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Betsy DeVos

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Shoreham-Wading River High School was one of 362 schools recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools for 2019 as announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Sept. 26. The distinction is the second time the school has been honored, being one of the early honorees in the 37-year-old program as a 1987-88 Blue Ribbon School.

“This honor points to the collaborative efforts of our administrators, teachers, students, families and larger community in helping to encourage, engage and educate students who graduate from our high school as productive members of society,” said SWR High School Principal Frank Pugliese.

In her remarks via a video message to the honorees DeVos stated the schools important work in preparing students for successful careers and meaningful lives.

“As a National Blue Ribbon School, your school demonstrates what is possible when committed educators hold all students and staff to high standards and create vibrant, innovative cultures of teaching and learning,” she said.

The department recognizes all schools in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, student subgroup scores and graduation rates:

• Exemplary High Performing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools are measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.

• Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students.

Miller Place board of education trustees Rich Panico and Lisa Reitan are seeking re-election with no challengers actively running against them. Photos from candidates

The Miller Place board of education has two seats up for election, but it seems, with no challengers, that incumbents Rich Panico and Lisa Reitan aren’t going anywhere.

Rich Panico

Panico, a business owner and 20-year resident of Miller Place, was first elected to the board in 2014 and is seeking a second term because he believes the board as it is works well together.

“Right now it’s going really well — it’s a nice calm that we have and, fiscally, we’re in really good shape,” Panico said. “We have really good relations with the different unions and work together with administration well.”

The father of three sons, two currently in the district, tossed his hat in the ring three years ago because, as the owner of a technology-developing company Symbio for 15 years, he thought he could contribute his business expertise to the district. Outside of the board, he runs Friends of Miller Place Sports as well as the Miller Place Touchdown Club.

Looking forward, he said he’d like to focus the board’s energy on mental health within the district in order to prevent suicidal thoughts or actions among students.

“Kids are under so much pressure and the board is trying to do something about it, like putting together some type of program,” he said. “It’s really difficult — we don’t have the answers yet, but, as a group, we’re trying to figure something out in that area. There are some students who will go to counselors, and others who just won’t when they’re in trouble. I want to find a way to make those kids comfortable. Luckily, as a board, we’re all committed to do something, and it’s one of our real big initiatives.”

Lisa Reitan

Also coming off her third year on the board, Reitan, a fourth-grade teacher in the Brentwood Union Free School District for 25 years, is seeking a second term to continue the work she and her colleagues have been doing.

“I feel like the district has come a long way,” Reitan said. “We’ve added programs, clubs, upgraded our buildings, brought in full-day kindergarten, upgraded libraries in the elementary schools, put in a brand new playground, increased communication with the community, all within constraints of the tax cap. This board has worked so well together and we bring so much. We have a lot of consensus … and we’ve done a lot for the kids and that’s most important.”

Reitan, a longtime Miller Place resident and mother of three, said she ran the first time because she thought the board could use a teacher’s perspective. A big push to run again this year, she said, is to defend public education amid the federal government’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. DeVos has talked about taking funds away from public schools and expanding private education and charter schools.

“That’s wrong and people’s taxes would increase as a result of that,” she said. “I really believe in public schools and the whole idea of education for everybody. I would really like to tow the line with the secretary coming in and make sure our school district gets everything it’s entitled to.”

She added that between the school district and community: “I don’t think you could find a better place to be on Long Island.”

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How is it possible that every single Democrat thinks Betsy DeVos, the newly minted secretary of education is woefully unqualified for the position and every single Republican — except for Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — thinks she’s worthy of the job?

President Trump came to Washington to drain the swamp and to reinvent politics but, at least as far as DeVos goes, this seems like politics as usual. Does this vote presage an era when Republicans and Democrats will, for the most part, stick with the party line, whatever that is?

For the Democrats, is it more important to stand against a secretary the Republicans see as worthy? For the Republicans, did they not see any risk to the education system, or was it more important to stand with Trump?

This country is far from unified, as we demonstrated in November. It’s only gotten worse since then. Both sides are digging in their heels even deeper, preparing for a tug-of-war over the future of the nation.

We are living in a world of facts, alternative facts, fake news and fake tweets. The reality, however, is that we are a house divided. A 51-50 vote makes that resoundingly clear. Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who said that a house divided unto itself cannot stand?

Is there a middle ground? Are there ways to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, to see the world through a different perspective or, at least, to respect the process and make independent decisions?

Do we elect our officials so they’ll vote along party lines? If that’s the case, who are we electing? Shouldn’t these senators represent our interests and not demonstrate some loyalty to a party whose entire platform might not be consistent with what We the People believe?

Events in Washington are unprecedented. DeVos is in, thanks to the tiebreaker courtesy of Vice President Mike Pence who voted with his party and with his president.

