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Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

Family and friends cheered on the more than 600 seniors who graduated in front of the Ward Melville High School clocktower on Sunday.

During the June 24 ceremony, salutatorian Michael Lu reminded his classmates to continue to open themselves to new possibilities.

“As graduates of Ward Melville High School, we can do anything we put our minds to as long as we have an appetite to learn and a willingness to take risks,” he said.

Ethan Li, the class valedictorian, encouraged his classmates to be socially aware and to enact change.

“Talent without humanity is like a violin bow which lacks resin,” he said. “It may produce practically perfect music, but the sound will never inspire.”

Ward Melville principal Alan Baum built on those words in his last commencement speech as principal.

“Change is okay,” he said. “You don’t have to be afraid.”

Baum, who will take on the role of executive director of secondary curriculum and human resources in the district office, had parting words for the class of 2018.

“Don’t let others or naysayers tell you what you can’t do,” he said. “Go out and show them what you can do.”

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Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As the Three Village Central School District continues to see a decline in its enrollment, it can look to the performance of its students as a bright spot on the district’s annual report card.

At the district’s mid-October school board meeting, Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, presented a snapshot of the state of the district.

Enrollment continued to decline, dropping about 3 percent from last year, to 6,264 students. With well over 600 students, the current senior class is the largest in the district, Scanlon said.

During his presentation, Scanlon also went over the results of state assessment and Regents examinations. He called the Regents scores “amazing,” saying that they were some of the highest in the state. Ninety-seven percent of the students who took the Regents English Language Arts and U.S. History and Government exams passed, and 93 percent passed the Global History and Geography Regents exam, he said.

On the Common Core-aligned math Regents exams, 95 percent passed the Algebra exam, while Geometry had an 89 percent passing rate, and 99 percent passed the
Algebra II exam. Seventy-one percent of the smaller group who took the old Algebra 2/Trigonometry exam passed.

Equally as “amazing” were the results from the science Regents, Scanlon said. At least 91 percent of students taking the four science exams — Earth Science, Living Environment, Chemistry and Physics —  passed, with the highest pass rate in Living Environment, at 97 percent.

Scanlon noted that Three Village students continue to perform above the state mean for SAT scores and had the highest scores for Suffolk County.

“I happen to attribute this to the students and the hard work of the teachers,” he said.

“All of the services that we’ve been putting into place are really coming to fruition.”

— Kevin Scanlon

He also pointed to the installation of the writing and math centers at all of the secondary schools.

“All of the services that we’ve been putting into place are really coming to fruition,” Scanlon said.

Additional numbers from the class of 2017 show a 96 percent graduation rate. The same percentage of students went on to two- and four-year colleges. The assistant superintendent also recognized the less than 1 percent of graduates who went directly into military service.

The report also covered the yearly state assessments for students in grades three through eight. Thirty-two percent of Three Village students took the English Language Arts (ELA) assessment — this is down 2 percent from the previous year. Additionally, 31 percent took the math assessment, which was up 1 percent from the previous year.

As in past years, Three Village students’ scores surpassed both the state and Nassau and Suffolk counties averages. The state average for the number of students who met or exceeded proficiency was 39.8 percent, while in Three Village, the number of students meeting or exceeding standards for each grade was 61 percent and above, Scanlon reported. In math, the state average was 40.2 percent. At least 73 percent of district test takers met or exceeded standards at each grade level, except in eighth grade. This was because the majority of district eighth-graders took the Algebra I Regents instead of the math assessment, Scanlon said.

He said that when compared to similar districts — Commack, Half Hollow Hills, Harborfields, Hauppauge, Northport, Port Jefferson and Smithtown — Three Village students outperformed those districts in all but two grades on the ELA and all but one grade in math.

Areas that the district continues to work on are elementary math and reading, Scanlon said.  In addition to the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for writing, previously introduced to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the district recently introduced Units of Study for reading, he said, because “literacy is the most important key” to all subjects. He added that students are tested three times throughout the year in both math and reading to get a baseline for their progress. This allows teachers to begin intervention even earlier than before, the assistant superintendent said.

