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Early K-Entrance Age, Tenure and Tensions at Bd. of Ed. Meeting.

(Editor's note: Following is a continuation of the report on the Dec. 16 Board of Ed. meeting.)

At the Board of Ed meeting on Dec. 16, it was announced that the school board's deliberations concerning early entrance into kindergarten have concluded. The district's newly amended policy reads "It is the general intent of the Port Washngton School District to discourage entry into kindergarten in advance of the established age deadline of Dec. 1. However, in cases where the child turns five between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, and the parent believes that such child is exceptional and demonstrates full readiness for entry into kindergarten, then that parent may request a screening for early indergarten entrance from the principal at the building where the child would attend kindergarten.

The approval of a teacher's tenure by the board created emotionally charged responses from the board and audience. Mr. Mirzoeff, reading from a prepared statement, stated some of his thoughts on the subject of tenure:

"Because our community pays its teachers well, the community is entitled to the high caliber it receives and to selection criteria that are objective and effective. Yet, we know something's wrong. We know that performance is quite inconsistent among teachers. This inconsistency comes from various sources: ineffective evaluation procedures, ineffective employee maintenance procedures, and an historic lack of facing up to problems, using favoritism, intimidation, and other shortcuts instead. This inconsistency in performance also comes from choosing people for the wrong reasons. It comes from uneven talent, character, and dedication among those who we've chosen to include in our family."

The teacher whose tenure was being considered by the board was present at the meeting. Mr. Mirzoeff voted against giving the teacher tenure because she had been "off her post 12 days: one sick, five family and personal and six conference days (for the only full year of data that was available), according to Mirzoeff. He said that in his view, this teacher's record presented a "risk to dedication," and that "this teacher may also in the future find higher priorities than being with the students."

Board member Sandy Ehrlich stated emphatically that it was "highly inappropriate" to discuss this matter at a "public meeting." She stressed that she did not feel that attendance at conferences could be catagorized as "absenteeism." Board member Nancy Cowles gave a strong "I second that" to Ms. Ehrlich's remarks.

Assistant Superintendent Ann Israel also said that discussing the matter at a public meeting was "totally inappropriate" and "hurtful." She also explained that a few of the conferences the teacher attended were designed to help the sixth-grade teachers make the transition to the middle school when the sixthgrade was first included there.

In a phone interview, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Inserra noted that teachers are directed and expected to attend conferences. He also pointed out that any conference taken during school time must be approved by the building principal and assistant superintendent.

Teacher Tessa Jordon commented that teachers' attendance at conferences is "appropriate." She added, "If they never went, they'd be viewed negatively." In fact, she noted, "(attendance at conferences) is viewed as part of their dedication."

Mr. Mirzoeff said that he feels that conferences should be held after school or on Saturdays, not during school hours.

The teacher's tenure was approved by the board, in a six to one vote.

Board President Candy Rossettie congratulated the teacher and said, "Thank you for attending the conference days to better educate yourself for the sake of our children."

Also at the meeting, some tense moments between a few teachers and school board members occurred. Tessa Jordan, among others, took issue with board member Joseph Mirzoeff's recent remarks in a letter to the editor in which he differentiated the teachers from the union leadership. Rita Auerbach said, "The teachers are fully behind the leadership. You're so mistaken to think otherwise." Jane Tafarello echoed these sentiments saying, "The voice of our leadership is the voice of our membership. They have the full support of the teaching staff. We won't be divided. We're not a group of cheats and liars. Stop teacher bashing!"

Mr. Mirzoeff replied that his remarks were being "mischaracterized," and that words were being put in his mouth.

Ms. Jordon also asked why the rest of the board doesn't respond to Mr. Mirzoeff's letters to the editor. She said that in doing so, it appeared that the rest of the school board members supported his comments, which she too characterized as "teacher bashing." Board President Candy Rossettie said, "When board members speak publicly, they speak for themselves, not for the board. I want that to be made clear."

Mr. Mirzoeff commented that he will not give up his right to freedom of speech as an individual.

Commenting on freedom of speech, Ms. Tessa said, "It gives you the right to say what you wish, but it doesn't give you the right to say things and not expect others to disagree with you."

Mary Ann Cariello, president of the Port Washington Teacher's Association, said that the long range effects of making the staff feel as if they're "lying, cheating and conniving creatures" will be that the "creme de la creme" of teachers will "go to other places" to work.

Audience Commentary

Matt Scott, a 39-year resident of Port, who stressed that he was speaking as an individual, said in response to a remark that the district wasn't getting value for its money: "What are we getting for our money? An excellent and superb school system that's been nationally recognized "pre-Mr. Mirzoeff." He also listed the characteristics that he feels a school board member should possess: compassion, integrity, fairness and sensitivity."

Wendy Cohen complimented board member Richard Sussman, who heads up the Port Washington Chess Mates , on the recent article applauding his chess group that appeared in Newsday. She added that it was good to see the district put in a positive light.

Michael Cooperman said that in the past he has been critical of some of the board members' conduct, but felt that "tonight, perhaps you have hit rock bottom. I'm appalled to see an attack on an individual who works in the district." Continuing he said, "You have a right to vote, but not to be discourteous."

Nancy Lobel reiterated the sentiments of the other teachers who spoke. She finds some of the board members' remarks about the teachers "highly offensive." She also said, "the union is not different from its leadership." With the "public bashing of teachers, she feels "damage" is being done to the community. "The repeated negative comments insult the professional staff," she said.

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