Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 22 October 2010 00:00
While students and parents criticized school policies at the Monday, Oct. 18 Plainview-Old Bethpage School District Board of Education meeting, that didn’t stop many members of the community from coming out in support of the board for School Board Recognition Night. In fact there was even poetry and singing to be heard in honor of the board (although dancing was only threatened.)
As a part of statewide School Board Recognition Week, Town Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia and Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs stopped by to thank the board for their service. “You know, being on the town board, we’re not really supposed to have favorite neighborhoods, and we’re not really supposed to have favorite causes. But I will tell you that I loved school all the way through, and I live in Plainview,” said Alesia.
“I am the proudest one of anyone in the legislature because I have you,” said Jacobs to the board.
Other groups that gave presentations recognizing the board included the Plainview-Old Bethpage Senior Citizens Club and the PTA Council. Board president Gary Bettan also took a moment to recognize the former members of the school board who were in attendance that evening.
Talia, the POBJFK HS Student Government representative, reported on several recent events such as the Freshman Parent Meeting, the National Honor Society induction, Senior Spirit Week, the DECA Fashion Show, and of course, Homecoming. The representative commented that while Plainview-Old Bethpage did not win the game against Oceanside, everyone had a great time at the event. Trustees Amy Pierno and Angel Cepeda commented that they were impressed with the school spirit and talent on display at Homecoming and the DECA Fashion Show, respectively.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Ruf reported on the county legislative hearing that had taken place earlier that day, in which the topic of switching the burden of tax assessment refunds from the county to school districts and other public institutions was discussed. “The concern for us is that, since schools aren’t responsible for doing the assessments, it’s strange that we would be responsible for paying for mistakes that would be made by the county,” said Ruf. He also stated that the projected expense for each school district was 1.4 million dollars on average, and that the district would continue to advocate for the county not to shift the financial burden onto the schools.
Assistant Superintendent Jill Gierash reported on some decidedly sunnier news: the many accomplishments of district faculty. Among other news, business teacher Jennifer Santorello was named New York State Business Teacher of the Year by the Business Teachers Association of New York State (BTANYS), which Gierash noted was especially impressive because Santorello is a new teacher. Another award will go out to Meryl Menashe, a Plainview/Old Bethpage Middle School history teacher, who will be recognized in November by the Nassau Holocaust and Tolerance Center.
While some parents at recent board meetings (and at the recent POB Parents Concerned About Bullying Forum) have expressed their concerns that the board has not done enough to crack down on bullying in the district, Superintendent Dempsey announced a large number of anti-bullying programs that have been taking place throughout the month of October, which is National Anti-Bullying Month. Every school in the district is currently presenting some form of anti-bullying program; some of the programs the superintendent mentioned were Kindergarteners Care, BullyFrog, Stand Up and Be Counted, Don’t Pick On Me, Bystanders Make a Difference, and Stop the Bullying. There were also numerous assemblies for the students, and meetings for the faculty, on the topic throughout the district.
There was also a report on district finances presented by Marianne Van Duyne, an external auditor. Van Duyne said that she and the district’s audit committee had not found any material weaknesses or significant deficiencies, but still submitted a list of suggested improvements. “We actually felt the district had very strong controls, however we always look at ways to improve what you already have in place,” said Van Duyne. She went on to say that while some tough years for school districts lay ahead, Plainview-Old Bethpage was better prepared financially for the challenges to come than other districts she had audited.
The board also discussed their board goals, which are divided into the three areas of Academic Standards, School Climate, and District Finance, and are slated to be adopted at the Nov. 1 Board of Education Meeting. While most of the discussion involved making small improvements to the wording of the goals before the vote, there was some disagreement among the board members as to how last year’s board goals fit into the new goals for this year. As with previous discussions of board goals this academic year, the board grappled with the difficult balance between being inclusive in their aims without taking on too many issues at once and potentially losing focus.
During Public Participation, several people- parents and students alike- spoke out against the restrictions imposed by the Wellness Policy, which prohibits the sale of unhealthy food within the schools. Critics of the policy pointed out that the restrictions on baked goods made it difficult for students to use bake sales as a major source of fundraising for clubs as they had in years past, and that the policy does not demonstrate any trust in the student’s own abilities to make choices for themselves. One student, representing the POBJFK High School Executive Board, pointed out that the district’s fear of liability was having a negative impact on the school experience, and in ways far more serious than the current lack of cupcakes for sale in the halls:
“A conspicuous change has occurred within the walls of our high school, and not for the better. It centers around one core doctrine, one insurmountable and ever-growing concern of the school and school district: liability. As administrators avoid it, faculty becomes a keen lookout for it. As faculty chairpersons cringe at its implications, teachers find less and less leeway for creative license,” said the student as part of a long, passionate and articulate statement to the board. The student went on to criticize the district for the insinuations that students who participated in the Senior Scavenger Hunt, an unsanctioned event planned for a weekend, would be disciplined, saying that punishing students merely for participation in an off-hours event did not hold legal ground.
Dempsey acknowledged that there was a difference of opinion between the student and the board on the subject of the scavenger hunt, however he praised the student’s writing ability (as did Legislator Jacobs, who was present for this portion of the meeting.) He also pointed out that the recently instituted Wellness Policy was not as restrictive as that of other school districts, and that he hoped students could find ways to be creative in their fundraising.
Assistant Superintendent Arthur Jonas announced that mathematics teacher Dina Baccoli was being considered for tenure. Mattlin Middle School Principal Dean Mittleman gave her an enthusiastic recommendation. “Her style of teaching has motivated her students, and gives them an opportunity to learn interactively. Her students work in an environment where they take risks, and meet with success,” Mittleman said. The board voted to grant Baccoli tenure that evening.
The next meeting of the Board of Education will be Nov. 1; The meeting on Nov. 22 will be one of several Student Recognition Nights.