01/29/14 8:00am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Pulaski Street School assistant principal Stephen Hudson giving a presentation about Common Core math that's being implemented in fifth and sixth grades.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Pulaski Street School assistant principal Stephen Hudson giving a presentation about Common Core math that’s being implemented in fifth and sixth grades.

Riverhead School District’s fifth and sixth graders are learning how to compute math equations quickly in their heads and are outlining the process of working through a math problem before solving it under new Common Core curriculum. (more…)

01/23/14 1:11pm
01/23/2014 1:11 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Senator Ken LaValle at a previous Calverton Business Incubator event.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | State Senator Ken LaValle wants New York to delay Common Core rollout.

State Senator Ken LaValle is calling on education department commissioner John King to “hit the delay button” with rolling out new, more rigorous curriculum in public schools through the Common Core. (more…)

01/15/14 9:00am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Pulaski Street School literacy coach Amy Brennan, left, and principal Dave Densieski at Tuesday night's school board meeting.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Pulaski Street School literacy coach Amy Brennan, left, and principal Dave Densieski at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

Pulaski Street School students are learning to read “closely” by using more social studies materials than in previous years under the rigorous new English Language Arts curriculum mandated by the state.

Pulaski Street School principal Dave Densieski and literacy coach Amy Brennan gave a presentation Tuesday night about how Common Core in ELA is being implemented in the district’s fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms. The presentation, at the school board’s regular meeting, was the fourth Common Core discussion this school year.

Ms. Brennan said students are not only reading more non-fiction, but are also answering questions about what they’ve learned based on the reading materials.

“Close reading is not new,” she said. “It’s just really popular now. It’s a hot topic because Common Core puts such an emphasis on it.”

Close reading involves students carefully rereading text to fully understand the meaning and requiring the students to precisely attribute where they found their answers.

Mr. Densieski said he believes the academic transition from fifth to sixth grade is the most demanding for students and teachers are using the new lesson plans to help students achieve higher standards.

“Thinking is tough and it’s hard work sometimes,” he said. “It is a struggle to think problems out and to think deeper and to think critically, but that is what we’re being asked to do.”

The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by most states across the country and aim to better prepare students for college and careers by requiring instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

After New York adopted Common Core, the state published lesson plans teachers can use to help students achieve the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate use of these lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.

Ms. Brennan said the school is using two of the state’s ELA Common Core modules this year. In fifth grade, teachers are using a module entitled “Becoming a Close Reader and Writing to Learn: Stories of Human Rights.” Under that lesson plan, the books students will read include “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan.

As for the new sixth-grade module, she said teachers are using a lesson plan about Greek mythology.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, parents expressed concern about increasing rigor at Pulaski Street School because they believe the classes are too large. Mr. Densieski had said during his presentation that class size ranges from 25 to 28 students and teachers are receiving professional development to help customize instruction to their classrooms.
Parents also asked about the repercussions when children do not take the Common Core assessments, a movement known as “opting out.”

Superintendent Nancy Carney dismissed the term, saying that “opting out” isn’t an option for the test. A student’s name is printed on each assessment and presented to them at the start of the exam, she said.

Asked what happens if a student refuses to take the assessment, Ms. Carney said each situation will be handled individually.

She said the district isn’t allowed to give those students other work to do during the test and they might be asked to remain at their seat or move to another available room to read.
If a student is absent on the day when an assessment is given, Ms. Carney said, the test will be presented to the student again the following day when he or she returns to school. If the student decides not to take the assessment, she said, those students “won’t receive a score.”

Ms. Carney said although the district respects a parent’s decision, she recommends that students take the assessments because she believes doing so will help them academically.

“We do encourage people to take assessments simply for the fact that the more familiar students get with assessments, the better they’re going to get at taking the assessments,” she said. “Eventually, you do need to pass assessments in order to graduate.”

A presentation about how Common Core math is being implemented in fifth and sixth grade is scheduled for the next school board meeting on Jan. 28.

Ms. Carney said the district also plans to host a public forum to discuss Common Core and to address any concerns residents have about the district’s curriculum. She attributed the idea to parent Yolanda Thompson, who suggested at last month’s board meeting that a committee be created to enhance dialogue between the district and community.


The superintendent also gave an update on current construction projects and said facility improvements remain on schedule.

Projects at Phillips Avenue, Riley Avenue and Aquebogue elementary schools are in the final stages of construction and have a few punch list items remaining.

