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Karen Roughley

Superintendent also addresses Regents score worries with end of Do No Harm

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Reconfiguring Three Village Central School District and changing start times could cost nearly $3 million, according to Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon, who urged the Board of Education to decide by January whether to adopt the plan.

The superintendent advised that decisions are necessary soon to provide the district time to enact all the proposed changes by the target 2025-26 school year.

“We should try to do it all at once, as opposed to doing one piece here and then having another transition for families in another piece,” Scanlon said during a Dec. 13 presentation to the BOE.

The proposal entails moving sixth grade up to the junior high schools, bumping ninth grade up to the high school and making secondary school start times later. The plan aims to improve financial stability, realign the district in light of declining enrollment, bring the district into line with state norms and address health concerns surrounding early start times for adolescents.

Scanlon estimated costs to reconfigure buildings to accommodate the grade changes could be about $2 million for projects like converting faculty rooms back into classrooms and configuring spaces for science labs, art and music.

According to Scanlon, the start time change would require adding buses to the district’s rotation at a cost of $963,000 if implemented at the same time as the grade changes, and more if implemented in 2024-2025, before sixth and ninth move up.

Scanlon left on the table the possibility of repurposing an elementary school or the North Country administration building, though he warned the funds from such moves would not “solve all the world’s problems in this regard,” and any such discussions would need to wait for recommendations from this year’s recently convened Budget Advisory Committee.

A couple of the trustees, including Karen Roughley, wondered if it was possible to do more to improve district finances, especially since BACs in former years have already suggested the board consider repurposing a school.

“I’m not sure why we are pushing it off again when we’ve been talking about it for two years now,” she said, adding that the board could also discuss the possibility of repurposing both an elementary school and the North Country building, rather than either/or. “We need to look at this district’s financial stability going forward.”

During the public comment section, Gelinas Junior High School guidance counselor and district resident Anthony Dattero gave a grave warning against moving too fast on reconfiguration. “There’s something in the chemistry of the district that is unique and different,” he said, pointing to the many accomplishments for athletics and scholarship frequently honored at board meetings. “The benefits [of reconfiguring] have to be also looked at with what we’re trading off.”

He said he believes keeping sixth and ninth graders in the younger schools gives them a chance to mature and therefore be better prepared for their next stage of education.

Board president Susan Rosenzweig indicated the board will consider allowing public comment at the start of their Jan. 10 meeting to allow residents to express concerns before the board’s vote, rather than after the fact.

Residents can watch Scanlon’s presentation and the resulting discussion in its entirety on the district’s YouTube page under the “Live” tab, starting at 1:37:00.

Regents scores

Scanlon also sought to ease parental concerns over the board’s Nov. 29 vote to end the so-called Do No Harm policy, under which Regents scores were only factored into a course grade if they helped the grade [See story, “Split 4-2 vote keeps Regents scores in final grades for Three Village students,” Dec. 1, TBR News Media].

According to Scanlon, teachers can adjust grades up to 5 points on their own, or up to 10 points with administration approval. under a policy enacted in 2016.

“Before there was a Do No Harm policy, we had something in place,” he said, adding that Three Village teachers want to see students succeed. “One test shouldn’t define a child.”

Board member Vincent Vizzo chimed in to say he saw this policy in action when he was principal of Murphy Junior High School. “Plenty of teachers have come forward to ask me, ‘Vin, I really want to adjust a grade for a student,’” he said. “The teachers are aware.”

Some parents had advocated to make the pandemic-era reprieve permanent

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Regents exam scores will account for 10% of student grades this year in Three Village Central School District, despite calls to extend a COVID-19 pandemic-era policy that only includes the scores when they improve student course grades.

The decision, which came after robust discussion and disagreement among board members at their Nov. 29 meeting, goes along with the recommendation of a district committee to include the scores at 10% of the final grade — down from the 12% that was policy before the pandemic reprieve.

Freshman board members Karen Roughley and David McKinnon spoke openly against including scores in all student grades, particularly because New York State does not mandate doing so for all districts, and they said it could disadvantage Three Village students who struggle with test anxiety, have special needs or experience a personal catastrophe before the test date.

“Using the Regents scores would decrease a student’s GPA and put them at a disadvantage against all the other students in the state who do not have it included, in applying for colleges and scholarships,” Roughley said.

The State Education Department’s website states it “does not require nor recommend the inclusion of Regents exam scores in the computation of final course averages,” and rather leaves it up to each district to decide.

McKinnon called this approach a failure of leadership. “The state doesn’t stand behind their test,” he said. “The state makes the test, they pass it out, they grade it, but then they have no effective policy on what we should do with that test.”

After parents — especially those of children with special needs — spoke out last spring, the previous board voted to extend the so-called Do No Harm policy through the end of the 2022-2023 school year with the caveat that a permanent decision should come this fall.

