Tags Posts tagged with "Three Village Central School District"

Three Village Central School District

Three Village Central School District Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics Department offers several summer programs that keep students active and engaged while school is out of session. 

More than 800 students from across the district are involved in this year’s summer recreation programs between the half-day, full-day and travel camps.

Students in the summer recreation programs at W.S. Mount and Minnesauke elementary schools participate in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities each day including sports and outdoor games, art, science discovery, dance and computer time. 

Meanwhile, the travel camp takes Three Village students to area attractions that include beaches, water parks and amusement parks. Not only is each program filled with fun activities, but students are allowed to build relationships with their peers ahead of the upcoming school year.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

Three Village Central School District will codify a plan for pivoting to remote instruction in case of future emergencies that cause school shutdowns, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. 

Jack Blaum, the district’s security and safety coordinator, introduced the new framework at the annual organizational meeting of the Board of Education on Wednesday, July 5, as an addition to this year’s District-wide School Emergency Plan. 

The plan already includes language to handle the health risks of a contagious disease pandemic, but it now offers guidelines for administrators, teachers, staff, students and families in case a need for remote learning arises again. It also lays out a framework for technological readiness. 

These protocols bring the district in line with new state regulations requiring these plans to account for emergency remote instruction. 

“This plan serves as a framework to ensure that learning can continue seamlessly for our students,” the plan reads, adding that due to the dynamic nature of public health emergencies, it “is designed to be flexible.”

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon pointed out that readiness for remote instruction in case of emergency shutdowns would not replace snow days.

The safety plan as a whole covers emergency drills, response plans and security protocols, as well as bullying prevention and a plan to recognize changes in behavior or mental health of students.

Blaum said that it is “a 10,000-foot view of what we do,” explaining that more detailed procedures for each building, such as rendezvous points, are kept confidential. “We don’t want to make that public,” he added.

Blaum indicated the District-wide School Emergency Plan is available on the district’s website for public review and comment for at least 30 days before it can be formally approved during the August BOE meeting. He said he would answer suggestions and questions sent to the email address [email protected].

The meeting marked the official start of the 2023-2024 school year for the BOE. Re-elected trustee Jeffrey Kerman was sworn in, as were newly elected trustees Karen Roughley and David McKinnon.

Academy students may have fallen through the cracks on larger campuses

Three Village Academy, above, is tucked behind a quiet Stony Brook neighborhood. Photos by Mallie Jane Kim

Tucked behind a quiet Stony Brook neighborhood sits the least known school in Three Village Central School District: Three Village Academy, home base for about 55 ninth through 12th graders each year who have had a tough time socially or emotionally, and who may otherwise have fallen through the cracks at larger secondary schools in the district.

Principal Gus Hueber checks on a student working independently. Photo by Mallie Jane Kim

At a time children and teens nationwide are struggling with increased anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, the academy, which shares a building with district administration offices, offers a distinctly lower-key environment than the massive, stately Ward Melville High School, population 1,520. 

It is a general education program — not special education, though about half of the students have accommodation plans, and not a behavioral intervention program. The academy is primarily for in-district students, but a small portion are sent and paid for by other districts: Smithtown, Commack, Port Jefferson and Sachem, among others, and there are typically about 15 out-of-district students on a waiting list, according to academy principal Gus Hueber.

The academy provides a way for all of its students to receive the same quality of education as any other Three Village student, but with more one-to-one attention and support, and less social pressure.

“Some kids, at whatever moment in their life they are struggling, there’s a window we work with them, we support them,” said Hueber, who has served as principal since the academy’s inception 10 years ago. “It’s not magic; it really is just providing them with a safe and trusting place and trusting relationships,” he added.

But for some families, it may feel like magic when a child with chronic absenteeism suddenly has a safe place they willingly attend.

Like Tabitha DeMuria’s daughter Jenny [not her real name], who was in ninth grade at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School during the 2020-2021 school year when she started missing school. Since it was the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenny could simply do course work online. Before long, even that stopped, DeMuria said. “She just shut down.”

COVID-19 stress was an exacerbating factor, but struggle had already been brewing. Jenny was coming to terms with the aftermath of a tragedy in her family, and she faced bullying by some girls at school.

When Jenny toured the academy, teachers she met were warm and friendly, as were her peers. “The students came up to her — not knowing who she was — and told her, ‘You’re going to do great here,’” DeMuria said. 

