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Three Village Central School District

In an exclusive conversation, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich discusses the futures of Jefferson Plaza in Port Jeff Station and Cablevision townwide. Then, the Three Village Central School District keeps Regents exam scores in students’ grades. Plus, a light-hearted chat about a recent afternoon filled with talk of love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Village school board discusses cell phones, including Regents exams in course grades

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District parents should not expect more information about the surprise reassignment and investigation of Ward Melville High School’s principal, according to Three Village Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon.

Due to federal and state privacy laws, district representatives can’t discuss personnel matters  — and they won’t be able to even after the issue is resolved.

The board had an emergency meeting Wednesday, Nov. 8, after announcing the personnel change, with a public portion that lasted only a couple of minutes, time enough for the board to confirm the interim principal — Paul Gold, previously an assistant principal — and his compensation, as well as to vote to engage the services of Investigative Management Group.

District parent Qin Wu at the Nov. 15 board meeting spoke out in support of former principal William Bernhard and indicated parents were concerned for high school seniors.

“As a parent, I hope the investigation will be fair and transparent, and maybe even as soon as possible to resolve the issue and have everything come back to normal,” Wu said.

Scanlon told TBR News Media after the meeting that even though such transparency is not possible, Wu and other parents have nothing to worry about regarding their children’s education or the district’s reputation.

“I think the school is in good hands, and the acting administration is doing a wonderful job,” he said. “The educational system is still intact. Classes will remain, students will still go to college. No one’s going to be harmed that way,” adding, “If that is the fear that is being propagated, that’s wrong.”

Board president Susan Rosenzweig, a district parent herself, also spoke against percolating speculation and hearsay on social media. “Don’t buy in,” she advised. “Let due process take its place. It’s tough, I know.”

Regents exams as part of final grade

During the meeting, the board tabled any decision regarding the so-called “Do No Harm” rule, the policy of including Regents scores as part of a student’s final grade only if that score improves the grade.

The policy, which proponents say supports students who don’t test well, was instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic and temporarily extended last year after a group of parents petitioned the district.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Biscari shared the consensus recommendation that came after “tremendous discourse” by the district’s grading committee to include the exams at 10% — down from the 12% that has been the policy outside the reprieve of the last few years.

Biscari also took issue with the label “Do No Harm” since it implies acting in any other way will inflict harm on students, when part of the concern was that students may not take exams seriously if they don’t count toward final grades.

“It was a very student-centered conversation,” he said. “Never was the conversation about what the district is going to look like or how we’re going to present data. It was all in relation to students.”

But for freshman board member Karen Roughley, a long-time supporter of the policy, a 2% decrease is not enough. “There are many different ways to gauge a child’s understanding of the concepts than just sitting for one single test that means so much,” she said.

Biscari noted that some form of testing is required by the state, and removing any pressure from the Regents exam could backfire for students who need to take licensure exams or other higher-stakes tests in the future.

“We, as a district, would want to arm kids in how to address that anxiety and deal with it so they can effectively take tests, rather than eliminating that stress,” he said. “It’s almost an avoidance in some cases that we’re not teaching kids these skills that they are going to need in their lives.”

The board opted to wait on voting about the issue until it could hear forthcoming data from the state to see whether exam scores changed when students knew low scores would not be included in their final grade, and to learn more about how comparable Long Island districts are using Regents scores for classroom grades.

Cell phone policy

Scanlon also updated the board on the ongoing cell phone policy committee’s work, laying out the current thinking for parameters around student cell phone use in schools.

Currently the committee is ironing out how to best enforce the proposed new policy, though Scanlon emphasized that any consequences will be decided by building principals or the district, and will not be a one-size-fits-all consequence determined by a planning committee.

The board engaged the committee to look into changes after it became apparent that issues of use during instructional time, inconsistent enforcement across classes and cyberbullying were popping up at the secondary schools.

“It’s fully recognized by the teaching staff and the administration that cell phones are an issue, and then we heard loud and clear from the student representatives on the committee that yes, they agree, cell phones are an issue,” Scanlon said. “Everyone seemed to agree: We’ve got a problem.”

He said the final committee recommendations should be available for the Nov. 29 board meeting.

During the week of Oct. 16, the Three Village Central School District celebrated Unity Week. Students participated in activities to promote kindness, acceptance and inclusion. Unity Day fell in the middle of the week, on Oct. 18. Students across the district wore orange as a way to send a visible message to end bullying.

Many of the district’s elementary schools held spirit weeks to get students excited about the Unity Week messaging. Spirit days brought the school communities together and had students dress to different themes including “put a lid on bullying,” where students and staff wore crazy hats. Additionally, students participated in art projects to promote positivity. For example, at Setauket Elementary School, Ms. Muzzonigro had students design balloons with messages of kindness written on them, which were then put together to form a mural.

Unity Day takes place each October, but the Three Village Central School District encourages students to follow its message every day of the year.

Winners of the 2023 Helen Stein Shack contest display their picture books. Photo courtesy Emma S. Clark Library

This coming year marks the 10th annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Contest for junior high and high school students, hosted by Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket.

