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Trustees Get Serious About Alternative Middle School

Program to be set in place by September

The main topic of discussion at this week’s Glen Cove Board of Education meeting, held in the library of the Robert M. Finley Middle School, revolved around the creation of an alternative middle school program in the seventh and eighth grades.

The topic took precedence after a member of the public commented on it before the regular meeting began, and the board voted to move it up for immediate discussion. After the previous meetings where the subject had been discussed informally, members of the board now had a preliminary proposal from the administration to go on to guide the evening’s discussion.

Glen Cove resident Eric Bailey said that he has spoken to lots of parents in the district and that most are happy with the way challenges are addressed in the elementary schools, but that middle school teachers cannot always differentiate between students’ needs due to time constraints.

“If this is a one time cost, now is the time to do it,” he said.

The trustees directed their questions to Dr. Anael Alston, principal at Finley Middle School, and Dr. Shari L. Camhi, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, who worked together to develop the preliminary proposal. Dr Alston, who said he ran an alternative middle school at another district before coming to Glen Cove, based the program proposal on his past experience.

Trustee Joel Sunshine, who was absent from the last meeting, clarified to the public that the school board already budgeted for this program for the current school year, so there are funds allocated that have not yet been used. He said this program would address the needs of kids whose needs are not currently being properly addressed.

The trustees raised their concerns about the hours of learning time proposed, the number of students and teachers in the program. The biggest debate came over the definition of an “at risk” student that the program is intended to serve.

Trustee Gail Nedbor-Gross said the board has been trying to get this program in place for four years and that the goal is to get them through high school. Trustee Dave Huggins said he had concerns about the program’s oversight and felt that the program needs stability, consistency and leadership. Trustee Ida McQuair said that the alternative high school failed partly because there was no accountability or data; she also mentioned that there is talk of creating charter schools for alternative programs around the state, so this program is a way to keep kids in the schools here.

They all agreed that the program needs objective criteria. Huggins said, “The program shouldn’t be pigeonholed to certain people…‘at risk’ is a broad spectrum, and we should attempt to get this right the first time.”

Alston explained that the schedule is tentative and that in his experience, following a non-traditional schedule works better at alternative schools. He said, from talking with the teachers, the general consensus was not to start it in the sixth grade, and that they do not feel there is a need for a large program at this time. Camhi said that the number of students proposed is based on the current number of kids who teachers and staff have identified as potentially benefiting from this program, not just an arbitrary number. She said they need clearer direction as to what the objective of the board is, and that this program is not intended to be just for kids with behavior problems since that could be a separate issue.

Trustee Barrie Dratch requested that a final proposal be given by March so that they could get this program into place for next year.

In the end it was agreed upon by all members of the board that, to start, the program will have one teacher and one certified teaching assistant; of the pair, one will have English and Social Studies certification, and the other Math and Science certification to ensure the students are learning the common core curriculum.

Superintendent Dr. Joseph A. Laria complimented the board on its persistence in pursuing the program, and expressed some concerns about the program as proposed. He said this proposal is a step in the right direction, and recommended that the criteria be tightened up for entry into the program and that it might be best to start as a type of pilot program. He mentioned he was not fond of the term “alternative” and suggested calling it the “excel program” and asked Alston and Camhi to go through the program again and make any changes, then advance it to the board stat.

A draft of the preliminary budget was shown to the board, presented by Deputy Superintendent Kevin Wurtz. The total anticipated budget expenditures will increase by approximately $2.58 million next year and the total anticipated tax levy revenue will increase by approximately $1.8 million. This is a working budget and budget review meetings will be held on March 12 and March 26; the budget will be adopted on April 18 and the budget vote will take place on May 15.