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Three Village Central School District

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

This spring, voting on the school budget and school board faced the notable challenge of taking place during a pandemic, but other than record levels of voter participation, the final results were anything but unprecedented.

Inger Germano. Photo from Germano

With the absentee ballots counted, Three Village residents voted overwhelmingly in favor — 6,096 for and 3,135 against — to approve the $218.84 million budget for the 2020-21 school year.

Residents also chose to return incumbents Inger Germano (4,727 votes), Irene Gische (4,506) and Dr. Jeffrey Kerman (4,479) to the school board, over challengers Shaorui Li (3,722), David McKinnon (3,799) and Vinny Menten (2,810).

During a phone interview this week, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich expressed gratitude to the community for its support and confidence in the budget. But not everyone was satisfied with the election process.

Three Village parent David Tracy expressed his dissatisfaction in a letter that was read during the board’s June 24 meeting. He was “extremely disappointed,” Tracy said, with the teachers union’s ability to “enforce their will on a board of education election.”

The Three Village Teachers Association and New York State Union of Teachers endorsed Germano, Gische and Kerman and paid for the candidates’ campaign signs.

“Having independent candidates is absolutely paramount in ensuring the best interest of all parties involved, mainly the students and the taxpayers,” he said.

Tracy compared the unions’ public and financial support of candidates to “Congress or other political bodies voting for their own raises.” In his letter, he also spoke of what he said is a trend of budget increases despite declining enrollment and voiced his concerns about nepotism, favoritism and conflicts of interest.

While Barbara Rosati, president of the Three Village Parents Alliance, congratulated the newly reelected board members, she too questioned the election process, asking how independent, community-backed candidates could compete against the efforts of the TVTA and NYSUT.

Rosati is married to McKinnon, one of this year’s independent candidates. She said that with the union president having “regular access” to  administrators and board members “in private settings,” that such access can sometimes mean that the board as a whole is bypassed in some decisions — something she believed happened with the launch of this spring’s remote learning. 

Irene Gische. Photo from candidate

“I love and support our teachers, and they deserve to have a strong union, but I am concerned about our district’s governance in the current situation,” Rosati added.

Board members and administrators did not respond to Rosati’s request for “comments, insight and solutions” during the meeting.

However, board president Bill Connors did address the issue in a phone interview.

“We represent the community on the board of education, and we work with the teachers union because we have an awful lot in common,” he said. “We are working in the interest of the children, and I see them as a real partner.”

Though Connors sees the goals of the board and the union as aligned, he said there have been times when the two have not agreed. In 1997, for instance, the district narrowly avoided a strike over a provision in the teachers’ contract requiring them to contribute to their health insurance. The issue was resolved in time for the new school year.

Connors, who announced at the June 24 meeting that he is stepping down as board president, also clarified a statement Rosati made about the union president being on the district payroll. Her salary, Connors said, is reimbursed by the TVTA.

Pedisich declined to comment on the parent letters, but said she appreciates the community feedback.

Remote Learning and School Reopening Task Force

During the board’s June 29 meeting, the discussion centered on remote instruction and the reopening of schools in September.

Rosati was critical of the district’s handling of remote learning during the pandemic, calling it “chaotic.” She made comparisons to what she saw as more successful implementations of synchronous instruction in the nearby Half Hollow Hills District and the free summer bridge program offered by Smithtown to students in grades kindergarten through eighth.  She also posed questions about how the district will move forward with instruction and reopening in the fall.

“We recognize that there were aspects of our program that did not go as smoothly as we had wanted, or may not have been as effective,” Pedisich said of the implementation of distance learning in March, during the meeting.

She added that the district has more insight now.

“We are looking at what worked well and what did not work well,” she said.

Jeff Kerman. Photo from candidate

The district is preparing a survey that will go out to parents and staff in the coming days, Pedisich said. Though officials have received many comments from parents, she said they are difficult to quantify. A survey “can grab information we need and synthesize it quickly,” she added.

The superintendent also said that the district is waiting for guidance from the state, but that its school reopening task force is considering three models — one in which everyone returns, a hybrid model of some in-person classes and some remote, or an entirely remote model.

The district is also preparing for the possibility that the year could begin in-person but revert to entirely remote instruction as it did in March. For this reason, she said, the district will provide kindergarten through sixth grade students with Chromebooks that they will be able to use at home.