If I were a political leader from my state, I might take this unprecedented period of discord and find a way to reach across the aisle to my adversaries. It’s not just for the good of the country, it would be a career maker. Imagine if a bill, a person or a policy had bipartisan support?

Suddenly, we’re not the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords, the Hatfields and McCoys, or the Montagues and the Capulets. Someone, somewhere needs to find a friend in Washington and, no, I don’t mean a dog who can co-sponsor legislation and demonstrate true leadership.

Pick an issue, any issue. Job growth? Sure, it’s one of the main items on Trump’s agenda. Education? Well, sure, that’d be nice, but we seem to have come to reached a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon with the approval of DeVos.

Maybe a Democrat and Republican can co-sponsor a way to support the military? Both sides appreciate, support and respect the men and women who protect our nation. It was also the military that beat back the guilt-by-association tactics of Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s during the Red Scare.

Let’s raise that flag together and salute the men and women we all cheer during Veterans Day parades, and who we stand and salute at sporting events for their service to our country.

These challenging times present unique opportunities. The future leaders of this nation will be the ones who can show a readiness to get along and think for themselves. A Trump presidency should free other politicians to believe in themselves and their ideas and find other leaders, even someone from the other side, to work for our common good.

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education Betsy DeVos has been met with opposition from North Shore educators. Photo from Senate committee website

Many North Shore superintendents and educators are concerned with President Donald Trump’s (R) nominee for secretary of education: Betsy DeVos, chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately-held investment and management firm based in Michigan, to serve as secretary of education. According to her website, the Michigan resident has a history in politics spanning more than 35 years. She was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times, and worked in a leadership capacity for campaigns, party organizations and political action committees, her website states.

DeVos went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for a confirmation hearing Jan. 17.

“Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it … do not have my support.”

—Paul Casciano

“I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve,” DeVos said during her opening remarks at the hearing. “Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children? I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children. The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

DeVos’ views on public education created a stir around the country, and superintendents from the North Shore and county as a whole joined the chorus of those skeptical about the direction she might take the country’s education system.

“I have devoted my entire adult life to public education and believe it is the bedrock of our democracy,” Port Jefferson school district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it or that offer alternatives that are not subjected to the same strict standards and scrutiny that public schools must live by, do not have my support.”

Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagen echoed many of Casciano’s concerns.

“I find President Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to be unacceptable,” he said in an email. “Education in this country is at an important crossroads. As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education that will prepare them to be active, contributing members of society.”

“As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education.”

—Tim Eagan

Eagen also has concerns about DeVos’ qualifications.

“I believe that Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the U.S. Department of Education,” he said. “She is a businesswoman and politician without any experience in public service or public education. She does not have an education degree, has no teaching experience, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended public school or a state university, and did not send her own four children to public school.”

Middle Country Central School District  Superintendent Roberta Gerold stressed that she does not support the appointment of DeVos, stating that she believes all of DeVos’ actions to date evidence a lack of support for, and understanding of public education.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework,” Gerold said. “She couldn’t seem to, for example, understand or explain the difference between growth and proficiency — very basic concepts. And her answer to whether guns should be allowed in schools — please.”

The superintendent said, though, that she is most disappointed that DeVos would even be considered for the position.

“It seems clear to me that this is purely a political appointment, not an appointment that recognizes merit or values authentic education,” Gerold said. “John King — who I don’t believe was a great champion of public education, at least had credentials that deserved respect. The new nominee does not. It’s worrisome and disconcerting….and insulting to the public education system, K–12 and beyond.”

She said her teachers, several who are community residents, are preparing a petition that requests the board of education adopt of resolution in opposition to the appointment.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework.”

—Roberta Georld

“I believe that our board will be supportive of that request,” she said. “I know that our board president is in agreement with opposing the nomination.”

The Miller Place school district’s administration and board of education drafted and passed a resolution opposing DeVos’ appointment. Superintendent Marianne Cartisano addressed the appointment in an open letter on the district’s website.

“Our concerns are twofold,” she said. “The first reservation we have is regarding the candidate’s lack of first-hand experience as an educator or administrator within the public school system. Since the majority of the children in the United States are currently being educated within the public school system, we feel that this experience is very important for an effective Secretary of Education.”

Cartisano elaborated on her other issues with DeVos.

“Her record also shows a clear bias towards private, parochial and charter schools and the use of vouchers to attend these schools,” Cartisano said. “This bias leads us to our second overarching concern with Betsy DeVos as a candidate for Secretary of Education. The concern is that Betsy DeVos has been a strong advocate for the use of public funds to attend private schools through vouchers, and this would have a direct negative impact on our public school system’s fiscal stability if it is put into effect on a national level.”

The committee will vote to either approve or deny DeVos’ nomination Jan. 31.

Victoria Espinoza and Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.