At the high school, she said, the new library is expected to open soon, the large group instruction room will be ready by Monday and the new science research lab will be completed in the next few weeks. The auditorium and four bathrooms have already been renovated, she said.

Construction is expected to get underway at Pulaski Street and Roanoke Avenue elementary schools and at the middle school sometime in the summer or fall, she said.

The projects are being paid for through a $78.3 million construction bond project voters approved in 2011.


For the first time, the Riverhead school board meeting was conducted “virtually” through a new online system called BoardDocs, which enables the district clerk to track meeting progress and summarize discussion in real time on a large screen behind the school board members. The software also allows board members to display a three-minute timer during the public comment portion of the meeting, which alerts speakers when their allotted time is up.

Each board member was also given Think Pads in order to follow along with the digital agenda.
In addition, BoardDocs allows the district to post and organize notices, agendas and other information online.

For more information about BoardDocs software, visit the district’s website or http://www.boarddocs.com/ny/rcsd/Board.nsf/Public


01/14/14 10:11am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead school board will meet Tuesday night.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead school board’s regular meeting is tonight.

The Riverhead school board is expected to discuss how Common Core is being implemented in the district’s fifth and sixth grade classrooms, according to tonight’s meeting agenda.

The discussion marks the fourth Common Core presentation given this school year.

[Click the following links for a recap of previous coverage: Principals David Enos and Thomas Payton's presentation on kindergarten through second grade; Principal Phil Kent and school literacy coach Vanessa Williams's presentation on third grade; Principal Debra Rodgers' presentation on fourth grade.]

In addition to discussing Common Core, the school board is expected to vote on a resolution to approve a change in minimum wage rates for student employees.

Last year, the state passed legislation raising the minimum wage in New York from $7.25 to $8 an hour. The law went into effect Jan. 1.

The district has also launched a new system to post notices, agendas and other information online called BoardDocs.

To view the complete agenda, visit http://www.boarddocs.com/ny/rcsd/Board.nsf/Public or scroll down. Check back for an update.

The public portion of the meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Riverhead School Board Meeting Agenda, Jan. 14, 2014

12/31/13 12:00pm
12/31/2013 12:00 PM
Suffolk Theater in Riverhead

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The historic Suffolk Theater in downtown Riverhead reopened earlier this year.

On the fast track at EPCAL

A monumental hurdle was cleared in the effort to finally bring economic development to the Enterprise Park at Calverton. That hurdle came in the form of state legislation, passed in October, designed to fast-track development proposals for 600 subdivided acres of town land at the former Grumman site. Several EPCAL proposals have fallen apart in the past, usually because they found themselves in a jurisdictional purgatory among governments. This legislation should solve the problem. Though nothing was built this year, the work of state and local lawmakers, namely Sean Walter, Ken LaValle and Fred Thiele, should pay dividends later in the form of jobs and tax base.

Little more than a land grab

Riverhead Town had set out to subdivide 800 acres of town-owned property at EPCAL, yet the subdivision map that’s been sketched out shows 600 acres that will be sold. The loss of 200 acres comes because the state Department of Environmental Conservation outlined land that could not be developed at EPCAL due to protected species. While we’re not about ruining sensitive habitats, the last we checked, preserving huge swaths of land usually involves some sort of financial transaction. If the state doesn’t want this acreage developed, it must compensate the town accordingly. The proceeds could help fund necessary sewer plant upgrades and other infrastructure improvements at the site.

ThumbUpBye-bye sex offenders

Six years is an awfully long time for one community to house the county’s entire homeless sex offender population. In fact, it’s six years too long.

But we were happy to report this year that the homeless sex offender trailers in Riverside were finally moved and the sex offenders were placed in shelters across the county.

The trailer system was never a good idea and the county’s handling of the situation was appalling.

The only good that ever came of it was the day the trailers finally left.

ThumbdownA clear-cut disaster at Costco site

The town gave away the store by granting developers of the Route 58 Costco project the OK to clear-cut an entire 41-acre property in 2013, including 11 acres in which there are no immediate plans to build. The measure saved the developers money but short-changed taxpayers $374,100 in fees on imported fill. The reason given by the developers was that they didn’t want to disturb neighbors twice (should they build more later). Somehow this argument held water with the Planning Board, which approved the site plan in 2012, and the Town Board, which granted an excavation permit this year. Neighbors in the Foxwood and Millbrook communities now enjoy views of sand pits and strings of small arborvitae.

ThumbUpThe Suffolk Theater reopens

The history of the Suffolk Theater is too long and fraught with ups and downs to fit into this space but in 2013, the art deco-style theater saw a big “up” as it reopened after years of effort from Bob and Dianne Castaldi.

