Written by Louisa Bonnanzio Friday, 11 March 2011 00:00
At the March 7 Syosset Central School District Board of Education Meeting, a palpable sense of pride and appreciation permeated the South Woods Middle School Auditorium. By the time the meeting was over, the audience had given three standing ovations.
The high school theater club, under the direction of Gene Connor, received the first standing ovation after performing perfectly choreographed scenes from their musical production of Bye Bye Birdie. Parents, faculty and students stood clapping for nearly a full minute, visibly proud beyond measure. Performances will be held March 17-20 in the Syosset High School Auditorium.
The second standing ovation was in response to the monthly report of the superintendent, which highlighted Syosset’s superior assessment scores on both achievement and aptitude tests. In ELA (English Language Arts), students in grades 3-8 achieved a combined elementary/middle level performance index of 193, exceeding the criteria set by New York State by 40 points. In mathematics, students in grades 3-8 achieved a combined elementary/middle level performance index of 198, exceeding the state’s criteria by 65 points. In science, students in grades 4 and 8 achieved a combined elementary/middle level performance index of 197, exceeding the state’s criteria by 97 points.
Also noteworthy is the number of A.P. exams administered in Syosset last year. While the average high school in New York administered a total of 187 A.P. exams, Syosset administered 2,065. Two hundred seventy-two Syosset High School students received A.P. Scholar awards for scoring 3 or better on at least three A.P. exams.
In the past five years, Syosset has averaged eight National Merit Finalists and four Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarships. In the past three years, 97 percent of graduates were awarded Regents Diplomas, a figure that far exceeds the state average. In the past five years, students have received an average of $23,948,250 per graduating class in scholarship money.
In other news, parents, teachers and students showed an outpouring of support for superintendent Dr. Carol G. Hankin whose annual salary has repeatedly come under fire in recent media coverage. Hankin’s base salary of $368,868 a year is the highest in the state, and after benefits and other compensation, that number exceeds half a million dollars. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed a cap of $175,000 on salaries of superintendents from large, high-performing districts. However, many residents believe Cuomo’s proposal is unfair, citing that Hankin’s 21 years of experience, superior leadership, and unwavering dedication to the district’s children indisputably justify her salary.
During Audience to the Public, resident Mitch Parker – a parent of three children in the district – slammed the media and the new administration in Albany for blaming Hankin for the state’s fiscal woes instead of addressing “an out of control pension system in both the public and private sectors.” Parker added sarcastically, “Did you know the schools are a mess and taxes are out of control? And it’s all because of Dr. Hankin’s salary?” After a brief pause, Parker very pointedly asserted, “The Dr. Hankin witch hunt is counter-productive and, frankly, it’s offensive.”
Board president Dr. Marc W. Herman said that the recent news coverage and statements from elected officials “misrepresent the facts and ignore the invaluable contributions Dr. Hankin has made to our district and our community.” Herman read the statement he released before the meeting: “Dr. Hankin is in her 21st year as superintendent of the Syosset Central School District. Under her leadership, our district has been nationally recognized for its innovative academic programming, including our K-12 World Language and Nanotechnology curriculum and our exemplary science programming that features the district’s Geological and Ecological Research Facility, the only one of its kind on Long Island.
“Syosset’s arts programming wins top honors. Our students’ academic achievements are extraordinary, including Siemens Competition, Intel and National Merit finalists and semi-finalists, and National AP scholars—to name just a few. Our district has earned a reputation as one of the best—not only on Long Island and in the state but across the country. The outstanding programs and services that our students receive and our parents expect are the envy of school districts across the region.”
Herman also pointed out that Dr. Hankin’s superior management skills are the reason Syosset has “earned an Aa1 bond credit rating from Moody’s, which saves the district hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.” Herman said, “It is Dr. Hankin’s leadership in negotiating a salary freeze with all of our bargaining units that has saved this district from the fate that is awaiting so many districts across the state. Syosset is a model district, both academically and in terms of our financial prudence. She has been a tireless advocate for the students and families of Syosset. The programs that she has pioneered in our district have made Syosset what it is today—the very best. We believe that Dr. Hankin’s compensation package is commensurate with her value to the district.”
In an emotional closing, Herman took a moment to gather himself and said, “I hope [the media] gets the message right: it’s that this district puts the education of our children number one—above everything else. And Dr. Hankin is the heart and soul of this district.” His supportive, heartfelt message led to the third standing ovation of the night—this one a full minute long.
Twenty-eight resolutions were put to a vote, all of which passed. Among them was the motion to postpone the annual budget meeting to Thurs., April 14; this meeting will be held in the South Woods Middle School Library.
The next regular school board meeting will be held on Wed., April 27 at South Woods Middle School at 8 p.m.