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Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education Discusses English Regents, Five Year Building Commission Survey

While District Recommends Students Take English Regents in June, Option to Take Test in January Will Be Available

The Monday, Nov. 22 Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education meeting featured the first recognition ceremony of the school year. Before regular school board business, 170 students received awards from the district in academics, art, music and athletics, while many faculty members were recognized for their contributions as well.

In addition to the regular awards, Superintendent Gerard Dempsey Jr. recognized Rochelle Morgan from the Art Department, who performed CPR on a child who had stopped breathing in class, possibly saving his life; the student has since returned to school in good health.

It was also announced during the award ceremony that Director of School Facilities and Operations II Buildings and Grounds Kim Parahus, who would give a presentation later that evening, was nominated to the Executive Board for New York State Association for Superintendents of Buildings and Grounds, the first female in the history of the state to be elected to that position.

When the meeting reconvened in the regular meeting room after the awards ceremony, Talia, student council representative, presented her regular report on recent happenings at the high school. She reported on the success of several events including the Tri-M Talent Show, Plainview Park Clean-Up, DECA Kickball Game, and the second annual Mix-It-Up Day, where Legislator Judy Jacobs was a guest speaker.

Much of the discussion at the Nov. 1 meeting had been about the English Regents, with many expressing concern about the district’s recommendation for students to take the test in June as opposed to January. In order to explain the basis of that recommendation, English Chair Jeffrey Yagaloff gave a detailed explanation of the known changes to the test. The district’s knowledge of the test comes from an English Regents Sampler, which is based on a field test, not an administration of it; Yagaloff noted that while they were expecting to receive another sampler, the state has opted not to send out another one due to financial problems.

Among the many changes to the English Regents, the number of essays has decreased from four shorter essays to one long essay, and one of the essays has been replaced with short response questions, similar to what is found on the ELA exam. However, while the scoring for such answers has traditionally been a 1-6 point range, it is now 0-2 point range. Also, whereas in the past there were two graders for the short essays (with a possible third to resolve conflict), only one person will be grading the short answers, due to efforts on the part of the state to speed up the grading of the test.

In a more subtle way, the nature of the multiple choice section has also changed. While the state didn’t announce it as an official change to the test, Yagaloff said there has apparently been a shift towards a different type of questions. “Based on my calculations, 80 percent of the questions that were multiple choice were inferential, meaning that students couldn’t find the answer in a classic reading comprehension way,” said the English Chair.

However, despite concerns about these changes to the test, in response to some of the concerns raised at the last meeting, the district has opted to allow students to take the Regents when it is first offered in January. If a student takes the Regents in both January and June, only the higher score will appear on their transcript.

Furthermore, contrary to some parents’ concerns, the August Regents will be available for those who fail; the August test is on the schedule through 2012, and tentatively through 2013. However, the January Regents is expected to be discontinued, meaning this may be the last year that the district will have to decide whether or not to give it.

After the English presentation, Assistant Superintendent for Business Ryan J. Ruf and Director of School Facilities Kim Parahus gave a presentation on the Five Year Building Condition Survey. Parahus explained that there were five priority levels, ranging from priority one, which is concerned with health and safety, to priority five, which concerns cosmetic improvements. She later noted that the majority of the improvements she and Ruf are recommending are priority 1-3 projects.

The last five-year survey, from 2005, resulted in approximately $7.4 million in capital improvements, out of a proposed project list of $59 million; due to the deterioration of the district’s aging facilities, that proposed project list now tops out at $71 million. However, Ruf advised the board not to be upset by the large figure, since that number includes projects that the district may want to tackle in theory, but are not strictly necessary. “So it’s not as if, you know, we’re sitting here with a bill for $71 million and we’ve got to do that work now,” said Ruf.

Some of the projects done as a result of the previous survey include full and partial roof reconstruction at eight school buildings, full and partial exterior masonry work at five buildings, new boilers in five buildings, security system upgrades district-wide, bleacher replacements at the high school, and electric panel upgrades in four buildings.

Now, some of the future projects the district is evaluating include improving heating and ventilation district wide, updating the fire alarm system (which is currently functioning, but they want to replace the alarms proactively before they can deteriorate), providing masonry reconstruction at POB Middle School, Mattlin Middle School, Parkway Elementary School, Pasadena Elementary School, and Stratford Road Elementary School, replacing leaking skylights at Mattlin Middle School, putting a new drainage system on the high school athletic field, updating the obsolete phone system throughout the district, and undergoing locker room reconstruction/reconfiguration. Furthermore, the district is currently undergoing a LIPA energy audit to find out how to approach certain projects, such as replacing windows, in the most energy-efficient way.

Currently, there is $4.3 million available in the Capital Reserve Fund to fund these projects, as well as about a million in the regular budget that is allocated for capital improvements, meaning they have approximately $5.3 million in total. Currently Ruf and Parahus are in the process of narrowing the list down by identifying the projects with greatest need and hope to come back to the board soon with a specific project list.

The other major issue of the evening was the formation of a Dignity for All Students (DASA) Committee as mandated by the recently passed DASA law. Dempsey announced that, in addition to himself and Superintendent Arthur Jonas, many people had been invited to serve on the committee: supervisors, administrators, PTA members, members of the PCT (Plainview Council of Teachers), members of the pupil personnel staff, and Arnold Lessman from the organization POB Parents Concerned About Bullying. Later, during public participation, Lessman noted that while he was appreciative of the invitation, the members of POB Parents Concerned About Bullying were disappointed that more members of their group had not been invited. While Dempsey said that the makeup of the group was not finalized yet, he was concerned about the committee growing too large.

Also on the school climate issue, Dempsey noted that he is currently evaluating school climate survey instruments and will be making a recommendation to the board shortly.

As has often been the case at recent meetings, there were many speakers during Public Participation. Cheryl Dender of the PTA Council gave an update on what the PTA is doing, something the group plans to do regularly from now on. Sully Goldberg informed the board that his son, Steven Goldberg, a Plainview-Old Bethpage graduate, had just been elected president of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Board of Directors; the board congratulated him.

A parent from the POB Parents Concerned About Bullying committee noted that while they appreciate the participation of board members at their recent forum, parents are still concerned for their children’s safety, especially in light of hearing of more bullying behavior from students the parent referred to as “repeat offenders.” The parent said that this repeated bullying was unacceptable, and asked the district to properly discipline the bullies.

Finally, Talia, student representative, went back up to the microphone to present several concerns to the board. However, her two main concerns were the Infinite Campus Parent Portal, which she believes students should have access to as well as parents (and Assistant Superintendent Jonas clarified that the district was interested in opening up the portal to students eventually), and an issue of a credit discrepancy between participants in Monday Night Choir and the Marching Band, with choir members allegedly not getting their fair share of credit. Superintendent Dempsey said he had discussed this issue previously, and planned to discuss it further with the board with the possibility of making a recommendation.

The next board of education meeting will take place on Monday, Dec. 6 at Mattlin Middle School.