Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 01 October 2010 00:00
The Plainview-Old Bethpage School District Board of Education held a very different sort of meeting on Monday, Sept. 27. Not only was the format different, with a more informal discussion among the board members and no public participation segment, but the venue was different as well; due to problems with the electrical systems at Mattlin Middle School, the meeting was held at the high school instead.
As always, the meeting started with a report from the POBJFKHS student government. Talia, the representative, reported on the success of Safe Teen Driving Night, and the Pep Rally on Friday Sept. 24. Talia also reported that the A.P. Psychology class will be dealing with bullying as a theme this year, which dovetails with the board’s concerns on the subject.
Superintendent Gerard Dempsey proceeded to report on the power issues at Mattlin Middle School. Their had been partial power during the school day due to the need to replace cables, which LIPA will be handling. Dempsey said that there would be an emergency repair the next day, which would require the power in the school to be turned off. Dempsey acknowledged that the lack of power would affect instruction, however he said that the district felt “a day with some limited impact on instruction was better than no instruction at all.”
The main purpose of the meeting, termed a workshop meeting, was for the board to begin to define their goals for the school year, and beyond, in three primary areas: academic standards, school climate, and district finances.
Members of the board encountered difficulty nailing down concrete goals for academic improvement without erring on the side of being overly ambitious, unrealistic, or exclusionary. Dempsey explained that the job of the board was to come up with the “What”, or what precisely the district would seek to achieve, and it would fall to the administration to determine the “How,” or exactly how to make the desired improvements come about. However, for a while, it seemed as though coming up with strategies was easier than coming up with goals that all could agree on.
“What is our expectation? To be what- the number one district in New York State?...I think what we’re trying to do is say, what is the expectation for our district?” said Angel Cepeda, who tried to aid the board in the task of defining goals rather than discussing individual issues.
Board president Gary Bettan noted that he felt that percentages for the amount of students taking advanced classes was not where he felt it should be, and that was one potential area for goal setting. However, Bettan and others agreed that they did not want to simply raise percentages, and wanted to set the bar higher even in disciplines that were more difficult to measure, like art and music. They also did not want to force children into advanced classes. “I don’t think we want to say that every kid has to take that…I know we’re a district that recognizes that every kid is special and unique. But the percentages we have, it’s not what you’d expect a district that prides itself on the accomplishment of what Plainview is…” said Bettan.
Emily Schulman, the newest member of the board, noted that she felt that the board should focus attention on younger children, and provide children in the early grades with the opportunities they needed to set them up for the rest of their academic careers. “What I’m hearing is stuff leading up to seventh and eight grade, and I guess what I’m wondering about starts a lot earlier- with the kids who are in first and second grade and who are ready for more advanced work,” she said.
Dempsey pointed out several themes that kept cropping up in the discussion: student expectations, acceleration, consistency, beyond state levels, opportunity, and articulation, and recommended starting from that language to develop the wording of the goal.
Assistant Superintendent Arthur Jonas stated that to him, the issue was all about having a challenging curriculum; that having a curriculum in place that would challenge students would move the district forward.
After much discussion, it was decided that the board members would peruse other school policies on academic standards in order to get ideas for how to draft their own new policy.
With school climate, or the experience of how children feel in school, from bullying to just walking down the halls, the board was able to identify a much clearer course of action: give a school climate survey, developed by a knowledgeable third party, and then decide what to work on depending on the answers they received.
In addition, Bettan pointed out that all of the adults in the school district needed to set a standard of behavior for the children, and that they would need to be held accountable.
When asked whether or not a new school climate policy could be drafted and put into effect within the school year, Dempsey said that it was possible, but that not everything was likely to be accomplished within one year.
Setting goals concerning district finances proved difficult due to the large amount of factors that were acknowledged to be outside the district’s control, such as the state budget, and Nassau County Executive Mangano’s newly proposed plan for the county that could result in certain costs being shifted to school districts.
It was acknowledged that the needs of the buildings within the district exceeded the resources available, and it would require the Capital Reserve Fund, approved by the community as a part of the last budget vote, to address some of those infrastructure problems. Assistant Superintendent Ryan Ruf clarified that the Capital Reserve Funds could be used for technological improvements as well.
Ginger Lieberman noted that the district should cut programs that were no longer working, and seek to re-allot the money they already had more effectively in that way, while Bettan noted that increasing efficiency meant getting more out of the same amount of staff.
Amy Pierno suggested switching to digital textbooks in order to help cut costs, however Dempsey replied that digital textbooks do not yet have a wide enough availability to make that possible.
“There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to look for as far as resources are concerned,” said Dempsey.
Several board members discussed the possibility of setting a cap on school budget increases, but a formal decision on the matter was not made at the meeting.
The next meeting of the board, scheduled to take place on Monday, Oct. 4, will provide parents and community members the opportunity to express their thoughts on all of the issues discussed by the board that evening. Bettan said that the board looks forward to hearing input from the community at that time.