The reopening task force is made up of subcommittees for transportation, instruction, scheduling, childcare, athletics, mental health, health needs, facility needs and professional development and technology. Task force members include staff, administrators, parents and board members. Pedisich said parents were selected by the PTA council, while staff and administrators were chosen by their union leadership.

The instructional subcommittee, which has been further divided into elementary and secondary subgroups, is looking at guidelines for minimum standards of instruction and synchronous learning across the district. Pedisich said that the elementary level and secondary levels will probably look different. She foresees more structure for the more independent secondary students and more flexibility for younger children who might need assistance from parents.

She said that teachers are continuing to train over the summer to use Google Meets and Hangouts — conferencing software similar to Zoom — that are part of the Google platform the district already uses.

“We as educators feel that it’s so critical for us to be back in September,” Pedisich said, adding that teachers who will be working with new groups of students need to be able to assess their students’ learning styles and needs.

“That’s why we’re looking at following all of the recommendations from the CDC and the DOH, so that we can come back at least for a period of time so that we can get to know our students,” she said.

In other news, the board approved the contracts for the superintendent and the assistant superintendents.

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

Three Village Central School District residents voted 6,096 to 3,135 in favor of the 2020-21 budget.

The $218.84 million budget falls within the 1.96 percent cap on the tax levy increase and represents a 1.75 percent increase on the 2019-20 budget.

Incumbents Inger Germano (4,727), Irene Gische (4506) and Jeffrey Kerman (4479) retained their seats on the board. Challengers Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten received 3,722, 3,799 and 2810 votes, respectively.

By Andrea Paldy

Despite the upheaval to daily life, the Three Village community is doing what it can to stay informed and exercise democracy.

In anticipation of the Three Village Central School District budget vote and school board election by absentee ballot June 9, more than 250 people registered for last week’s virtual Meet the Candidates night, hosted by the Three Village Civic Association and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman are running against newcomers Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten for three seats on the Three Village school board.

Before the candidates discussed their platforms and answered questions, Jeff Carlson, the district’s deputy superintendent for business services, discussed the proposed 2020-21 budget. The $218.84 million budget falls within the 1.96 percent cap on the tax levy increase and represents a 1.75 percent increase on the 2019-20 budget.

“I think it’s pretty obvious to say we’re not adding any new programs for next year,” Carlson said, alluding to uncertainty about state aid and the possibility of further cuts to aid during the school year.

The district has prepared for multiple scenarios, and the budget reflects reductions in equipment, supplies, conferences and some field trips, the deputy superintendent said. There are also some cuts to personnel, such as clerical, custodial and administrative staff — areas that Carlson said would have “as little impact on educational programs as possible.”

The district did see some savings from the early school closure this year, when the Acme Bus Corp., which provided the district’s minibuses, went out of business. The money saved from not paying Acme offset the loss of the monthly over $100,000 in childcare revenue and over $200,000 in monthly revenue from food service sales and federal and state reimbursements, Carlson said. The district has continued to pay a reduced fee to Suffolk Transportation Service, which provides big buses, to keep the contract intact. Bids for a new minibus company were due last week, Carlson said.

At a May school board meeting, Carlson mentioned the possibility of drawing from district reserves should there be drastic cuts in aid. The district’s reserves are divided into those that are restricted to specific uses, such as retirement contributions and workers’ compensation, and those that are unrestricted and can be targeted to “a rainy day,” Carlson said during a phone interview. Reserves are built up over time from unspent funds at the end of a fiscal year. The district currently has approximately $15 million in restricted reserves and about $6.5 million in unrestricted reserves, Carlson said.

A budget item that has caught the attention of some residents addresses the salaries of the superintendents, which appear to increase in next year’s budget. Since the superintendents have year-to-year contracts that do not have salary increases built in, their salary increases are not reflected in the adopted budget, Carlson said. He added that their raises are determined by the board of education after the adopted budget is passed and are reflected in the adjusted budget.

While the amount of money allocated to the budget remains the same, any changes to the distribution among line items are noted in the adjusted budget. Carlson said the superintendents’ salaries listed for the 2020-21 school year reflect the increases granted last July for this school year’s budget. This means the salaries budgeted for next year are the same amount as this school year.

In the 2020-21 adopted budget, the salary of Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich is shown at $325,000, a $25,500 or 8.51 percent increase.