Because the school is in-district, the transition was swift and smooth. Academy teachers split their time with the other Three Village secondary schools, and the curriculum is the same. By the time school broke for summer in 2021, Jenny had vastly improved all the grades that had dropped due to repeated absences, according to DeMuria. 

Support staff like guidance counselors and school psychologists play an important role, but the teachers themselves become a huge part of these students’ lives. They eat lunch in the same room as the students, they join together for kickball or volleyball and they attend the academy’s prom.

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon, who helped launch the academy when he was assistant superintendent, set the tone for the school’s culture by hand picking teachers. Scanlon said he told incoming staff that flexibility is vital. “If you are rigid as a teacher and rigid as a person, this is not the right program for you,” he told them.

The closeness of the relationship among staff and students brings a sense of ownership and pride to the community. Academy students get together at the beginning of the school year to create rules for public spaces, like the hallway, and they post signs detailing those expectations. “Don’t be on your phones — keep your eyes up,” one sign reads. “We will not scream, push or make inappropriate sounds,” reads another.

They create murals in school hallways; a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” for one. DeMuria said mural painting helps ease Jenny’s anxiety. “All of her stress is gone when she’s able to do something like that,” she said.

Some academy students ride a bus to the high school for the afternoon if they’d like to take AP classes or participate in sports, and others go to BOCES vocational programs to earn certificates in things like cosmetology or auto mechanics. Many of the graduates, according to Scanlon, would most likely not have graduated if they’d stayed at Ward Melville. Others, including Jenny, choose to return to the big school after a few years and wind up graduating there.

Stories of success and growth like Jenny’s are common at Three Village Academy. According to Hueber, every year at graduation when seniors share how far they’ve come from dark places thanks to academy staff, there’s not a dry eye in the room.

“You have no idea the impact you’ve made on certain kids,” he said.

File photo by Greg Catalano

Proposed structural reorganization for Three Village Central School District is likely to happen later than originally targeted, according to Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon in an update to the Board of Education June 14. The update comes amid an ongoing internal review on the matter by a staff committee working alongside a school start times subcommittee, which is open to the public. 

“Currently the committees feel that the changes for the sixth and ninth grades will not be able to occur for the 2024-25 school year, however final determination will occur in September,” he said at the meeting.

A survey earlier in the year revealed community and district stakeholders prefer moving sixth and ninth grades up to middle and high school, respectively, but the board did not adopt the plan outright. Rather, the trustees tasked district administration with researching costs, logistics and potential impacts of the plan first. They also asked the district to figure out how to include in the change later secondary school start times, per health and academic concerns. 

Scanlon has said at previous board meetings that such structural changes are extremely complicated with a lot of moving parts and, even before the board asked for the review, he had indicated the 2024-25 school year was an aggressive target date.

One sticking point is the need for additional mental-health support in the schools if younger students are moving up to the bigger schools, an issue that has percolated among some district parents, and came up during the recent board election. Scanlon said the internal committee agrees and is looking into options on how to provide that support effectively. 

According to Scanlon, one of the options on the table is a “house plan” for middle school, in which students would be grouped and rotate through the same set of teachers for core subjects, a program Scanlon laid out at a restructuring subcommittee meeting earlier in the school year as something that would allow teachers to better collaborate to recognize and address student needs.

At a previous board meeting, Brian Biscari, assistant superintendent for education services, indicated the district is already planning to expand its “departmentalization” trial for fifth and sixth grades next year to all five elementary schools, meaning students in those grades would change classes for core subjects to allow teachers to specialize and to help prepare students for secondary school.

Cellphone policy due for review, insubordination at events

Scanlon also informed the board the district is setting up a committee to explore changes to its cellphone policy in schools following a recent Newsday article laying out the potentially harmful effects of cellphones and social media on students.

In Three Village, there have been cellphone-related “acts of bullying and disrespect throughout the district, but especially at the secondary level,” Scanlon said. “We need to reexamine the use of cellphones by students under the code
of conduct.”

The code of conduct currently available on the district’s website prohibits the use of cellphones or other electronic devices during class, as well as the use of recording devices on school property or buses without permission.

In a separate item at the meeting, Scanlon addressed what he called “entitled, enabling and inappropriate behavior” by some students and spectators at district events. He said these behaviors have increased alongside the increase in use of cellphones as recording devices. “We have witnessed acts of insubordination and disrespect to not only our own staff, but also to police and other parents. This is a reminder that there is a code of conduct for students and for spectators at events, and the administration will enforce those codes.”