The landscape continues to change with New York State’s introduction of the new Social Studies standards last year and the new science standards that are being rolled out this year for kindergarten through second grade, Scanlon explained.

In the next few years, he said, students can expect to see significant changes as the state continues to adjust to new standards.   

Members of Ward Melville's Iron Patriots introduce one of their robots at the Oct. 3 Three Village school board meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

High school isn’t just for kids these days.

In attendance at the most recent Three Village school board meeting was a student-built robot and some of the Ward Melville High School students who built it.

What began as an extracurricular offering in 2005, has evolved into a yearlong, honors robotics course at the high school. The Ward Melville Iron Patriots —  robotics students and teachers Steve Rogers, John Williams and Mark Suesser — presented their work to the school board after the course’s inaugural year.

Rogers said students in the robotics class built two robots. The first is a generic one built from a kit and programmed to complete various tasks. The second robot is one that students design and build from scratch to solve a specific problem.

Last spring the Iron Patriots took part in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University, where they competed against 55 other teams from Long Island and around the world. With a 13th place overall finish, the Ward Melville team brought home the highest rookie seed award for having the highest ranking of a first-year team. The district’s young engineers are no strangers to competition; the club team won the regional Botball championships in 2014 and 2015.

A robot built by the Ward Melville Iron Patriots in their robotics class. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The Botball robot competition requires that the robots  pick up ping pong balls, transport them and then hit a target. For the FIRST Robotics Competition, which Rogers calls “a football game on steroids,” larger robots have to complete even more specialized tasks. Designed and built from scratch in six weeks, these 150-pound robot contestants must pick up gears and place them on propellers, among other challenges.

In addition to the work of building and programming the robots, members of the team also work on fundraising and build websites to get the word out about their project. They also take part in community outreach visits to elementary schools to introduce students to robotics and to local organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans.

Students who attended the meeting spoke of their interests and how the class offered the opportunity to apply certain scientific principles, develop problem-solving skills and explore interests in aerospace and mechanical engineering.

Noor Kamal, a student with an interest in math and computer science, said she went into the class not having much building experience.

“Those six weeks every single day after school designing the robot from scratch and building it exposed me to all these different things I want to do in the future,” she said.

Rogers said with the expanded role that robots will have in the future, “Our work force now has to retool to train to be able to run the robots and program the robots.”

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Kate Hunter, second from right, was honored by the National Council for the Social Studies as a teacher of the year. Hunter is pictured above with Board President William Connors, Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Pedisich and Minnesauke Principal Brian Biscari. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village Central School District board kicked off its first meeting of the school year with a celebration of one of the district’s teachers receiving a national award.

Teacher of the year

Fifth-grade teacher Kate Hunter’s achievement was the highlight of the evening.

“I feel like it’s déjà vu all over again,” Minnesauke principal  Brian Biscari said.

Over the past year, the principal and the board have congratulated Hunter for her accolades as New York State Council for the Social Studies Outstanding Elementary Social Studies Classroom Teacher Award. She had received a similar award earlier from the Long Island Council for the Social Studies. This time, Hunter received a standing ovation for being named National Council for the Social Studies Elementary Level Social Studies Teacher of the Year, which recognizes “exceptional classroom social studies teachers.”

Hunter, who has taught fifth grade for 10 years, began her career in the district at Minnesauke in 2003. This November, she will attend the national NCSS conference in San Francisco, where she will receive her award and present some of her work.

The meeting’s agenda also included a presentation from the director of elementary curriculum and a policy update about home schoolers. Additionally, the school board heard concerns about a summer reading assignment.

Summer reading

Three Village school district canceled the R. C. Murphy Junior High School summer book project before the start of the school year. File photo

Toni Williams-Mulgrave expressed dismay about the summer reading assignment, “Leaving Fletchville,” for

R.C. Murphy Junior High School’s eighth-graders. A Ward Melville graduate and educator herself, Williams-Mulgrave, who is African-American, has a niece who read the assignment.