If the budget does not pass, Carlson said it is not clear whether there would be a date for a revote. If there is no revote or a new budget does not pass, the district would have to move to a contingent budget, he said. This means the tax levy would not increase and the district would have to cut $3.1 million. At that point, capital projects would be cut, and the administration would have to decide where to make additional reductions.

“Of course, we would do whatever we could to have as little impact upon the educational program,” Carlson said.

He addressed the process for counting votes. To ensure ballot secrecy, the board appointed 23 election inspectors to count the votes. After 5 p.m. June 9, the ballots will be removed and separated from the sealed envelopes — which have residents’ names and signatures — before they are counted. There will be live streaming of the process, Carlson said.

All ballots must be received at the North Country Administration building by 5 p.m. on June 9.

Carlson’s presentation, along with those of the Three Village board of education candidates, can be seen at the civic association website, www.threevillagecivics.org. Also visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com for candidate profiles.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As if times are not challenging enough, districts across the state must create budgets without knowing when, or by how much, state aid will be cut.

Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, has removed $1 million from next year’s budget in anticipation of cuts beyond the $300,000 decrease in aid already projected by the state in March.

The current 2020-21 budget falls within the cap on the tax levy increase of 1.96 percent, for a total budget of $218.84 million. This is a 1.75 percent increase over the 2019-20 budget.

The district has begun to make contingency plans with alternate budgets, being referred to as Phase 2, which would mean a further $2 million reduction and Phase 3, which would require a deeper cut of $3 million. Cuomo has said school aid could drop by as much as 20 percent and cuts could take place as late as December, Carlson said.

If cuts go deeper than Phase 3, they will definitely affect services and student programs, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said at the district’s May 6 school board meeting. The board would have to decide whether to make deeper cuts to the budget or use district reserves, she said.

One thing officials do know is that they do not want to make cuts once the school year has begun and would not make cuts to instructional staff.

Pedisich said the district would have to look to reserves, because “any kind of midyear cuts in terms of services would be incredibly disruptive … and this year has been disruptive itself, so we don’t want to add to it and exacerbate the situation.”

The district held a hearing on the budget May 27. Carlson will also give a budget presentation June 1 at 6:45 p.m. at the Three Village Joint Council of PTAs virtual Meet the Candidates night on Zoom. This program will allow residents to hear from the six candidates running for three seats on the school board.

Also, the Three Village Civic Association and Three Village Chamber of Commerce will jointly host an online Meet the Candidates event Thursday, May 28, at 7 p.m. via Zoom conferencing. For information about how to be part of the online meeting, go to the websites of either the civic association, www.threevillagecivics.org, or the chamber of commerce, www.3vchamber.com, for links to the Zoom meeting.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman are running against Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten.

All 34,025 registered voters in Three Village will receive ballots with paid return postage to vote on the 2020-21 budget and board trustees. Ballots must be returned to the office of the district clerk at the North Country Administration building by 5 p.m. on June 9.

Visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com for profiles on each of the candidates.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

If this were a normal spring, Three Village residents would have voted this week for the 2020-21 school budget and board of education trustees. But in the wake of a global pandemic requiring school closures and social distancing, business has been anything but usual.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pushed the school budget votes and board elections back from their May date to June 9 and said that “in an effort to keep New Yorkers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” voting would be conducted by absentee ballot. That means all 32,984 registered voters in Three Village will receive ballots with paid return postage to vote on the district’s budget and select three board trustees from a crowded pool of six candidates.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Dr. Jeff Kerman and board vice president Irene Gische are running to keep their seats against engineer and start-up founder Shaorui Li, David McKinnon, a professor of Neurobiology at Stony Brook University, and Vinny Menten, director of parts sales at Gabrielli Truck Sales.

Candidates are listed below in the order they will appear on the ballot.

Inger Germano

Inger Germano. Photo from candidate

Germano, 48, is running for her fourth term. In an email, Germano noted that when she first ran in 2011, the district faced seismic changes, including the implementation of Common Core, teachers annual professional performance review and the tax cap. Those past challenges position her to make informed decisions about staffing, programs and other changes that the district may encounter as a result of “uncertain financial times,” she said.

A health care administrator at Advanced Cardiac Care, Germano said her experience as a health care compliance officer and managing health care facilities will help when it’s time to make decisions about reopening schools. She mentioned additional issues the district would need to tackle. Chief among them, Germano said, was reopening schools “with the priority being the safety of the students and the staff,” emergency preparedness, online instruction and using technology “to supplement and enrich” student learning.

