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Math

By Aramis Khosronejad

The Long Island Explorium hosted its 7th annual Maker Faire on Saturday, June 8, also held at the Village Center and Harborfront Park. The event featured a wide range of activities, from hands-on origami lessons to robotics presentations, drawing a large and diverse crowd.

The Maker Faire has been a popular event well received by various communities. It aims to foster curiosity and provide a platform for people of all backgrounds and interests to share their passions. 

The Maker Faire concept originated in San Mateo, California, in 2006, created by the editors of Make magazine. Since then, it has grown into an international event, with Maker Faires held in cities like San Francisco, New York, Berlin and Barcelona as well as Port Jefferson.

Angeline Judex, executive director of the Long Island Explorium, emphasized that the Maker Faire is “a festival of invention and innovation for everybody. Not just for little kids but for adults as well.” She highlighted the event’s diversity, which makes it especially unique. The faire featured an impressive assortment of participants and interests, from radio clubs to robotics and sculptures made from ocean debris.

This year’s Maker Faire on Long Island featured more than 75 exhibitors and 120 presenters.

The Maker Faire is designed to feed curiosity and nurture knowledge. Judex stated that the purpose of the event is “to enhance education, enrich life and to empower minds,” teaching that “learning is lifelong.” She noted the importance of such events in today’s society, especially with the advent of artificial intelligence. By cultivating curiosity and providing a space for the exchange of information, the faire aims to inspire innovation. “The challenges of the future can be changed by innovations from today,” Judex said. “Science is really at the intersection of endless possibilities — we’re talking about infinite possibilities for the future.”

Judex encouraged attendees to “explore, discover, invent and inspire,” sharing the joy and wonder that sustains lifelong learning and curiosity. “There’s no finite end, the exploring always continues,” she said, emphasizing the importance of having fun while learning.

Rabbi Margie Cella. Photo courtesy Margie Cella

By Rita J. Egan

For Rabbi Margie Cella, the path to serve her congregation differed slightly from other rabbis.

At the annual Jewish University for a Day held at Stony Brook University on Sunday, April 7, Cella shared with attendees her experiences when converting from Lutheranism to Judaism and ultimately becoming a rabbi. The Port Jefferson Station resident, who taught math for 30 years, became a part-time rabbi with The Jewish Center of the Moriches in Center Moriches and an educator with the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism in the last few years. Her new career blossomed after she wrote the book “Hindsight Is 2020: Torah Lessons from a Turbulent Time.”

In a recent phone interview with TBR News Media, she discussed her decision to convert to Judaism and how she became a rabbi after working as a math teacher for 30 years.

The journey from the Lutheran Church to Judaism

Growing up in Massapequa, Cella attended St. John’s Lutheran Church with her family. Her father was raised a Lutheran, and her mother converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism after she married Cella’s father. The rabbi said her mother devoted herself to the Lutheran Church, which became part of the family’s social life in many ways,

“It was a big part of our life growing up,” she said. “We went every Sunday, and I went to Sunday school.”

Her husband, Raymond, who was raised Roman Catholic, joined the Lutheran Church after it began morphing into a mixture of Christianity and Judaism. In 1982, the Cellas along with their children, Jessica and Benjamin, converted to Judaism after realizing St. John’s church was becoming more like a cult, according to Cella.

At its peak, the rabbi said the congregation included approximately 2,000 members from every denomination. People came from all over Long Island, the five boroughs, Westchester as well as out of state to attend services. She added while it was the way she was introduced to Jewish practices, due to the mixture of Judaism and Christianity, she felt “it was inauthentic to both religions.”

“I don’t think that it is actually possible to practice both religions, because they diverged so much,” Cella said.

However, as the church changed, Cella said she did a “total 180” initially and became involved, at times she felt due to peer pressure. After being part of the mixture of religions for 11 years, she said the church “gradually morphed [as] more and more Jewish practice was introduced.”

She added, “Christianity was emphasized and spoken about less and less, so when we left there … we were faced with a decision, where do we go and what do we do?”

After realizing they were traumatized by the experience, Cella said she and her husband knew “the one thing that made sense to us out of everything that we were doing were the Jewish practices we were observing.”

Once they decided to convert, the couple talked to Rabbi Moshe Edelman, who led the congregation of North Shore Jewish Center at the time, to ask what they needed to do. The conversion included a course of study and practice for at least a year, such as studying the basics of the Jewish religion and observing the practices.

