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Three Village Central School District

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was preparing to release its recommendations for the nation’s schools to safely reopen, the focus of the Three Village school board meeting Feb. 10 was on sustaining its in-person learning. Seating was limited in accordance with current distancing guidelines.

Even as parents and students expressed gratitude for the district’s September in-person reopening, there was general acknowledgment of the emotional and financial challenges associated with opening schools every day in the middle of a pandemic.

“It costs a lot of money but the message we had gotten going back to last summer was, ‘Do what you need to do to get our kids back to school and do it safely.’ And we’ve done that,” said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services.

But there is a continuing cost. Carlson prepared residents for a 2021-22 budget that would pierce the cap on the tax levy increase. He said Three Village spent about $6.5 million in COVID-related expenses to support last fall’s reopening to all students who wanted to return in-person every day. The school district also provided fully remote instruction to students whose families requested it.

More than $4 million went to hiring more teachers to decrease class sizes so that classrooms would be less crowded, and students could maintain a distance of 6 feet, the deputy superintendent said. The attention to social distancing also meant that as the school year progressed, the New York State Department of Health did not require entire classes to quarantine when someone contracted the virus.

Funds also went toward paying for masks, janitorial staff, cleaning supplies, Chromebooks and desk barriers, Carlson said.

Next year’s budget anticipates similar costs to keep the same protections in place. Though the increase to the budget would be below 2 percent — 1.85 percent — it would exceed the district’s tax cap of 1.37 percent, Carlson said.

The deputy superintendent said the district was able to cover the expenses this year, in part, because Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill allowing school districts and local governments to transfer money from their reserve funds to their operating budgets to pay for pandemic-related expenses. He added that Three Village will have spent between $4 million and $5 million from its reserves, and in compliance with the bill will need to pay back the funds within five years.

In the coming year, the governor’s preliminary budget shows a small decrease in aid to the district.  Additionally, Three Village will begin repaying about $800,000 to its reserves. Carlson said that these pandemic-related expenses, along with the usual increases in health insurance and employee retirement funds, also contractual increases, will make it impossible to put together a budget that stays within the cap.

Since the budget will be above the tax cap, it will need a supermajority — a vote of 60 percent in favor — to pass. The last time the district exceeded the cap was in 2012, the first year such caps were put in place. At that time, $1.95 million in cuts had to be made, because the budget was not approved by a supermajority.

“It’s a different time,” Carlson said of the upcoming budget. “We want to keep schools open. If not for COVID, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.”

Student life

At the same time that parents and students thanked the district for a full reopening, they also voiced frustration about some of the losses in the past year.

Speaking to the board about allowing spectators at sporting events, one parent noted that too much has already been taken away from students.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich assured parents that they have the support of the school district, which has registered a vote with Section XI in favor of allowing spectators at sporting events.

And while “school in person was a huge win,” said Jesse Behar, a Ward Melville senior and student representative to the school board, seniors are looking at lost milestones such as homecoming and Senior Day. They are also concerned about whether there will be a prom or “any modified in-person events,” as well as celebrations for students moving up from the sixth and ninth grades, Behar said.

“I feel positive you will make graduation happen, because last year, when many districts threw their hands up, you guys made graduation happen,” he said.

Pedisich responded to these concerns by saying, “We know that those are significant milestones for our seniors and also our ninth-graders moving up, as well as our sixth-graders. We are not giving up hope.”

She added that the governor’s pending approval in March of weddings of 150 people is a good sign and reason for optimism.

“We are looking at options that will make this as special as it can be for our seniors,” Pedisich said.

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P. J. Gelinas Junior High School was transformed for the Gelinas Theatre Company production of the play “High School Musical Jr.” which will be streamed Feb. 5 and 6. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Kimberly Brown

P. J. Gelinas Junior High School in Setauket will be putting a new twist on the Gelinas Theatre Company production of the play, “High School Musical Jr.”