This contest, which asks participants to create an original picture book for children, is now open to those in grades 7–12 who reside in the Three Village Central School District. The winning teens receive a significant monetary award, are honored at a distinguished ceremony and have their original books added to the Library’s Local Focus Collection.

Ten years ago, the family of the late Helen Stein Shack came to the library with an endowment from their mother, who had always loved Emma Clark and often brought her children and grandchildren there, as it was one of her favorite places. The four siblings — Sherry Cleary, Barbara Kelly, Karen Shack Reid and Edward Taylor — met with library staff and shared fond memories of their mother’s enthusiasm for the library. This was the impetus for launching the contest in Shack’s memory and using the endowment for prize money each year.

Students in grades 7–12 who live in the Three Village district may enter the contest by creating a children’s picture book. This is an opportunity for teens to showcase their creativity through words and art and make something for the children in the community. Participants may submit their entry as an individual or collaborate with a friend. Winners are announced in March, and there is a ceremony in April — the birth month of Shack — honoring the winners and their talents. In addition to library trustees and staff, in the past, teachers and top school district administrators, as well as representatives and elected officials from New York State, Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven have all been in attendance at the event.

Last year’s grand prize winners were Julia Hou (Grades 7–9 category) and Celia Gordon (Grades 10–12 category). The public may view previous year’s winning entries at emmaclark.org/picturebookaward.

Contest details

The contest is divided into two grade categories, grades 7 through 9 and grades 10 through 12, with one first-prize winner and one second-prize winner selected from each group. Each entry can be the work of a single author/illustrator or can be a joint effort between an author and an illustrator. The picture book entries must be their own original work (both artwork and text).

How to enter

Those in grades 7–12 who reside in the Three Village Central School District may obtain an Official Entry Form in person in the library’s lobby or at emmaclark.org/picturebookaward starting Oct. 17. Included with the form are the contest procedures and guidelines. Entrants should bring their completed picture book, along with a completed Official Entry Form, to the Children’s Department by the contest deadline, Jan. 31, 2024.

Prizes/winner information

Each of the firs-prize award recipients will receive $400, and each of the second-prize award recipients will receive $100 (in the event that a winning entry is a collaboration, the prize will be shared). Winning entries are bound, made into a hardcover book and added to the library’s shelves. Additional copies of the winning books will also be available for purchase by family and friends. Winners and their families will be invited to an awards ceremony on Monday, April 8, 2024. All entrants will receive a Certificate of Participation.

Please note: A maximum of one entry will be accepted per individual. Entries may be a collaboration of no more than one author and one artist/illustrator. Entrants must live within the Three Village Central School District. Emma Clark employees, trustees and members of their households are not eligible to enter. For a complete listing of the rules, visit emmaclark.org/picturebookaward.

Ward Melville High School. File photo

By Mallie Jane Kim

Three Village Central School District may need to borrow money for building improvements, according to Deputy Superintendent Jeffrey Carlson, who discussed the rationale for a potential bond referendum with the school board at an Oct. 11 business meeting.

The district has about 1.5 million square feet across its nine buildings, according to Carlson, and the newest building was completed more than 50 years ago. “There’s always a lot of work that needs to be done, just like our homes,” he said. “Sometimes it’s annual upkeep,” like minor repairs or even major repairs. “And sometimes it’s — OK, we need to do a lot of work,” he said.

Capital projects are typically covered each year in the budget process, but sometimes urgent needs — such this year’s surprise roof replacement over Setauket Elementary’s auditorium — eat up funds intended for planned improvements. Also, with aging buildings, projects begin to stack up. Approving a bond would allow the district to borrow money to pay for a lot of projects all at once.

New York State currently reimburses 66% of approved renovations in Three Village district, according to Carlson, paid out through state aid over a period of 15 years. Local taxpayers are responsible for the remaining 34%, regardless of whether taxpayers fund projects upfront through the budget or over time through a bond.

Carlson called the bond method more “fair” than funding big projects through the annual budget because taxpayers in the district paying for a project in one year’s budget may not be around to benefit from those state aid repayments paid over 15 years. 

He added that the district could keep tax assessments somewhat stable for residents by timing the bond to ramp up as other debts are paid off, avoiding sudden tax increases. He compared it to finishing a lease on a car and replacing it with another car. “The lease is up, you stop paying that and you get another car. It’s not that you’re not paying for the new car, but it’s not an increase. It’s the same payments you were making.”

Freshman board member David McKinnon questioned whether building up a buffer of capital funds over time through the annual budget and paying for projects as they come up, might be better. “I think what a lot of people would like to see is more stability,” said McKinnon, who has previously voiced support for building strong rainy-day fund reserves in the district.

Carlson clarified that since funds earmarked for capital projects are outside the tax cap — arranged that way so districts never have to decide between academic programs and infrastructure, he said — they can be used for capital projects only, rather than for any urgent “rainy day” need, like keeping schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board expects to vote at their next meeting on whether to move forward and form a bond committee, made up of various stakeholders, which would assess each building for appropriate projects.