“Now, in our case, we were already observing a lot,” she said. “It was just we had a lot of misconceptions.”

At the end of their studies, the couple was interviewed by a rabbi and two congregants. Soon after, a ceremony marked their conversion by immersing them in water using a mikvah.

From teaching math to leading congregants

Cella and her husband moved to Maryland soon after they were married. They were both certified teachers. However, according to the rabbi, there were no available teaching positions on Long Island at the time. After living in Maryland for approximately a year, the couple moved back to Long Island, living in Coram and then Miller Place until they moved to Port Jefferson Station in 1985.

When the couple first returned, there were still few teaching jobs, so Cella worked in retail until she had her first child. She stopped working for a few years and returned to teaching after her second child was 3.

The rabbi said while it may have taken nine years after graduating from college in 1975 to begin her teaching career in New York, in total she spent 30 years as a math teacher. The rabbi taught at William Paca Middle School in Mastic Beach, North Babylon High School, Bridgehampton High School and for the last 25 years at Southampton High School.

It was after she retired from teaching, that Cella began her studies to become a rabbi. She said for 25 years she thought about going to rabbinical school, but it wasn’t practical with raising a family and the necessity of being a two-income family. 

She attended the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, describing the five-year program at a school in Manhattan as “intensive.” For the first four of the five years she studied, she traveled into the city and attended every weekday except Friday. She also lived and studied in Jerusalem for one semester. She now holds master’s degrees in Bible and rabbinic ordination and was ordained in May 2019.

Cella said her 30 years of teaching comes in handy. One example is instead of a sermon for Shabbat, she said hers is more like a study of a week’s Torah portion, which is interactive, involving the congregants in the discussion.

Reflecting on the Torah leads to publication

Before leading The Jewish Center of the Moriches, during the COVID-19 mandatory shutdowns, Cella said North Shore Jewish Center’s Rabbi Aaron Benson reached out and asked if she could help him sustain the congregation while they could not attend in-person services.

“I had this idea, because I have always been a lover of text and a lover of teaching, I decided to do a daily study of part of that week’s Torah portion,” she said.

The rabbi added that each Torah portion is divided into seven parts, making studying a portion each day ideal.

“I would write about it, and I would relate it not only to what it said in the Torah portion, but where possible, I would relate it to what was going on in the world at that time, because that was a unique year,” Cella said.

Her writings were emailed to the congregation every day. When members were able to return to the synagogue to worship, Cella said she decided she wanted to finish what she started.

“It takes a full year to go through the whole cycle of the Torah, and that’s what I did,” she said. “I wrote basically every day for a year. I wrote on every piece of every Torah portion, the entire Torah, over the course of a year, and it wasn’t until I got to the end that I said to myself, ‘I think I have the makings of a book here.’”

Cella said she learned a good deal from her book-writing experience.

“I think now that we’ve returned to what we call normal — or the new normal — I think that a lot of times we tend to forget the lessons that we learned from that year,” she said. “There were a lot of really profound things that we could take away from that year because nobody ever anticipated we would have something like that in our lifetimes. It wasn’t just COVID, there was so much else going on that year. There was political unrest in the country. There was social unrest in the country. There was so much going on. That all shows up in my book.”

The rabbi said she also feels it’s important to talk about her life as she did on April 7, as she believes it’s a cautionary tale regarding following religious leaders blindly, especially those who may prey on younger people. She hopes to share her experiences in another book one day.

As she reflected on her life and all the changes that had occurred over the past few years, Cella believes that if a person has something they want to do, they can make it happen regardless of age.

“One thing I like to tell people is you’re never too old to pursue whatever your dream is,” the rabbi said.

For more information on “Hindsight Is 2020: Torah Lessons from a Turbulent Time,” visit www.rabbicella.com.

David McCandlish, center, with postdoctoral researchers Anna Posfai and Juannan Zhou. Photo by Gina Motisi, 2020/ CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

If cancer were simple, scientists would have solved the riddle and moved on to other challenges.

Often, each type of the disease involves a combination of changes that, taken together, not only lead to the progression of cancer, but also to the potential resistance to specific types of treatment.