In efforts to comply with COVID-19 guidelines, Gelinas will be livestreaming the performance Feb. 5 and 6, giving everyone the opportunity to see the play from the comfort of their own home.

Despite the pandemic, the middle school has created innovative ways to keep students involved in after-school activities. Numerous modifications have been made for the students and teachers who participated in directing the play, in order to follow social-distancing rules.

In just a mere four weeks, the director of the play, Brendan Meier, coordinated the musical, to follow COVID-19 protocols. One upside was that the musical was prerecorded, so Meier was able to use the entire Gelinas school as the set and edit it together later. He explained how the process of making the new changes worked.

“In order to sing, we had to be 12 feet apart, so we had to record all of the audio separately and sync it up while doing all the dancing, where we had to be only 6 feet apart,” Meier said.

Ninth-grader Eve Rosengard, who stars in the play as Sharpay Evans, explained how performing distanced choreographed dancing was challenging, as the students were not able to interact with each other as much as they’d like. However, Rosengard stayed positive and was not deterred by the obstacles.

“It’s really, really amazing how all the dances were super easy to learn but were still able to be done while 6 feet apart,” she said. “The school has been incredible with making this happen because none of us thought this was going to happen. It was really an incredible experience and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.”

Parents of the students were overjoyed Gelinas was able to make this production happen, especially after the abrupt cancelation of the play, “The Addams Family,” last March.

Eighth-grader Brian DeGorter, who also stars as Ryan Evans, said his parents couldn’t have been happier that he was once again able to participate in his favorite after-school activity.

“My parents were super excited about the show and they were really grateful,” DeGorter said. “I think they know that every time I walk through that building, I always have a giant smile on my face.”

For more information on viewing the play, visit www.showtix4u.com (search “Gelinas”) and www.threevillagecsd.org/gelinas. Tickets are $10 per device.

Students take a career DNA test before talking to professionals. From Three Village Central School District

The Three Village Industry Advisory Board didn’t let a pandemic get in the way of its annual career fair for secondary school students in the school district.

Business owners, such as Michael Ardolino of Team Ardolino/Realty Connect USA, answered students questions virtually during the annual career fair. Photo from Three Village Central School District

On Jan. 14, the board, a partnership between the district and local businesses, presented its third annual career fair. The event gave students the opportunity to talk to local professionals after they took a “career DNA” test analysis to discover their strengths. However, instead of stopping by tables set up by business representatives, the teenagers checked into Google Meet sessions to take part in 20-minute seminars where professionals presented a quick overview of what their careers entailed and then gave the students a chance to ask questions.

To help participants to choose which sessions to attend, the career DNA results assigned each student a color for various strengths and businesses were also assigned the colors.

Ilene Littman, 3V-IAB coordinator and Ward Melville High School business teacher, said the fair provided students in grades 7-12 an opportunity “to explore and learn about careers in a virtual format.” This year 308 students registered, and 21 businesses participated. Students had the opportunity to learn about banking, real estate, dentistry, the medical and financial fields and more.

“Students navigated the virtual career fair based on their career DNA, which was matched up to businesses that shared similar traits to ensure those occupations/professions are uniquely suitable for each student,” Littman said. “Using this online platform to interact with business professionals was also excellent practice because it is most likely how today’s students will be screened in the initial stage of the interview process once they are ready to embark on their job searches to enter their chosen fields.”

Alan Baum, the school district’s executive director of Secondary Curriculum and Human Resources, said he was grateful for the work Littman put into organizing the event that he described as “tremendous.”

“Orchestrating such an event is difficult enough but bringing it to fruition during the pandemic and reimagining it as a virtual career fair was a herculean task,” he said.

Baum added he was also grateful for committee co-chair Michael Ardolino and all of the participating businesses that helped with the virtual career fair. Ardolino is also the founder and owner of Team Ardolino/Realty Connect USA.

