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POB BOE Starts Off School Year By Passing Wellness Policy

Tensions Rise as Many Parents Speak Out During Public Participation

At the Monday, Sept. 13 Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education meeting, many topics were covered. In addition to a robust program of reports and presentations, many parents spoke up about myriad concerns during the Public Participation segment, broadening the range of topics dealt with further.

Talia, the new representative from the POBJFK HS student government for the school year, started the meeting off on a high note by reporting on the success of the senior barbecue, and the victory of the varsity football team over a team from Herricks in the first game of the season.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Ryan J. Ruf gave a report on district finances, noting that the state aid will remain much the same as it has in previous years. He also noted that the Jobs Fund Bill, passed by the federal government in August, provided additional funds in the amount of $622,385, however the funds have a two-year lifespan. According to Ruf, school districts may want to consider holding on to that money and not spending it until the 2011-2012 school year, but a course of action has not been decided yet. In addition, he noted that there will likely be a mid-year reduction in state aid, and that the district is not expected to receive very much Race to the Top funding, although there are no numbers available yet.

Superintendent Dempsey reported on the recent signing by the governor of a new law called the “Dignity for all Students Act,” an anti-discrimination law. According to Dempsey, the board will discuss the ramifications of the new law for the district in connection with the discussions about school climate that have already been planned. Part of the law will require the district to add to its instruction on the topics of civility, citizenship, and character education.

Dempsey also reported on the school openings, saying that they went very smoothly overall, with an acknowledgement that there were some transportation issues.

James Murray, principal of POBJFK HS, delivered the Annual Scholarship Report for the 2009-2010 school year. Murray reported that there was a three percent increase in the number of students who met the NYS requirements for Regents diplomas, from 93 percent to 96 percent. “We normally go either up or down a percent or so, so going up three percent is really very good,” said Murray. He also said that passing rates overall were “exceptional.” He went on to report on specific passing rates and mastery rates for various subjects, concluding that there was an overall increase in mastery rates, although those rates did decrease in certain areas, such as English.

Murray also reported on the progress of the 10 non-graduates from that school year; five graduated in August, and the other five are all currently working towards their GEDs with support from the district.

Many parents came up to the microphone to speak about pressing issues during public participation. One issue that several parents spoke of was the difficulty caused by receiving school supply lists late, making it impossible to take advantage of the ‘Back to School’ sales. Some were also concerned with the contents of the lists themselves. “We don’t teach penmanship anymore; we don’t teach handwriting anymore; why do we need so much paper?” asked Susan Stewart. Stewart went on to question the necessity of the redundant school supplies that some teachers asked for, and Dempsey agreed that there was a need to “crack down” on some of the supply requests, and said they planned to do so further.

One parent spoke about his concerns about his child being bullied by a teacher; while policy prevents specific accusations to be made at the meetings (and the parent had met with Dempsey about his concerns privately prior to the meeting) the parent made his dissatisfaction with the situation evident. “When people talk about bullying, they only think about kids, and I have no idea why teachers are allowed to do it…I know teachers have unions, but I don’t think the union allows a teacher to break the law,” he said. Dempsey said that he is working on the case, but he could not yet share the results of his investigation.

“We have one problem that’s going to ruin everything we’ve done; one bad apple is all it takes. And it’s been going on for years,” concluded the concerned parent.

Nancy Speller, representing the POB Parents Concerned About Bullying group, recommended that more members of the board attend the group’s upcoming anti-bullying forum on Sept. 28 in light of the parent’s statements. “This group of parents have been meeting for the last two months to discuss bullying and the issues surrounding it, and I think you can see from tonight, the emotions that are involved when someone is being bullied are very, very, very, very impactful and severe,” said Speller.

The board passed the new Wellness Policy, the complete text of which is available on the district website at www.pobschools.org. Some aspects of the policy are that food may not be used as a punishment or a reward unless needed to implement a specific educational program, and nutrition education will be integrated into other subject areas at the elementary school level.

In Tenure Recognition, math teacher Jacqueline Impennato received tenure from the board. “Mrs. Impennato has emerged as a leader in our math department. She’s instrumental in scoring our district state assessment, and a vital member of our new teacher meetings,” said Beth Torreano, assistant principal at Mattlin Middle School.

In Retirement Recognition, speech teacher Carol Symons was awarded with a plaque for her 28 years of service to the district. “I think I know why it was such a difficult decision for Carol to reach, and that is because she has truly enjoyed her work,” said Ms. Francine Leiboff, principal of the K-Center. “You could see it when you see her working with children, she really loved being with them.” Symons had worked in every district elementary school, and was celebrated for her creativity and sensitivity towards children’s interests.

In other news, Assistant Superintendent Arthur Jonas noted that usage of the Infinite Campus Parent Portal has increased, and Debra Bernstein reported on the success of the Summer Special Education program.

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be a workshop meeting on Sept. 27, which will feature more in-depth discussion about the board goals for the 2010-2011 school year. While there will be no Public Participation segment at the workshop, comments will be welcomed at the next meeting on Oct. 4.