Using math, David McCandlish, Assistant Professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is studying how the combination of various disruptions to the genome contribute to the development of cancer.

McCandlish recently published a study with colleagues at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

David McCandlish. Photo by Gina Motisi, 2020/CSHL

The research didn’t explore any single type of cancer, but, rather applied the method looking for patterns across a range of types of cancers. The notion of understanding the way these genetic alterations affect cancer is a “key motivating idea behind this work,” McCandlish said.

So far, the method has identified several candidates that need further work to confirm.

“Cancer would be a lot easier to treat if it was just one gene,” said Justin Kinney, Associate Professor at CSHL and a collaborator on the work. “It’s the combination that makes it so hard to understand.”

Ultimately, this kind of research could lead researchers and, eventually, health care professionals, to search for genetic biomarkers that indicate the likely effect of the cancer on the body. This disease playbook could help doctors anticipate and head off the next moves with various types of treatments.

“This could potentially lead to a more fundamental understanding of what makes cancer progress and that understanding would very likely open up new possibilities in cancer treatments,” Kinney said.

To be sure, at this point, the approach thus far informs basic research, which, in future years, could lead to clinical improvements.

“We are working on this method, which is very general and applicable to many different types of data,” McCandlish said. “Applications to making decisions about patients are really down the road.”

McCandlish described how he is trying to map out the space that cancer evolves in by understanding the shape of that space and integrating that with other information, such as drug susceptibility or survival time.

“We are trying to ask: how do these variables behave in different regions of this space of possibilities?” he said.

McCandlish is making this approach available to scientists in a range of fields, from those scientists interpreting and understanding the effects of mutations on the development of cancer to those researchers pursuing a more basic appreciation of how such changes affect the development and functioning of proteins.

“This is accessible to a wide array of biologists who are interested in genetics and, specifically in genetic interactions,” said McCandlish.

The main advance in this research is to take a framework called maximum entropy estimation  and improve its flexibility by using math to capture more of the underlying biological principals at work. Maximum entropy estimation is based on the idea of inferring the most uniform distribution of behaviors or outcomes with the least information that’s compatible with specific aspects of experimental observations.

Using this philosophy, scientists can derive familiar probability distributions like the bell curve and the exponential distribution. By relaxing these estimates, scientists can infer more complicated shapes.

This more subtle approach enhances the predictive value, which captures the distributions of data better, McCandlish explained. “We’re trying to capture and model cancer progression in a new and more expressive way that we hope will be able to tell us more about the underlying biology.”

The idea for this paper started when McCandlish, Kinney and  Jason Sheltzer, a former fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and a current Assistant Professor of Surgery at Yale School of Medicine, discussed the possibilities after McCandlish attended a talk by Wei-Chia Chen, a post doctoral researcher in Kinney’s lab.

Chen will continue to pursue questions related to this effort when he starts a faculty position in the physics department at National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan this spring.

Chen will use artificial intelligence to handle higher dimensional data sets, which will allow him “to implement effective approximations” of the effect of specific combinations of genetic alterations, Kinney said.

Kinney believes teamwork made this new approach, which the high-impact, high-profile journal PNAS published, possible.

“This problem was an absolutely collaborative work that none of us individually could have done,” Kinney said. He described the work as having a “new exploratory impact” that provides a way of looking at the combination of genomic changes that “we haven’t had before.”

Working at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which McCandlish has done since 2017, enables collaborations across different disciplines.

“We have this quantitative biology group, we also have people working on neuroscience, cancer, and plant biology,” McCandlish added.

McCandlish is also currently also working with Professor Zachary Lippman and his graduate student Lyndsey Aguirre to understand how multiple mutations interact to influence how the fruit on tomato plants develop.

“The idea is that there are these huge spaces of genetic possibilities where you can combine different mutations in different ways,” McCandlish explained. “We want to find those key places in that space where there’s a tipping point or a fork in the road. We want to be able to identify those places to follow up or to ask what’s special about this set of mutations that makes it such a critical decision point.”

A native of Highland Park, New Jersey, McCandlish was interested in math and science during his formative years. 

As for the work, McCandlish appreciates how it developed from the way these collative researchers interacted.

“This would never have happened if we weren’t going to each other’s talks,” he said.