“I am thrilled that we were able to provide our secondary students the opportunity to engage with a diverse representation of the business community in our continuing effort to help the students explore future career paths,” Baum said.

Ardolino said it was interesting to see the conversations that were going on in the different sessions and how well the virtual platform worked and could possibly lead to smaller presentations in the future such as a business owner talking about how to manage the company’s money and more.

Mike Lawton of Element Energy LLC noted there were more participants than he thought there would be, and the virtual format was perfect.

“I had some excellent questions from the students, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.

How libraries look during COVID times. Photo from Comsewogue School District

Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic and schools are still adjusting. The school library, a place of solace for elementary schoolers and high school seniors alike, has had to adhere to the new and ever-changing COVID-19 protocols.

Local districts, however, have embraced the changes and have implemented new services that they never would have started if it wasn’t for the crisis.

A silver lining, school librarians across the North Shore explained how the changes have impacted them, their schools and their students.

Alice Wolcott, librarian at Elwood-John Glenn High School, said that COVID changed the landscape of public education, meaning they had to reimagine their space.

“This year we transitioned the book loan program to a digital platform, which will continue to support students’ pleasure and academic reading while still observing COVID restrictions,” she said. “Students can browse the collection online via Follett Destiny [a library management system], and if they find a title they’d like to borrow, they can request that book through our book request form.”

To adhere to COVID rules, the books are delivered in a Ziploc bag to first period teachers.

Since some students are not physically in their first period classes, the district also increased their digital library as a main focus.

Shoreham-Wading River High School librarian Kristine Hanson and Albert G. Prodell Middle School librarian Ann-Marie Kalin created an initiative to meet the need for printed books while reimagining the online presence in concert with OPALS, the open-source library system.

They created a book delivery service at their schools called BookDash, which allows students to electronically submit requests with their student ID. Then, physical books are either delivered to students at Prodell or picked up at the high school library doors at the end of the school day. The initiative is promoted through English classes, and a multitude of book recommendations are available via the OPALS pages, blogs and links.

“Kids are reliant on what’s in the catalog, books that never went out before are going out like wild,” Kalin said. “For the time being we’re making the best of it all.”

With the BookDash initiative, Kalin said students are excited to get their hands on actual books.

“So many kids are so tired of being on the screen and are desperate for that interaction with each other,” she said. “I’m seeing readers I never saw before, and there are so many requests for books. It’s very successful.”

Along with Shoreham-Wading River, other districts across Long Island are using an e-book platform called Sora, including Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point.

Monica DiGiovanni teaches Sora to third graders in Rocky Point. Photo from RPSD.

Librarian Monica DiGiovanni has been visiting classrooms, having students log into their Chromebooks. She is teaching them how to check out library books with the new service, which enables students to borrow a book and read it right on their devices. Another program, Destiny Discover, enables students to find a physical book in the library and have it delivered directly to them since their libraries are currently not open.

DiGiovanni said that their school libraries have become break rooms for teachers and classroom spaces to accommodate kids in a socially distanced way.

“The library has become an interactive thing,” she said. “Students are definitely utilizing it.”

Although Rocky Point school libraries had to reshape themselves and close the doors to students, Elwood school district was able to open the doors at the high school last week. Wolcott said that right now 15 students are allowed in the library at a time, with designated seating and other stipulations in place.

“The students are really responsive and they’re following all the protocols,” she said. “It’s great to have them back.”

She even sees students, who were not her typical regulars, interacting with the library catalog more than they did before.

“Now it’s nice they’re browsing the shelves,” Wolcott said. “They’re picking books they would not have chosen otherwise.”

Donna Fife, library media specialist at Elwood Middle School, said that early on, the district was keeping library services running smoothly, while her younger students are opting to read more.

“I am seeing names I never saw before requesting books more frequently,” she said. “I know how I feel at the end of the day ­— I would have a hard time playing video games after screen learning.”
Fife said she thinks students are looking for something tangible now that some are looking at a computer all day long.
“They’re requesting to hold a physical copy instead of looking at another screen,” she said.