W.S. Mount and Nassakeag elementary school students with Robert Sun, inventor of the First in Math Online Program. Photo from Three Village Central School District

The Three Village Central School District made its mark in Albany at the First in Math Statewide Math Tournament. Nassakeag Elementary School students Catherine Hu, Talinn Kim and Easton Tang came in first place for all of third grade in New York State, whereas W.S. Mount Elementary School students Aurna Chakraborty, Michael Gerber and Isaac Wang came in second place for first grade.

Back in March, these students won the First in Math Regional Contest for their respective grade levels, which qualified them to advance to the in-person state competition.

At the state contest, the first graders competed with a “ten-wheel game” and third graders competed with a “factor wheel game.” All Three Village students made it to the final round, where they had to make a presentation using precise mathematical language to present the strategies they used while making the wheels. They also had to model the equations they used to make 10 or find a common factor.

The district congratulates these students on their achievements and for representing Three Village at the state level.

Board also addresses issues of racism in the district

By Mallie Kim

The Board of Education will welcome newcomers Karen Roughley and David McKinnon to the table in Three Village Central School District, alongside returning trustee Jeffrey Kerman. The school board announced and certified the results during a meeting on Tuesday night, May 16.

David McKinnon and Karen Roughley, above, along with incumbent Jeffrey Kerman, won seats on the board of education. Photo by Mallie Kim

Roughley and McKinnon are no strangers to the board room, as they often attend meetings to advocate for district issues they are passionate about. During a fraught two-week campaign, the two, who campaigned together, emphasized their status as independent candidates — that is, not endorsed or financially supported by any bargaining unit, something both candidates have said could be a conflict of interest.

“This was a good win for the community. We were community-backed,” said McKinnon, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Stony Brook University, adding that his win comes after several years of building confidence within the community. McKinnon ran unsuccessfully for the board twice before, and during the campaign conveyed a strong interest in improving curriculum and instituting forward-looking financial planning. “I hope this paves the way for other independent candidates to run for the board.”

McKinnon received 2,101 votes, coming in second behind Roughley, who brought in 2,222 votes.

This was the second bid for Roughley, who has been a vocal advocate for the special education community over the years, and during the campaign she highlighted the budget and bullying as top issues she would want to address. She received the most votes, at 2,222.

“I’m very proud,” she said after the meeting. “I’m very honored to be representing all the community of Three Village.”

Rounding out the trio, Kerman, a dentist, received 1,777 votes and said he was very proud to have voter support again. “I have a lot of experience, and I can help the new [members],” said Kerman, referring to the fact that he has served 17 years on the board, including two years as board president. During the campaign, he expressed gratitude for all the district did to help his two children succeed. “This is pay back and pay forward,” he said. “I’m here to help the district and keep it good.”

The community also approved the 2023‒24 district budget with 2,332 yes votes over 1,559 no votes. The vast majority of registered voters in the district skipped the election, despite the fact that the district’s budget makes up a large portion of each resident’s tax bill. A total of 3,891 voters participated, out of 36,396 qualified voters in the district.

Assistant Superintendent Jeff Carlson congratulates incumbent Jeffrey Kerman on his win. Photo Mallie Kim

Superintendent addresses racism, district OKs book up for review

Also, during the May 16 meeting, Superintendent Kevin Scanlon presented a strongly worded message against incidents of racism in the district and said the administration has brought in consultants to help address it, including one member of the Little Rock Nine, the group of black students who desegregated their school in Arkansas in 1957.

Scanlon said he would soon share with district families more details about a specific incident under investigation, and he compared racism in schools to drugs and alcohol. “If anyone in a school district tells you that they don’t have an alcohol and drug problem, they’re lying,” he said. “Every district in this country has an alcohol and drug program, and we are no exception to that rule.”

The district has curriculum and counseling staff to specifically address alcohol and drugs, and Scanlon said the same needs to happen to quash racism and bigotry. He pointed to the work of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committees, but said the entire community also needs to act.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We have to address this not only in our schools, but in our homes and throughout our community every single day. That’s the only way to stop it.”

The board also heard the results of a recent instructional materials review triggered by a parent complaint.

According to Assistant Superintendent Brian Biscari, the book “All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color,” by Katie Kissinger, is used in second grade health classes districtwide. A concerned parent emailed a complaint, Biscari said, calling the material in the book “damaging and racist.”