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Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

With the yearly rise in the number of Mount Sinai students who refuse to take standardized tests — in relation to a statewide movement against Common Core — district administrators have rolled out new ways to assess and strengthen learning skills. So far, three months into the school year, school leaders believe students are reaping the benefits.

“We’re doing things differently than we’ve ever done before,” said Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal during a Nov. 15 board of education meeting.

Brosdal said the district has implemented new literacy-based assessment programs to fill a great need to measure the academic abilities of elementary and middle school students. Since the 2012-13 school year, more and more students have opted out of the state’s English Language Arts and Math standardized exams, which are administered to evaluate those in grades three through eight, Brosdal said.

“I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core … but it’s important for kids to take the test because you get information out of them. What do we do to inform us about the kids who don’t take it? Or get more information on those that do?”

— Gordon Brosdal

“We went from a participation rate of 97 percent down to 40 percent,” he said, pointing to the uproar among members of the community over the adoption of Common Core as the main cause. Those against the tests criticize the pressures it places on students and teachers. “I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core … but it’s important for kids to take the test because you get information out of them. What do we do to inform us about the kids who don’t take it? Or get more information on those that do?”

Joined by district principals — Peter Pramataris of the middle school and Rob Catlin of the elementary school — Brosdal showcased the growth of students at both schools as a result of the newly implemented programs. Fountas & Pinnell, which started in September, gauges the reading and comprehension level of individual
students by having them read a book with their teacher three times a year. It’s a more relaxed form of testing that serves to measure a student’s progression throughout the year while also encouraging them to find the fun in reading.

When the student demonstrates overall reading ability and understanding of the text, he or she graduates to more challenging books. Books are organized into letter-based levels, “A” books being Dr. Suess and “Z” books being “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

In a demonstration of the district’s Columbia Writing Program, which was put in place three years ago as a
result of weakness in the subject across the elementary and middle schools, Pramataris compared a middle school student’s writing assignment from the second day of school to a writing assignment in October. As he pointed out, the second assignment was lengthier, and the student’s narrative skills were punchier.

Academic Intervention Services — help offered by the state at schools to help  students achieve the learning standards, monitors and helps those falling behind.

“We see weaknesses and we want to make them stronger and really work at it,” Brosdal said. “I believe our students have become better writers and readers and they will only get stronger. We’re going to see a lot of good things.”

Catlin, who was hired as principal of the elementary school over the summer, came to the district already well versed in the new programs and was determined to help initiate them.

“We’ve really developed a district wide action plan this year,” Catlin said. “The absence of meaningful assessment results required us to have meaningful in-house assessments. We can’t be in the dark about how a majority of our kids, who don’t take the state tests, are doing.”

The absence of meaningful assessment results required us to have meaningful in-house assessments. We can’t be in the dark about how a majority of our kids, who don’t take the state tests, are doing.”

— Rob Catlin

Catlin said in the first Fountas & Pinnell session performed by the district, teachers observed that 45 percent of students in lower elementary grades (first and second) performed at or above grade level. In the upper elementary grades (third and fourth) 22 percent of students performed at or above grade level.

“There are many reasons for this,” Catlin said. “As they say, data doesn’t answer questions, it just opens up questions and makes you think more about why things are happening.”

He explained that while students at these grade levels may have understood the books they were reading, they aren’t used to answering the high level of questions about it, and aren’t engaging in enough independent reading to practice these skills.

Now that teachers have that information about the student, they will be able to directly address their needs before the second session, which takes place in January. In the meantime, the elementary school librarian has started leveling books in the library and Scholastic money from the PTO, totaling $4,000, is being used to purchase more leveled books, Catlin said.

“Now we can use resources to really target their needs,” Catlin said. “And we’re able to see progress quickly, which is nice, and not have to wait until April when the state tests are taken.”

Deena Timo, executive director of educational services and another integral player in bringing the programs to the school, said of the state tests: “We’ve always viewed them as just a little snapshot in time and not the be all, end all to assess a child. It’s that, taken with a lot of things done in the classroom throughout the year that give you a good picture of a student.”

While Brosdal said he wishes more students took the Common Core tests in order to prepare for Regents exams once they reach the high school, he agreed.

“When you have to push the state stuff aside you ask, ‘Now what do we have to measure our kids?’” Brosdal said. “In the classroom, are we seeing growth? Are they engaged now where they weren’t earlier in the year? We are reacting to what we’re seeing, trying to put better things in place. I believe we’re heading in the right direction.”

