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From The Desk Of Senator Jack Martins

Where Is The Students’ Lobbyist?

You may recall that I recently called for the resignation of New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King. The initiatives he has undertaken in his brief tenure as Commissioner of the State Education Department, including his roll-out of the Common Core curriculum, testing, teacher evaluations, and gathering of student data, are shaping up to be among the most controversial issues I’ve ever dealt with as a public servant. It’s easy to see why. These changes have created confusion among parents, anxiety for our children, and put life-long educators at odds with the department of education in Albany. This was only exacerbated when he canceled town hall meetings on the issue.   


So on Wednesday, Nov. 13, I moderated a forum, coordinated with the 15 school districts from our Seventh Senate District, at Mineola High School. Dr. King attended and fielded questions from parents, educators, school board members and even students on the Common Core standards and rollout, teacher evaluations, testing, and student privacy. We had more than 800 in the audience and over 2,000 watching on a live feed via the Internet.    


Reporting the event’s conclusions is a challenge best summed up by a letter I received from an attendee who said it was like blind men trying to explain an elephant by describing just one body part at a time. The issues we’re facing in education in New York are multidimensional and require a holistic approach to appreciate and address them. 


 It’s not just the rollout of the Common Core and its impact on students and teachers. 


 It’s not just the teacher evaluation system that has created conflict and anxiety without any apparent purpose or meaningful result.  


 It’s not just the overreliance on testing and its impact on a child’s educational experience and the teacher’s role as educator.


 It’s not just the concern of parents for the protection of their child’s privacy.


It’s all of these things individually and collectively and much more. It speaks volumes to the reality that we are moving too quickly with no apparent purpose other than the claim that it will all be better when we get “there”, wherever “there” is.


The writer went on to conclude “that no care was invested in a process” that should have been conducted with “years of close observation and input from actual teachers and administrators in the classroom.” I agree.


Most importantly, we are left asking the most basic of questions: How does any of this improve the educational experience of our children? 


In theory, as the Commissioner explained, it may. 


 In reality, as we heard from parents, students, teachers, and educators, it has not and will more than likely have just the opposite effect. It seems wiser then to re-evaluate these initiatives as a whole and take the time to phase in only the parts that work.   


While we all want higher and more rigorous standards for our children, it must be rolled out gradually, allowing teachers to properly prepare and give students the advantage of growing with the new curriculum. Judging by the

temperature I took in that auditorium, parents and educators are more than up to the task should Dr. King care to work with them and I hope he will.  


While I feel the evening was productive in identifying these issues, I know full well that political pressure will ultimately be necessary to institute any changes. The powers that be seem entrenched in their position, however wrongheaded they may be.  


Which brings me to the title of this column: “Where Is the Students’ Lobbyist?” 


You may remember that a few years ago during his “State of the State,” Governor Andrew Cuomo remarked how students were the only group in schools that didn’t have a lobbyist and valiantly volunteered to take on that responsibility. He recognized then that our children had to be protected from special interests more intent on exploiting education for gain, than furthering learning and life opportunities for students. He pledged to do so.  


But he’s been notably silent.


Let’s hope for our children’s sake that he has not abandoned his post as the students’ lobbyist and that he’s not counting on blind men to tell him what the elephant looks like.      


Westbury High School students are teaching younger children from Park Avenue Elementary School valuable life lessons about money and business skills through the High School Heroes program.


In this program, high school students that are taking Renate Johnson’s Junior Achievement class will go into first grade classrooms to teach 45-minute lessons.


“It is a program that gives high school and younger students confidence and teaches them about business and financial literacy,” said Johnson.

The Westbury Historical Society will host Dr. Natalie Naylor, professor emerita at Hofstra University and author of Women in Long Island’s Past: Eminent Ladies and Everyday Lives at their next meeting on March 9. 


Naylor’s presentation will focus on the place of women in Long Island’s history, including several prominent women from Westbury’s past.  


Albertson resident and Kellenberg sophomore Gabby Schreib qualified for the Millrose Games in New York City. Schreib qualified as a member of the Sprint Medley Relay along with Danielle Correia, Bridget McNierney, and Jazmine Fray. 


The Kellenberg relay’s close second place finish in January’s Millrose Trials has moved them closer to defending the title they won in the same relay at last year’s Millrose Games. Schreib and her teammates time is currently second in the United States for girls track and field performances.

Congratulations to Westbury athletes Michael Esposito, Eileen Harris, Brett Harris, and Michael Going, each of whom won awards in Race # 1 of the Jonas Chiropractic Run Nassau Series co-hosted by Nassau County and the Greater Long Island Running Club.


Michael Esposito, age 15, took home the second place award in the 15-19 age group with a time of 23 minutes, 6 seconds.  Eileen Harris, age 42, earned the first place award in the women’s 40-44 age group.  She completed the race with her 45 year old husband, Brett Harris, who was the third place award winner in the men’s 45-49 age group.  Michael Going, age 41, scored third place honors in the 40-44 age group with a time of 20 minutes, 51 seconds.


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