Nicole Taormina, librarian at Boyle Road Elementary School in the Comsewogue school district, said that new regulars have blossomed throughout the pandemic.

“They really love browsing online,” she said. “It’s a different experience — they are really excited now because they use their Chromebooks and have their own accounts.”

Taormina said that while the changes have been different, she’s looking forward to some normalcy in 2021, and is grateful for what 2020 helped her with.

“I’ve been able to tweak things,” she said. “And the students have been able to learn things that they may have not been able to learn before.”

Also in Comsewogue, Deniz Yildirim, a librarian at Terryville Road Elementary School, said that teaching her library classes has been different compared to years past.

“It’s been a huge change,” she said. “We can’t hand out worksheets anymore, and we do a lot online to cut down on contamination. No other class can come in other than what’s assigned in this room.”

When Yildirim visits classrooms at her school now, she will deliver books that children ask her for.

“It breaks my heart that they can’t browse,” she said. “But we’re making it work.”

And she said that all school libraries have made progress in 2020 than the past 10 years.

“Publishers, authors and librarians are working very hard to make sure kids are reading,” she said. “It’s the least we can do for them during these trying times.”

Taylor Kinsley, a librarian at Minnesauke Elementary School in the Three Village school district, said their schools have been allowing browsing within the libraries.

She said students have to use hand sanitizer before and after touching the books to be sure they have clean hands, and they reorganized the setup of the library, featuring no reading carpets on the floor.

“Elementary students are always excited to have the freedom to pick the books they want,” she said.

The district sanitizes the used books and quarantines them for about a week before putting them back on the shelves.

“I think normalcy is really important for them,” Kinsley added, referring to her students. “We’re being supercautious so why take that away from them?”

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Writer Stefanie Werner, right, and her mother, Diane. Photo from Stefanie Werner

By Stefanie Werner

My mother, Diane Werner, was by far the most influential person in my life. She was a teacher for more than 30 years, most of which was spent in the social studies wing of Ward Melville High School and was the inspiration behind my career choices. During her tenure in Three Village she was a highly respected educator and mentor with a passionate nature that empowered even the most resistant student to not only show up for class, but more importantly, achieve to the best of his or her abilities. Her sudden death only five years into her retirement produced an immense outpouring of love and compassion that exemplified how much she meant to her students and the community at large.

Fast forward 14 years and we find ourselves at a crossroads in the Three Village community. In these unprecedented times, my mother’s voice echoes in my head a trillion times a day. I hear her telling me to fight for what I believe in, to advocate for my child and to use my voice to defend that which I believe to be just. As we debate the guidelines for our return to school in September, I wish that my mother was here to add her two cents —more like twenty — to the on-going deliberations. She would be confounded by the dissension that has arisen in the community regarding the safety protocols required for our school reopening plan. Her mind would be awhirl with thoughts of how parents, teachers and community members should be united in this cause, creating a universal practice, not drowning in a “you do you, I’ll do me” mindset. Mrs. Werner would be feverishly scribbling lesson plans in her college-ruled spiral notebook, all the while remaining vigilant in her pursuit to educate her students despite the nonsensical squabbling of parents over mask mandates and plastic shields. Social distancing and face shields would be no match for the force that was Diane Werner at the head of a classroom, and no one would be more determined to keep kids safe and learning.

