11/07/13 6:00am
11/07/2013 6:00 AM

Testing1

To the editor:

I disagree with those that think Common Core can be adjusted to the point were it is acceptable to all. It’s the start of selling any control of your child’s education over to the federal government. Some may say there are some good points to it. Some said there were good points to many disasters in world history. This can only be an all-or-nothing battle. We can’t open this door and try to close it in years to come; it’s the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent.”

I suggest doing your homework on this. Check out the businesses that are pushing this and what they stand to gain once there is no turning back. It’s sad; it’s all about the money. Not the children’s future.

Let them take over the Department of Motor Vehicles or something like that. Let’s let our teachers teach. It’s worth the fight.

Denis Noncarrow, Peconic

10/12/13 10:00am
10/12/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Early childhood education teacher Alison Aldredge leads her students as they act out growing from seeds to trees.

In a naturally lit area of the early childhood education classroom at Peconic Community School in Aquebogue last Friday, students learned about trees by becoming trees themselves.

“Follow me, seeds,” their teacher, Alison Aldredge, whispered as she tapped on a drum. “Come on seeds. Follow me around.”

Her students then tip-toed toward the class’s potted hibiscus tree.

“The seeds are beginning to find their spot in the ground,” Ms. Aldredge said as she motioned to the children to sit and crouch like little seeds. “Come, find a spot. Plant yourself low. It’s time to begin. Starting to grow. Get your roots so deep down.”

Ms. Aldredge then took out a rain stick instrument to dramatize another element of what makes plants rise from the ground.

“Send your roots really low,” she said with a smile as she shifted the rain stick back and forth. “Start to grow, grow and grow!”

The founders of the Peconic Community School are experiencing some growth of their own. The independent private school, in its second year, this fall enrolled 27 students, up from nine last year. The school, which started in a small space at the East End Arts property in downtown Riverhead, is now operating at the former elementary school at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Aquebogue.

The school was founded by three Southold parents who wanted their children and others to have the chance to learn in an environment that encourages cooperation and an understanding of the interconnectedness of art, science, nature and community. Tuition costs about $10,000 but the school offers a sliding-scale rate based on family income, she said. Fundraisers are held throughout the year to supplement tuition income.

The school’s co-executive directors, Liz Casey Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley, sisters who founded the alternative school with fellow parent Patricia Eckardt, said they’re focused on creating themed curriculum that spans the school’s grades, from preschool to fifth.

And they get help from community partners such as Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Group for the East End and Hallockville Museum Farm.

One example of how Peconic Community School teachers are collaborating this year comes in the form of lesson plans on trees.

As Ms. Aldredge’s students gave their best tree impersonations, she asked what kind of trees they were.

“I’m a big tree, what about you?” she asked as she stretched out her own arms. “Who feels like a silly walnut tree, dropping nuts all over the ground?”

A few students shouted “I do! I do!” as they transformed into walnuts and demonstrated how nuts plop to the ground.

Ms. Searl said the school’s new space is conducive to the holistic approach to learning, because each classroom has large windows, and natural vegetation surrounds the school.

As for the lesson plans, Ms. Aldredge’s students, ranging in age from 3 to 5 years, are focusing on how seeds become trees. Sharon Cook’s lower primary class of first- and second-graders is learning about different types of trees. Over in Colleen Hanley’s upper primary class, a combined class of grades three through five, students are learning how they can become environmental stewards by studying trees.

“It’s exciting because, developmentally, they’re each doing something on the appropriate level,” Ms. Searl said about the coordinated efforts. “As we do tree units in years to come, [the early childhood] group will move up and do the next part, and so on.”

Other collaborative lesson plans are in the works to enrich the basic curriculum.

The school is also enhancing its music program this year with the Dalcroze theory, which teaches students about music through body movements, and flute or and violin lessons are being offered as well. And all students are taking Spanish language classes.

Parents are encouraged to participate in the teaching process at the school.

Jamesport parent and jewelry maker Carolyn Mosciatti visited her 7-year-old son Matteo’s class Friday morning to lead students in a stamping project to make name necklaces.