“The changes need to be made while ensuring that staffing and program changes due to budget cuts are made with minimal effect to the students,” said Germano, who has lived in the district for 14 years with her husband and two daughters.

During her tenure on the school board, Germano created the Facebook group, Three Village Connection, to foster communication and transparency between the community and board members.

She has served on the North Shore Montessori School board and volunteered for the Suffolk County Girls Scouts, St. James R.C. Church, Three Village Basketball and the Setauket Fire Department.

Irene Gische

Irene Gische. Photo from candidate

Gische first served on the Three Village school board from 1983 to 1995 and was president for two years. She ran again in 2011 and was elected. During a phone interview this week, Gische said she is running to “make sure that the programs that we have in place continue and that we continue to look for ways to improve the opportunities we give our kids.”

“The district was very different” when she ran in 1983, she said, explaining that it had considered eliminating foreign languages at the junior high schools. The vote was 4-3 “and that was what pushed me … that was too close for comfort,” said Gische, 74.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth and improvements in our programs and in our schools over
the years.”

A Three Village resident for 47 years, she’s proud of the district’s ability to prepare its students for the world and points to honors classes, strong academic teams and student acceptance at top colleges as examples of the district’s success. She doesn’t want any of these things to “fall by the wayside” in any situation, but especially not as a result of the pandemic, said Gische, who was the head teacher at University Preschool for 25 years.

Gische also highlighted the board’s successful budgeting. Even while “keeping a pretty tight budget, we have been able to maintain the programs that prepare our kids to move on, and that’s very important to me,” she said.

Gische and her husband have two daughters who graduated from Ward Melville and five grandchildren. Three have gone through district schools. Gische noted, though, that she counts among her honorary grandchildren the many junior high and high school theater kids she’s sewn costumes for over the years.

Jeff Kerman

Jeff Kerman. Photo from candidate

A dentist with practices in Miller Place and New York City, Kerman and his wife have lived in Three Village for 47 years.

“It is a wonderful community, and I want to keep it that way,” he said during a phone interview.

Elected in 2011 after serving from 1999 to 2005, the former board president acknowledged the challenges the district faces with remote learning, possible budget cuts and reopening schools safely. However, he said, the district has had “lots of issues that are very difficult to deal with, and we’ve managed to deal with them in our district very well.”

“We have excellent administrators,” he added, and they present the board with good advice to make good decisions.

“Whether school starts in September, our primary concern is the health of the kids and the staff,” he said. Also, paramount, is providing them with a good education, the former captain in the U.S. Army said.

Kerman, 75, said he first ran for the board to ensure that his two sons, Ward Melville graduates, received an “excellent” education. In his current bid, he said he wants to maintain the district’s reputation, while continuing to help it improve.

One way would be to introduce foreign language education in the elementary schools, he said. Kerman also spoke of his respect for the scientific support for a later secondary school start time, which is why he thinks it was important to form a task force to look into whether a change would be feasible for the whole community.

Kerman has been treasurer for 20 years of the nonprofit NYACAO Corporation, an organization that helps dental students, is a member of the American Dental Association and a founding member of the Suffolk County Dental Society and the Bronx County Dental Society.

Shaorui Li

Sharui Li. Photo from candidate

Li, 45, points to her research projects, funded by the Department of Energy and NASA, and work in the private sector and for national laboratories as experiences that will make her an effective board member. Her background has required her to work with budgets, operations and personnel management.

“I would strongly support initiatives that allow our students to explore our local professional landscape, to learn more about available career opportunities and be able to shape their own,” Li said in an email.

She suggested career workshops from the Three Village Industry Advisory Board, art programs through local art galleries and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and technology and research programs through Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Stony Brook University Small Business Development Center. Through such collaborations, she hopes to enrich the curriculum and provide opportunities for all students to explore careers suited to their unique talents.

Li also has suggested taking advantage of district parents’ diverse talents and expertise as a resource, especially amid looming budget concerns.

Students should be the driving force of budget decisions, Li said. Teachers, whom she recognized as “excellent experts of traditional teaching methods,” are also critical, and investing in them will benefit students, she said. Li advocates for providing teachers with professional development to help them with the abundant and sometimes overwhelming online resources and programs that are available.

The six-year Three Village resident and mother of two district students has been active in professional organizations and the local community. She serves as the local society chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has mentored the Gelinas Science Olympiad team, and has volunteered for local PTAs, the Long Island Chinese American Association, Three Village Civic Association and the Three Village Parents Alliance.

