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William Connors

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BOE also provides prekindergarten updates, comment on mandated vaccine

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

 By Andrea Paldy

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

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

— Riley Meckley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Matt Rehman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Brian Lathan

 

Prekindergarten

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

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

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

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

HPV vaccine

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

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

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The Three Village Central School District is standing up to New York State regarding a proposal to mandate one vaccine in New York.

District officials sent a letter dated Nov. 18 to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), as well as state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport). The letter, signed by Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and board of ed President William Connors, stated the board was opposing the proposed amendment to Section 2164 of the public health law. The amendment will require that all students born after 2009 receive the human papillomavirus vaccine as part of the state’s mandated school immunization program.

“While we recognize that changes in the health law are often necessary in order to protect the public at large against health crises or to mitigate exposure to a communicable disease in open spaces, we are clinically opposed to adding the HPV vaccine to the required vaccination program for myriad reasons,” Pedisich and Connors said in the letter.

The school officials went on to say other required vaccines “aim to safeguard children against diseases that are easily contracted in a public school setting.” The letter cited diseases such as measles and pertussis, which can be spread through poor personal hygiene or airborne respiratory droplets. This differs from HPV, which according to the American Cancer Society, is passed from one person to another by skin-to-skin contact associated with sexual activity and not from toilet seats, casual contact and recreational items such as swimming pools and hot tubs.

The district added that data from independent health news site MedShadow, which focuses on the side effects of medicines, shows “post-marketing safety and surveillance data indicate that Gardasil 9 is well tolerated and safe, still many physicians have hesitated to recommend it based on its potential side effects.”

The school officials said in their letter students don’t engage in activities that spread the disease.

“As our public schools are not places where students would engage in the activities found to make one susceptible to contracting or spreading HPV, why then should it be mandatory that students be inoculated with the vaccine in order to attend school?” officials wrote.

Before the letter was posted on the district’s website, members of the Facebook page Three Village Moms began to chatter about the district’s proposed message.

Three Village parent Jenna Lorandini reached out to TBR News Media when she heard the board was taking the stance and said she was disappointed.

“I view the mandate as a necessary public health initiative whose purpose is to protect our children from a communicable disease as adults,” she said in an email. “If the advancements in science and medicine are available to us, mandating the vaccine would create widespread protection. The easiest way to do that is in the public school sector as timing of the vaccine is pertinent to the prevention of a cancer-causing virus. This doesn’t infringe upon my parental rights when its intent is to preserve life before a child can consent to that protection.”

Nichole Gladky, another Three Village parent, said she felt the district was moving too quickly and reacting to “the loud and staunch voices of those who partake in the Anti-Vaxx movement.” She said she will do what her pediatrician recommends.

“I wish the vaccination was available to me at the time,” she said. “There is a lot of easily consumable media of misinformation available on the Internet, social media, TV, etc. Everyone needs a proper dose of education on this vaccine — and disease control in general — and it could start with the school district before any action is taken.”

Dayna Whaley, whose daughter is unable to attend kindergarten at Arrowhead Elementary School due to not having vaccinations that New York State made a requirement earlier this year, said she thinks the letter is a good idea, even though she wishes the school would do more to oppose mandate vaccinations. She and her husband chose not to get vaccinations for their daughter on religious basis and after watching her suffer a spinal tap at four days old after getting the vitamin K shot.

“Requiring vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases as a requirement for school attendance as with hepatitis B and now Gardasil is just plain wrong,” she said.

In the case of requiring Gardasil to attend school, Whaley said that she feels even pro vaccinating parents will be willing to pull their children from public school.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is estimated to cause nearly 35,000 cases of cancer in men and women every year in the U.S.

Three Village Central School District becomes the first school district in New York to join a national lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul. TBR News Media file photo

Three Village Central School District is joining the fight against vaping devices.

In a letter from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and Board of Education President William Connors, the district announced it became the first school district in New York to join a national lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul.

“As educators, it is our duty to protect the health and safety of our students, and we believe this company is compromising those efforts while simultaneously disrupting the educational process by marketing to teens,” Pedisich and Connors wrote.

Officials stated in the letter that legal fees will be covered by the firms representing the parties in the suit and will not come from district taxes.