In recommending inclusion of Regents scores at 10%, the committee suggested students may not take the exams as seriously if the scores don’t count toward a course grade.

Trustee Vincent Vizzo, a former teacher and administrator who has a long affiliation with Three Village and said he was part of writing Regents exams in the past, admitted he was not a fan of the state tests and understands they can hurt students who do not do well. “I have very mixed opinions right now,” he said. “But if a committee of educators are saying that they want to keep the percentage, then I don’t think the board should micromanage and decide against what the committee is saying.”

Board president Susan Rosenzweig also expressed mixed feelings, saying she believes Do No Harm makes philosophical sense, but that there can be valuable information garnered from all students “meaningfully engaging in the assessments.”

When the remaining board members echoed Vizzo’s desire to defer to the committee of professional educators, Rosenzweig attempted to broker a compromise by suggesting the board include the scores at 5% instead of 10%, which she said was her “comfort level,” but only trustee Jeffrey Kerman expressed interest in changing the percentage, saying he would vote for either 5% or 10%.

Seeing no appetite for middle ground, Rosensweig cast the deciding vote with an audible sigh. “Because I guess it’s not going to go any other way,” she said.

By Andrea Paldy

With three board seats up for grabs and only one incumbent in the race, one thing is certain: the Three Village school board will seat at least two first-time trustees this year.

The candidates, profiled below in the order they will appear on the ballot, responded to questions by email, including about the district budget, declining enrollment, student programs, community engagement, and diversity and inclusion. 

David McKinnon

David McKinnon

David McKinnon, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Stony Brook University, is running a second time, after last year. 

 Along with his running mate, first-time candidate Karen Roughley, McKinnon is an advocate for proportional representation on the board.  

 “Last year, independent candidates received over 10,000 votes from the community, 43 percent of the total vote. There were three open positions. No independent candidate won a seat. Forty-three percent of the vote, zero percent of the seats,” he said. 

 The lack of independent representatives — those not represented by a union —results in “an extraordinarily closed system,” he said. 

 McKinnon wants the district to be more “parent-friendly” and said if he were elected to the board, he would encourage board participation by “opening up the flow of information,” and making decision making more transparent. He would also make himself available to parents after board meetings, “to give feedback on their proposals.”   

 Founder of the Three Village Parents Alliance, he credits his profession with giving him “a good overall perspective on how the school education system works for its students and how demands on the education system have changed over time.” 

Revamping the elementary math curriculum is a priority for McKinnon. He suggests an opt-in program, similar to the local enrichment program, School Nova, which uses “specialist” math teachers to introduce basic algebra concepts to students early in their education. 

The curriculum would make math “seem more natural to more students” and easier to learn computer languages earlier, he said. It also would “significantly improve employment prospects for many students,” McKinnon said.

To address declining enrollment, the researcher said the district needs to control costs to make itself more affordable and attractive to young families. 

McKinnon supports his running mate’s proposal for more social emotional learning and inclusion and also believes the district should add ethics to the curriculum. 

 McKinnon’s three children have attended district schools. He still has one child in junior high.

Sue Rosenzweig

Sue Rosenzweig

 Sue Rosenzweig, a former news anchor at News 12, says she’s running so she can “continue to advocate for all of the children in our district.”  

 This means doing her part to ensure that taxes are spent “in the most efficient way to deliver the best possible academic experience for each student,” she said.  

 Rosenzweig has served as president of the board of trustees at Play Groups Preschool, and PTA president at Setauket Elementary, Gelinas Junior High School, Ward Melville High School and the Three Village Joint Council of PTAs.

In these leadership roles, she said she has been called to collaborate, “include and respect all opinions,” manage budgets and “keep the needs of children paramount.” 

She is confident in the district’s budget and its management of funds that enabled schools to reopen fully last fall, but Rosenzweig did express concern about the impact the pandemic has had on district families. “Jobs have been lost, savings accounts depleted, many people have suffered terribly.  We will need to be ready to continue to support students whose families have been negatively affected,” she said. 

In response to calls for more diversity, equity and inclusion, Rosenzweig, a member of the Gelinas Anti-Racism and Social Justice Task Force, said, “I hear these calls, and I validate them.”

She said she is inspired by the community — “especially the students” — which seems ready for change and opportunities to have “difficult conversations about biased behaviors, hurtful language, and marginalizing practices;” a staff that looks more representative of the district’s diverse population; literature that “reflects many realities;” and “textbooks that give a more accurate picture of the world and its history.” 

Rosenzweig, who is running with Shaorui Li and Deanna Bavlnka with the endorsement of the Three Village Teachers Association, is the mother of two Ward Melville graduates and two children currently in the secondary schools. 

