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College Board

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Mean test scores for Port Jefferson School District students in 2016 and 2017 on AP exams in 10 major subjects. Graphic by TBR News Media

The results are in, and Port Jefferson School District teachers, administrators and students have plenty to be proud of.

Jessica Schmettan, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, presented data regarding Port Jeff students scores on Advanced Placement tests taken in May 2017 during a Dec. 12 board of education meeting. AP is a program that offers college-level curriculum and exams to high school students, and college credits are available based on performance in the courses. The College Board, a nonprofit formed to expand access to higher education in North America, created the AP program. The exams are scored from 1 to 5, with scores 3 or higher considered proficient and a minimum standard to be able to earn college credit.

Participation in AP courses and performance on exams overall are trending up in Port Jeff. In 2017, Port Jeff students took 354 AP exams, compared to 280 in 2015. Schmettan said the district was proud to see the increase in the number of students taking the exams and expects that number to increase as more AP offerings are made available to students.

PJSD superintendent, board discuss future after bond fails

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District superintendent, Paul Casciano, and board of education president, Kathleen Brennan, each made public comments Dec. 12 regarding the future of capital improvement projects that would have been addressed by a $30 million bond, a proposal that was voted down by a wide margin by district residents Dec. 5.

Casciano: “Our capital bond proposal was defeated [Dec. 5]. Our board of education and administration are in the process of reviewing what implications there are in the results to determine which steps would be in the best interest of our students. Although we’re disappointed by the outcome, we are grateful that so many residents took the time to vote. Our discussions moving forward will be focused on how best to address the problems that we are facing, namely the health, safety and security of our students and staff; compliance with state and federal regulations; our aging infrastructure; and our overcrowded and overtaxed athletic fields. Hopefully at some point in the future we’ll actually get to plan how to transform our instructional settings into a 21st-century learning environment.”

Brennan: “This is our first board meeting since the vote, so clearly we had no time to discuss the outcome among the board members. I can assure you that we hear you, we heard the vote from the public, and we plan to study that and clearly and carefully and slowly move forward. We certainly will include the public in those plans. So I thank you for your comments and your interest in our district.”

“It is gratifying to see the number of our students [taking AP courses] continuing to grow and the offerings in AP,” board of education member Mark Doyle said during the meeting.

The mean score for Port Jeff students increased when comparing 2016 results to 2017 results on exams in 13 subject areas, including chemistry, environmental science, world history and calculus. In each of those particular subjects, more than 90 percent of students taking the test scored a 3 or better. In addition, the mean Port Jeff 2017 scores in 14 subject areas exceeded the New York State means. In environmental science and chemistry, the Port Jeff means were more than a full percentage point better than New York State means. Schmettan said she was impressed to see the 2017 chemistry scores as the district mean was 4.00, compared to 2.90 across the state and 3.13 in 2016 in Port Jeff.

Average scores in English language and composition, English literature and composition, world history, and U.S. history all went up from 2016 to 2017. However, AP calculus scores skyrocketed in 2017, jumping from 2.57 on average last year to 4.15, which represented the largest increase in any subject.

“We saw a very strong comeback in AP calculus, and we’re proud of that,” Schmettan said.

In another area of mathematics, statistics, 2017 test takers struggled compared to last year. The average 2016 score was 3.92, compared to 3.05 this past May.

“We’re hoping that is a similar event as to what happened in AP calculus last year, that perhaps it is an event not a pattern in the data,” she said.

Port Jeff came in below other New York State test takers on average in five subjects: macroeconomics, biology, Spanish language and culture, music theory and computer science. Biology scores have come down from a mean of 3.19 in 2014 to a 2.92 in 2017.

In total 29 students in Port Jeff were named AP Scholars with Distinction, which is granted to test takers who receive scores of at least 3.50 on all exams taken and scores of 3 or better on five or more exams. Six students were named National AP Scholars for earning a 4 or better on all tests taken and at least a 4 on eight or more exams.

“This is something that we should very much be proud of in Port Jefferson,” Schmettan said.

Visit www.portjeffschools.org to see the full results and click on “Curriculum & Instruction” under the “Departments” tab.

Miller Place AP English Literature teacher Brian Sztabnik was a finalist for New York state's Teacher of the Year award. Photo from Miller Place school district

It’s easy to pick out Brian Sztabnik among the students and staff at Miller Place High School. The 6-foot, 8-inch English teacher and boys varsity basketball coach is a towering figure not just physically, but as a molder of minds in and out of the classroom, serving as a role model for students and faculty in the district for the past 10 years. And New York state recently took notice.