Although most of the old guard is gone from the halls of Ward Melville High School, many of my mom’s former students are now parents in this district. A handful of her former colleagues are now administrators making the most important decisions that have ever confronted Three Village Central School District. Nineteen years may have passed since Diane Werner blissfully strolled into the sweet land of retirement, but she left behind a legacy of strength and determination the likes of which this district needs to channel right now. The students of this community, including the grandchild my mother never met, deserve a comprehensive, rock-solid plan that exemplifies the need for a safe and secure learning environment during this global pandemic. In her day there would have been no flip-flopping on mask enforcement, and no questions left dangling at board of education or district meetings. Of course, she would have appreciated the debate, she did teach You and the Law and Mock Trials after all, but in the end, the result would be the same. Mrs. Werner would pull on her orange mask (her favorite color), walk into room 239 (her footsteps were distinct), make sure that every desk was 6 feet apart and students were masked, sign-in to Google Classroom (although she preferred chalk) and rock this place like nobody’s business. I am my mother’s daughter, and I will accept nothing less than 100% for mine. And mom would have given nothing less for yours. Miss you mommy!

Stefanie Werner is a mother, teacher and social worker. She is a lifelong resident of the Three Village community and a graduate of SUNY Oneonta, Long Island University and Stony Brook University.

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Administrators say remote option will be available, students to wear masks all day

Three Village students will be able to chose between in-person or remote learning. File photo

By Andrea Paldy

On Aug. 12, the Three Village Central School District held the first of three state-mandated information sessions about how it will address coronavirus-related concerns for the upcoming school year. During the live, 2 1/2 hour YouTube video stream, members of the district administration answered previously emailed questions about the fall reopening.

“We want it to not just be safe. We want people to feel safe, as well — students, their parents and our staff.”

— Jeff Carlson

Three Village, which earlier had announced its plan to fully reopen for in-person classes in September, announced during the session that it will also offer a fully remote option to families uncomfortable with sending their children back to school, or who have medical reasons for keeping their children at home.

Questions from parents last Wednesday centered on how the district would ensure student safety. Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that the district will follow recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in taking a “more conservative” approach toward masks. Students and staff will be required to wear masks “even when physical distance can be achieved,” she said.

In addition to lunchtime and 10-minute mask breaks, students will not be required to wear masks during outdoor recess, which will be staggered to help maintain cohort groupings and social distance. Pedisich said the district would reevaluate the plan as the year goes forward.

Each building will have extra masks for students or staff who don’t have them or whose masks are lost or damaged throughout the day, officials said.

Classrooms, learning spaces and lunchrooms will be reconfigured so that students can be at least 6 feet apart, Pedisich said. Additionally, said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, during the discussion about facilities, clear shields will be mounted to elementary school desks, while secondary students will be given portable, collapsible shields to take to each class and to and from their homes.

Carlson also said that areas such as auditoriums, secondary cafeterias, libraries and music rooms will be equipped with high efficiency MERV-13 filters, while classrooms will have unit ventilators that will circulate fresh air into the spaces.

High touch areas such as lunch tables, school bus seats, doorknobs, stair rails and bathrooms will be cleaned throughout the day, in addition to thorough cleanings at night, he said. There will also be spray cleaners in classrooms to wipe down desks as needed, though Carlson said parents might want to send sandwich bags with disinfectant wipes to school with their secondary students.

“We want it to not just be safe,” he said. “We want people to feel safe, as well — students, their parents and our staff.”

While administrators expect the average elementary class size to decrease from 18 students once some parents opt out of the in-person plan, the district is working to reduce secondary class sizes to ensure social distancing. It is also planning to adjust schedules, with students changing classes at different times to reduce hallway congestion.

The plan, Carlson said, is to use reserves to hire more teachers to cover additional class sections as well as additional custodial staff.

The district also outlined additional measures to direct student traffic and encourage social distancing. They will include the placement of signs, tape, stickers and cones and other markers, as well as the creation of videos that deliver hygiene messages.

While all secondary students currently have Chromebooks, the district is expanding the initiative to include all elementary students. This decision will limit the amount of supplies students will need at school, since students will not be allowed to use cubbies, closet hooks or lockers for their personal items, officials said.

“We are working very hard to make sure that all students and their families feel that they are getting a substantial and quality educational opportunity.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

Gary Dabrusky, assistant superintendent for human resources, went over health protocols, saying that parents and staff will be able to use an app to record daily health screenings, which will include temperature and other symptom checks, each morning before school. He added that students or staff who begin to show symptoms during the day would be moved discreetly — to maintain privacy — to an isolated area where a nurse would be able to assess their condition.

