Hicksville School District board members and residents gathered in the crowded board room of the administration building Wednesday, Oct. 23 to applaud the district's teachers for their success in the inclusion education program as board members were honored for their work toward improving the district. Governor George Pataki recently declared the week of Oct. 28 - Nov. 1 as National School Board Recognition Week.
Superintendent Maureen Bright presented board members with a certificate of appreciation for their dedication in serving the district. "They give up countless hours of personal time and in many instances sacrifice their own privacy and that of their families for the good of our children, our schools and our community," she said.
School board members, in return, honored longtime Hicksville resident Sebastian Ralph Grasso, a veteran of the US Navy who served during WWII. Through Operation Recognition, legislation passed by the New York State Department of Education, educational credit is awarded to veterans like Grasso who could not complete their high school education because they served during active duty in WWII or the Korean conflict. Upon presentation of his diploma, Grasso said, "I'm very grateful to all you people. I feel terrific."
School board members also witnessed presentations by the district's teachers, from elementary through the high school level, explaining the benefits of the inclusion program implemented in Hicksville schools. In an informational pamphlet, the district defines inclusion as the "placement of students with disabilities in general education with special education support services." Teachers explained that various teaching methods are vital to inclusion education. Having two teachers in the classroom, they claim, allows for all students to receive individual attention. While one teacher is teaching a lesson, the other can circulate the classroom to answer questions of those children who may be too shy to raise their hands.
Upon listening to the benefits of the inclusion program, trustee James Pino questioned whether the general education students not attending inclusion classes will perform at levels lower than those who do attend inclusion classes.
Carol Elk, director of Special Education and Pupil Personnel Services, responded, "I think the environment is just different. [Students requiring special education] need a little more of the adult support that is available in the inclusion classes which will allow for this diversification and enrichment, whereas in the other class, the students may be a little more independent ... no one is at a disadvantage."
Peggy Theiss, school board vice president, asked if the inclusion program, however beneficial to students, is mandated by the state.
"What is mandated is provision of services within general education to the extent students can benefit from it," replied Elk. " And, that is what we are doing when we provide the inclusion program as we have." She added that a benefit to the program is a setting in which students develop socially as well as academically with their peers.
The district's inclusion program pamphlet explains that students are evaluated during the school year by a support team to determine whether or not they could benefit from participating in an inclusion class. Attending PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences, as well as open school nights, enables parents of students in general education programs to become informed of the inclusion program and its benefits.
Pat Love, school board secretary, said she had the opportunity to observe the program years ago, when it was in its beginning stages. "I believe the reason that it does work ... is because the teachers blend together so well. When you have a team that works well together, you have success," she said.
Trustee Augustine Tornatore added, "I appreciated the fact that the teachers here are using many different approaches to education ... that are necessary to enhance the child's education. So, I think it's a wonderful program."
Bright thanked the teachers for attending and making their presentations. "I think they have certainly, by what you have seen tonight, put a tremendous amount of work and time into this," she said, adding that the teachers involved in the inclusion program did so voluntarily.
Bright also said one of her objectives is to make the community aware of the many things happening in the district's schools. "We have a staff that is working incredibly hard and we have wonderful success stories that only sometimes parents and teachers involved, really get to enjoy and to hear," she said.
The next regular meeting of the Hicksville Board of Education is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 8:30 p.m. in the administration building's board room. The public is invited to attend.