Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 24 December 2010 00:00
After focusing on the English program for the past several meetings, the discussion at the Dec. 20 Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education meeting focused primarily on math. While the joke of the evening was that, with the number of reports on the agenda, attendees might not make it out of Mattlin Middle School in time to witness a rare celestial phenomenon, the meeting did in fact wrap up in plenty of time for everyone to see that evening’s lunar eclipse.
In addition to the usual slate of activities at the high school, student council representative Talia reported that the student government was starting fundraising subcommittees within each grade in order to organize events to support different charities.
As promised at the last meeting, Evy Rothman presented more information gleaned from the school law conference she and vice president Amy Pierno had recently attended, “Navigating Troubled Waters.” Rothman discussed a series of reforms implemented by the state, including a new teacher and principal evaluation system called Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). APPR will require the district to provide evaluator training- an unfunded mandate- and will require the district to formulate and submit various plans for improvement. Rothman noted there are several unanswered questions about APPR, such as how special services staff will be evaluated.
The most substantial presentation of the evening was given by Ron Labrocca, interim math department chair. Labrocca discussed the plan to take the current two-year algebra program at the high school and condense it into a one-year program, with an added lab class. Labrocca said he had been concerned about the two-year algebra program since his arrival at the district, since the class was initially designed as a one-year course. Getting through algebra earlier would not only leave students better prepared for the math portion of the SATs, but would also allow more students the opportunity to take higher-level classes, such as calculus, during senior year.
The chairman noted that the model he would like to implement in Plainview was one that he had implemented 27 years ago at Syosset Central School District, where it is still in place.
Pierno expressed concern about students fitting the lab into an eight-period day, which may already include another lab class if a student needs additional instruction in more than one subject. Labrocca noted that her concern was valid, and “creative scheduling” would be required. “If I had my druthers, I would say ‘let’s go to a nine period day tomorrow, and then we’ll be fine,’ but we know that’s probably not going to be taking place,” said Labrocca.
In addition, while some students currently start algebra in eighth grade, Labrocca discussed the possibility of vastly increasing the amount of students who get an early start in the subject, or instituting “Algebra for (Almost) All.” For this to be effective, he noted, the same lab model would likely have to be implemented at the middle school level; while Labrocca said he believed this could be done without adding additional staff, he did not confirm that there would be no staff additions.
For those students who excel in math, Labrocca said they were also investigating the possibility of adding math research class for the middle school students, however the time constraints of the eight-period day would remain a limiting factor.
Board president Gary Bettan reacted to Labrocca’s presentation with enthusiasm, saying that he would be in favor of accelerating math instruction even earlier, starting from first grade. “We’re a very bright community; I know everyone can’t do it, but I think it’s time to start doing what the bulk of the kids really can do…I think our kids are capable of a lot more than we’re giving them right now,” said Bettan.
Labrocca also discussed revamping the math curriculum overall to include more practical applications, and getting graphic calculators into the hands of the seventh-grade students.
The second major presentation of the evening concerned Project Challenge, the district’s program for gifted students. Members of the board brought up many of the same concerns they had discussed earlier this year at the June 21 board meeting, the last time the topic was discussed in depth.
Rothman and Ginger Lieberman noted their dissatisfaction with the current half-day sessions for the third- and fourth-graders. “If one of the district goals is to raise academic standards, then I think we’re really short-changing our third-and fourth-graders by giving them this abbreviated day in Project Challenge,” said Rothman. Later, during public participation, a parent concurred, saying that she knew a child who was frustrated by the half days, which did not allow enough time for her to complete her projects.
Gierasch responded that the committee had considered adopting a six-day model (as opposed to the current five-day model), which would have allowed for full-day sessions for the third- and fourth-graders, however using that model would lead to the loss of seven instructional days. Lieberman said that she thought that the return to full-day, uninterrupted classroom time for the students was worth the loss of individual days, and Gierasch said that she would investigate the six-day model again and come back to the board with more data.
Meanwhile, Bettan reiterated his concern from earlier in the year that the district was not addressing the philosophical question of who, precisely, the program should be targeted at: the small percentage of truly “gifted” students, or a more inclusive group? After a detailed report from Gierasch about how the testing process for the program would be changed with the inclusion of the CogAT, a new exam, Bettan said, “You don’t re-test until you finally come out to be gifted; you either are gifted, or you’re not.”
Emily Schulman noted that while she saw Bettan’s point, IQ tests had a long history of inaccuracy, meaning that the other measures that go into the complex evaluation matrix, such as teacher feedback- which allows children with lower IQs to enter the program- serve an important purpose. In response to Bettan’s criticism, Gierasch said that they would need to start looking at a different instrument for measuring student intelligence; the rest of the board noted their agreement.
In finance news, Assistant Superintendent for Business Ryan Ruf noted the passage of the $608 million education jobs fund legislation, of which the district is slated to receive $642,000. He also discussed potential ramifications of Governor-elect Cuomo’s rumored property tax cap, in which case districts may not be able to make their current personnel costs.
Superintendent Gerard W. Dempsey Jr. gave a brief update on the Dignity for All Students (DASA) committee, which had its first meeting on Dec. 14. At the first meeting, members of the committee shared their thoughts about what the committee might accomplish, and they reviewed the new DASA requirements together. Dempsey said that the first order of business for the new committee, circulating a new anti-bullying policy, was likely to take place at the Jan. 24, 2011 board of education meeting.
In public participation, Jane Pace, a regular speaker over the course of the past several months, asked if there had been any change in the wellness policy, which she believes is proving an impediment to student fundraising efforts. Dempsey answered that there had been no change, but that the district was investigating what the impact of the new policy on club fundraising has been, as well as continuing to offer ideas for alternate fundraising options to club advisors.
The next meeting of the board of education will be a workshop meeting on Jan. 10, in which the department chairs will discuss future plans and proposals for their departments. Workshop meetings do not contain public participation segments, but interested parties are welcome to give feedback on the workshop at the subsequent meeting, which will be held Jan. 24.