The district officials said in the letter vaping devices are easy for teenagers to hide and use. 

“This epidemic, while a national one, has had a direct and grave impact on our local school community,” school officials said. “As a district, we have needed to divert resources and deploy new ones to combat the problem of teen vaping.”

Three Village has installed devices to detect vaping, created prevention programs, adjusted health curricula to focus on the dangers of vaping, created a new student assistant counselor position to focus on prevention and treatment, and embraced new disciplinary actions and a districtwide zero-tolerance policy on vaping, according to the letter.

Nearly 40 percent of 12th grade students and 27 percent of high school students in New York State are now using e-cigarettes, according to New York State officials.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website that the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for children, teens and young adults, as most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful substances. According to the agency, highly-addictive nicotine can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.

As at Oct. 8, the CDC has reported 1,080 vaping-associated illnesses in the United States with 23 deaths. There have been 110 cases attributed to New York, according to the state’s health department. On the same day, the death of a Bronx teen was announced as the first confirmed fatality related to vape products in New York.

 

Trustee incumbents William Connors and Deanna Bavlnka look forward to three more years on the board. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school budget passed with an overwhelming majority May 15.

Of the 1,948 votes cast, 72 percent were in favor of the $209.8 million budget for the 2018-19 school year with 1,412 yes votes and 536 voting no.

Spending will remain within the 1.97 percent cap on the tax levy increase and include enhancements to the well-being of students, as well as to the elementary science and music programs.

Three Village superintendent Cheryl Pedisich was appreciative of residents’ support, saying that Tuesday’s result is a reflection of their values.

“I am most proud of our ability to sustain programs and services we value most without reducing any for budgetary needs.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

“I am most proud of our ability to sustain programs and services we value most without reducing any for budgetary needs,” she said.

“It’s a real affirmation and validation,” said board president William Connors.

He acknowledged that residents “pay a lot of taxes” and said he appreciated their confidence in the board and the administration’s fiscal responsibility.

A small increase in state aid, along with shrinking enrollment and retirements, helped pave the way to some budget additions. Those include another high school guidance counselor and district psychologist and an assistant athletic trainer, officials said. The elementary grades will benefit from the addition of a third-grade orchestra program, along with new assistant teachers to help prepare for the 2020 implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, which addresses disciplinary core ideas, scientific and engineering practices and cross-cutting concepts.

The district will restructure and combine some of its administrative positions by introducing a chair of foreign language and English as a New Language for kinder-garten through 12th grade. It will also create two coordinating chairs of physical education and health to oversee elementary and secondary grades.

There will also be change at Ward Melville High School. Principal Alan Baum will become executive director of secondary curriculum and human resources and move to the North Country administration building. William Bernhard, currently principal at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, will step into a new role as principal at Ward Melville.

Board president Connors and trustee Deanna Bavlnka ran unopposed to retain their board seats for three more years.

“I’m thrilled,” Connors said about starting his third term. “I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Before rejoining the board in 2012, he had served on the Three Village school board from 1994-2006. When he and his wife moved to Three Village 46 years ago, he said, it was because of the quality of the schools.

“It’s a real affirmation and validation.”

— William Connors

After 18 years of board service, it is “fulfilling to have had an impact on the educational programs,” he said.

Bavlnka, who has served on the board since 2011, said she’s excited and particularly pleased with the positive community engagement. With the goal of fostering communication and interaction between parents and Three Village faculty and administrators, Bavlnka has maintained the Facebook page, Three Village Connection, since 2013. She said she is proud to see that it has been a success.

Other district news

Three Village will enter into a new contract with Suffolk Transportation Service Inc., the bus company that currently provides student transportation to and from school, field trips and athletic events. While contracts between school districts and bus companies can be extended at a rate increase equal to the consumer price index, if both parties agree, the CPI has been low, and Suffolk Transportation did not want an extension of the old contract, said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services.

After sending out requests for proposals and considering three bus companies, the school district chose to continue with Suffolk Transportation and will pay an increased rate of 16 percent, Carlson said. The district will extend its contract with Acme Bus Corp., which provides mini-bus service, without a rate increase.

Following the resignation of the district’s treasurer, who will be attending graduate school, the administration has decided not to refill the position. Instead, it will assign treasurer duties to another staff member and issue a $10,000 a year stipend. This will save the district $70,000, Carlson said.