Sztabnik, 39, who has taught AP English Literature and Composition and English 12 at the high school since 2007, was the runner-up for 2018 New York State Teacher of the Year. The award, issued by Albany-based New York State United Teachers union through a lengthy application process, honors exemplary educators who go above and beyond what’s expected of them.

Miller Place High School Principal Kevin Slavin, Superintendent Marianne Cartisano and Nancy Sanders, president of the Miller Place teacher’s association, present Brian Sztabnik with an award for his second-place finish for state teacher of the year. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a College Board advisor for AP English Literature; a speaker on behalf of English education on the state and national levels; the creator of  “Talks with Teachers,” a top iTunes podcast aimed at inspiring teachers; a published author and the person school administrators turn to for advice, it makes sense why Sztabnik was chosen as one of five finalists out of hundreds in the running.

“Brian is a once-in-a-career type of teacher,” said Kevin Slavin, Miller Place High School principal, before presenting Sztabnik with a certificate for his achievements during the Sept. 27 board of education meeting. Slavin, alongside dean of students Diana Tufaro, nominated Sztabnik for the award last October. “He’s somebody that sees things in a way I could never envision myself. The impact he has on a daily basis is tremendous. Our librarian said it best — when you walk into his classroom, ‘students are invited to learn, not expected to learn.’ We are beyond lucky to have him.”

Slavin said, as protocol during the application process, two previous recipients of the state award observed Sztabnik in the classroom. In May, the pair paid a visit to Miller Place and were impressed to say the least, the principal said.

“The New York state guys said they had never seen a classroom like that — they were in absolute awe,” Slavin said.

Sztabnik consistently provides innovative and immersive curriculum for students, such as “wacky Wednesdays,” a weekly experimental approach to lessons, “Shakespearean musical chairs” and competitive trivia games revolving around novels, poems and works studied in the class.

“School shouldn’t just be sitting at a desk listening to someone talk. It should be about students interacting, moving around and working together to create a unified body of knowledge.”

— Brian Sztabnik

“School shouldn’t just be sitting at a desk listening to someone talk,” Sztabnik said. “It should be about students interacting, moving around and working together to create a unified body of knowledge.”

His wife, Jessica, a fellow English teacher, said she’s pleasantly surprised by his recognition, but not too surprised.

“He works very hard and is such a creative person, so that translates in the classroom,” she said. “He also found a district that really supports him and allows him to use that creativity. Miller Place has been great to Brian.”

Sztabnik, who grew up in Mastic and graduated from William Floyd High School in 1996, has been teaching English, as well as creative writing and public speaking, for 13 years. His career in education began at the Frederick Douglass Academy in West Harlem in a classroom overlooking the original Yankee Stadium, where he taught sixth- and seventh-graders and coached basketball. He then spent a year each at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip and Islip School District before settling in at Miller Place.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in communications from New York University and pursuing a career in journalism for two years, Sztabnik was inspired by his wife to get his master’s degree in English education from Stony Brook University in 2002.

While he is grateful for any accolade he gets, Sztabnik said he first and foremost teaches to make a difference in young people’s lives.

“I love being in the classroom and having that interaction with the students,” Sztabnik said. “I’m just fascinated by how they think and I constantly want to hear how they think. I think that’s what makes English so cool — everyone can have an opinion and as long as they can back it up from the text we can have really varied and diverse discussions from which we can learn about each other.”

Brian Sztabnik reads to his son. Photo from Brian Sztabnik’s website

Part of his goal in the classroom is to push students to think critically, a skill he said transfers beyond English.

“It’s such an important skill in life,” he said. “I want them to notice the small things and be equipped to respond to those things. If you put learning in the foreground, the grades take care of themselves, but the opposite is not always true.”

Jake Angelo, a senior in Sztabnik’s AP Literature class, said his teacher encourages students to learn and take action.

“He doesn’t prepare us; he teaches us how to prepare ourselves for the future,” Angelo said, saying something like studying Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice” becomes a theatrical production under Sztabnik’s tutelage. “He had us act out the play, giving us props while teaching the impact of every symbol and character. He makes it interesting.”

Former AP student Brianne Ledda, who graduated last year and attends Stony Brook University, said Sztabnik deserves all the recognition he gets.