David McKinnon

David McKinnon. Photo from candidate

McKinnon, 62, is a 30-year resident and father of a current district student and two other children who attended Three Village schools.”

As a board member, the Stony Brook University professor said he would like to reform the elementary math curriculum, increase technology education and serve all students, especially those in the “middle” — kids who “have a lot of potential, but they are largely dependent on the school system to develop that potential.”

McKinnon proposes an “opt-in” program for elementary math learning that would “use specialist math teachers and would build on the success of the SchoolNova program,” which introduces basic algebra concepts at an early stage. SchoolNova is a local enrichment program at Stony Brook University that offers math, science, world language and art classes. Following this model would help prepare students for the math they encounter in junior high and would also enable them to learn computer languages at an earlier age, he said. It also could improve employment options for students, he added.

“Given how central computers are to our lives, I don’t think anyone should leave school without having at least a basic understanding of how a computer is controlled by a program they have written,” he said in an email.

Aware of the budget challenges that the pandemic poses to the district, McKinnon said he would work to make sure that the core mission of educating students in the fundamentals and providing them with practical skills is not “degraded” with budget cuts.

In addition to the curriculum reforms, McKinnon, who is married to Barbara Rosati, the founder of the most recent later-start-time movement in the district, is a supporter of the cause. Both he and Rosati are members of the Three Village Parents Alliance, which formed as an advocacy group to address various issues that affect the schools, including a later school start.

McKinnon said he is running in part to see a board that is more “responsive to parent or teacher-initiated proposals that can improve the learning environment and academic outcomes.”

Vinny Menten

Vinny Menten

In addition to helping the district provide an “excellent level of education that our students deserve,” Menten, 62, said he would like to help balance the budget to reduce waste, lower taxes and increase transparency.

A 50-year Three Village resident and 1975 Ward Melville graduate, Menten points to business degrees, certification in human resource management and experience working with budgets larger than $100 million as preparations for a seat on the board.

His ties to the community run deep. He owned an auto-repair shop in the district for 15 years, is the former commissioner of the Three Village Basketball League and was a substitute teacher at BOCES in automotive technology. In addition to having two daughters who graduated from Ward Melville High School, his wife of 35 years has been a special education aide in the district for 20 years. His father was a district carpenter.

“Cutbacks are inevitable,” he said in an email, alluding to the brewing budget storm, but he believes they can be achieved by “trimming the fat” first. “And thereafter, all parties involved should be willing to put a small level of skin in the game for the good of the school and the community, just like the private sector is doing,” he said.

Since enrollment has been declining for many years, Menten said that “with some innovative analysis and some persevering execution,” the district could use the savings to “limit the increase to the taxpayers far below the tax cap, while protecting the educational excellence that our students expect and deserve.”

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Ward Melville High School graduates at the 2019 commencement ceremony. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The Three Village Central School District is reimagining graduation.

On May 11, Ward Melville High School seniors and their families were notified that a commencement ceremony of sorts would be held on the school’s grounds in a letter signed by Principal William Bernhard and Assistant Principal Erin Connolly. According to the letter, the decision was made “after careful consideration to the New York State guidelines and the governor’s executive orders.”

Since the traditional outdoor graduation ceremony with hundreds of students and family members cannot be held due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school will hold five separate ceremonies during the week of June 22, and each ceremony will take place with families in their vehicles.

Ceremonies will begin at 5 p.m. with a rendition  of the national anthem and speeches by the school’s salutatorian, valedictorian and the senior class president taking place at each individual commencement. Plans are in the works for the speeches to be live-streamed for viewing and broadcasted on the radio. Students will be divided alphabetically to determine which day they attend.

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, families are allowed only one vehicle and will need to stay in their cars. The letter added that after speeches cars will be directed to pull through the bus circle. Seniors will be allowed to get out of the car one at a time where their name will be announced. They will also be able to pick up their diploma jacket and have a photo taken.

Bernhard and Connolly thanked the students and families for their “patience and support during this extremely challenging time.”

TBR News Media talked to a few people in the community who were positive about
the plans.

Parent Jennifer Catalano said while her daughter, Rachael, is heartbroken that she and her classmates won’t experience a traditional graduation, “she’s happy that they came up with a unique experience for their class.”

Senior Alexarose Marcellino said she thought the plans were better than a virtual ceremony, and she appreciated that the school is making an effort to have the speeches heard every night. She said her parents and siblings plan to decorate their car on the day she can receive her diploma.