The district will follow state Department of Health protocols when it comes to contact tracing and assist officials by keeping accurate attendance records, schedules and logs of visitors, who will be limited to vendors performing essential or emergency facilities-related tasks, Dabrusky said.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, discussed academics and remote instruction. Whether students choose remote rather than in-person instruction, or all students end up on a remote plan, because of school closure, instruction will be “real-time teacher facilitated,” he said. It means that students will receive live instruction. Students choosing the remote option at the secondary level will follow their regular class schedule and log into live classes and interact with their teachers and classmates from home.

At the elementary level, specific teachers will be assigned to teach in-person classes, while others will be assigned to remote students, Scanlon said.

The deadline for the district’s most recent parent survey, which polls parents regarding choices of in-person return, hybrid or remote instruction, is Aug. 21. While parents have until the first day of school to change their minds, Scanlon said that it is “critical” that they get their choices in as soon as possible so that the district can staff and balance classes and get schedules to students.

Pedisich said that families who choose the fully remote option can change to in-person instruction at the beginning of the second or third trimester for elementary school, or the beginning of the second semester for secondary school. In-person students can switch to remote at any time.

“We want parents to understand that choosing a remote option for their child is not giving their child any less of an education at any level,” she said. “We are working very hard to make sure that all students and their families feel that they are getting a substantial and quality educational opportunity.”

The superintendent also emphasized that the district’s plans are “fluid” and could
still change.

“We are willing to make those adaptations to make it as safe as we possibly can,” she said.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

The Three Village Central School District is considering additional feedback from parents on how the new school year will look.

In a letter dated Aug. 2, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said while recommended plans submitted to the state July 31 called for Three Village schools to open in-person Monday through Friday, after feedback from parents it was decided that a new parent survey would be offered “to gain a benchmark understanding of how many families would be interested in a potential remote learning option for students.” The option would be in addition to the proposed plan and would be subject to the approval of the New York State Education Department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

The first reopening survey sent to parents and guardians was fielded between July 10 and 17. The district received 2,328 responses, which is a 66 percent response rate. Out of the 2,328 anonymous respondents who represent 3,734 students, 22 percent said they would be extremely comfortable with students returning to schools, 30 percent comfortable, 19 percent neither, 17 percent uncomfortable and 12 percent extremely uncomfortable. The survey also asked parents other questions including how they felt their children handled remote learning the last few months of the 2019-20 academic year, how they were doing emotionally and if parents worked in or out of the home. Out of the families who responded, 49 percent said all caregivers work outside of the home, 34 percent responded at least one person worked from home and at least 17 percent indicated that one will be home and not working.

“As has been said throughout this process, there is no one-sized-fits-all plan to resume instruction this fall and many uncertainties still remain, as the ultimate decision on how, when, and, if schools reopen in September will be rendered by Governor Cuomo this week,” Pedisich wrote in the Aug. 2 letter.

She added in the letter the goal of the proposed reopening plan was to develop one “that is both educationally sound and safe for our families and staff — and that process continues to be a fluid one, as there are many external factors that will contribute to our ability to resume full in-person instruction as planned.”

Pedisich recognized that families face different circumstances as far as their comfort level with students returning to school, especially for those with immunocompromised family members

When the recommended reopening plan, that would require students, teachers and staff to report to school Monday through Friday was unveiled July 31, the district, which has almost 6,000 students, received criticism from a large number of parents.

Those opposed to a five-day, in-person plan created the Facebook page 3V in Support of Remote Learning. At press time, the group had nearly 300 members. Some have suggested asynchronous learning where teachers record lessons for students to watch when they can. Others have pointed toward neighboring school district, Smithtown Central, where a hybrid model is being proposed where 50 percent of students will attend school Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and alternate Wednesdays. There is also a remote option being offered at Smithtown.