In the wake of the opening of the theater, which has hosted events from concerts to comics to debates to psychics, a variety of other businesses have opened their doors in the area on Main Street — exactly the hope of many who awaited the theater’s return.

The Castaldis were named People of the Year by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce for their efforts, with East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder calling the anchor site a “point of pride” for the town.

ThumbdownRotten to the Common Core

New York State has agreed to adopt high-stakes testing and controversial teacher evaluation systems tied to Common Core State Standards in exchange for a one-time installment of $700 million in federal Race to the Top grant money. That’s less than 3 percent of what the state spends in a single year on education, experts say. Hardly seems worth the money to tie ourselves to a system that, at best, may help already college-bound kids attend marginally better colleges but will likely cause at-risk youths, English language learners and students with disabilities to fail in school in even greater numbers. Since the overhaul wasn’t created by legislation, lawmakers can, and do, deflect blame.

12/14/13 8:00am
12/14/2013 8:00 AM


The term Common Core has been used in these pages and elsewhere to describe the new policies and practices schools are being asked to adopt by the State Education Department. However, Common Core is just one portion of these reforms and, based on what I read in Michael White’s column and the overwhelming parent and teacher response at the education commissioner’s forums and on social media sites, folks are using Common Core as a catch-all term for the entire program. People are actually concerned about the new state assessments, the new teacher evaluation system (called Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR) and potential profiteering by private corporate interests related to these reforms.

Common Core, on its own, is a relatively benign list of things that a student should know and be able to do by the end of a given school year in a given course. You can review the standards themselves at corestandards.org. These standards were authored by the National Governors’ Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners. Do these organizations have agendas? Of course they do. Every advocacy organization does. Are those agendas to steal money and autonomy from school districts? Hardly. Teachers will still be able to do good work in a Common Core classroom just like they were when the concept of standards was first introduced nationally in President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind reform initiative.

Claims that major publishing corporations like Pearson Inc. “wrote the standards” have no merit outside the fantasyland of sites like Breitbart.com  and its ilk. Any publisher worth its salt is aligning old materials and developing new materials to the Core, much as they did when the NCLB standards came out in the early 2000s, but they still must compete for district dollars to purchase those resources. New standards, same old publishing business. If you are interested in seeing a change in where schools spend their money, fighting Common Core is not where I’d spend your time or energy.

Ironically, the Common Core era, combined with the increased availability of inexpensive computer hardware like Chromebooks and tablets, has made it possible for teachers to implement inexpensive or free digital instructional resources, such as Khan Academy, Learnzillion and Brainpop. This movement has publishers like Pearson scrambling to hold on to their textbook and instructional materials revenues, as textbooks become dinosaurs and teachers are easily able to analyze results of a class quiz online and assign individualized activities to each student using a variety of free and open-source instructional programs.

Standards — Common Core or the old state standards — are goals, and teachers plan the path for getting students to the goals. If parents and teachers were only being asked to contemplate Common Core without the rest of the pieces that have come with it, we’d not have a rebellion on our hands. But, as they say, the horses are already out of the barn. Teachers are being given letter grades based on student test scores over which they may or may not have any control. Good teachers are getting disappointing grades and being told they must do better but, in some cases, doing better means magically removing a student’s learning disability, changing a student’s general motivation to take a multiple-choice test, or increasing the amount of exposure to literature and informational texts in a student’s home and family life. The APPR system has few defenders statewide, even in Albany. APPR can easily be removed or revised without disrupting the state department’s other initiatives, including Common Core.

The New York State Testing Program has been much maligned since it added the grades 3-8 assessments during the NCLB era. Pearson has the state testing contract, and there have been all sorts of problems and complications over the years, but Pearson has been making money by selling tests to districts and state departments since the invention of the test and will probably continue to do so throughout the next 100 years of rides on the educational reform roller coaster. In my work, I travel the country visiting with district leaders and educators and I can tell you pretty confidently that no state’s assessment contractor is respected or loved. Swap Pearson for CTB or Riverside Publishing and we’re probably having the same conversation here.

The movement against these reforms would be stronger if it divides and conquers. The State Education Department is not going to abandon its entire agenda, but it is conceivable to see them backing off from some of its components, particularly with such vocal and unanimous resistance across the state. Ask yourself: Would you be OK with a new set of learning goals for your children if the state department eased up on all the testing and if your child’s teacher didn’t feel as if she/he were under attack by the APPR system? Encourage your representatives in Albany to pick one component of the reform agenda and start there.