Both Marcellino and her mother, Allison, said they are grateful that Bernhard listened to students’ concerns. Allison Marcellino said the principal knew from Zoom meetings and talking to students how important it was for all of them to have an in person graduation and how passionate they were about it.

“They had every faith in him that he would do that for them,” the mother said. “He’s that kind of principal. The kids know that he would go out of his way for them.”

The mother said with the high school having more than 500 seniors she and other parents at first didn’t think it was possible to come up with an alternative plan.

“I really think it’s the best of both worlds because the student gets to walk and receive their diploma, and the closest members of the family get to be there to see their child receive their diploma,” she said. “They actually feel like they got as close to possible to their normal graduation.”

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

The Three Village Central School District has decided to follow the lead of neighboring school districts and close schools for a five-day period from Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 20.

In a letter to school district families and staff members, dated March 13, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich announced the district would take a proactive step in temporary closing the schools.

“As I have continued to communicate, the district has been closely monitoring the rapidly evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” Pedisich said in the letter. “While there is no confirmed case of an individual with COVID19 in our area, there are cases within our surrounding communities and the overall numbers in the county continue to rise.”

In addition to classes, all after-school activities were canceled as of March 13, and Pedisich added that Section XI had notified the district that it has suspended all athletic games and scrimmages in Suffolk County until April 3.

Pedisich said the district will perform a deep cleaning of all buildings and wait for further guidance from health organizations and the New York State Education Department.

Elementary school teachers sent home learning packets with students Friday, according to Pedisich, and secondary students will receive individual direction from their teachers.

“Please know that this decision was not made lightly, and we recognize the impact such a closure will have on our families,” Pedisich said, adding the closure will not affect the remainder of planned vacation days as the district had five unused snow days.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

Editor’s note: On March 13, Three Village Central School District made the decision to close schools March 16 through March 20.

By Andrea Paldy

Utmost on people’s minds these days is the steady approach of COVID-19. Even as school districts try to conduct business as usual, behind the scenes, they are at work on contingency plans.

Tuesday, Three Village parents received a robocall and email from district superintendent Cheryl Pedisich, who assured them that the district is “taking extra precautionary steps to safeguard our students and staff.”

She said the district is getting advice from the New York State and Suffolk County departments of health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Education Department and that it will continue to update protocols as it receives new guidance. Additionally, Three Village is planning for “viable options should a long-term school closure be necessary” as advised by the Department of Health or “other trusted agencies.”

As of Wednesday, field trips, out-of-district staff conferences and unnecessary travel for students and staff have been suspended, she said.

In a telephone interview, Pedisich said district administration continues to meet regularly as information changes. She added that she does not want to “build anxiety” and wants to “keep a positive atmosphere” for students and will continue to keep the community informed.

Every Student Succeeds Act

Last week, amid growing concerns about the coronavirus, Three Village held its regular board meeting, where Laura Pimentel, chief information officer and assistant director of instructional technology, discussed the district’s federal report card. The district schools are all in good standing, though there were some concerns about the system of measure. 

In her report, Pimentel explained the criteria used to measure New York State school districts under the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015 to replace No Child Left Behind.

For elementary and middle schools, criteria include student growth levels, English language proficiency for English language learners, academic progress in English language arts and math, chronic absenteeism and a composite of state assessment scores in ELA, math and science.

High school progress is measured with the same criteria — using Regents scores from math, English, science and social studies, she explained. The ratings also measure graduation rate and college and career readiness, as well as the still-to-be-determined criteria for civic readiness. Student growth is not measured.

To see how a district compares to others, the district receives a composite score, comprised of a “weighted average achievement measure” and a “core subject performance measure,” Pimentel said. Student test scores are allotted a set number of points. The weighted average divides the points for the students who took the state tests by the total number of students enrolled in the district. The core subject performance measure divides students’ allotted points by the number of students who actually took the test.

As a result of the robust opt-out movement on Long Island, only about 36 percent of the district’s students took the tests. While this brought down the weighted average achievement measure considerably, the core subject performance measure raised the composite scores to an achievement rank of level 3 for all schools except for Arrowhead Elementary, Pimentel said. 

Because high school students don’t opt out of the Regents exams — they need them to graduate — the high school measures only include the weighted score. Ward Melville was ranked a level 4 for academic achievement.