Parents have also expressed concern that while facial coverings will be recommended at Three Village schools they will not be mandatory in the classrooms whenever there is six-foot distancing.

To come up with the proposed plan, the Three Village Board of Education commissioned a Governance School Reopening Task Force and affiliates subcommittees, which included 107 individuals, and in addition to parent/guardian surveys also sent one out to staff members.

Among the changes to be made for the new school year are classroom layouts that allow a minimum of 6 feet distancing; classrooms and other spaces being cleared of any additional items to allow for greater distancing; markers and signage being used for visual distancing cues; and plastic separators for use in cafeterias, speech pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Steps are also being taken to instruct staff members on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the virus and what to do to isolate a person if it’s believed they are sick.

“The district will proceed with the understanding that planning for schools to reopen is not a one-time event,” the reopening plan read. “We will continuously monitor the situation and provide updated guidance, policies and regulatory changes as the situation requires.”

The school district’s reopening plan can be viewed at www.threevillagecsd.org.

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The Three Village Central School District board of education trustees were sworn in July 8. Back row, Vinny Vizzo, Irene Gische, Inger Germano and Deanna Bavlnka. Front row, Dr. Jeff Kerman, Bill Connors and Jonathan Kornreich. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

The first in-person Three Village school board meeting since schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic July 8 was eventful. Everyone wore mandatory face masks, and seating was arranged for social distancing. Most notable was the tense public participation session marked by sharp opinions.

“It is important tonight that we distinguish the personal from the political.”

— David McKinnon

There was also the routine swearing in of board members — incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman — for new terms. The board elected Germano as its new president. She succeeds Bill Connors, who continues to serve as a trustee. Gische was reelected vice president.

Rising to the forefront, though, were recent parental criticisms of the district, though those who spoke during the meeting sought to balance their criticism about distance learning and district governance with their support for teachers.

“It is important tonight that we distinguish the personal from the political,” said David McKinnon, a professor of Neurobiology at Stony Brook University and recently an unsuccessful school board candidate.

“At a personal level, there’s a high level of respect for the teachers in our district, and there are deep ties of gratitude within the community to individual teachers for their efforts to advance the education of our children,” said McKinnon, who was not on the slate of candidates endorsed by the Three Village Teachers Association.

However, he said, when it came to the political system, the school board elected to “facilitate parental oversight” of the district wasn’t doing its job. The TVTA, he said, is both a labor union and a special interest lobby group, which “aggressively pursues its own agenda,” and has made decisions for the district that exacerbated an already challenging situation.

McKinnon went on to say that he believed that the nearly 3,800 votes cast for both him and Shaorui Li respectively represented “a massive vote of no confidence” in the board and union leadership. In order to win back the trust of a large segment of parents, McKinnon said the district would need to have a “clean and functional school board, with independent, parent-backed candidates who know and care about education.”

Li said that she and other parents wanted to help teachers, not attack them.

“In the Asian culture, we have a very high respect for teachers, and we rely on teachers to give our kids their education,” the engineer and entrepreneur said.

McKinnon’s wife, Barbara Rosati, who is president of the Three Village Parents Alliance, which counts more than 250 district families among its members, also spoke. She made the distinction between her concerns about TVTA president Claudia Reinhart’s “role in the governance of our district and its consequences on our children” and her appreciation for the district’s teachers.

“I cannot believe I was dragged here tonight to say unequivocally that we support and we love our teachers, that we believe in their expertise and guidance,” she said, alluding to the pandemic. Rosati, a research assistant professor at the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at SBU, questioned the leadership of Reinhart, who she said “is not teaching currently and is not involved in any parent-teacher interaction.”

She added that it was “irresponsible and cruel to let teachers believe that our community is at war with them.”

Addressing teachers and administrators, Rosati added: “We have your backs. We will be here to help and support you like we have always done.”