She told the school board that she was disturbed by the stereotyping and racial slurs in the book.

“Someone has to speak up, and we have to start the communication so that our society can grow — so that the stuff that’s going on across the world doesn’t happen here,” she said.

The family had met with district officials during the summer, and the reading assignment was canceled before the start of the school year.

The book, about siblings who’ve moved to a place where they are “the only black people in town,” was nominated for the 2010 Red Maple Award for seventh- and eighth-grade Canadian literature.

In a prepared statement, board president William Connors said that the district’s decision “to eliminate this year’s summer reading project was based on the interest of our students and primarily the connection one aspect of the book had to national events transpiring this summer — events that occurred well after the book was chosen.”

“Our district is strongly committed to creating learning environments that promote acceptance, respect and inclusivity as well as a rich curriculum encompassing the literary classics and emerging prize-winning authors,” Connors said. 

District superintendent Cheryl Pedisich also addressed the matter. In her statement, she said that the district’s program review committee will review independent summer reading assignments this year and make “any recommended changes” they believe will further benefit students.

Elementary curriculum

Director of elementary curriculum  Nathalie Lilavois unveiled the first part of a program that she said would

help boost the district’s goal of guiding students towards becoming “skilled problem solvers, perceptive thinkers, quality producers, lifelong learners and self-directed learners.”

Lilavois’ first focus is elementary math. She explained that she prepared a document that lays out the district’s elementary-level math curriculum and articulates how it aligns to the math learning standards. Lilavois made the material available to teachers on an expansive, interactive website that makes it easier for them to use in the classroom.

The site is organized by grade and then by topic. It has core-aligned resources, including GoMath —  the district’s math program — and other websites that provide supplemental information and approaches to each focus area. The online project also enables teachers to suggest their own resources and ideas.

Lilavois will continue to build the site for all elementary subject levels and is developing the English language arts program this year.

In other business, the district updated several policies as required by statute. It also amended a policy to allow homeschooled students in the district to participate in noncredit and nonathletic extracurricular activities such as clubs.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As another school year drew to a close, the final Three Village school board meeting of 2016-17 brought news of security enhancements and the district’s third phase of spending for its Smart Schools Bond allocation.

The Smart Schools Bond, an initiative approved by New York voters in 2014, allocated $2 billion to public schools across the state for education technology, preschool classrooms and security.

Three Village received $3.39 million from the fund, which is being spent on hardware, equipment and infrastructure. Speaking at the district’s final meeting for the school year, safety and security coordinator Jack Blaum said that the final phase of spending — about $1 million — will include an upgrade to security cameras, digital video recorder storage and card key access devices.

The district will convert cameras it already has on its properties from analogue to digital, Blaum said. Besides those cameras, located both in the interior and on the exterior of district buildings, officials plan additional digital security cameras at each school and will install wireless cameras at the two junior high schools to monitor the athletic fields. There is already a surveillance system for the fields at the high school.

To accommodate all of the new cameras, new DVR units will be purchased for the district’s schools. Blaum said the upgrades will also boost the number of key card readers at doors for faculty and staff at all schools, the North Country Administration Building and the old administration building on Nicolls Road. He said that there will also be additional ID scanners in building vestibules to produce visitor badges.

He discussed turning the old administration building into a command center where cameras and security vehicles could be monitored.

For Phase 1 of the Smart Schools Bond, money, about $1.2 million, has been budgeted for upgrading network infrastructure. Phase 2, recently outlined in April, will see the district spending about $1 million on classroom technology and on the district’s one-to-one device program that will provide notebook computers to junior high students.

The plan was posted to the district’s website for a 30-day period to allow residents to comment. The 30-day comment period has now passed, and the district is currently in the process of submitting the plan to the New York State Education Department for approval.

While the district still awaits approval of the first two phases of spending, he anticipates that many of the security requests will be “fast-tracked.”

Coordinating security within the district is like running a small city, Blaum said.