A committee made up of an administrator, a second-grade teacher, a library media specialist and a parent convened and reviewed the book’s subject, themes and appropriateness for the age level. No committee members had objections to the book. “The content of the book was related to the science of skin color, including melanin, ancestors and family and exposure to the sun,” Biscari read from the committee’s recommendation to keep the book in the curriculum. “The themes represented in this book are appropriate topics for students in the second-grade health classes.”

The district’s 2023-24 budget is also up for approval

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Mallie Kim

The Three Village Board of Education has three seats up for grabs this year and six candidates looking to fill them, including three newcomers, one incumbent and two making repeat bids for seats.

The board candidates, profiled below in ballot order, faced an audience of more than 100 online and a large gathering in person at the Setauket firehouse on Main Street during a Three Village Civic Association meet-the-candidates session Monday, May 1. Questions posed on behalf of the civic by Herb Mones were answered by the candidates about a variety of topics, including the district’s strengths and weaknesses, school security, diversity, equity and inclusion, along with district transparency, communication and their own resumes. 

The candidates were due to face questions from the community once again Monday, May 8, but the event was postponed for reasons not provided to the public. The meet the candidates night hosted by the PTA is rescheduled to Friday, May 12 and will be live-streamed on the district’s website.

Voting for board trustees will take place at Ward Melville High School Tuesday, May 16, together with the vote to approve next year’s $230.9 million budget from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

A short budget presentation at the civic meeting was made by Jeffrey Carlson, deputy superintendent. In order to stay within the district’s 2.65% tax levy increase cap mandated by the state, the district is cutting 30 full-time positions. 

Superintendent Kevin Scanlon said at the board’s budget hearing May 3 that at least half of those positions will likely be at the elementary level, and he added by email that though every school will see teaching positions cut, the district can’t provide specifics at present as the adjustments are ongoing. 

At the same budget hearing, Scanlon dismissed what he called “false rumors” that class sizes will skyrocket to over 30 in elementary classes, and referred to a chart in the budget presentation that lays out the maximum allowable averages for class sizes in each elementary grade. He compared next year’s projected averages to those of this year and the pre-COVID 2018-19 school year. The biggest projected jump is in fifth grade, which should see an average of 23 students in each section across the schools. There were 21 fifth graders per class on average in 2018-19, and 20 this year.

The superintendent also mentioned some high school classes currently have 15 or fewer students. “We can’t afford to do that anymore,” he said. “That is not fiscally responsible, and we must tighten the belt in those areas.”

All of the board candidates at the civic meeting raised concerns over the budget, an issue of community interest as the district has been working to recalibrate to account for declining enrollment and increasing costs. The candidates also agreed increased transparency from the board would benefit Three Village residents.

Karen Roughley

Roughley, mom of two teens in the district, said she wants to maintain the current quality of staff and student experience for the future. To do that, she said, “we must be taking a close look at the budget to ensure that the district will be financially sustainable for years to come.”

Roughley spent her career working in corporate communications, business continuity and crisis management for an investment bank. Since staying home with her children, she has served in many volunteer positions in the district, including as president for multiple-campus parent teacher associations as well as for the Special Education PTA. She was on the reopening task force during the COVID-19 pandemic and the districtwide Diversity, Equality & Inclusion Committee, among others. At present, she sits on New York State’s parent advisory committee for the Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures.

She has publicly advocated on many issues she feels are important for Three Village students, including later secondary start times and the policy nicknamed “do no harm,” which only allows state Regents exam scores to be factored into classroom grades if the scores do not lower the grades. The board recently extended this policy for an additional year and is planning to look into whether or not to make the change permanent.

Roughley, whose two children have received special education services, is passionate about inclusion and diversity, and believes the DEI committee could do more to include the special education population, and also to prevent bullying on district campuses.

As an independent candidate, Roughly said she supports community involvement in major decisions, especially divisive decisions.

When asked about the idea of putting armed guards on school campuses, Roughley made it clear she believes all stakeholders should be part of any discussion — teachers, parents and the community at large. “Part of being a board member is you’re an extension of the community,” she said. “It should not be a decision from anyone from the board without having community input first.”

Roughley also ran for a board seat in 2021 and is running on the same ticket as David McKinnon. 

David McKinnon

McKinnon, father of three and a 30-year-plus resident of Three Village, has a “longstanding interest in public education,” and indicated he is passionate about providing an independent voice on the school board. He made clear at the event that he, like Roughley, was not taking endorsements or campaign support from any lobbying group, referring to the fact that all the current board members won their elections supported by the Three Village Teachers Association.