“I am here because we, along with our administrator colleagues and the board of education, are under attack.”

— Claudia Reinhart

Reinhart rejected claims that the criticism was not directed at the teachers, paraprofessionals and teaching assistants the union represents.

“I am here because we, along with our administrator colleagues and the board of education, are under attack,” she said.

The union president said they’d been forced to listen to people “like Ms. Rosati” and others who had written to the board to “demand answers and reactions to nothing more than hearsay — hearsay that is usually completely incorrect.”

Reinhart, who taught music in the district, said the union does not try to hide the fact that it endorses candidates.

“Why would we?” she asked. “We want people on the board who understand public education and the needs of students and staff. We want people on the board with a proven record of overcoming challenges and moving us forward in good times and bad. Your candidates lost the election. The community has spoken. You need to get over it.”

Reinhart directed comments to the many teachers at the meeting.

“We must stand together united against this attack,” she said. “We must stand together to defend our professions, the work we do and the job we have done. We have nothing to be ashamed of. It is time we started saying that out loud.”

She urged parents, teachers, administrators and the community “to stand up and say, ‘Enough.’” She ended by drawing from the words of the late Albert Shanker, former president of the United Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers, saying, “Along with the responsibility of negotiating good contracts, it is the obligation of teacher unions to preserve public education.”

“That is our goal,” Reinhart told the audience. “There is nothing less at stake than our future,” she added, sparking enthusiastic applause.

Fall Plans

Besides those who spoke in-person at last week’s meeting, three parents sent letters that included appreciation for teachers, but also expressed concern about the district’s spring execution of remote learning, plans for the fall and limited communication from the school district.

“We must be prepared for whatever the decision may be from the state Education Department and the governor.”

— Kevin Scanlon

Responding, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that she shared parents’ frustration about the upcoming school year.

“I feel as though we are all navigating in the dark at this point because we have not received any direction at all from our governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] or the SED [New York State Education Department],” she said.

Earlier that day Pedisich had sent a letter acknowledging parents’ “unanswered questions about the reopening of school this fall” and shared the governor’s most recent plan to release guidance July 13 [see details at end of article] and require districts to return their plans for reopening by July 31.

During the meeting, Pedisich noted that other states — Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, among them — had already provided their school districts with plans for reopening.

“I will tell you that we are working very hard … over the last several weeks, and I apologize for the lack of communication,” she said, adding that she would not “deal in conjecture and supposition,” because she didn’t think it was fair to families and staff.

The superintendent specifically addressed concerns about remote learning.

“We are looking at all options to make it more effective for our families,” she said. “We understand that there were numerous challenges, and we won’t make excuses for those. But moving forward, I think we are in a much better place. And I have great confidence in the members of our team, and I have confidence in our administration, our staff and our parents. We will do the best for the community. We owe it to them, and they deserve nothing less.”

So far, Pedisich said, the district plans for every student from kindergarten to 12th grade to have access to a Chromebook for remote instruction, and a survey about distance learning was sent out to parents and staff last week.

In an email, Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, said the district has also offered more than 90 courses to its staff, with the majority focused on online instruction. There are more than 1,500 teachers, administrators, assistants and paraprofessionals enrolled in the courses to prepare for the fall, he said.

“We must be prepared for whatever the decision may be from the state Education Department and the governor,” Scanlon said.

The state released its reopening guidelines on Monday. The document offers districts guidance on face coverings for staff and students, configuring classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms and other shared spaces to maintain social distance and safety, as well as recommendations for ways to maximize in-person instruction. While the document states that “the goal is to return all students to in-person instruction,” it encourages districts to prepare “a phased-in approach or hybrid model” because of “the dynamic nature and risk of community transmission” of the virus.

District plans will have to address how they will conform to state recommendations on social distancing, personal protection equipment, hygiene and disinfection, extracurriculars and transportation, as well as health monitoring and containment.

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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.