And give Common Core a second look. Without APPR and the new tests, it’s just a suggested list of things to teach in a given grade level and subject area, not the diabolical evil force it’s been depicted to be.

Doug Roberts is a consultant and entrepreneur in the educational technology sector who describes his work as standards- and publisher-agnostic. He lives in Greenport.

12/13/13 3:30pm
12/13/2013 3:30 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | State Senator John Flanagan during his press conference in Brentwood on Thursday.

COURTESY PHOTO | State Senator John Flanagan during his press conference in Brentwood on Thursday.

State Senator John Flanagan is calling on the state Department of Education to delay using a controversial method of storing student data electronically for one year and proposing legislation to ban standardized testing for students in pre-K through 2nd grade.

Mr. Flanagan (R-East Northport), who chairs the senate’s Standing Committee on Education, is also sponsoring legislation to create independent oversight, as well as establishing civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure of personal information stored on the state’s student data portal received from public schools.

The actions are based on his committee’s report, “The Regents Reform Agenda: ‘Assessing’ Our Progress,” which Mr. Flanagan unveiled Thursday during a press conference in Brentwood.

[Scroll down to view the complete report]

In the report, privacy experts and school administrators raised concerns about the ability of unauthorized third-parties to access personally identifiable information, or PII, of students, teachers and principals that are collected on the state portal.

Many parents and educators have protested an agreement the state has made with inBloom, Inc. to store student data because they fear personal records could be compromised.

Strengthening public school privacy protections is one part of a series of legislative actions Mr. Flanagan is proposing.

The report includes testimony given during five public hearings Mr. Flanagan has held in recent months that sought public feedback on the state’s implementation of Common Core.

Merryl Tisch, the Board of Regents chancellor, issued a statement Friday in response to Mr. Flanagan’s report.

“While we have concerns about some aspects of the report, it’s clear that Senator Flanagan has put together some strong recommendations that we look forward to working collaboratively to address,” Ms. Tisch said in a press release.

The Common Core State Standards has been nationally recognized and adopted by most states across the country that claims to better prepare students for college and careers by requiring instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

After New York adopted Common Core, the state published lesson plans for teachers to help students achieve the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate that schools use these lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.

Earlier this year, and as part of Race to the Top requirements, the state did direct New York school districts develop their own teacher evaluation systems, known as annual professional performance reviews plan (APPR), lest the districts risk losing additional available state aid.

The state Department of Education has been heavily criticized by school officials across New York for pushing the new mandates before districts were ready for them. While many educators embraced Common Core when it was first introduced, they’ve since demanded that the state hold off on implementing the new student assessments based on Common Core and the APPR plan until the rigorous curriculum is properly implemented inside the classroom.

Some of the concerns raised in Mr. Flanagan’s report include: over-testing of students, inadequate professional development funding for teacher training, incomplete and missing modules and the use of test questions that were neither age-level nor developmentally appropriate.

Mr. Flanagan’s committee also heard testimony from parents about their “children experiencing severe stress, anxiety and frustrations as they struggled to understand the new curriculum, while also trying to learn in a whole new way.” The committee also hear about teachers’ “exasperation over the lack of time and resources given to professional development training in order to adequately prepare lesson plans before teaching and testing their students,” according to a press release issued by his office Thursday.

As a result of the testimony given, the report recommends the state Department of Education immediately address several concerns, such as expediting waivers from the U.S. Department of Education “to relax onerous and rigid testing restrictions placed on certain students,” especially with English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities; producing all missing or incomplete curriculum modules; aligning assessments proportionally to curriculum actually implemented; and increasing funding for the professional development of teachers.

As for the state Legislature, Mr. Flanagan is proposing several bills for approval, including requiring state Department of Education commissioner John King to review APPR plans and eliminate unnecessary student assessments. If approved, Mr. King will also be required to report on the effectiveness of Common Core tests and programing with an independent audit.

Mr. Flanagan described the recommendations contained within the report as “a good first step in addressing the concerns heard by the committee, which overwhelmingly revolved around the issue of over-testing.”

“Setting rigorous academic standards to ensure that all students are college and career ready should always be an important goal to attain,” he said. “However, it must balanced by a fair and even implementation of those new standards to allow our children to adjust and adapt appropriately.”

The report will be submitted to the Board of Regents, Mr. King and Governor Andrew Cuomo, officials said.


The Regents Reform Agenda: ‘Assessing’ Our Progress,