Three Village board signals openness to ChatGPT, diversifies school calendar

Three Village board signals openness to ChatGPT, diversifies school calendar

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Sarah Sajjad, right, in a family photo with her husband and children, was on hand for the Feb. 15 meeting with three of her children so they could witness the addition of Muslim holidays to the school calendar. Photo from Sarah Sajjad

By Mallie Kim

Artificial Intelligence could one day have a place in Three Village schools, according to Deidre Rubenstrunk, the district’s executive director of technology and data protection officer.

“If I were to submit that for an AP course, it wouldn’t get me much credit.”

— Mikaeel Zohair,

“Perhaps somewhere in the next five years, how to use AI could be part of our standards,” she told the school board at the Feb. 15 meeting. “Corporate America is going crazy over this right now, and we are going to have to prepare our students to use this as a tool.” 

The comments came during time the board set aside to discuss ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence tool that has dominated headlines over the past few months. In January, the New York City Department of Education banned the technology from school internet networks and devices out of concerns students may use the bot to complete homework, since it can generate content based on user prompts.

But according to Rubenstrunk, Three Village would address that issue differently. “The only way that you promote academic integrity among students is not with Turnitin or originality reports in Google, but actually educating them in what integrity is and making it tangible for them,” she said, adding that is something she and other district staff are already working on.

Board members chimed in to support Rubenstrunk’s approach, emphasizing the importance of a “do not panic” attitude about emerging technologies. 

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon compared ChatGPT and other AI technologies to the graphing calculator, which some schools initially saw as a threat in the classroom. 

“We have to look at the technology as a tool,” he said. “We need to train staff and students on proper use of this.”

Student representative to the board, Ward Melville High School senior Mikaeel Zohair, said he was not impressed with the ChatGPT bot’s output when he played around with it using essay prompts.

“If I were to submit that for an AP course, it wouldn’t get me much credit,” he said, adding the content could maybe pass for a middle school level. “Honestly, I don’t see a practical use for it but it’s fun.”

Board member Shaorui Li said she was recently exploring the limitations of ChatGPT with some high school students, and they found it could be a helpful tool in the fight against procrastination.

“You have the machine generate something you look at and [think], ‘Oh, I can do better,’” she said, adding that hopefully it would jump-start a student’s own work.

Also on the agenda at the board meeting was next year’s April 10 addition to the 2023-24 calendar of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday celebrating the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. Scanlon said there will be a break in state Regents exams on June 17, 2024, to allow Muslim students to celebrate Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice. 

District parent Sarah Sajjad brought three of her elementary-aged children to the board meeting to witness the calendar change announcement.

“I wanted them to actually come and see, have an experience that they do get recognized,” Sajjad said after the meeting. She works as a special education aide in the district.

“Now everybody will be off, so we’ll welcome everybody to have fun and have a party with us.”

— Sarah Sajjad

Sajjad said she is thankful for the change because her kids have wondered why the school marks Christian and Jewish holidays with a day off, but not Muslim holidays. Plus, she added, it’s a great way for people of all religions to come together. Sajjad said her family enjoys taking part in her neighbors’ Christmas parties, but she hasn’t been able to reciprocate.

“Now everybody will be off, so we’ll welcome everybody to have fun and have a party with us,” she said. “We can actually celebrate with everybody in the community.” 

The district must maintain a minimum of 900 instructional hours for elementary students and 990 for secondary, and days off vary year to year depending on which holidays fall on weekends — as does Rosh Hashanah in 2023. The district has posted the approved 2023-24 calendar on its website.