The last bond in Three Village for $56.1 million over 15 years in 2014 went toward projects like installing more efficient windows, replacing asbestos floor tiles and updating unit ventilators. Based on district estimates at the time, that bond increased taxpayer contributions on average $119 per year.

Carlson said that if a new bond gains board approval, it could go to a public vote around October 2024.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Mallie Jane Kim

Internet controversy over a novel taught to Ward Melville High School juniors spilled over into the public comment section of a board of education meeting Wednesday, Sept. 27, when two concerned parents stood up to support the book and caution against efforts to ban it.

The book in question, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie and a multi-award winner, is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young Native American growing up on an Indian reservation who leaves his underfunded reservation school in favor of a majority-white public school in a neighboring town. The problem expressed by some parents is that in this coming-of-age story about a teenage boy struggling to discover his identity, there are a few passages where the speaker discusses his sexual self-discovery.

The administration has received calls in favor of and against the novel, but there have been no official requests from parents of students actually studying the book, according to Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Brian Biscari. “It’s a bigger online issue than an actual issue,” Biscari said.

The controversy started when a parent shared a passage mentioning self-pleasure in a screenshot on a local Facebook group, Three Village Moms, where it was both attacked and supported in a series of nearly 500 comments. Some commenters expressed concern over sexualizing children too early, or that the passages may be too explicit for required reading in a Regents course.

Others asked their peers to consider the passage in context of the entire book, or worried the rhetoric might foment into a movement to ban the book, in light of efforts to censor literature at school districts nationwide.

The American Library Association has noted a “record surge” in requests to remove books from libraries and public schools during the first eight months of 2023, and primarily books “by or about a person of color of a member of the LGBTQIA+ community,” according to a Sept. 19 statement.

At the board meeting, district parent Ian Farber said exposure to an unfamiliar point of view is one of this book’s strengths. “This book provides a valuable perspective of a Native American who grew up on a reservation, a perspective that would be foreign to many of us without books like this one,” said Farber, who has also been a part of the district’s budget advisory committee.

Farber shrugged off the concerns over the passages about an aspect of human sexuality that, he said, most students know about by 11th grade. Instead, he praised the “robust and diverse” curriculum in Three Village school district and emphasized that the passages causing outrage are not even a main point of the book.

“He had a teacher that inspired him to do more with his life than previous generations — we should all want our children to achieve more than we have. This is a key part of the American Dream, and as such this book is patriotic in the best sense of the word.”

Anne Chimelis, a retired teacher and parent in the district, agreed in her public comment. “If we start banning books due to a single word that makes some people uncomfortable, we’re going down a very slippery slope,” she said.

Biscari noted that the district is happy to provide a list of novels taught in Three Village schools to parents who ask, and there is a clear process for parents to request for a materials review for novels in their child’s grade level if they have a concern. If that process does not go the way parents hope, he added, each parent is also welcome to opt a child out of a particular book.

On Alexie’s book, though, Biscari said most of the calls he’s gotten are from parents “who love the fact that there’s a book their kids can read and relate to.”

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Three Village school district staff members kick off the 2023-24 school year during Superintendent’s Conference Day Aug. 30. Photo courtesy TVCSD

Three Village Central School District Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon, alongside district administrators and leaders, welcomed back faculty and staff after summer break at Superintendent’s Conference Day on Aug 30. 

Staff gathered at Ward Melville High School to kick off the 2023-24 school year. The day began with opening remarks from Board of Education president, Susan Megroz Rosenzweig, followed by a presentation from Scanlon.

Scanlon first thanked the district clericals, custodians and grounds crew for their efforts throughout the summer. He reviewed the district’s goals for the upcoming year, as well as giving a brief overview of the strategic planning committee’s work.

Finally, Scanlon wished all staff members a happy, healthy year and reminded them the importance of their daily work.

“I hope that all of you this year look for that happiness in everything you do,” he said. “When you look at the smiles on the children’s faces in front of you, you’re making an impact on future generations.”

Following the superintendent’s remarks, Kerrin Welch-Pollera, Three Village School Administrators Association president, and Brian Pickford, Three Village Teachers Association president, welcomed the group. Staff members then dispersed for faculty meetings and time in their classrooms. Additionally, they participated in a professional development day Aug. 31.

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Three Village Central School District art teacher Michael Sacco, left, and current Ward Melville High School student Ashton Hopkins with the summer edition of SchoolArts Magazine. Photo courtesy TVCSD

Three Village Central School District junior high school art teacher Michael Sacco has been published in SchoolArts Magazine for the 14th time. 

The summer issue features an article written by Sacco titled “Go Play with Your Toys!” which describes a photography lesson that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

While remote learning, students in ninth grade media art and seventh and eighth grade art were challenged with creating a sense of realism by making small toys fit into life-sized settings.

In addition to detailing Sacco’s assignment, SchoolArts Magazine also features the work of three former P.J. Gelinas Junior High School students: Lilli Hansen-Crowley, Ashton Hopkins and Michael Zhang.