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Teachers

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It’s time to raise the bar on communication skills for teachers. I realize there are sensational educators who inspire a cadre of young minds each year. There are also plenty of teachers who are weak communicators, whose work wouldn’t stand up to their own liberal use of the red pen and who have their own rules of grammar that defy any style book.

That seems especially problematic, particularly for language arts teachers who are, presumably, not only educating our sons and daughters about how to read and analyze text, but are also helping them develop their writing style and voice.

The do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do approach may, unwittingly, be preparing students for the unfair world where merit doesn’t count as much as other factors, like connections.

I’m not sure that’s really the lesson we want to teach or the subtext we want to share during these formative years.

I’d like to ask a favor of teachers: Please read your instructions before you give them to your students. You can shape the assignment the way you’d like: asking questions about identity, seeking to understand the perspective of the author, asking for an analysis of the tone of the piece. But please, please, please read over your directions before printing them out, sending them to students or sharing them with parents. It’s not OK for your writing to read like the assembly instructions for a child’s toy.

I know it will take a few more moments and I know that you’re not particularly well paid, but please remember your mission and the difficulty of a double standard. Children can sense hypocrisy quicker than a shark can smell blood in the water.

I realize these missives filled with misdirections may provide a lesson unto themselves. Students may learn that nobody is perfect. While that may be true, are the teachers — who provide confusing directions, who send out assignments rife with poor grammar and misspellings, or who casually make the kinds of mistakes for which they would take major deductions — comfortable enough with themselves and their position to provide students with the opportunity to correct them?

Ideally, learning isn’t just about hearing things, memorizing them, spitting them back out during a test and forgetting them within a week of an exam. As teachers say so often when they meet parents, they want their students to learn to think for themselves and to question the world around them.

If that’s the case, then let’s not pay lip service to those missions. Let’s add a corollary to that and suggest that how teachers communicate is as important as what they communicate.

Let’s also encourage students to ask teachers why their instructions include particular words or employ specific phrases. I recall, many years ago, the first time one of my more self-assured teachers silenced a room when he said, in his booming baritone, “I stand corrected.” The rest of us didn’t know whether to cheer for the boy who challenged him or to duck, worried that a temper tantrum with flying chalk — remember chalk? — might follow.

Maybe schools should hire an editor who can read the instructions to kids and emails to parents. Or, if the budget doesn’t allow a single extra employee, maybe they can engage in the same kind of peer review they utilize in their classrooms.

Ideally, students and teachers can seize the opportunity to learn and improve every year. Teachers create an assignment and then reuse it the next year. If the assignment is unclear, or the directions flawed, the teacher should do his or her homework and revise it.

All I ask is that teachers lead by example.

Joan O’Brien, clerical staff, Park View ES; Diane Nally, trustee; Janice Cassagne, third-grade teacher, Park View ES; Joe Bianco, trustee; Regina Symansky, Special Education teacher, Kings Park HS; Pam DeFord, trustee; Laura Peterson, third-grade teacher, Fort Salonga ES; Tom Locascio, president, board of education; Judith Letterman, assistant principal, Kings Park HS; Kevin Johnston, English teacher, Kings Park HS; and Timothy Eagen, superintendent, at the Kings Park school board meeting on Tuesday, June 2. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Kings Park Board of Education celebrated 12 retirees for their cumulative 261 years of service to the district of Kings Park Tuesday night at the school board meeting.

Judith Letterman, assistant principal at Kings Park High School, was one of the many to be leaving the district, as well as Regina Symansky, a special education teacher who has the longest tenure at King Park — a total of 37 years.

“I have been blessed to lead such hard working and devoted employees,” Superintendent Timothy Eagen said in a statement.

The total list of retirees includes Joan O’Brien, Janice Cassagne, Regina Symansky, Laura Peterson, Judith Letterman, Kevin Johnston, James Fernhoff, Bonnie Capaldo, Dianne Kroog, Cyndia Kopp, Esther Mathie, and Wesley Walker.

“On behalf of the Board of Education, I congratulate all of this year’s retirees for their dedication and service to the Kings Park Central School District” said Tom Locascio, president of the board of education. “These individuals have helped shape the lives of thousands of students, faculty and staff, and the collective impact of their time here truly is immeasurable. May the years ahead bring nothing but joy and relaxation.”

The board also recognized 25 science fair winners from William T. Rogers Middle School in grades six through eight.