McKinnon, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Stony Brook University, has served on the districtwide DEI and budget advisory committees, and is a founding member of the Three Village Parents Alliance, through which he has advocated to improve Three Village schools in light of what he called “remarkably bad statewide education outcomes” in New York education, generally. He expressed specific concern about elementary math and literacy education.

“The community — us — deserves an independent voice on how our district is run,” he said. 

“This is not a partisan issue, this is solely about effective management. My goal in running is to create a school board that represents everyone.”McKinnon said he believes the board should rely heavily on the community for decisions about curriculum and running the schools. One of McKinnon’s concerns, though, is bullying. “I don’t feel that the DEI committee was serious in its approach to bullying,” he said. “You can’t learn if you don’t feel safe, you can’t learn if you’re scared.”

On the topic of armed security guards, McKinnon worried that a large-presence, visible security also takes a toll. “There is a downside to all this security in the kids’ lives,” he said. “It makes them less willing to take risks, more likely to have emotional problems, and so this has to be balanced.”

He said school shootings are a tricky issue to address due to the suicidal motivations of the shooters themselves, one that armed guards alone won’t solve. He suggested reintroducing ethics education at the elementary level and gave a vote of confidence to the district’s security and safety coordinator, Jack Blaum, and his efforts over the years to make school buildings secure.

This is McKinnon’s third bid for a seat on the board, after running in 2020 and 2021.

Kristen Gironda

Gironda, who grew up in the Three Village district, said serving on the board would be a way to give back to the community for the quality of her education — a quality she said she wants to help uphold as she is raising her two children here as well. She is a middle school teacher in the Shoreham-Wading River school district, though she has also taught several elementary school grades, and has worked with special education students and English language learners over her 23 years as a teacher.

Gironda and fellow first-time candidate Michele Siegel are sisters, and both are endorsed by the Three Village Teachers Association.

Gironda said the biggest challenge in the district now is “resolving these issues with the budget while simultaneously trying to do what is in the best interest of our students’ well-being and health, with initiating a later start time and simultaneously reconfiguring the schools — and doing that in a fiscally responsible way.”

She has held several volunteer positions in the community, including as a trustee on the board of Play Groups School, and as vice president of the PTA at Minnesauke Elementary School. Also, she was on the reopening task force for the district during the COVID-19 pandemic, and served on the DEI committee for Minnesauke. She has coached for Stony Brook Soccer Club and was recently elected to the board of the Three Village Swim Club.

Gironda said she is not opposed to armed guards, but would take into account the expertise of the district safety team and local law enforcement. She said, after reviewing the district’s safety plan and speaking to Blaum, “I felt with full confidence that I was sending my children to school each day and that they were safe — that every precaution was being taken to protect our children and our staff by our security team.” 

She also said that the board could do better to find out what community members are thinking. “One thing that I think we could improve on is seeking out those voices that maybe aren’t being represented, figuring out who those people are,” she said. “We can work to have a more open and transparent and ongoing dialogue so people feel comfortable sharing their opinions, their views, their thoughts.”

Gabriela Alvanos

Alvanos, a 16-year resident of Three Village, said she would like to bring her particular experience to bear in addressing bullying and inclusiveness issues in the district. Her two elementary-aged children both receive special education services. She is the founder of NuPrisma, an organization that empowers individuals with disabilities, and works with businesses and communities to create more accessible and inclusive environments.

“I am here to be in service of all of our students, whether they are part of the English language learners program like I was, or part of special education like my children are, or general education or the gifted program,” she said. “Every student, regardless of their background or ability, should have access to opportunity that builds, supports and challenges them to excel in their learning and that empowers them to live and integrate in society with dignity.”

Alvanos, the third independent candidate, said she believes it is time to move from awareness of DEI issues to practical implementation of inclusion, down to the classroom level. She also cautioned that though many efforts are well meant, sometimes DEI programming can be implemented in a way that unintentionally increases bias.

She mentioned after the event that one issue that spurred her to run this year was concern over sixth graders moving up to middle school — she said she wants to be on the board to make certain the district puts social and emotional supports in place to aid the transition to secondary school for children at that age.

Alvanos said she is in favor of well-trained, vetted armed security only on the perimeter of school campuses — not inside school buildings. She also supports making the “do no harm” policy permanent.

