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Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education Holds Third and Final Evening of HS Curriculum Proposals

Physical Education Director Proposes Changing Grading Back From Pass/Fail System to Numerical Grades

It was a slightly different Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education Meeting on Feb. 7, with Assistant Superintendent Arthur Jonas running the proceedings instead of Superintendent Gerard Dempsey, who could not be there that evening. Nevertheless, the board did hear the last of the high school curriculum proposals from several departments: physical education, business, art and family and consumer science.

However, before the proposals could be discussed, there were many board announcements to get through. First, board vice president Amy Pierno and assistant superintendent Jill Gierasch reported on a recent Internet Safety Forum, which was prompted by a survey done within the district of the internet habits of middle school children. Ginger Lieberman recommended that the elementary school children be surveyed about their Internet habits as well.

On the subject of Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget, board president Gary Bettan said he had called Senator Kemp Hannon’s and Assemblyman Charles Lavine’s offices, requesting opportunity for members of the board to meet with the legislators regarding their concerns about the proposed cuts to education. Bettan said that Hannon’s office is trying to put together a meeting for school board members from all over the Sixth District to meet with the senator and discuss these concerns. Bettan further invited all of the district stakeholders to contact their elected officials about this matter, and noted that contact information for these officials would be included in the minutes of the evening’s meeting, which will be posted to the website.

On a positive note, Jonas reported that the district’s Intel Finalist, Jonathon Aaron Goldman, was recently recognized by Congressman Steve Israel. In addition, National DECA has announced that the POB JFK High School Store has been given the gold certification, the only school in the state to receive that honor.

As a public service announcement, Jonas let the community know that the Plainview Fire Department has requested that residents please dig out their fire hydrants; if residents are not physically capable of doing it themselves, they should find someone else who can, advises the fire department.

In anti-bullying news, Gierasch reported that the Statford Road Elementary School PTA had recently sponsored “The Power of One” anti-bullying program, and that the faculty school climate committee at Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School had made school spirit week focus on the themes of respect and tolerance.

In finance news, Assistant Superintendent Ryan Ruf discussed the governor’s budget proposal from a different angle, noting that while it seemed as though the district would see a $1.2 million reduction in state aid, this was not necessarily the case. Ruf noted that Jobs Fund money was included as a part of the 2010/2011 school year in Cuomo’s plan, even though the district had not yet taken the $622,000 it was allotted under the Jobs Fund; instead, they opted to use up the ARRA funds before they expired instead. Ruf concluded that they still anticipated receiving more detailed financial information from the state shortly.

Perhaps the biggest topic of the night was the prospect of completely overhauling the grading in the physical education department. Director of physical education Kevin McDermott discussed his department’s proposal to return to a numerical grading system, after several years of operating under a pass/fail system. According to McDermott, the pass/fail system does not provide students any incentive to put effort into their PE classes.

“The worst part about Pass/Fail is that it promotes mediocrity in students….” said McDermott. “We have no way of showing kids that we appreciate and respect their effort.”

Three PE teachers in attendance backed up McDermott’s point, stating that the current system was not satisfactory, and they were often disappointed to be able to give out nothing more than a simply “Pass” to a student who had truly put effort into their class, whether the students were skilled athletes or not. McDermott also explained that the proposed change would involve students being graded on effort, not athletic ability.

Lieberman noted her concern that the way an item on the proposed grading rubric was worded made it seem as though kids were being graded on their leadership skills, whereas a student does not have to have to be a leader to put forth a good effort in class, she said; sharing Lieberman’s concerns, Emily Schulman also noted that the way it was worded made it sound like “a popularity contest.” McDermott and Gierasch responded that the wording of the rubric was not finalized, and they would keep these concerns in mind when they went to revise the wording.

While most of the board members stated that they approved of the change, opinion was divided over whether or not the grade in PE be included in the student’s GPA, or included on the student’s report card as a separate grade, both of which the proposal lists as options.

While on the subject of PE, board vice president Amy Pierno asked about Jericho High School’s policy of excusing varsity athletes from gym; McDermott responded that instituting that system at a district Plainview-Old Bethpage’s size would be “an administrative nightmare.”

Next, the board moved onto discussing the business department. High school Assistant Principal Sharon Lasher proposed adding a half-year course in international business for juniors and seniors, potentially for college credit in cooperation with C.W. Post. The district currently provides college credit for several courses within the business department in this manner.

Bettan mentioned the potential partnership between the district and North Shore LIJ Hospital that science chair Joyce Barry had discussed at an earlier meeting, and asked Lasher if a similar partnership could work in the business department, in order to give students experience with health-related finance issues. Lasher said she would pass on Bettan’s idea. The assistant principal also discussed the possibility of the district offering AP Accounting in the future, which is currently being piloted at some districts; this would be less expensive than college accounting, which the district currently offers for college credit.

In the art department, Dr. Judith Chen proposed changing the current sculpture class into ceramics, jewelry and sculpture in order to draw more student interest. She noted that students and staff are very excited about the prospect of expanding the curriculum in this manner.

For 2012/2013, Dr. Chen proposed expanding the animation unit from the computer graphics sequence into a full-fledged animation class. Chen noted that the district already had all of the software that would be needed, so there would be no additional cost in supplies. However, Bettan noted that the Adobe Creative Suite 3 software that the district currently uses is not up to date, and he would be in favor of setting up a media lab with current software (to be shared with the technology department) if the funds could somehow be obtained.

Chen also presented a proposal for the family and consumer science department: to turn the current food and nutrition course into a food, nutrition and wellness course, in order to dovetail with the wellness policy. Gierasch asked for clarification about whether or not baking cakes and cookies and such would still be part of the curriculum; Chen said that baking would still go on, but the items the students baked would be made with healthier ingredients.

In public participation, Jacques Wolfner, who serves as the district’s representative on the 2011/2012 Nassau BOCES Budget Review Committee, reported to the board that BOCES would have to rework their budget to reduce the amount of expenditures in light of the governor’s budget proposal. He noted that the BOCES budget reduction may affect the school board’s decision to send children to BOCES, in the instances where they have a choice. He also asked for explanations of several resolutions that the board went on to vote on that evening.

Also in public participation, Richard Siegelman commented that the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library gives out a lot of explanatory paperwork at their board meetings, and suggested that there was a happy medium between the library’s approach and that of the school board. “I think it would’ve helped the people in the audience- at least, me- if we had for instance a copy of the rubric,” said Siegelman, referring to the PE grading rubric discussed earlier in the meeting.

Finally, Stefanie Nelkens reiterated her concern that the district often mentions programs in their official communications that are not necessarily available to all students, which can be misleading for parents. She cited a recent letter from the district that mentioned a program called “Great Books and the Socratic Method,” which is not available to all students in the grade where it is being administered.

Jonas acknowledged the issue, but said that he hoped children would get to experience the programs the district does offer as much as was possible. “We don’t  have a lockstep pedagogy in terms of how we do that, but we would like to think that over the course of the 13 years, that you’re going to have a very enriched education and curriculum,” said Jonas.

The next board of education meeting will take place on Feb. 28 at 7:45 p.m. at Mattlin Middle School; budget discussion for the 2011/2012 school year will begin at that time.