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Parents at a rally protest Common Core. File photo by Erika Karp

By Andrea Paldy

After six years of controversy surrounding the adoption and implementation of Common Core and standardized tests associated with it, the New York State Education Department released a new draft of learning standards Sept. 21.

The proposed changes come as the department attempts to respond to ongoing criticism, while maintaining its stated goal of rigor and higher standards for students. The result could mean significant change to both English language arts (ELA) and math learning standards and a greater emphasis on communication with parents, students and educators.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services for Three Village said it’s too early to tell whether any of the changes will be fully implemented.

“So far it just seems to be cosmetic pieces,” Scanlon said at the meeting. “However, we need to delve a little further into it to see what potential impact it may have.”

He also said Three Village is providing feedback on the possible changes and will continue to work with the SED.

In a press release announcing the proposed adjustments, the state’s education department said its aim is to ensure that the new standards and their implementation are age-appropriate, particularly in primary grades. The new guidelines also propose additional teacher resources, guidance and professional development.

“These changes reflect what I have heard from parents, teachers and administrators over the past year in my travels across the state,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a prepared statement.

The draft committees, made up of more than 130 teachers, administrators, parents and college educators, volunteered from all regions of the state. They represent the “Big Five” districts — New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers — as well as urban, suburban and rural districts throughout the state, Elia said. These committees are suggesting that glossaries be used to explain the value and expectations of the education department’s learning standards to all stakeholders.

The ELA draft includes a preface and introduction describing the learning standard’s role within a curriculum. The committee, which worked with a child development expert, proposes more emphasis on the importance of play-based learning in the primary grades. The ELA draft revisions also seek to streamline literary and nonfiction texts across grades, while reorganizing writing standards.

According to the draft document, math standards will be revised to clarify expectations “without limiting instructional flexibility.” Math committees also recommended clarifications to “better understand the goals of the learning standards, Elia said. The revisions seek to “define the progression of skills,” so that there is continuity and a connection from grade to grade. Other changes include creating a balance between skill comprehension, application and performance.

The recommendations of committee members — described by Elia as “dedicated” — are built, in part, on those of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Common Core Task Force Report published in December, a public survey and feedback from discussions the commissioner had with parents and educators across the state.

The committees also worked with special education and English language teachers to address criticisms that the standards are not suitable for students in those areas.

Parents and others can comment on the draft standards on the department’s website — www.nysed.gov/aimhighny — through Nov. 4.

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Laura McNamara, math chair at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, discusses how classes will change once they are officially aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

As Three Village continues to align its curriculum with the Common Core, its secondary math chairs recently shared how the district’s courses will help students meet the new challenges.

Donald Ambrose, math chair at Ward Melville High School, pointed out that the objective of Common Core math is not simply to get the answer. “It’s examining the nuances” and having a deeper understanding of the numbers and their relationships, he said at last week’s board meeting.

“It’s definitely a lot more that’s going to be expected of our students,” he said.

Across the board, there is a greater focus on fewer topics, along with greater understanding and fluency, said Laura McNamara, math chair at P.J. Gelinas Junior High. McNamara laid out the curriculum in detail from seventh grade to Algebra II.

While students will learn to link math principles across grades, it will not be at the expense of broader understanding. In the shift toward greater alignment to the Common Core, students are being asked to “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them,” Ambrose said.

During the presentation, Ambrose explained that additional expectations for Common Core math include the application of abstract and quantitative reasoning, building logical mathematical arguments and critiquing the logic of others. Ambrose added that students should be able to understand mathematical operations well enough to apply them to real-life situations and use appropriate tools to solve problems. The more rigorous approach calls for precision, an understanding of structure and higher-level reasoning, he said.

To achieve these goals, the district’s two junior high schools offer a variety of classes for students at varying levels. They range from lab classes for seventh and eighth graders who need additional support, to standard math, honors and honors theory classes, along with Regents Algebra I and Geometry.

R.C. Murphy math chair, Rocco Vetro spoke about the importance of vertical integration — that is, fluidity from elementary school to junior high. To achieve this goal the seventh grades are now piloting Go Math!, the curriculum recently adopted in the elementary schools. Vetro also discussed the district’s efforts to provide professional development to help teachers implement the more rigorous standards.

