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Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education Discusses Curriculum Writing

The Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education discussed a diverse array of topics at the Monday, Dec. 6 meeting including curriculum writing, grammar, financial concerns and staff development.

As per usual, Talia, the student government representative, reported on the success of several recent high school activities: the SADD Blood Drive on Nov. 23, the NYSSMA All-State Conference in Rochester from Dec. 2-5, and the DECA Holiday Gift Fair on Dec. 4. She also apprised the board of several then-upcoming events like Choir Processional Night, which was held Dec. 13, SADD “Grim Reaper Day” on the importance of making safe decisions on Dec. 16, and “Plainview Idol” on Dec. 17.

In Board Announcements, trustee Evy Rothman announced that she and Ginger Lieberman had recently attended an Internet safety and bullying prevention conference at Hofstra, presented by the Long Island Safety Coalition. Lieberman and Roni Benson, her partner in the nationally recognized “Bullyfrog” anti-bullying program, were opening speakers at the conference.

On a similar topic, Lieberman gave the parents in attendance some information about a new form of extortion that is becoming all too common, where children and teens are encouraged to take off their clothes in front of a webcam, and then told they must pay if they don’t want the webcam footage released. She noted that since a lot of the sites that host this behavior are coming from outside the country, legal options are limited; instead, it’s up to parents to actively find out what sites their children visit, and not just hope for the best.

“I’m telling you now, if you think your kid is in third or fourth grade and they don’t know about this stuff, you’re wrong,” said Lieberman.

Rothman and board vice president Amy Pierno noted that they had attended a school law conference earlier that day. Greg Guercio, district counsel, also presented at the conference. Rothman said they learned about retirement incentives, joint purchasing, capital reserve funds, and many other topics. Rothman said she would give a more detailed presentation on the conference at the next board meeting.

In Superintendent’s announcements, Superintendent Gerard W. Dempsey Jr. noted that the upcoming evening concerts are open to members of the public, not just parents and students.

After announcements, English department chair Jeffrey Yagaloff, who gave a presentation about changes to the English Regents at the previous meeting, gave a presentation on some recent changes in how the district approaches curriculum writing.

Yagaloff reported that during summer curriculum writing, teachers are now spending more time writing curriculum together, physically being together in one location so that teachers of different grade levels can work together and exchange ideas. Also, there is now a greater emphasis on teachers writing their own curriculum, with 80-90 percent of curricular projects being created by teachers. He complimented Nina Meltzer in particular on her work creating kindergarten curriculum.

Another improvement Yagaloff discussed was the fact that instead of just sending new curriculum off to the teachers, as had been common in the past, curriculum writers are now discussing the new curriculum with teachers as part of mandatory staff development sessions.

Trustee Angel Cepeda expressed concern about curriculum sitting on the shelf and not being used, which he believed had been an issue in the past. Yagaloff said that most of the curriculum was available electronically, and the two agreed that the material should be made as easily accessible to teachers as possible.

Another item of note the chairman reported was the fact that grammar will apparently be tested in a reduced way on the new ELA exam, with few questions devoted solely to grammar; this led to a discussion among the board members as to the best way to teach grammar, by itself via traditional instruction or in context. While the board members had different ideas, it was generally agreed that some combination of the two methods was optimum. Gierasch noted that the younger children do have traditional grammar workbooks.

Board President Bettan said that he felt the state “dropping the ball” on grammar did not mean that the district had to follow suit, since the board is always discussing ways to surpass what the state requires. “I’m disappointed in the state, but I don’t think that’s any reason for us to lower any of our expectations for what our children can achieve,” said Bettan.

In financial news, Dempsey noted that the next few months will likely be filled with speculation, as everyone waits to see what incoming Governor Cuomo will do with the state’s next budget. In order to keep the community apprised of new information as it becomes available, Dempsey said the board plans to do a financial update at every meeting from now going through the budget season.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Ryan J. Ruf discussed the Regents Plan for State Aid, which this year recommends giving less aid to school districts for things like transportation. Since Plainview-Old Bethpage only receives 26 percent transportation aid, Ruf noted, this policy should not affect the district strongly if implemented. He also reported that there was discussion of charging schools for actual Regents exams, to the tune of approximately $6 per test, but noted that he needed to do more research on the topic.

In general, members of the board were concerned that they would soon reach a “funding cliff” that they had discussed at past meetings, due to the expiration of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) and jobs bill funds. “We have reached the cliff, and unfortunately our local leader on the county level, Executive Mangano, has put in place several new policies that will have a negative impact on school districts,” said board president Gary Bettan. “What makes this so frustrating for board members is that he is simply passing the buck and providing no additional benefits at all to the children in our community.”

The last major topic broached at the meeting was staff development. While the district had taken the opportunity provided by ARRA funds to offer staff development courses to teachers, two parents spoke out in concern that their children’s teachers were being removed from the classroom too often. One parent, a first-time speaker, said he was concerned that his daughter was not meeting with her speech teacher often enough, thus her IEP was not being met. “I have no connection with the educational system; this is the first board meeting I’ve ever attended. I want to leave this stuff to you guys, I just need you to do it,” said the parent. Dempsey said he would be glad to investigate the matter if the parent left his information with the district clerk.

When another parent expressed concern about the frequency with which her daughter’s teacher was being pulled out of the classroom, Dempsey explained that the funds that were allowing for this staff development would run out soon, thus the problem of teachers leaving the classroom would come to an end shortly. While he noted that the district had decided to schedule the staff development courses earlier in the school year so that new techniques could be utilized in the second half, he said that they would look into the concerns that the teachers are currently being pulled out of the classroom too often.

Also in public participation, one resident also asked about school district consolidation, stating that consolidating Nassau’s many school districts would save taxpayers money. However, district counsel Guercio responded that there was a misconception that combining school districts saves money, however it had been his experience that it does the opposite, since the removal of a few redundant administration positions does not compensate for the large increases in salary, as the higher payscale is always adopted. “Don’t believe what you read about combining schools saving money; it always costs money,” said Guercio.

The same resident expressed concern about the increase in his taxes, leading Ruf to reiterate some of what he had explained at the Nov. 1 meeting about how certain “pockets” of the community were taxed more due to how the county assessments worked, something the district has no control over.

In tenure recognition, two of the high school faculty received tenure: Carla Loeven, photography and media arts teacher, and Jason Miller, guidance counselor. Principal James Murray praised Loeven for her reinventing of the photography program with her own personal style, and Miller for the way he truly cares about his students.

The board voted on 22 resolutions, all of which passed. The next meeting of the board of education will take place on Monday, Dec. 20.