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State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, right, is applauded after paying a surprise visit to the Three Village board of education meeting last week in honor of Gary Vorwald. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

The science department chair at P. J. Gelinas Junior High School received special recognition at the most recent Three Village board of education meeting.

Gary Vorwald has taught science in Three Village since 1997 and has led the Gelinas Science Olympiad team to several championships. He also has received awards in his own right. Among them, he was named a New York State master teacher in 2015. In the same year, the New York Earth Science Teachers Association gave him its first Distinguished Earth Science Teacher award.

In Vorwald’s honor, State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket)paid a surprise visit during the board meeting. The Gelinas science teacher and paleontologist had just completed a presentation on the secondary science curriculum with colleagues Marnie Kula and Patrick McManus.

Englebright praised Vorwald.

“He has brought distinction to his work, but that’s not what he tried to do,” said the assemblyman, who also is a geologist and lecturer at Stony Brook University.

“What he tried to do is bring opportunities for learning for our children. The other things just happened because he was successful in bringing out the best. … He’s a scientist as well as a teacher. We’re so very fortunate that he brought his mastery of science and his unquenchable desire to learn as an inspiration for our kids.”

During their curriculum presentation, Vorwald and his colleagues emphasized dedication to science instruction.

“We want to keep kids jazzed about science,” said Kula, Ward Melville High School science and InSTAR chair.

The department’s goal, she said, is to help students to be hands-on, active learners.

“I’m happy to say that science is alive and well in Three Village,” Kula said, mentioning the district’s Regents scores, which surpass the state’s pass and mastery rates.

She added that while students are only required to take one physical and one life science for an Advanced Regents diploma, 60 to 65 percent of each graduating class exceeds the minimum requirements by taking both chemistry and physics.

Ward Melville offers every AP science course available, as well as several science electives that include astronomy, consumer chemistry and forensics.

Perhaps the best-known program at the high school is its three-year Independent Science Technology and Research (InSTAR) program. Its participants have received numerous honors in competitions such as The DuPont Challenge, Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision, Siemens and the Intel Science Talent Search.

Opportunities for students to engage in science outside the classroom include the Robotics team at the high school and Science Olympiad and Science Bowl at all three schools. Students can also take part in beach cleanups and partnerships with Stony Brook University and the Brookhaven National Lab Open Space Stewardship program.

Vorwald said that the district’s science educators are preparing for an update in science standards. He explained that New York is developing new standards, based on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a framework for K-12 science education. New York state science teachers are providing feedback “to tweak and modify” the standards, he said, adding that the edits will be submitted to the Board of Regents for possible adoption this spring.

Once the new standards are adopted, the department will develop a new curriculum. McManus, science chair at R.C. Murphy Junior High School, said additional goals are to bring coding to the junior high schools and to continue to bring more technology and upper-level advanced courses to the classroom.

English as a New Language

Perhaps less well known is the district’s English as a New Language (ENL) program, previously known as English as a Second Language. This program provides specialized instruction to English language learners at Nassakeag Elementary School, Gelinas and Ward Melville.

The district differentiates instruction according to proficiency level. There are “stand-alone” classes that follow the research-based Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol model. This means students learn English and develop academic skills to prepare them for success in a non-ENL classroom. Integrated classrooms offer grade-level instruction in English taught either by a teacher certified in English and ENL or taught with a co-teacher.

As of December 2015, the district has a total of 55 ENL students. Forty-seven percent of the district’s ENL students speak Spanish as their “home” language, while 25 percent speak Chinese and 9 percent, Korean. Other “home” languages include Russian, Japanese, Gujarati, Lithuanian, Greek, Tagalog, French and Hebrew.

Board Policy

In other news, the board voted to allow the use of district credit cards.

District credit cards will be used mostly for maintenance projects, said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services. He said the cards would be used for purchases from stores such as Lowes and Home Depot, so that workers wouldn’t have to travel for parts.

The use of district credit cards represents a significant policy change.

“At a different time in our history in Three Village, we specifically established a policy that forbade the use of credit cards because there had been abuses,” BOE head Bill Connors said.

“We’re at a very different time. Plus we have the checks and balances in place now that we didn’t have back at a different time in our history.”

Carlson’s office will review disbursements monthly. The district has an internal auditor and a claims auditor who will also review the records.