At Ward Melville, in addition to the three Regents courses — Algebra I and II and Geometry — the high school offers several Advanced Placement (AP) courses, including Calculus, statistics and computer science. Multivariable calculus, which qualifies for college credit from Stony Brook University, also is being offered. For students who complete multivariable calculus before their senior year, the math department plans to develop a course on differential equations for 2017, Ambrose said.

The district’s high school students have traditionally outperformed their counterparts in the state on all three math Regents exams, both in passing rates and, most particularly, in mastery rates. As the Regents and AP exams become aligned to the new standards, Three Village educators have set a goal of increasing the already high levels of student mastery. 

Moving forward, long term goals include adding more upper level courses, as well as continued vertical articulation between elementary, junior high and high school levels and further integration of classroom technology.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer updated the school board and audience members about the changes in Common Core Learning Standards at a meeting last week.

The Oct. 22 presentation covered upcoming state assessment changes and teacher and principal annual professional performance reviews (APPR) shifts.

According to Banzer’s presentation, as far as learning standards go, the English language arts and math common core standards have been adopted and implemented, the social studies standards have been adopted but not implemented and the science standards are only under review and have not yet been adopted or implemented.   

Several shifts are happening in the ELA and literacy, social studies and mathematic standards. The shifts in ELA and literacy are mostly focused on having students engage with the text more.

Students will have a “true balance of informational and literary texts,” according to the presentation and students will build knowledge about the world “through text rather than the teacher.”

The math changes include striking a balance between practicing and understanding math skills in the classroom.

“Both are occurring with intensity,” according to the presentation. There is also an emphasis on students “deeply understanding” math concepts. “They learn more than the trick to get the answer right. They learn the math.”

New social studies standards mirror those in ELA and literacy.

These include using informational text to support an argument to help students “develop the skills necessary for 21st century college, career and citizenship standards.”

In June 2018, a new global history and geography exam will be administered based on the new framework, and in June 2019 a new US history and government exam will follow.

For science standards, a steering committee was formed in August 2014 and a public survey is currently being developed to gather feedback on a new set of science learning standards for grades pre-kindergarten to 12. Adoption of a five-year strategic plan is anticipated in 2016.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created a Common Core task force amid growing boycotts of standardized tests.

According to the governor’s website, the task force is a diverse and highly qualified group of education officials, teachers, parents and state representatives from across New York. The group will complete a review and deliver its final recommendations by the end of this year.

There are also changes to assessments, including a greater input from teachers in the test development process.

In grades three through eight, ELA tests will have fewer questions in 2015-2016. Computer based testing will also be field-tested.

Changes to APPR are also on the way.

A new education law requires districts to negotiate new annual professional performance review criteria by Nov. 15, unless the district applies for and receives a hardship waiver, which would extend its deadline.

Banzer said that Northport-East Northport has applied for and received its hardship waiver just last week. The waiver is for four months and a district can apply again for another extension, according to the presentation.

“Knowing from May to November, for many districts, to negotiate would be impossible or impractical to try,” Banzer said. “We bought ourselves some much needed time with this process.”

A full-day kindergarten class at Mount Sinai Elementary school has rug time during class. Photo by Giselle Barkley

With the Mount Sinai Elementary School’s new full-day kindergarten program, most students don’t want to miss school, even if they’re sick.

Since classes began six weeks ago, the school district’s kindergarten classes have learned to read, construct simple sentences, understand patterns and count when doing math. Six weeks ago, the majority of these students didn’t even know how to spell or identify “the” or “and” in a sentence.

Faculty and staff members, like Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and teacher Debra Santoro, who started teaching 10 years ago, said they thought the students would take longer to grasp the concepts the school teaches in the full-day program, but the shift from half-day to full-day Kindergarten has been successful, according to the school’s employees.

With the help of teachers like Santoro and the school’s new writing program, “Think, Draw, Write,” the kids aren’t only gaining confidence in their writing abilities, but are also using their creativity and applying what they learn to events in their life. During class, the kids have rug time, which is when the teacher devotes a certain amount of time teaching a lesson related to English language arts or math, among other subjects, at the front of the class. Students can then return to their desks and expand upon what they learned on the rug. Now, lessons are hands-on, allowing the kids to have a more positive outlook on learning.