Dr. Jeffrey Kerman

Kerman, the only incumbent in the group, has served 17 years on the board — including two years as president. He said he wants to continue serving to keep the district “as good as it is” and even help make it better. Kerman told the audience, live and online, that he serves out of gratitude for the district educating and preparing his two sons to succeed in society. Both received special education services, he said, and both became honors students in high school and college. “Our district did wonderfully with them,” he said. “I want to pay back how great they did with my sons. It was wonderful.”

Kerman, a dentist, praised the district and spoke of ways the board has served the community. “We’re always planning and always looking forward to making things better,” he said, pointing to this school year’s strategic planning commission that culminated in a survey to narrow down which restructuring plan stakeholders preferred. 

The board recently charged the administration with in-depth research to see what the costs and logistics would be, should the board adopt the plan. “We always try and get information from our community, from our parents, from our teachers, from our administrators, so that we on the board can make the best informed decisions that can help the district,” he said.

On the topic of school safety and armed guards, Kerman pointed out that Three Village has served as a model for Suffolk County in implementing school safety procedures. “We are very, very strong as far as our safety goes for our students,” he said, adding that the board has been discussing the pros and cons of armed guards carefully.

Michele Siegel

Siegel, mother of two elementary-aged students in the district, said she and her firefighter husband are proud to raise their kids in the district where they both grew up. “I feel passionate about giving back to the community that has helped shape the person I am today,” she said. “I’d be incredibly honored to be able to represent the voices of our entire district to make informed decisions.”

She called herself a “numbers and facts individual,” and is the associate director of research for a media company, with experience applying evidence-based strategies and managing budgets, teams and contracts. Siegel, alongside Kerman and her sister Gironda, is supported by the teachers union.Siegel previously served as president of the board at Play Groups School, and has coached for Stony Brook’s intramural soccer teams and is a team manager for the Stony Brook LGN travel soccer program. She also mentors students at her alma mater, Muhlenberg College of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

When asked about armed guards in schools, Siegel said if she were elected, she would request a meeting with Blaum at the district and law enforcement professionals “to understand every factor that would have to be considered and how it may integrate and align with the existing overall emergency plan — the emotional well-being and physical safety of our students and staff is a priority.”

She added that she would come into a trustee position open to learning. “I do not know the answer to every single question,” she said. “It’s for me to reach out and understand the experiences of everyone in this community to make informed decisions.”

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Mallie Jane Kim

New York Regents exam scores won’t hurt high schoolers’ classroom grades this year in Three Village Central School District, after the Board of Education extended the policy nicknamed “do no harm,” under which the scores are only factored into classroom grades if they improve the grades. 

The extension of this COVID-19-era policy went against the recommendation  of the district’s grading committee, which had taken up the discussion after a groundswell of concern from parents who preferred the policy, asserting it unfairly hurts students who don’t test well or face anxiety over a one-day test that can hurt a grade they’ve worked for all year. 

The board will still need to decide whether or not to change district policy permanently.

Regents scores already appear on student transcripts, per state regulations. Before “do no harm,” these scores also counted for 12% of a student’s grade in classes where a state exam is required. “It truly is double jeopardy,” said BOE president Susan Rosenzweig during the board’s lively discussion at an April 26 meeting. She suggested students who work hard and succeed in class all year long shouldn’t be affected so badly by a one-day test. “Twelve percent is a lot — it’s a lot,” she said.

Last year, the district announced the end of the pandemic-era policy, and teachers have been planning grades accordingly. According to Brian Biscari, assistant superintendent for educational services, the district’s grading committee — made up of administrators, teachers and guidance counselors — concluded after “extensive discussion” that the policy should end as planned, primarily because students weren’t taking exams as seriously, he said, and scores were slipping.

BOE trustee Deanna Bavlnka strongly disagreed with the grading committee’s recommendation, especially the idea that most students shrug off the test scores, as they do still appear on transcripts. The majority of Three Village students, she said, “want to do well — they don’t want to screw up, they don’t want bad [scores] on their transcripts.” She added that inevitably there will be students who don’t care and don’t take the exams or their grades seriously. “Like anything else, there’s outliers.” 

Bavlnka and other board members also raised concerns about issues with Regents in general, including past state tests they said have not matched curriculum well, or are graded on a steep curve, like chemistry.

“As a teacher, what would you rather have as your tool?” Rosenzweig said. “Do you want a tool that was created by the state, or do you want a tool that was created closer to home and perhaps — I would hope — more reflective of what you’re doing in the classroom?”