File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

With residents set to vote on the school budget May 15, Three Village officials reviewed pertinent financial details at a public hearing during the May 2 school board meeting.

$209.8 million budget stays within cap

A main point is that the district will stay within the 1.97 percent cap on the tax levy increase without the need to cut programs, Jeff Carlson, the district’s superintendent for business services, said to those gathered for the Wednesday meeting.

School board president William Connors is running unopposed for his seat on the board. File photo by Andrea Paldy

Highlights of the $209.8 million budget include measures to increase student safety and well-being and to support elementary science and music programs.

Cheryl Pedisich, district superintendent, said the district will hire an additional guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School, as well as a psychologist to administer tests throughout the district to “free up” school psychologists to offer more counseling and guidance. She said security is multi-faceted.

“It’s not just infrastructure and security staff,” she said. “It’s also clinical staff.”

Three Village will receive $34.4 million — an increase of $833,579 —  in aid from the state, Carlson said.  It does not include building aid, which is tied to capital projects that vary from year to year.

The administrators said that declining enrollment at the elementary level, secondary student course preferences, retirements and administrative restructuring, all serve to ease the path for program enhancements.

A decrease of 120 to 130 elementary-age students could mean a reduction of two full-time equivalent positions in the early grades.  Pedisich said that would enable the district to add three teaching assistants to two from existing staffing as it prepares for the 2020 implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Lower student numbers also mean that the district can offer third-grade orchestra in the fall.

At the secondary level, changes in course enrollment could lead to a decrease of two to three FTEs, said Pedisich. As a result, the upcoming budget will be able to support an assistant athletic trainer to provide coverage for junior varsity games and seventh- and eighth-grade contact sports, as well as the addition of one full-time equivalent clerical staff member. Each junior high will have its own assistant to support the media specialists with the roll-out of the one-to-one device program that equips seventh through ninth graders with Chromebooks, the superintendent said.

“We have excellent programs and services, and the community has supported us in those efforts.”

— William Connors

Additional positions include one FTE for maintenance and shifting the transition coordinator, who assists special needs students in their move to the next stage after high school, from a contract position to one that is in-house.

Administrative retirements offer the district an opportunity to save funds by combining positions, while also being more “effective in terms of the delivery of curriculum,” Pedisich said.

With the retirement of the high school chair of foreign languages, a new position that oversees foreign language and English as a New Language is being created districtwide for kindergarten through 12th grade. Similarly, the retirement of the assistant director of health and physical education, who oversaw high school programs, will result in a coordinating chair of physical education and health for elementary grades and one for all secondary grades. The district will not replace the administrator retiring from the child nutrition program, Pedisich said.

In other changes, Ward Melville High School principal, Alan Baum, will move to the North Country administrative building to become Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Human Resources. William Bernhard, principal at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, will become the new high school principal.

Two trustees up for vote

Besides the budget, residents will also vote for school board trustees. School board president William Connors and trustee Deanna Bavlnka are running unopposed to hold their seats.

Connors, the father of three Ward Melville High School graduates, is running for his third term since being elected in 2012. He previously served on the board from 1994-2006 and said during a recent interview that his time on the board has taught him that the community will support a “reasonable” budget, sometimes at “great financial sacrifice.”

Deanna Bavlnka, elected for the first time in 2011, is running unopposed for her seat on the Three Village school board. Photo from candidate

“We have excellent programs and services, and the community has supported us in those efforts,” said Connors, who retired from his position as associate vice president of academic affairs and college dean of faculty at Suffolk Community College in 2011.

He noted that the district offers first-rate programs, catering to all students, at all grade and academic levels, and now that also includes pre-kindergarteners. The next step, he said, is adding more vocational courses to address the needs of students whose next stop may not be college.

Connors said he takes his role as board president seriously.

“I try to present a public voice of the board,” he said. “I try to represent the board of education and what we stand for and advocate for the district.”

Fellow trustee and Ward Melville graduate Bavlnka also is proud of the district’s free prekindergarten program offered at Nassakeag Elementary School.

Director of human resources at P.W. Grosser Consulting, Bavlnka listed among the district’s recent accomplishments the elementary STEM program, establishment of writing and math centers at the secondary schools and the one-to-one device program currently in its first year at the district’s junior highs.

