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Gerard Poole

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

A new, broader homework policy drafted by the Shoreham-Wading River board of education opened up a dialogue last month between parents and administrators over the best approach to after school assignments throughout the district.

Varying consequences for students who don’t do their homework and an overabundance of assignments over school holidays were main topics of discussion during Shoreham’s Oct. 24 board meeting, in which community members weighed in on a planned revision to the district’s current policy.

In response to a curriculum survey sent out by the district over the summer, parents requested that its guidelines for homework be expanded. While the original policy is merely two sentences on the educational validity of homework, the new two-page proposal aims to better accommodate for individual students and incorporates recognized best practices in the development of assignments.

New homework guidelines could include stricter
penalties, less work on vacations. Stock photo

“The process has certainly put a lens on homework,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Feedback from parents in the survey was a little mixed — the underlying theme was that homework is important but there should be consistencies across grade levels and considerations for home life. We tried to craft something that empowered the buildings to make practices come to life that make sense for students and families.” 

The newly drafted guidelines, titled Policy 8440, encourage teachers to consider students’ time constraints when assigning homework, which should be “appropriate to students’ age” and shouldn’t “take away too much time away from other home activities.”

“Homework should foster positive attitudes toward school and self, and communicate to students the idea that learning takes work at home as well as in school,” the draft policy states.

While it addresses that students should be accountable for all assignments, there are no strict consequences in place for when homework isn’t done, which prompted some parents to voice their concerns.

“I think it’s very important that we establish responsibility and have consequences that teachers themselves are able to have the flexibility to put on children,” said Jeannine Smith, a Shoreham parent with children in Wading River School and Miller Avenue School.

As an educator in an outside district, Smith supported the concept of taking recess away from students in the elementary and middle school who consistently don’t hand homework in.

“I think it’s very important that we establish responsibility and have consequences that teachers themselves are able to have the flexibility to put on children.”

— Jeannine Smith

“It’s the teacher’s job to make sure children are prepared in the future and if homework’s not important in the classroom, children get the message that there is no consequence,” she said.

Shoreham resident Erin Saunders-Morano agreed, saying she believes homework is ultimately the student’s responsibility and shouldn’t be seen as something that falls on the parents.

“As we get older, if you don’t do your job, there are consequences,” Morano said. “I think we should be raising the bar for our students, not lowering it. If students want recess, they should make sure they do their homework.”

But Alisa McMorris, a member of the district’s PTA council, protested the idea, saying students who are working hard all day deserve a break. She also pointed out that difficult and time-consuming projects should not be assigned over vacations.

“I can’t tell you how many times my kids have had projects due the day we get back from Christmas break and it makes me crazy,” McMorris said. “Our Christmas breaks now are doing these projects. Vacation is vacation.”

Michelle Gallucci, a Wading River resident and an English teacher at Smithtown High School East, commended the board for drafting a policy that gives teachers academic freedom based on the students they have in the classroom. She equated the importance of homework to sports practice.

“You can’t take a math class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and not do it again until 9 a.m. the next day,” she said. “You have to practice those skills and get better because your brain is a muscle. Just as students practice for hours after school to get ready for games, students also need intellectual practice.”

Photo by Kevin Redding Shoreham-Wading River’s new superintendent, Gerard Poole, speaks during an April 18 board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

After a grueling months-long search, Shoreham-Wading River school district has finally found a new superintendent.

Gerard Poole, who has served as Freeport School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction since 2013, was officially appointed at the top of Shoreham-Wading River’s April 18 board of education meeting.

He will be the district’s full-time superintendent, taking over for interim Neil Lederer, effective July 1.

An educator for more than 20 years, Poole, 50, started out as an elementary school teacher and instructional coach in the Riverhead Central School District and eventually landed an administrative position in Valley Stream school district before transferring to Freeport.

“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to have the chance to collaborate and build upon the successes of the school district.”

—Gerard Poole

Although Poole has been a lifelong resident of Mattituck, where he lives with his wife and two sons, he said it was an easy decision to apply for the Shoreham-Wading River position. He said he believes it’s one of the best districts on Long Island.

“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to have the chance to collaborate and build upon the successes of the school district,” Poole said during the meeting. “I’ve met many parents, teachers and administrators and [got] a warm welcome and sense of community from everyone.”

When he was interviewed back in February, he said it was clear he and the district saw eye to eye.

“I thought it was a great fit,” Poole said.

There are some key things for every superintendent to be successful, he explained.

“[The most important thing] is to be really open, accessible, forthright, collaborate with the community — to really find out exactly where we want to head, figure out the programs and what the student needs to really reach their full potential,” he said. “It’s not just really important for me to look at documents or student outcomes, but to really listen and hear from parents, staff and students, and work with the board to continue to come up with the great work that’s already in place here in Shoreham.”

Poole’s outlook falls directly in line with what parents in the district asked for.

Bob Freier and Joann Kaplan of District Wise Search Consultants were hired by the district in November not just to find a new superintendent, but to gauge the community on what kind of characteristics they should seek in finding a permanent replacement for previous full-time superintendent Steven Cohen, who retired last summer after holding the position for five years.

Kaplan said the group interviewed more than 30 prospective candidates and narrowed it down to Poole.

“One of the things that stood out for me was how do we become one of those special districts on Long Island? One way is to pick a leader that has a vision. For me, he had that vision.”

—John Zukowski

“It was very important for the superintendent to be a face in the community and be a part of the fiber of the school — not just somebody in the office but somebody who would become a part of the culture of Shoreham-Wading River,” Kaplan said. “We actively recruited [Poole] because he’s brought so many incredible things to Freeport. He met our goals and excelled.”

During his four years in Freeport, Poole focused on providing world-class opportunities for his students, believing that all of them should receive core foundational skills before graduating.

He partnered with local universities to implement a challenging curriculum to prepare students for college, which included elementary-level introduction to technology, advanced science research and expanding college credit opportunities.

Board president John Zukowski said Poole stood out above the rest of the candidates.

“He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the district — he knows the culture here,” Zukowski said. “He has a lot of enthusiasm and incredible ideas. One of the things that stood out for me was how do we become one of those special districts on Long Island? One way is to pick a leader that has a vision. For me, he had that vision.”

Zukowski ended the meeting by referring to Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance artist, who for three straight years slaved away at a massive piece of marble deemed too defective by other sculptors to create something out of. Michelangelo eventually sculpted his renowned David statue out of that rock. When asked how he did it, the artist said, “I see the angels in the marble, and I carve until I set them free.”

“On those days in this job when you feel you are just pounding rocks,” Zukowski said to Poole, “I’m going to ask you to keep carving because we definitely have angels here that you can set free. On behalf of the board, welcome aboard … we look forward to working with you so we can develop the potential of every kid in this district.”

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