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Letter: Westbury School District Still Under the Spotlight

Perhaps it was the double coincidence of the release of the state test scores, and receipt of property tax bills by residents of Westbury that set the stage for the vocally charged and unrelenting questions that characterized the school board action meeting of Oct. 21. Questions ranging from building use policy issues, to unnecessary hiring to justification of the superintendent’s salary and contract extension were posed to the board, and there were also questions as to when the board will begin the process of searching for a new superintendent. This was probably the most vexing matter, which may have been cooled by now since the decision was made by the board to not extend the contract beyond one year for now.

It is still not clear when the national search for a new superintendent will begin, but expressed opinions suggest that this process should begin without delay especially in light of the more rigorous scoring criteria for ELA and Math adopted by the state, and which has impacted, and will continue to affect the district’s cut scores.

Earlier this year New York State Education officials announced that tests from the last three years were overly predictable and needed to be overhauled. As a result, the scoring criteria were revised and new cut score levels set. Under these new scoring guidelines students will have to score much higher on tests in order to be classified as meeting proficiency standard. Under the old system students performing at level 3 standards were categorized as “Meets Proficiency Standard”, today, that same level of performance will be rated only at level 2; “Meets Basic Standard.” Schools superintendent Dr. Constance Clark-Snead has expressed optimism that the district will meet and exceed these expectations, and has outlined steps that will be taken to ensure that this happens. Some of the initiatives she mentioned include re-designing the curriculum, enhancing teachers’ classroom resources and analyzing student performance data to determine focus areas for improvement.

This is a reasonable sounding initial attempt to deal with a big problem, but it is still not clear to me how this board, its successors, or even a new superintendent will deal with the district’s perennial situation of its high concentration of ELLs (English Language Learners) and the attendant motility problem that often comes with it. Some people see this as a cop-out and that it has nothing to do with academic performance and ranking. But when a child enters a formal school system sometimes at an age and a stage where he/she has to be placed in an appropriate grade in spite of multiple subject remediations that he may need, I submit that this definitely creates a problem.

I am not suggesting that this is the norm, but it is certainly part of the problem that needs to be addressed, especially since the district by law must absorb all children within its borders that satisfy its criteria for admission. I have always contended that this is a problem that our legislators in Albany should assist us with in terms of additional resources. Since I subscribe to the notion that all children can learn, I am confident that with the right resources properly managed and directed, we can do just as well as our counterparts that do not have the same challenges as we do.

The following is just a small sampling that highlights Westbury’s unique situation among school districts in Nassau County.

Highest Limited English Skills Districts
Westbury    32%
Hempstead    16.9%
Freeport    16.9%
Uniondale    12%
Roosevelt    11.7%
Glen Cove    11.3%
Mineola    9.5%
Carle Place    6.8%
Jericho    1.9%
Wantagh    0.9%
Garden City    0.6%
*Source: New York State Department of Education, 2008 District and County Data Tables.

We owe it to our children to equip them with the tools necessary to be all that they can be in today’s highly competitive world without having to break the bank to do so.

Chester McGibbon