“His teaching style depended very much on student interaction and the class was always engaged and active,” Ledda said. “I appreciated that he valued our input as students, and I loved that we were given more freedom of choice in our reading.”

At the end of the board meeting, Slavin joked that sooner or later, “Somebody in the larger state is going to steal Mr. Sztabnik away from us,” so Miller Place needed to get as much out of him as it could as long as he’s there.

Sztabnik’s response sent a sigh of relief over the room.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said with a smile. “I think, and this is also true of Miller Place, the best is still yet to come.”

Shoreham-Wading River assistant principal Kevin Vann will be replacing retiring Albert G. Prodell Middle School Principal Linda Anthony this June. Photo from Kevin Vann

Kevin Vann will be returning to his roots this June.

The now assistant principal at Shoreham-Wading River High School will be reentering middle school doors, but this time as principal of Albert G. Prodell Middle School.

“I feel a strong sense of loyalty to Shoreham-Wading River,” Vann said. “The district gave me my first opportunity as an administrator, and I think I’ve developed some great relationships. I thought this was a great opportunity to stretch my wings a little bit and still stay connected to a community that I really have a lot of respect for and enjoy working with.”

Albert G. Prodell Middle School Principal Linda Anthony will be retiring at the end of this school year. Photo from Linda Anthony

Vann will be replacing retiring principal Linda Anthony, who has been at the helm for the last 11 years. An English teacher in Japan for four years, she took a unique approach to special education and at-risk students, also living in California before returning to New York.

Anthony said she’s fortunate for the extended stay that helped her move the Prodell middle school in the right direction.

“A lot of different instructional practices were put into place in the middle school, the culture of the middle school changed quite a bit — I was able to hire about 40 percent of the staff,” she said. “With so many years you can really initiate change, sustain change and then lock change.”

Some of the changes she made include increased collaboration with teachers and the level of rigor for students.

Anthony has a long history with art, and upon retirement, hopes to get back to her roots, too. She also said she wants to assist in some way with the refugee crisis.

After working with Vann, and attending a weekend conference with the soon-to-be principal, Anthony said she knows what he’s capable of doing in his new position.

“I think he will be an outstanding principal and I think he really is the best possible choice,” she said. “He will take the school to the next level. I have full confidence in that.”

Dan Holtzman, principal of the high school, said the last decade has been productive and meaningful, especially having Vann at his side the entire way.

“He has been my right hand, my support, and even more importantly, my friend,” Holtzman said. “We have worked tirelessly in creating a safe and welcoming learning environment for our students, and I am very proud of the outcomes. I think this transition will prove to be a smart move for the district and Kevin. The strengths he will bring will be an asset to the middle school. I could not be happier or more excited for him.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of change kids go through at that level physically, socially and emotionally. We’re looking to make kids feels supported and know there’s adults in the building that care about them, and try to give them good opportunities to develop and to learn.”

—Kevin Vann

Vann began his career in education at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, working in the business world prior to earning a job teaching social studies in the Patchogue-Medford School District. He also worked on a grant for the Office of Safe and Healthy Students while in Pat-Med, and was the dean of students at Shoreham-Wading River High School. In both capacities, he said the administrative and disciplinary actions he learned to take will help guide him in his new position. He also earned a master’s degree from Touro College in educational leadership.

Prior to him working in the district, there hadn’t been a tenured administrator in over a decade. Anthony, Holtzman and Vann helped change the Wildcats culture.

“There was a lot of turnover — a lot of inconsistency and a lot of uncertainty with students and parents — so we worked hard to create a culture of acceptance, and a student-centered environment where the students could always come talk to us,” Vann said. “We wanted to have an open line of communication.”

To assist with that, the district brought back an advisory period, where for 15 minutes in the middle of the day, kids can connect with teachers. Advanced Placement training for educators was also added to increase subject concentrations, and the College Board has recognized the school as a result.

“We wanted students to know that their opinions and ideas were respected, and when dealing with parents we wanted them to know our goal was to create the best environment possible for their students to succeed,” Vann said. “I think that really has happened.”

Now, he said he’s hoping he can carry down what he’s learned as assistant principal at the high school, while continuing the current successes already put in place.

“I know they have a highly-engaged staff that’s connected to the students, so I’d look for any opportunity I have to continue to foster that growth,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of change kids go through at that level physically, socially and emotionally. We’re looking to make kids feels supported and know there’s adults in the building that care about them, and try to give them good opportunities to develop and to learn.”