“All the infrastructure is great but, again, the support of all the staff and all the students are crucial,” he said.

Incumbents Irene Gische, Jeff Kerman and Inger Germano are running unopposed for their seats back on the Three Village board of education.

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village residents have overwhelmingly approved the school district’s proposed $204.4 million budget for the coming year.

At the polls Tuesday, 1,708 voted for the budget, while 719 voted against.

Incumbents Dr. Jeffrey Kerman, Irene Gische and Inger Germano, who all ran unopposed, will retain their seats.

The 2017-18 budget, a 2.77 percent increase over the previous year, covers academic enhancements, staffing changes and maintenance projects at the district’s buildings. The most notable additions are the free prekindergarten program for four-year-olds, a drug and alcohol counselor to work with students and their families, and a supervisor of technology and information systems to help oversee next year’s initiative to provide all junior high students with notebook computers.

The three board trustees, each going into a third three-year term, acknowledged the challenges of the cap on the tax levy and the controversy over Common Core in the past few years, but look to the future with optimism.

Kerman has said that in the next three years he wants to “continue to have our district advance and to educate all of our students — the entire range, from special education students to Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists.”

“All in all,” Gische said at a previous meeting, “the district is thriving in spite of the tax cap.”

She cited the addition of the free preschool and the drug and alcohol counselor as continued signs of progress, and said she will continue to support the prekindergarten and additional program and curriculum enhancements.

Germano also cited the preschool — as well as the Three Village Academy, which opened in 2013 — as recent district successes and pointed out that the Academy is a source of revenue through tuition from non-district students. She will “continue to ensure that Three Village maintains academic excellence” while staying fiscally responsible and “putting the needs of the children first,” she added in an email.

This year, because of safety concerns, voting took place at the three secondary schools instead of the elementary schools. Though voter turnout was lower than in past years, district officials interpreted it as a sign of residents’ satisfaction. The absence of additional propositions, like last year’s for transportation, and an uncontested school board election, may also have contributed to the lower turnout, they said. 

However, with 70 percent voting in favor of the budget, the message from residents was still clear.

“The community has shown their approval and support and we couldn’t be more pleased,” Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said.

The May 3 board meeting gave Three Village residents another chance to learn about the 2017-2018 school district’s budget before heading to the polls April 16. Along with the budget, they will also vote on three school board trustees; all are incumbents who are running unopposed.

The board trustees on the ballot are Dr. Jeffrey Kerman, current board Vice President Irene Gische and Inger Germano. This will be the third three-year term for each since joining the board in 2011.

Jeff Kerman. Photo by Deanna Bavinka

Kerman, a dentist with practices in Mount Sinai and New York City, is the father of two Ward Melville graduates and served previously as the board’s president, in addition to a six-year term from 1999 to 2005. He currently sits on the board’s audit and facilities committees.

Well known for sewing costumes for the district’s theater productions, Gische is also a parent of Ward Melville graduates and grandmother of current Three Village students. She was head teacher at Stony Brook University’s preschool for 25 years. Prior to her current service on the board, Gische was a board trustee from 1983 to 1995, during which she was president for two years. Gische currently chairs the board’s policy committee.

Germano, the mother of two Three Village students, is president of medical management and billing company Universal Medical Billing, Corp. A Three Village resident since 2005, she also served on the North Shore Montessori School board and owns Global Alliance Realty with her husband. Germano sits on the board’s policy committee.

At the May 3 board meeting, Jeffrey Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, addressed the issue of the $204.4 million budget that stays within the 3.4 percent cap on the allowable tax levy increase.

Carlson announced that the district will receive a $715,000 increase in state aid, up from the governor’s original proposal of $247,000. There will be no cuts to programs or services to stay within the cap, he said. In fact, the new school year will bring new programs.

As residents go to the polls, one of the most discussed additions is the free, district-run preschool for four-year-olds. The prekindergarten will replace the district’s current fee-based preschool, run by Scope Education Services. The district will now offer morning and afternoon sessions that run two and a half hours, five days a week, at Nassakeag Elementary School. 