Pimentel said student growth at the elementary school and junior high levels is measured by following students for three years and ranking them against similarly scoring students over the three-year period. Composite scoring showed that Three Village elementary students fell within a level 3 mean growth percentile and that students at Nassakeag Elementary School, which had the highest percentage of students taking the state tests, scored a level 4 mean growth percentile. Both junior high schools fell within lower levels of the growth percentile because most eighth-graders take the Regents exam instead of the state math assessment, Pimentel said.

English language learners in Three Village are well above the state index for success, she said.

Measures of interim progress are set by the state and require districts to close the gap between the district’s baseline and the state’s end goal by 20 percent every five years, she said. These scores included only the weighted average achievement measure, which brought down the district’s elementary school and junior high progress rankings. Ward Melville, however, exceeded the state’s long-term goals for both English and math and met the state’s end goal for English.

All district schools exceeded the state’s long-term goal for absenteeism, and the high school exceeded its end goal for graduation with an above 98 percent graduation rate. Ward Melville also exceeded the state’s long-term goal and is quite close to its end goal for college and career readiness.

Though all district schools received a distinction of being in good standing, two received the distinction after an appeal. Nassakeag Elementary School and R.C. Murphy Junior High were flagged because there were two subgroups of students with low scores in multiple areas, Pimentel said.

A closer look at the scores showed that while there were enough students to make up a subgroup, there were not enough students from the group who tested. As a result, a core subject performance score couldn’t be tabulated. Only a weighted average achievement score was used in the ranking, which skewed the results, Pimental said. But the distinction for the schools was changed after a successful appeal.

“We should be concerned because this report card is public information that is reflecting poorly on our district at the elementary and middle school level, and it’s not even an accurate picture of what’s going on in Three Village schools,” Pimentel said.

She added that “not having test information makes it really challenging for all of us to make the decisions to allocate resources, train our staff and maintain our curriculum so that students have the most growth possible during their time in Three Village Schools.”

2020-21 Budget

Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, announced that the cap on the tax levy increase would be 1.96 percent. He also said that there would be an increase in payments to the employee retirement system and health insurance, estimating that the overall budget increase would be around 1.7 percent.

“We do not anticipate having to make any reductions in any programs or services or staffing in order to comply with that, other than what we would do anyway because of changes in enrollment or course requests,” Carlson said.

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A student shakes hands with Valerie Cartright after receiving an award for a video created to highlight health and safety benefits of sidewalks. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school board welcomed Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County officials Feb. 12 for a special presentation. 

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) presented awards to four Ward Melville High School students for their public service announcements advocating for sidewalks to ensure safety in the community. 

Sidewalks for Safety, a local grassroots organization, sponsored a video contest to encourage high school students to highlight the health and safety benefits of sidewalks in neighborhoods and around schools. Student projects were sponsored by the Ward Melville art department.

Contest winners were Benjamin Dombroff and Nicole DeLucia, who tied for first place and received $500 each. Mia Schoolman was awarded second place and Elyas Masrour placed third. 

Three Village resident Annemarie Waugh, founder of Sidewalks for Safety, addressed those gathered for last week’s meeting and presentation. The organization’s vision for the community is to have “a minimal number of strategically placed sidewalks on only a few connector roads to enable students and residents to walk safely,” she said. 

Ward Melville Principal Bill Bernhard also spoke. He recalled an appointment with Waugh six years ago, when he was principal at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School. 

“We had a rather unorthodox meeting,” Bernhard said. “We took a walk around the neighborhood. It was a picturesque, beautiful day … and what we saw, besides the beautiful nature, was something rather disconcerting, which was the lack of available places for our students to walk — our lack of sidewalks.”

The Town installed sidewalks in front of the junior high school in 2016. The $300,000 project also included a pole with flashing LED lights that could be activated by pedestrians with the push of a button. 

Waugh indicated that there is still more to be done.

“Our roads are not comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists,” she said. “They are full of dangerous blind corners and speeding, distracted drivers.”

The student videos, which were screened during the meeting, echoed those concerns.

“Walkable communities are associated with higher home values,” Waugh said. “Imagine your kids being able to walk safely to school, to walk safely to their friends’ houses. Imagine being able to jog safely to West Meadow Beach. Imagine being able to walk for a coffee and to walk to local shops.” 

Romaine commended the students.

“Your students really know how to advocate and make a point,” he told school board members.