Kings Park school district received more than $5,000 in donations, which include athletic equipment and teaching aids. Many contracts were renewed or approved for the new school year including one that adds new vendors to the district and another that established an  agreement with the Town of Smithtown for repair and maintenance of roads.

Rally against New York State education changes

A protestor stands on North Country Road in Mount Sinai on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Educators, parents and students gathered outside state Sen. Ken LaValle’s Mount Sinai office Tuesday with one clear message: They won’t forget he voted “yes” on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget when it’s their turn to vote in November 2016.

Nearly 100 people rallied in front of the North Country Road office of LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), holding signs letting the senator and the community know they were upset he voted in favor of a portion of the 2015-16 state budget that amended the teacher evaluation system, lengthened the time before teachers can gain tenure and created new designations for failing schools.

Beth Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and a John F. Kennedy Middle School teacher, said her association and other groups coordinated the protest to show the senator they don’t take his vote lightly.

“The purpose of this rally is to remind Mr. LaValle that his vote in favor of Mr. Cuomo’s budget and anti-public education agenda will be remembered by the parents and taxpayers in the November elections,” Dimino said.

A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon
A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon

LaValle, who was in Albany at the time of the protest, was just re-elected to his 20th term in the Senate and will be up for election again next year.

He said in a statement Wednesday, “We improved on what the governor put in his budget proposal and I fully expect we will continue to fix the education piece, with the final result addressing parents and educators concerns.”

April Quiggle, a Port Jefferson parent, said she came out to show how disappointed she is in the senator she always supported.

“I feel betrayed by him,” Quiggle said.

Not one person at the education rally was without a sign. Young children also held signs.

Miller Place resident Erik Zalewski, who teaches in the Middle Country school district, said LaValle and other politicians who voted in favor of the governor’s reform sold out educators and kids.

“It seems money is more important than the children,” Zalewski said.

Lucille McKee, president of the Shoreham-Wading River Teachers Association, joined in to let everyone know she is tired of non-educators making decisions about education.

Halfway through the rally supporters broke out in a cheer: “Ken LaValle you let us down, Ken LaValle you let the students down, Ken LaValle we will not forget!”

Many parents at the picket said they tried numerous times to reach out to the senator by phone and email and never heard back.

Hundreds of cars drove by as everyone protested on the corner of the road. Drivers honked, gave thumbs-up signs and cheered, letting the protesters know they supported them.

Northport-East Northport teachers picket over contract negotiations earlier this year. Photo by Rohma Abbas

By Susan Risoli

The United Teachers of Northport union has reached a tentative employment contract settlement with the Northport-East Northport school district.

School board counsel John Gross, of the Hauppauge firm Ingerman Smith LLP, said in a phone interview Monday that a memorandum of agreement containing details of the settlement had been delivered to Sean Callahan, the NYSUT labor relations specialist, that day.

Callahan will have the opportunity to make changes or comments on the agreement, he said. After that, Smith said, he expects it will take “another week or so before it’s signed.”

After signature by the negotiating team, Smith said, the agreement will go to UTN members for ratification, then to the Northport-East Northport school board for approval “and then it becomes public.”

The union’s previous contract expired June 30, 2014.

Union President Antoinette Blanck said in a phone interview Tuesday night that the union had received a draft of the memorandum of agreement and “we’re in the middle of reviewing it.”

She sent an email to union members Tuesday to update them on the contract’s progress, she said. A meeting was set for Wednesday with Callahan, she said, to review the agreement. Callahan’s office is in the same building as Ingerman Smith, she added, which she hoped would hasten the process if there are further discussions about the agreement.

After the memorandum is signed, each of the union’s 720 members will get a hard copy to read. There will be a ratification meeting, Blanck said, at which the settlement agreement will be explained. Then there will be a ratification vote “by secret ballot, in each building” no less than five days and no more than 10 days after the meeting, she said.

Although she said she couldn’t yet speak publicly about details of the new contract, Blanck said she felt positively about the settlement.

“We would have been still at the [negotiating] table if we felt this wasn’t an appropriate settlement to bring back to our members,” she said. “We’re hopeful that the rank-and-file members agree that this is an agreement that is respectful of the membership and respectful of the community of taxpayers.”

Blanck said the settlement was a long time coming “but certainly we’ve been very happy with the process” of negotiations.

The union represents the district’s teachers, teaching assistants, nurses, librarians, psychologists and counselors.