“I think, in the past, we didn’t have it structured with mini lesson that’s presented in a few minutes to really grab their attention [and] convince [students] that they’re capable, and to build confidence,” Santoro said.

With the half-day kindergarten program, teachers only had 90 to 100 minutes of instruction time, as opposed to the scheduled 120 — walking from the bus to the classroom and taking off warmer clothing during the winter months took time out of the lesson. The new program gives students and teachers more time to learn and teach a lesson, Brosdal said.

“You don’t want to do it just because [the] parents both work and might need child care,” Brosdal said. “The reality is … when you look at the demands of the curriculum of ELA and math, you have to have time to learn it. When you’re rushing, it’s easy for some [children] to get left behind.”

The program also allows kids to get out of the classroom for special classes, like music, art and physical education, and learn the layout of the school and how to stay attentive despite the additional hours.

Initially, first grade teachers at the school spent the first four to six weeks teaching the kids how to get around the building as well as how to sit for a longer period of time — first grade used to be the first time former kindergarten students stayed in school for a full day.

According to Santoro, the key to preventing these students from fading as the day progresses is to keep them engaged.

Brosdal added that school officials intend to follow the progress of this group of kindergartners, especially when they enter third grade and complete their assessments for Common Core. Thus far, faculty, staff and students alike are excited about the program and the kids’ progress. Brosdal admitted he thought the change from half-day to full-day would be more difficult, but said that teachers sacrificing parts of their summer to prepare for the program by scheduling meetings with superintendents from school districts with full-day kindergarten, like Miller Place, was helpful.

“[With] new programs, sometimes you find that ‘oh you should have planned that or did that,’” Brosdal said. “[School] opened like we had [full-day kindergarten] for years.”

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, delivers a presentation. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Enrollment in the Three Village school district has hit a historic low.

That’s some of the news Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, delivered at the district’s second school board meeting in the new school year. His numerical snapshot of the district also included state assessment and Regents scores, as well as statistics for the Class of 2015.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, delivers a presentation. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, delivers a presentation. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Enrollment, Scanlon said, has been declining steadily by about 200 students each year. Current enrollment is 6,472 compared to 6,723 last school year. With 348 students, this year’s kindergarten is little more than half the size of last year’s graduating class, he said.

Scanlon said, though, that the district is taking advantage of declining enrollment to decrease class sizes in elementary grades and reduce study halls in the secondary schools. In an interview following the meeting, the assistant superintendent added that Three Village has been able to appoint a STEM teacher at each of the elementary schools.

Even as student numbers go down, the poverty rate has climbed a percentage point to 7 percent. Scanlon’s report also indicated that district spending per student has increased from $16,137 to $17,554.

On a more controversial matter, Scanlon reported that the refusal rate in this year’s state tests for third- through eighth-grade students was 58 percent for English language arts and 57 percent for math.

Of those who opted out of ELA this year, 48 percent had passed it in 2014. Those who opted out of math this year and took it in 2014 had a 59 percent pass rate last year.

Though the Three Village 2015 ELA results reflect only 42 percent of students in the testing grades, the pass rate jumped in all grades, increasing between 4.15 and 12.7 percentage points, a comparison of the two years shows. The highest pass rate was 61.9 percent in eighth grade.

The passing rate on the math exams, which reflected 43 percent of students in the grades tested, also saw gains. Fourth grade had the largest increase — 11.16 percentage points — and a 77.2 percent pass rate.

Scanlon said that there was a 3.93 percentage point drop in the eighth-grade math results because the majority of eighth-graders took the Algebra Regents exams instead of the eighth-grade state test.

The 2015 assessment and Regents report showed that all scores in both disciplines were well above the New York state, Long Island, Nassau County and Suffolk County averages. New York state averages for all students were 31.3 percent for ELA and 38.1 percent for math.

When compared to neighboring districts — Commack, Half Hollow Hills, Hauppauge, Northport and Smithtown — Three Village’s ELA scores surpassed other districts in all grades except seventh. Seventh-grade scores were only 0.1 percentage point lower than the second highest-scoring district. Three Village’s math scores were either first or second in all grades, except for eighth.

Algebra students took both the old integrated algebra and the Common Core-aligned Algebra I exams. Scanlon said the higher of the two scores will be used on transcripts. The report showed that except for geometry, there was a dip in the math Regents scores. Pass rates remained high — in the 90s — for science, history and social studies Regents.

