoed each other's words, saying that there is too large a gap between the Regents classes and AP classes. And that gap is where a majority of the students do their best work. "I take a lot of AP classes," said Amanda, "and I don't want to take AP English next year. But that doesn't mean I want to be in a regular Regents class. In an honors class the attitude of students is different...an honors class would be where I belong." As for the idea of an honors component within the Regents class, "It won't work," said Max. "Teachers won't be able to teach to all levels. How can you say any of this will work when we're in the classes? We see the attitudes and behaviors of students in different classes." Ms. Bates-Wilkins tried to explain that the board has spent a lot of time working on professional development and differentiated instruction for just these matters. Teacher Melanie Arfman agreed. "You'll always see a large range of learning in all classes, Regents, honors and AP. We must look at what is best for the student."
Parent after parent stood up. Marilyn Abrams said, "There seems to be so much confusion on the board. My suggestion would be to ask successful former AP students to come back and talk to the board about just what good it did and didn't do them. For the last few years, I have seen AP scores drop. Maybe instead of expanding, we should get our house in order, then slowly go ahead."
Other parents agreed. Over the past number of years, some say, the honors program in the high school has lost much of its challenge and subsequently the AP classes have, also.
Parent Anthony Genova brought reams of papers to distribute, backing up research he has been doing on the subject. He was not allowed to distribute these to the public, as at a board meeting, one is there to address the board; Mr. Genova had previously sent the board members the information which gave them the opportunity to read it prior to the meeting. Part of his findings disclosed that a great number of entering college freshmen are taking remedial English and math, making up for basics not learned in high school.
When asked by a parent why administration wished to make the choice of courses so limited, Dr. Freeley replied, "College counselors ask, 'Have you taken the most rigorous class you could?' and if the answer is no, then an honors class loses much of its significance."
Board member Vito Abbondandolo commented, "We are changing our entire curriculum based on what college counselors are saying? I don't believe we should give so much credence to that."
The debate seesawed between the idea of having confidence that a majority of students can do AP work and an idea that an AP program is too rigorous for the general high school population.
"We have to have confidence they can do it," said Ms. Scricca. "What if they can't?" asked Mr. Abbondandolo. "I don't believe in can't," answered Ms. Scricca. Mr. Abondandolo replied, "Why shove something down their throats when no one wants to do it...not the students, not the parents..." His sentence was cut off by a loud round of applause.
Board member Dr. Kurt Schmeller agreed with the idea that "We need to show that we have confidence in our students." Ms. Bates-Wilkins said, "Why are we afraid to go forward? Our students are just as good as any students." Mr. Abbondandolo agreed with the assessment of the students, but had a problem with the program in question. "Is our AP program working? Students in AP should be getting 4s and 5s [on exams]. We have students getting 1s and 2s. We have a model that is not working. Why put more students into it?" When the applause quieted, he added, "Let's fix what we've got first," which started applause again.
Carol Sucharski agreed with Mr. Abbondandolo. "We need to fix what we have, the AP program has been watered down anyway; we need more staff training, I don't want to push this forward."
Board member Richard Tortorici remarked that he liked the superintendent's compromise. "We always plan and plan and don't move forward. We hired this administrative staff to move us forward, and we don't have the courage. If things don't work perfectly, we can ask for a change. If we don't move ahead, I feel we are doing Glen Cove a real disservice." Board Vice-President Dr. Rodger Silletti interjected to say he objected to the inference that anyone who does not agree with the plan is not being courageous. He said he appreciates what the administration is trying to do and agrees in theory, but he doesn't think embedding honors in Regents classes will work. "You say that colleges don't look at honors classes, but if that is what the students want to do, they should be allowed to do it. I don't think this AP program is ready to be instituted. We need to work on it."
It was suggested that the motion be voted on at the next meeting, as it was not on this meeting's agenda, but Mr. Abbondandolo, who served as board president for 6 years prior to Ms. Bates-Wilkins, argued, "Just amend the agenda and let's vote now."
The vote was 4 to 3 in favor of keeping the honors program the way it presently stands, with members Carol Sucharski, Doug Brown, Vito Abbondandolo and Vice-President Dr. Rodger Silletti voting against the administration's suggestion and President Bates-Wilkins, Dr. Kurt Schmeller and Richard Tortorici voting on the side of the administration. Many parents left the meeting thanking the board for listening to their concerns and acting on them.
In the absence of Larry Blake, assistant superintendent for business, the planned budget review was held off and was scheduled for Wednesday, March 31.