Bavlnka was elected for the first time in 2011, and like Connors, notes the challenge of sustaining quality programs while remaining fiscally responsible.

“As a board trustee, we represent the entire school community,” she said in an email.  Bavlnka added that the board accepts accountability for clearly representing the community “both from an educational and budgetary perspective.”

The vote for the Three Village school budget and board trustees will take place May 15, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Residents zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Setauket Elementary will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, and residents in W.S. Mount Elementary zoning will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High.

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Kate Hunter, second from right, was honored by the National Council for the Social Studies as a teacher of the year. Hunter is pictured above with Board President William Connors, Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Pedisich and Minnesauke Principal Brian Biscari. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village Central School District board kicked off its first meeting of the school year with a celebration of one of the district’s teachers receiving a national award.

Teacher of the year

Fifth-grade teacher Kate Hunter’s achievement was the highlight of the evening.

“I feel like it’s déjà vu all over again,” Minnesauke principal  Brian Biscari said.

Over the past year, the principal and the board have congratulated Hunter for her accolades as New York State Council for the Social Studies Outstanding Elementary Social Studies Classroom Teacher Award. She had received a similar award earlier from the Long Island Council for the Social Studies. This time, Hunter received a standing ovation for being named National Council for the Social Studies Elementary Level Social Studies Teacher of the Year, which recognizes “exceptional classroom social studies teachers.”

Hunter, who has taught fifth grade for 10 years, began her career in the district at Minnesauke in 2003. This November, she will attend the national NCSS conference in San Francisco, where she will receive her award and present some of her work.

The meeting’s agenda also included a presentation from the director of elementary curriculum and a policy update about home schoolers. Additionally, the school board heard concerns about a summer reading assignment.

Summer reading

Three Village school district canceled the R. C. Murphy Junior High School summer book project before the start of the school year. File photo

Toni Williams-Mulgrave expressed dismay about the summer reading assignment, “Leaving Fletchville,” for

R.C. Murphy Junior High School’s eighth-graders. A Ward Melville graduate and educator herself, Williams-Mulgrave, who is African-American, has a niece who read the assignment.

She told the school board that she was disturbed by the stereotyping and racial slurs in the book.

“Someone has to speak up, and we have to start the communication so that our society can grow — so that the stuff that’s going on across the world doesn’t happen here,” she said.

The family had met with district officials during the summer, and the reading assignment was canceled before the start of the school year.

The book, about siblings who’ve moved to a place where they are “the only black people in town,” was nominated for the 2010 Red Maple Award for seventh- and eighth-grade Canadian literature.

In a prepared statement, board president William Connors said that the district’s decision “to eliminate this year’s summer reading project was based on the interest of our students and primarily the connection one aspect of the book had to national events transpiring this summer — events that occurred well after the book was chosen.”

“Our district is strongly committed to creating learning environments that promote acceptance, respect and inclusivity as well as a rich curriculum encompassing the literary classics and emerging prize-winning authors,” Connors said. 

District superintendent Cheryl Pedisich also addressed the matter. In her statement, she said that the district’s program review committee will review independent summer reading assignments this year and make “any recommended changes” they believe will further benefit students.

Elementary curriculum

Director of elementary curriculum  Nathalie Lilavois unveiled the first part of a program that she said would

help boost the district’s goal of guiding students towards becoming “skilled problem solvers, perceptive thinkers, quality producers, lifelong learners and self-directed learners.”

Lilavois’ first focus is elementary math. She explained that she prepared a document that lays out the district’s elementary-level math curriculum and articulates how it aligns to the math learning standards. Lilavois made the material available to teachers on an expansive, interactive website that makes it easier for them to use in the classroom.

The site is organized by grade and then by topic. It has core-aligned resources, including GoMath —  the district’s math program — and other websites that provide supplemental information and approaches to each focus area. The online project also enables teachers to suggest their own resources and ideas.

Lilavois will continue to build the site for all elementary subject levels and is developing the English language arts program this year.

In other business, the district updated several policies as required by statute. It also amended a policy to allow homeschooled students in the district to participate in noncredit and nonathletic extracurricular activities such as clubs.