In other good news, the class of 2015 maintained the district’s 99 percent graduation rate and had a 95 percent college acceptance rate. This year also saw the highest number of Advanced Placement scholars ever, Scanlon said. The 293 students received the honor based on the number of AP exams they took and their average score, he explained. This number includes current students, as well as those who graduated last June.

In other news, the board voted on two new administrative appointments: Anthony Pollera, who has been a music teacher with the district since 2002, was named coordinating chairperson of music; and Marnie Kula, Ward Melville science chair since 2008, added InSTAR program coordinator to her responsibilities following the retirement of George Baldo.

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Professor Allen Tannenbaum. Photo from Stony Brook University

It’s a dangerous enemy that often turns deadly. Worse than its potentially lethal nature, however, cancer has an ability to work around any roadblocks scientists and doctors put in its path, rendering some solutions that bring hope ineffective.

Researchers around the world are eagerly searching for ways to stay one, two or three moves ahead of cancer, anticipating how the many forms of this disease take medicine’s best shot and then go back to the business of jeopardizing human health.

Allen Tannenbaum, a professor of computer science and applied mathematics and statistics at Stony Brook University, has added a field called graph theory to some of the tools he knows well from his work in medical imaging and computer vision.

A normal, healthy cell is like a factory, with genes sending signals through proteins, enzymes and catalysts, moving reactions forward or stopping them, and the genetic machinery indicating when and how hard the parts should work.

Cancer, however, is like a hostile takeover of that factory, producing the factory equivalent of M16s that damage the cell and the individual instead of baby toys, Tannebaum suggested.

By analyzing how proteins or transcription networks interact, Tannenbaum and his colleagues can develop a model for the so-called curvature of interactions.

Looking at the interactions among parts of the genetic factory, Tannenbaum can determine and quantify the parts of the cell that are following cancer commands, rather than doing their original task.

Curvature isn’t so much a bending of a physical space as it is a change in the way the different proteins or transcription factors function in the discrete networks Tannenbaum uses in cancer and biology.

“The parts are not doing their job the same way,” Tannenbaum said. “We can look and see graphically how different things compare.” He and his collaborators recently published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

Using mathematical formulas to define a range of interactions, Tannenbaum can determine how quickly a cancer or normal cell can return to its original state after a disturbance. This ability is called its robustness.

The study “brings to light a new way to understand and quantify the ability of cancer cells to adapt and develop resistance,” explained Tryphon T. Georgiou, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota, who has known Tannenbaum for over 30 years and collaborated on this study. “It also provides ways to identify potential targets for
drug development.”

Tannenbaum studied cells from six different tumor types and supplemented the study with networks that contain about 500 cancer-related genes from the Cosmic Cancer Gene Census.

In treatments for cancers, including sarcomas, researchers and doctors sometimes try to pull the plug on cancer’s energy network. This method can slow cancer down, but cancer often resumes its harmful operations.

Using models of cancer on a computer, Tannenbaum and the five graduate students and four postdoctoral fellows can run virtual experiments. He can hand off his results to biologists, who can then run tests. Once those scientists collect data, they can offer information back to Tannenbaum.

“This is a team effort,” said Tannenbaum, who works with scientists at Memorial Sloan Kettering, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Georgiou described Tannenbaum as a “brilliant scholar” and a “mathematician with unparalleled creativity,” who has been a “pioneer in many fields,” including computer vision. Indeed, a computer vision program could assist nurses in the intensive care unit on different shifts assess the level of pain from someone who might not otherwise be able to communicate it.

Georgiou called Tannenbaum’s work on cancer a “mission” and said Tannenbaum is “absolutely determined to use his remarkable skills as a mathematician and as a scientist” to defeat it.

Tannenbaum, who recently took his grandchild to a Mets win at CitiField, said coming to Stony Brook in 2013 was a homecoming, bringing him closer to his native Queens. He cited two famous graduates from Far Rockaway High School: the physicist Richard Feynman, who helped develop the atomic bomb, and Bernie Madoff.

He and his wife Rina, who is a professor in materials science and engineering at Stony Brook, live in Long Island City.

Tannenbaum hopes to continue to build on his work applying math to solving cancer.

“There’s a lot of mathematical play left and then testing the predictions in a biological/medical setting,” he said.