Board member Jennifer Solomon suggested the pandemic isn’t fully over. “We’re no longer wearing masks, no more social distancing,” she said. “But we know the social and emotional well-being of our students is still impacted by COVID. I think that extending [the policy] is appropriate.”

Research into restructuring plan approved

The board also voted to authorize district administration and staff to analyze and report on the logistics of a restructuring plan preferred by the community — that is, to move up sixth and ninth grades to middle and high school, respectively — alongside moving secondary school start times later. 

The board voted at an April 12 meeting to table the restructuring plan pending more information on cost and logistics and in order to greater prioritize the start time change.

The body of logistics research described by Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon is in line with what he has previously said would have been the next step anyway.

Supervisor Ed Romaine, center, left, and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, center, right, visited the North Country Administration Center in Stony Brook to announce the winners of the 2023 T-Shirt Design Competition for Sidewalks for Safety. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

By Mallie Kim

Three Village Central School District Board of Education unanimously approved a $230.9 million budget for the 2023-24 school year, paving the way for a community vote on May 16. 

The board gave its approval of the budget — a 3.07% increase — at a meeting Wednesday, April 12. 

The proposed budget stays within the district’s state-mandated maximum 2.65% tax levy increase cap, and therefore requires only a simple majority for community approval.

Assistant Superintendent Jeff Carlson, who leads the budget process, said due to increasing costs, the administration needed to cut $4.7 million to stay within the tax cap. 

The district’s transportation costs will jump by nearly $600,000 for next year, and salaries and benefits at current staffing levels would have increased by more than $9 million. 

A plan to cut 30 full-time staff positions accounts for the majority of the cuts, and the rest came from belt-tightening.

“We went through all of the budget codes, all of the supplies, equipment and contracted services … and we came up with $1.6 million in reductions,” Carlson said. “And I can tell you not everybody’s happy about that, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Shari Fontana, a representative from the Budget Advisory Committee — a group of parents, students, community members, board members and district employees — spoke in support of the budget.

“The BAC has seen that during these very difficult economic times, our district has always kept the goal of filling the educational, social and emotional needs of our children as their main priority,” Fontana said, noting that the many presentations the committee heard from the district made clear that Three Village is working toward increasing fiscal stability. 

“We realize that no budget will ever be perfect, but our district is truly doing the very best it can under the circumstances,” she added.

Fontana said the committee recommended that the district convenes next year’s Budget Advisory Committee earlier in the year and provide more specific information, down to the line items and dollar amounts, of each topic presented. 

She reported the committee urged prioritizing later secondary school start times, with the board also taking a more forward-looking approach when hiring in light of the decreasing enrollment projections.

“We know that hiring is easy, but reducing staff is not,” Fontana said.

Restructuring tabled, for now

The Board of Education also decided to table a vote to adopt a district restructuring plan, over lack of data on what it would cost, and because it does not address concerns that secondary school start times are too early. 

The plan, which was the clear preference among options presented in a recent community survey, would move sixth graders and ninth graders up to middle school and high school, respectively. 

Currently the junior high schools start at 7:40 a.m. and Ward Melville High School begins at 7:05 a.m., and without a change to those start times, sixth graders and ninth graders would begin school even earlier than their current schedules require. 

District elementary schools, where sixth grade classes are currently housed, begin at 8:43 a.m. or 9:25 a.m.

None of the survey options included cost impact information, and this uncertainty gave some board members pause. 

“I would also like the administration to move forward to give the board and give the community information on: Can this work? If it can work, how much would it cost?” said board vice president Vincent Vizzo. 

“At the same time, give us the figures also for the delayed start time, because right now that’s a health issue.”

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon agreed changing start times needs to be prioritized, but added that any delay in adopting a restructuring plan could make it harder to enact any changes by the original target school year of 2024-25. 

Restructuring “is not a matter where it’s dire, where we need to get it done immediately,” Scanlon said. “I do think the start time is dire and that does need to be addressed as soon as possible.”

Scanlon estimated the administration could figure out by September the information the board is requesting on cost and plausibility of the restructuring plan with start time changes dovetailed in.

Sidewalks For Safety prizewinners

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) made cameo appearances at the meeting to present awards to Ward Melville students who won a T-shirt design contest for Sidewalks For Safety. 

This is a local advocacy group working to get more sidewalks installed in critical places around the community, primarily for pedestrian safety — especially for Three Village students walking to schools and bus stops — but also to promote healthier lifestyles and increase foot traffic for local businesses. 