Inger Germano. Photo from Germano

Some residents have questioned the district’s decision to subsidize a free preschool. Gloria Casano, who said her taxes have increased by $13,000 since purchasing her home in 1994, raised the matter at the meeting.

“I would like to know when you can give taxpayers a break,” she said. “With continuing enrollment decreases, you’re instituting a free pre-K?”    

Board president Bill Connors responded that the preschool and other new programs were not “frills” but lay the foundation for the district’s students. 

“We are very concerned about costs because they affect all of us in our community,” he said, adding, however, that the board is also concerned about maintaining the quality of educational programs.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said the preschool and the additional programs would give students “the opportunity to be successful.” Also, she said, preschool is shown to save money in special services that would be needed later. 

“Early intervention is priceless,” she said.

Carlson said that it is estimated that the cost of the preschool will add about $20 to the average tax bill.

Other new academic offerings will include fourth-grade chorus and daily band and orchestra for ninth-graders, as well as additional secondary level electives, an expansion of the high school writing center and the introduction of math centers at the junior high schools. 

The budget covers small increases in staffing at the elementary level — up to 4.2 full-time equivalent positions (FTEs), Carlson said. The preschool will be staffed by three FTE elementary positions that will be reassigned to the preschool because of declining elementary enrollment. If the preschool reaches its capacity of 200 students, the district will hire two more teachers.  As of last week’s meeting, enrollment was at 111, requiring 3.5 FTEs, Carlson said. 

Irene Gische. Photo by Deanna Bavinka

With more students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), 2.2 FTEs will go toward elementary special education, health and physical education. The secondary level will see an increase in staffing of 1.15 FTEs, Carlson said.

Three Village will also hire a drug and alcohol counselor to work with students and their families. Additionally, the district will add a supervisor of technology and information systems to help pilot its one-to-one device program, an initiative to provide junior high students with notebook computers. Two FTEs will be added to the grounds and maintenance staff.

The district’s capital projects, which are reimbursed by the state at a rate of 66 percent, will include the installation of generators at the elementary schools and field renovations at Ward Melville High School and P.J. Gelinas Junior High. Also planned are building repairs at Ward Melville and Gelinas, as well as district-wide plumbing and bathroom renovations.

Voting for the budget and trustees will take place on Tuesday, May 16 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Residents zoned to vote at Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Mount Elementary School will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High and those zoned for Setauket Elementary School will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High.

Student representative Brandon Cea discusses Ward Melville's graduation gown controversy during a board meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

To some, tradition is at stake. To others, the issue is about inclusion and sensitivity. Yet another group wonders, why the fuss about a graduation gown?

And, that sums up the furor that continues following an announcement of a new, gender-neutral, green gown and gold stole for Ward Melville High School seniors. Proposed as a symbol of inclusion and sensitivity, the decision has instead ignited division. 

Board President William Connors weighs in on Ward Melville’s graduation gown controversy at a board meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

Two weeks ago, the news that female graduates would no longer march in gold and their male counterparts green, produced a flurry of activity on social media, petitions and protests.

Last week’s school board meeting offered yet another venue for people to express opposition and support about the topic, bringing out speaker after speaker.

“I could not care less what color gown my daughter wears,” said parent Christine Gacovino, whose daughter graduates in June.

The mother said she was most upset by what she saw as the underlying sentiment of those opposed to the change. The reaction indicated “that we have a serious problem with sensitivity in this district,” she said.“Sensitivity and acceptance are so important.” Senior Robert Brando said that for a decision that was meant to unite and include, he feels “anything but included.”

It is “more than just the color of the cloth,” said Brandon Cea, a senior and student representative to the board.

“The issue has come to represent tradition, the rights of the LGTBQ community and the perceived lack of communication between students and administration,” Cea said in a prepared statement.

Ward Melville High School principal Alan Baum, who was in attendance at the meeting, laid out his rationale for the change in a March 2 letter: “In addition to creating a unified senior class, it is our hope that creating a unifying color scheme will eliminate the anxiety that is caused by forcing a young adult to wear a gown that labels them differently from how they identify.”

