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OB-EN Board Discusses Student Performance

Student performance is the way a school district is evaluated. On a positive note, Dr. Harrington said at the April 20 board of education business meeting that the graduating class of 2010 is doing very well. “Their college acceptance is unbelievable: 99 percent applied to colleges and 742 applications were sent out by guidance. “We’ve been working really hard to make students know they can move on to higher education,” she said.

In another case, she talked about how the district worked with a class of struggling students. Dr. Harrington said Newsday printed the data on the NYS Report Card assessments the week of April 19. “They could be alarming,” she said. It stated that [only] 88 percent of students in the class of 2008 graduated with Regents diplomas. She said, “It was a grade with quirks. Eight students were dropouts. There was a high percentage of struggling students in the class.” She said Newsday didn’t report that of the 89 students who received Regents diplomas, 50 received them with an Advanced Degree.

She said, “We are encouraging students to reach for better things. We are sorry we can’t reach all the students.” She said the struggling students were known to them, and that they were saddened by the dropouts.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Laura Seinfeld said that the class of 2008 had only 97 students; of them 92 percent graduated; 88 percent with Regents diplomas.

When looked at - using percentages, since they were three less than 100 units, each student counts for more than one percent of the results. She said it was a small class that early in their history with the district was identified as being challenged.

Of the eight who dropped out, one was a special ed student; seven were in general education; additionally, two have applied for their GED which leaves just six as dropouts.

Of the class of 2008, 96 percent went on to college; 20 to a two-year college; 76 to a four-year college, 1 percent went on to secondary education in a trade; 1 percent joined the military; 2 percent said their plans were unknown.

On Board Interview

Dr. Harrington held up a copy of On Board newspaper saying that there was an interview with board member Keith Kowalsky in the statewide publication of the NYS School Boards Association. Marc Humbert interviewed him about being named Inventor of the Year, being an engineer, and an inventor and still having time to serve on the board. In it, Mr. Kowalksy had some good things to say about being a board member. Mr. Humbert quoted Mr. Kowalsky as saying, “It really does take away a lot of time,” he said. “But the real benefit for me is that I have a very small business and this allows me to see a bigger business from the inside out.”

Mr. Kowalsky added, “And, dealing with the public on an almost everyday basis (as a board member) has really helped me understand people a bit more.”

In the interview Mr. Kowalsky was critical of the state and said there was “some long overdue mandate relief (needed) and to provide districts with the tools to run schools more efficiently.”

In a telephone interview he explained, “With these economic times, there is so much pressure on the local school district to cut expenses but the state puts in mandates that are out of our control. One of those mandates is the way special education is funded with the district having to provide for private and parochial schools, for children who live outside the district. While the district is reimbursed for the funds, we have to pay for the administrative costs involved.”

Mr. Kowalsky said to this reporter that the school district is not like running a business where you can decide to cut costs 20 percent across the board. “In a school district that would mean to reduce teaching staff but in the long run that puts the education of the kids in harm’s way. Education is not a product. You want to educate the kids as best you can,” he said.

About MSG Varsity

Dr. Harrington initiated a discussion with board members on a proposal by MSG Varsity, a 24/7 television network that is part of Cablevision and has requested the district sign a contract for sports coverage on TV. To encourage the district to sign they are offering $6,000 over two years and two $1,000 scholarships for any designation. She said the school attorneys had looked over the contract and thought it was all right, after some issues were ironed out - but that she felt the issue deserved more discussion. MSG is pushing the district to sign, and at the same time, Dr. Harrington said they just received a letter from Verizon. She said she reached out to other superintendents and that some had signed with MSG.

One of the issues is that the district doesn’t have a video staff. MSG said they would provide a video camera and train a student. “I’ve been looking for kids for a year. Good luck,” said Tom Gould, media specialist.

If the district signs the contract, they have 60 days to cancel it.

One of the clauses said if the district is contacted by another TV group, the district has to tell MSG and they can counter offer or not. The board was concerned that this was implying some exclusivity.

Board members had several comments including that the network would be making a great deal of money from advertising; and that they were filling in content on their channels.

Board President James Robinson said, “They are looking for content. Sports on Long Island has grown so much. That is what it is all about. But, their profit is not what we are about.

“Maybe they would cover (televise) our board meetings,” said Dr. Harrington.

Mr. Robinson added that the basketball playoffs were videod – that BOCES Section 8 (in charge of sports) signed with MSG.

The discussion then went into parents having to give permission for the use of their children to be seen on TV – and that the network would be making money from the programs because of the commercials.

School Attorney Joseph Lilly added to the discussion saying they were not requiring other media to be excluded from covering the sports events.

Mr. Kowalsky suggested that this was both a legal and a business discussion. He added, what if someone is hurt will the district be sued? He said on a business consideration the district should say they want $10,000.

The final decision was to table the issue as they looked into it further.

When the community comments opened up, parent Harriet Dorfman said she has a background in media law and said on the back of a baseball ticket is a statement that by buying it, you give permission to be photographed at the event. As for her children and MSG, she said, “I’d be upset if my kids were photographed.”

Parent Kevin Corwen made a comment that wrapped up the discussion. He said the content MSG was asking for was valuable. He said colleges don’t negotiate, the leagues do. “Get all of the Nassau and Suffolk County schools to negotiate as one group. It’s your content. When you do it by yourself – they want to divide you up and pick you off one by one.”

Dr. Harrington said it was an outstanding point. She added that in the group of superintendents she sees, some always act independently.

Mr. Corwen said, “They can’t play against themselves.”

Other Business

Assistant Superintendent for Business Christopher Van Cott announced that the contract with Excell for districtwide security with funding approved in 2007 through a grant, came in under budget. He said they will use the extra money to do more of the needed security work.

Dr. Harrington had praise for the three Challenge Days that she called a life-altering event for middle level students as they move into their high school years. They learn to respect other people, who are different – and that helps prevent bullying.

The board also approved the school calendar for next year, including a Saturday Budget Forum, although there were some who preferred Tuesday, as it turned out this year because of the storm.

The district is joining other Nassau County School Districts to participate in cooperative bids for the purchase of various maintenance and repair work.