Shaorui Li

Shaorui Li

Shaorui Li is a principal engineer and research group manager at a national laboratory, as well as an adjunct faculty member at Stony Brook University. She has managed advanced research projects funded by the Departments of Energy and Defense and NASA and was a Long Island Society chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She will serve as chair of the 2022 International Nuclear Science Symposium. 

Li, who has one child in elementary school and another in junior high, said she plans to use her background and professional network to provide opportunities for STEM education, funding and additional resources for student career-building. “It is my passion to expand career-building resources through collaboration with the universities, national laboratories, STEAM museums and studios for our students,” Li said.  

 She also cited the district’s proximity to world-class institutions as yet another advantage that can help students “to advance their career growth through effective district-led collaborations.” 

 Also important to Li is teacher training. She said she wants to continue to provide teachers with opportunities — such as the training they received in remote teaching during the pandemic — to continue to directly benefit students. 

Founder and president of the Asian American Association of Greater Stony Brook, Li is also an executive director of the Long Island Chinese American Association, a board member of Fermilab Asian and Pacific Association and a member of the Gelinas anti-racism task force. She commended the district’s “excellent effort to improve diversity and inclusion” and said that the effort, along with a school board with diverse members, would boost the district’s reputation and attract families from diverse backgrounds. 

Li, who ran for the board last year with McKinnon, said that the “positive and constructive involvement of the whole community” and “transparent communication between the administrators, the board, and district families during the pandemic” have alleviated the misunderstandings and misinformation of the past. She added that she would like to build on this foundation as a board trustee. 

Karen Roughley

Karen Roughley

 Karen Roughley, running mate with McKinnon, said her motivation for running “is to guide the District to become even better in the face of the new challenges and to give parents a truly independent voice.” 

Roughley, who was a vice president of business continuity and crisis management in investment banking before adopting her daughters, added that district students with special needs, along with their families, teachers and therapists, also deserve representation to make sure their voices are heard. 

Like McKinnon, she believes that parents should be represented by board members who have not been endorsed by “special interest groups” and that board meetings should be places where the community can have “real-time discussions on what is being voted on.”

She also wants to ensure “an open line of communication between the district, the parents, and the community,” so parents can be part of the decision making process as they were with the reopening of school in the fall. 

In addition to advocating for world language instruction in elementary school, Roughley would like to see the expansion of vocational education in the district, with the district offering vocational courses in-house. This could save the district the money it pays BOCES, and it could also bring in revenue if classes are open to neighboring districts, she said. 

Having served on the executive board at Arrowhead Elementary, and as current co-president of both the Special Education PTA and Murphy PTO, as well as vice president of the PTA council, Roughley said she’s familiar with district policies and has acted as a liaison between parents and educators.  

Roughley, a 10-year resident with one child in elementary school and one in junior high, proposes “containing or even decreasing” property taxes to both attract new families and keep current families in the district.  

Though she has seen educators “doing their best to be inclusive,” Roughley believes bullying is a problem in district schools. “Inclusivity and respect for diversity — however it manifests — need to be taught to our students in the classrooms,” she said.

Deanna Bavlnka

Deanna Bavlnka

Deanna Bavlnka, a corporate director of human resources, is the only incumbent in the race. A board member since 2011, she is district chair of the Presidential Service Awards and maintains the community Facebook page, Three Village Connection. 

 A Ward Melville graduate herself, she wanted to highlight “sometimes overlooked” district strengths such as the “cutting edge” technology and teacher training that were crucial to this year’s instruction. 

 She added that the district’s Three Village Academy, prekindergarten, special education and intellectually gifted (IG) programs, along with student scholarships and the number and diversity of clubs and electives “set Three Village apart from the rest, every school year.” She also wanted to recognize the addition of mental health staff and guidance counselors to grades 6-12 over the years. 

Even while noting the district’s strengths, Bavlnka said she would like to bring vocational studies to the district through Career & Technical Education (CTE) and EMT classes to the high school students. “With Stony Brook University Hospital in our backyard, I would like to significantly expand and add to our current health and medical courses,” she said.

The mother of two secondary school students said the district has answered calls for attention to diversity and inclusion with the creation of the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Task Force that includes, administrators, teachers, parents and students. She added that the district is looking at culturally responsive programs from the State Education Department and is discussing curriculum and professional development to enhance anti-racism, social justice and inclusion. 

Bavlnka said that even with declining enrollment, large costs such as healthcare and retirement “rise expeditiously” every year. 

A particular point of pride was the district’s full opening in September to all students five days a week, while also offering a remote option. She praised “teachers and staff who showed up every day to provide quality instruction to our students, accommodated our students, and put the students ahead of their fears.”

Board elections and the budget vote will take place on Tuesday, May 18, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Gelinas and Murphy junior highs and Ward Melville High School.