The prevailing sentiment of parents and students speaking against the new gowns was that they were not “anti-anything.” They simply wanted to honor tradition and democracy, they said. As well, there should have been more discussion with students and the community about the change, they said.

In the wake of the protests, Cea told the school board that the student leadership had met to “establish a new tradition, a tradition where we are Patriots.” Ward Melville students, he said, are proposing the establishment of a student council and a schedule of town hall meetings, so students can express opinions and ask questions about school policy.

“Together, we need to understand the issues on both sides and not allow meaningful conversation to be lost.”

— Brandon Cea

“Together, we need to understand the issues on both sides and not allow meaningful conversation to be lost,” Cea said.

Speaking on behalf of the school board, President William Connors acknowledged that while Baum’s intentions were good, his “rollout” could have been improved through better communication and community involvement.

“The process for these types of decisions will be addressed and solidified to assure that this type of incident does not occur again,” Connors said.

Baum has arranged for female students to retake their senior pictures in the green gowns they will wear for graduation. The photography company has agreed to do the pictures without charging the students or the district.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich was conciliatory.

“It disheartens me to see our school district divided,” she said. “I never want to see that. Our students are precious to us. They are so incredibly valued.

“I’m sorry that the students didn’t have a voice. They should have, absolutely, but now is the time for this district to move forward. I’m imploring you to come together and move forward, because that’s what we need to do.”

This version corrects a previously inaccurate statement. Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum did attend the meeting.

Parents at a rally protest Common Core. File photo by Erika Karp

By Andrea Paldy

After six years of controversy surrounding the adoption and implementation of Common Core and standardized tests associated with it, the New York State Education Department released a new draft of learning standards Sept. 21.

The proposed changes come as the department attempts to respond to ongoing criticism, while maintaining its stated goal of rigor and higher standards for students. The result could mean significant change to both English language arts (ELA) and math learning standards and a greater emphasis on communication with parents, students and educators.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services for Three Village said it’s too early to tell whether any of the changes will be fully implemented.

“So far it just seems to be cosmetic pieces,” Scanlon said at the meeting. “However, we need to delve a little further into it to see what potential impact it may have.”

He also said Three Village is providing feedback on the possible changes and will continue to work with the SED.

In a press release announcing the proposed adjustments, the state’s education department said its aim is to ensure that the new standards and their implementation are age-appropriate, particularly in primary grades. The new guidelines also propose additional teacher resources, guidance and professional development.

“These changes reflect what I have heard from parents, teachers and administrators over the past year in my travels across the state,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a prepared statement.

The draft committees, made up of more than 130 teachers, administrators, parents and college educators, volunteered from all regions of the state. They represent the “Big Five” districts — New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers — as well as urban, suburban and rural districts throughout the state, Elia said. These committees are suggesting that glossaries be used to explain the value and expectations of the education department’s learning standards to all stakeholders.

The ELA draft includes a preface and introduction describing the learning standard’s role within a curriculum. The committee, which worked with a child development expert, proposes more emphasis on the importance of play-based learning in the primary grades. The ELA draft revisions also seek to streamline literary and nonfiction texts across grades, while reorganizing writing standards.

According to the draft document, math standards will be revised to clarify expectations “without limiting instructional flexibility.” Math committees also recommended clarifications to “better understand the goals of the learning standards, Elia said. The revisions seek to “define the progression of skills,” so that there is continuity and a connection from grade to grade. Other changes include creating a balance between skill comprehension, application and performance.

The recommendations of committee members — described by Elia as “dedicated” — are built, in part, on those of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Common Core Task Force Report published in December, a public survey and feedback from discussions the commissioner had with parents and educators across the state.

The committees also worked with special education and English language teachers to address criticisms that the standards are not suitable for students in those areas.

Parents and others can comment on the draft standards on the department’s website — www.nysed.gov/aimhighny — through Nov. 4.

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