Romaine and Kornreich, the competition judges, awarded first place to Melina Montgomery, second to Julie Yang and third to Zoe Xiao; Lila Dabrowski and Rebecca Fazio each received an honorable mention for their art. Sidewalks For Safety printed the designs by Montgomery and Yang on bright, “safety green” T-shirts for use in an upcoming 5K walk/run on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 14.

“Sidewalks are extremely important but they cost money, and we have to balance the budget,” Romaine said, adding that not everyone is a fan of sidewalks in more rural areas of Brookhaven. “But here in a busy community where a lot of children ride their bikes or walk to school, it is something that we want to do.”

Romaine also praised the winners for using artwork to engage in lobbying to “make sure the government does the right thing,” adding that his neighborhood does not have sidewalks.

 “I have to walk my two little dogs, and I could tell you I wish I had sidewalks, particularly when people go speeding by,” he said.

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Mallie Kim

Three Village Central School District plans to cut 30 full-time positions, primarily instructional staff, according to Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon. 

The cuts are a result of declining enrollment — district data shows the student population dropped by more than 1,500 over the last decade — and the need to stay within the 2.65% tax levy increase cap the district has calculated based on state regulations for the 2023-24 budget.

“It’s unavoidable,” Scanlon said at a March 8 Board of Education meeting, noting some 75% of the school budget is payroll. “We simply don’t have enough money to sustain where we’re at right now, financially.”

Scanlon said that cuts would not lead to larger class sizes or affect programs already in place, but rather bring staffing more in line with student population levels. Excess positions will be both in elementary and secondary, he said, adding that instructional staff will be most affected because they make up the majority of employees, and the administrative team already made cuts last year.

The meeting was a step in the process of developing next year’s school budget in advance of the May 16 community vote, which will take place in Ward Melville High School’s gymnasium.

Cost increases due to inflation have added budget challenges for the school district, according to Deputy Superintendent Jeffrey Carlson. The part of the tax levy pegged to inflation can only increase by 2% but inflation in the United States at the end of last year was 6.5%.

“It’s killing us, everything is costing so much more,” Carlson said. “We’re really going to learn the difference between ‘we need something’ and ‘we want something.’”

But, Carlson said, at this point that won’t mean taking away aspects of Three Village that make it a desirable district. These include special education services, a topic that often comes up in budget conversations since the district educates students with special needs in-house as much as possible. According to Carlson, this makes the district’s per-pupil cost appears to be higher than neighboring districts, because costs associated with sending students to BOCES programs are not figured into a district’s per-pupil expenditure numbers, while costs for in-district services are. 

Carlson said at the meeting he is often asked why Three Village provides more special education services than legally mandated.

“Well, of course we do,” he said. “We give more than is mandated to all of our students,” adding that pre-K, sports, clubs and universal busing are also not mandated. “I don’t think we’d be proud of ourselves as a district if all we did was the bare minimum.”

The board is advocating with local politicians for the inflation-based cap to reflect real world inflation, Scanlon said, out of concern the rates might continue to soar. 

“We are lucky for next year where it’s not going to affect programs,” he said. “But if it continues at this [rate], it will.”

The district is also seeking additional revenue streams, according to Scanlon, like renting out portable buildings to BOCES and taking on more tuition-based students from other districts. Carlson added that the district would raise rates for after-school care, enrichment programs and facility rentals for private programs.

“We certainly have not kept pace with inflation over the years,” Carlson said, adding the district has seen these programs as a kind of community service. “But those items, too, are costing more and more and more.”

The budget conversation comes just over a month after the district was labeled “susceptible to fiscal stress” by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D). Carlson said this designation did not come as a surprise and reflects too little money in district reserves. Three Village spent nearly $7 million in reserve funds to keep schools open full time during the 2020-21 school year, with a virtual option. 

Carlson expressed pride that Three Village was one of the few districts nationwide to maintain full-time, in-person learning during the pandemic, and said refilling the coffers is a priority. He added the district is in the middle of a plan to replenish this rainy day fund over several years.

“We would love to be in a position where hopefully nothing like that ever happens again, but if it does, we could do that again if we wanted to,” the deputy superintendent said.

The board opened its meeting with a moment of silence to remember R.C. Murphy Junior High student Qamat Shah, who was struck and killed by a car while riding his bike on Thursday evening, March 2. He was 14.