The Massapequa School District during its March 4 public planning session reached decisions on two significant academic issues - the nine period day and a lower Regents passing grade at Massapequa High School.
Both the extra class period, which comes at a cost of about $300,000, and the temporary lowering of the Regents examination passing grade, which was put forward as a means of preventing high school dropouts during the phase-in of tougher, state graduation requirements, were approved after much debate.
The nine-period day was first proposed by the high school's Principal James Maloney at the Feb. 4 planning session. The plan he unveiled changes the daily schedule of the school from eight periods to nine. It is a method that many school districts are using to increase curriculum offerings to help students meet tougher state learning requirements, including more stringent, all-Regents graduation requirements.
At the time he noted that the administration needs the extra period to schedule many students into remedial classes in order to help them pass the Regents examinations. He added that the change could be made with minor adjustments to students' schedules, and would ensure that all students would have a designated lunch period. (Ten percent of students at Massapequa High School currently share their lunch period with another course.) It would also allow BOCES students an additional period in which to schedule required courses for the required Regents Diploma, and would enable others to take more Advanced Placement classes.
Students would be required to select a minimum of 6 classes, plus physical education per day. They currently are required to take 5 classes plus physical education.
The plan would reduce each period from 44 minutes to 41 minutes, and would add 5 minutes to the school day, which is allowable under the current teachers' contract, according to Superintendent of Massapequa Schools James Brucia. It also calls for the hiring of 6 new teachers to teach additional courses, with an estimated total cost of approximately $300,000 per year.
After some school board members expressed concerns with the cost of the plan, the board had tabled the issue, agreeing to include it as an item for consideration within 1999-2000 school district budget negotiations.
At the March 4 meeting, Brucia urged the board to vote on the measure that night, because students had already begun to schedule extra classes in anticipation of its passage. "We really need action on this item, because a delay another month could be disastrous in terms of scheduling," he said.
His statement was followed by some debate among the trustees.
"Why wasn't it imperative last year that the high school be made a nine-period day?" asked Trustee Arlene Martin. Brucia responded that it has become especially imperative due to the tougher Regents requirements.
Trustee Richard Sorvillo said, "To me, it's premature to be voting on it now when you have the proposed 11 percent increase in taxes...I think it's poor planning. The timing stinks."
Diane Krakoff, vice-president of the board, commented, "While I agree that we have to be fiscally responsible, I think we also have to be educationally sound," adding that if the district does not adopt the nine-period day, students will not get the remedial classes that they need during the school day in order to meet the tougher Regents graduation requirements. "We'll have an increase in summer school enrollment, and will also have students taking five years to graduate."
Addressing the superintendent, Trustee Robert Thompson said, "I'm willing to support this on the assumption that you're going to get [the budget] down."
Expressing her support for the measure, Board President Christine Nottonson said, "I think this is a critical educational issue that we need to move forward on."
Martin ultimately said that she supports the plan, but would like the district to carefully monitor whether students are making use of the extra remedial classes.
Four trustees voted for the plan, with Sorvillo registering the sole vote against it.
The lowering of the Regents passing grade, from 65 to 55, was also spurred by the tougher, All-Regents graduation requirements being phased in by the state.
The lower passing grade is effective during the phase-in period which is taking place over the next few years. Many districts across the state are taking advantage of the option to lower the passing grade, as the state is phasing out the less rigorous Regents Competency Tests (RCTs), and students who previously were able to receive a local diploma after passing these tests are being mandated to pass the traditionally tougher and recently revamped Regents examinations, in order to graduate. For example, current 11th graders must pass the English Regents examination in order to graduate. Other subjects, such as social studies and math, will be applied to the new requirements in ensuing years.
Both trustees and community members at the meeting expressed concern that the district was lowering the bar in order to meet the new state standards, while district administrators argued that the measure is only temporary and is a necessary safety net.
Presenting the proposal to the board, Brucia said, "There was a great fear among the educators that there would be disastrous results on these exams for the first year or two unless there was a safety net."
Martin said that she supports the measure because so many other districts are using it, and to refrain from using it would put Massapequa students at a disadvantage.
Sorvillo commented, "I don't really see where the benefit of it is. We're supposed to strive for excellence, and then we're striving for mediocrity."
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Carol Alexander noted that the lowering of the passing grade is not a substitute for preparation for the tougher standards, but is in addition to that. She said the district has been working to meet the new state standards for several years through such methods as re-writing curriculum, staff development and new support classes.
Many parents in the audience expressed support for the plan.
Trustees Thompson, Krakoff, Nottonson and Martin voted for it, while Sorvillo abstained.