Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 14 September 2012 09:41
The first school board meeting of the academic year for the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School district opened with song: POB JFK High School students sang accomplished renditions of the both the national anthem and “God Bless America,” to the appreciation of many parents and other residents in attendance.
Before getting down to business, board member Gary Bettan was pleased to report that in the first game of the season, the POB Hawks football team pulled off a stunning upset victory against Freeport, which earned the team a lot of recognition not only locally, but all over the Island. Bettan also announced that homecoming weekend will be Oct. 13.
The main event of the evening was Superintendent Lorna Lewis’ report on the opening of school, delivered with photos and slides. An engaging speaker, Lewis articulated many points of pride for the district, including the fact that 96 percent of students earn Regents diplomas and many athletic teams boast the Scholar-Athlete distinction, but was also precise about areas of concern, particularly where the facilities were concerned.
“I’ve always toured the facilities because I feel that I should certify the buildings before the board of education actually makes their tour. I want to make sure when kids are entering the building the facilities are safe and that they’re ready,” said Lewis, who went on to say that while she was proud of the work that facilities director Kim Parahus and her team did over the summer, she was still concerned about many areas in need of improvement: roof and window leaks in various buildings, a lack of proper air conditioning in the auditoriums, some “ugly, ugly” floors at the high school that should be replaced, the playground at Parkway Elementary School, and the locker rooms at POB Middle School, which Lewis called “horrible.” Several speakers at board meetings have complained about the state of the POBMS locker rooms in the past year or two, so Lewis appears to be on the same page as many parents in regard to the facilities.
Lewis also pointed out that enrollment for 2012-13 is above projections, with a particularly large swell in population in the seventh grade. However, despite the fact that the overall enrollment is 45 students higher than projected, the superintendent said that the district is not requesting additional staffing.
Toward the end of the presentation, Lewis outlined her four priorities for the coming year: High Academic Standards, Safe School Climate, Fiscal Prudence and Community Involvement. (Editor’s note: Superintendent Lewis also speaks of these priorities in her letter to the Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald featured in this issue; see page 14.)
Finally, Lewis provided some information on state-level initiatives that are largely known by acronyms, such as APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review.) According to the superintendent, APPR composite scores for teachers will not be posted online, but those scores will be available to parents if they request them under FOIL (Freedom of Information Act.)
Next, Parahus gave a detailed report of the construction work that had been completed over the summer. The district is still waiting on some things, like a new set of lockers that should be delivered before Sept. 24 and an estimate to renovate two walls at POBMS, but work at many of the buildings has been completed for the time being.
In unusual news, administrators explained that the superintendent had received notice from the Nassau County Police Department that some crossing guards, including the guard at the intersection Manetto Hill Road and Central Park Road, are going to be removed. The district has reached out to the NCPD to inform them that the Manetto Hill crossing guard is necessary, and Assistant Superintendent Ryan Ruf noted that the PTA is also advocating for keeping the crossing guard—something PTA Council President Cheryl Dender confirmed later in the meeting.
“We do not want to see any of our schools lose any crossing guards,” said Dender, who reported that she and her fellow PTA leaders planned to write their legislators about the issue.
At the busy meeting, there was also a High School Scholarship Report, delivered by Principle James Murray, the content of which can be found on the district website. In general, test scores, AP scores and mastery levels are similar to last year, with some small dips and increases in various subjects.
Murray also took part in a report on summer school, a joint effort between POB and neighboring Bethpage schools. 85 students from both districts combined participated in the program, where the grand majority passed all of their classes and received credit. Three high school seniors who did not graduate in June were fortunately able to graduate at the conclusion of the summer. Reportedly, cooperation with Bethpage went smoothly and there were very few discipline problems.
During public participation, several students took the opportunity to address the board. Two high school students presented “Rethink The Drink,” a new program dedicated to making the high school more plastic free and curbing the waste from single-use plastic water bottles. A free, filtered water station has been installed at the school, and the students said they planned to raise money for additional water stations by selling refillable, stainless steel water bottles to students. The board applauded their initiative.
Next, a junior at the high school asked for help getting a Spoken Word Poetry club started; apparently, she had tried to get the club established last year, only to be rejected for lack of funds. However, the student contended that there is interest in the club, demonstrated by the fact that she has collected 70 signatures from students. While Lewis said that the club was a great idea, she would need to learn more about the club approval process before she could do anything else, and perhaps something else could be phased out to free up funds for the new club. The proposed club would study poetry, organize poetry performances and competitions, called “poetry slams.”
Just when it seemed like the drama of the Fern Place parking lot re-pavement project had come to a conclusion this summer, several speakers pointed out issues with the property. Meredith Lewin noted that she was concerned about a curb cut that was requested by ACDS, the tenant, to facilitate parking on the parkland. Apparently the curb cut was not in the original plan.
“We were as surprised as you were to find the curb cut in place,” said Ruf. Another resident commented that the people using the curb cut to park their cars on the grass presented a safety issue for the children who play there.
Several parents raised other concerns, including the fact that the school websites were not always up-to-date with lunch menus and that in general, communication between the district and parents could be improved. Lewis agreed, noting that improving communication with the community was one of main priorities she had outlined earlier.
The next meeting of the board of education will take place on Monday, Sept. 24 at 7:45 p.m. at Mattlin Middle School.