Also honored last week were members of the Setauket Elementary School student council, who raised more than $700 for Australian Wildlife Rescue, and varsity athletes who competed in fall sports. 

The school board also finalized the 2020-2021 school calendar. The first day of school will be Sept. 8, 2020.

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BOE also provides prekindergarten updates, comment on mandated vaccine

A parent speaks out about proposed changes to secondary school start times. Photo by Andrea Paldy

 By Andrea Paldy

The first school board meeting of 2020 brought new voices to an old discussion.

“I do not deny the research and scientific data on adolescent health.”

— Riley Meckley

After months of parents, students and alumni speaking to Three Village Central School District administrators and school board members about the importance of changing the secondary school start times, two speakers came forward to offer a new perspective on last fall’s hot topic.

Ward Melville sophomore Riley Meckley spoke on behalf of students who did not want the high school to start later.

“I do not deny the research and scientific data on adolescent health,” she said. “It is definitely true.” 

But she noted that as “appealing” as getting an extra hour of sleep was, most students would still stay up late to study, watch Netflix or surf social media. What concerned Meckley and the students and teachers she spoke with was the negative impact on sports, clubs and after-school jobs, she said. She also spoke of the “hassle” for teachers dealing with athletes leaving ninth period early to get to their away games, as well as the inconvenience of trying to get home in time for their young children.

At December’s meeting, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, presented 10 possible scenarios for moving the high school start time from 7:05 to 8:20 a.m. In each case, it meant the high school day ended later, cutting out what Meckley referred to as that “precious time” between 2 and 3 p.m., when students could meet for clubs or extra help.

In half of the scenarios, the change meant that elementary schools might begin and end earlier than they do currently.

“We don’t want to lose services, and we definitely don’t want to pay any more money.”

— Matt Rehman

This raised objections from Matt Rehman, the father of elementary school-aged children, who said change spurred by the “loud minority,” in spite of the “silent majority,” would come at the expense of parents with younger children who would have to find a way to get their children off the bus as early as 1:55 in the afternoon.

“We don’t want to lose services, and we definitely don’t want to pay any more money,” he added.

Brian Latham, a high school teacher in a neighboring district and Three Village parent, said he was not opposed to the time change, but like Rehman, he was opposed to the idea, proposed in some scenarios, of moving the sixth graders to the junior highs and the ninth graders to the high school. 

“Forcing them to move to a higher class level earlier is not in their best interest,” Latham said.

“I see on a day-to-day basis how ninth-grade students can suffer when they are pushed up with upper division students too early,” he said.

Latham said that he would be willing to pay more money or cut from other programs in order to maintain “the structure that makes this district one to be admired around Long Island.”

Pedisich assured those present that no decisions had been made and that the school start time committee, which will have its first meeting in February, will consider the original 10 scenarios in addition to new ones.

Additionally, the district will be looking for input from focus groups and will survey parents, staff and students districtwide, the superintendent said.

“We want to do what’s best for our entire school community … for students in grades K-12,” Pedisich said.

“We understand that there are challenges,” she said, specifically mentioning the fiscal, transportation and educational challenges that each proposed option may pose. “That is why the committee needs to take the time, because our students deserve that from us. And our community deserves that.”

“I see on a day-to-day basis how ninth-grade students can suffer when they are pushed up with upper division students too early.”

— Brian Lathan

 

Prekindergarten

In preparation for 2020-21 preschool enrollment, Nathalie Lilavois, director of elementary curriculum, delivered a presentation on the district’s free preschool curriculum and tuition-based enrichment program.

This year the preschool is at capacity and students had to be turned away, she said. Ninety-five students participate in the free preschool for half of the day and stay for the tuition-based enrichment program for the other half. The other 106 students are half-day students who only take part in the free preschool program.

While the preschool curriculum, taught by a New York State certified teacher, is aligned to the New York State preschool standards, the enrichment program exposes children to STEM concepts through games and guided play and encourages hands-on learning through inventions. It is the only preschool enrichment program in the country that is inspired by National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, Lilavois said.  

Applications will be accepted through Feb. 24, and if needed, a lottery will take place on the Feb. 26 with notification on Feb. 28. 

HPV vaccine

School board president William Connors responded to comments he received about the school board’s letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) regarding the proposal to mandate the HPV vaccine as one of the battery of vaccinations a student must receive to attend school.

“We normally don’t get involved in political issues,” he said, but the board felt that the mandated vaccine was “administrative overreach” and “inappropriate.”