Ms. Mosciatti said she had decided to enroll her son at Peconic Community School because she believes a smaller class size supports her son’s special education needs. She also likes how the school encourages parents and community members to participate with students in the classroom.

“When we toured the school, Matteo asked if he could start tomorrow,” Ms. Mosciatti said, threading a student’s necklace. “He feels at home here.”

Like Matteo, five of the eight students in Ms. Hanley’s class went to local public schools last year. Most of those students said they are enjoying school this year because they don’t feel the pressure of rushing through their class assignments and feel more comfortable to freely express opinions to their teachers.

“You had to learn a certain way,” 8-year-old Kate said about her old school. “Here it’s better because it’s more fun to learn here.”

Although Ms. Searl said she’s pleased with the school’s progress, she’s not looking to drastically expand the school anytime soon.

“We’re still young; we’re only two,” she said. “We need to catch our breath … We always had in mind to grow slowly.

“We just want to make sure we don’t bite off more than we can chew.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

10/03/13 2:00pm
10/03/2013 2:00 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen at the meeting to appoint him last June.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen at the meeting to appoint him last June.

In 2001, Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind. At the time there was strong bipartisan support for the idea that no children in the U.S. should fail to receive a sound public education, especially the poor among them. Who wouldn’t support such a noble cause? Twelve years later, however, we contend with the effects of the implementation of this law, which are nothing short of lamentable. In New York, this national initiative is spearheaded by the Board of Regents, a non-elected body of 17 citizens who control all education policy in the state and oversee the State Education Department, whose leader is the commissioner of education, currently Dr. John King Jr.

In a March 2012 presentation to the New York State School Boards Association, Dr. King outlined the Regents Reform Agenda. According to Dr. King, who follows in a long line of school “reform” advocates, there is a general crisis in public education. Most high school graduates, Dr. King tells us, are not “college and career ready.” Children do not get the education they need to supply U.S. businesses with skilled workers, according to the Regents, because the state does not have high academic standards, and because our schools lack effective instruction and supervision. Looking to get $700 million from the federal government’s Race-to-the-Top initiative (a one-time payment of about 3% of total annual state spending on education, half of which was earmarked to create a data system), the Regents agreed to tie every local school district’s curriculum to national learning standards, known as Common Core Standards. The Regents also agreed to base the evaluation of teachers and principals on standardized tests in English and mathematics (grades 3-8) that all students are required to take, including students with special needs and those who do not speak or write English as their native language. This Reform Agenda diminishes subjects other than English and mathematics: history, science, art, music, occupational education, and athletics apparently are no longer essential parts of a high-quality education. The Common Core Standards themselves are based on a rigid view of childhood development, forcing all elementary children to learn at the same rate. And the Reform Agenda has squandered a staggering amount of instructional time and money to create a “data driven culture” rife with technical and equity problems.

But there is no “general” crisis. The Regents bases its Reform Agenda on an incorrect diagnosis. And this mistake leads to bad public policy. Contrary to what the Regents claim, there are many excellent public schools and public school districts in New York and the nation. Many of these districts graduate well over 90 percent of their students. Many high school seniors are accepted to, and flourish in, the nation’s best universities (Long Island, if considered as a separate state, would have the best public education system in the nation.) Most significant, if one considers family income, American students perform as well on standardized tests as students in any country in the world. The Regents Reform Agenda is wrongheaded because it does not focus first and foremost on providing poor children with the material and emotional support they need to focus on learning in school (22 percent of the children in the U.S. live in poverty, 45 percent in low-income families). To no one’s surprise, scores on the most recent state tests correlated highly with the incomes of the families of the children who took them. Unfortunately, the Regents Reform Agenda distracts teachers and principals in successful schools from doing what works, while poor students do not get the support they need to focus every day on “school” learning. (To be sure, poor children learn a great deal, but their real-life curriculum does not follow the Common Core.)

Beyond these concerns with the Regents Reform Agenda lies another, perhaps even more disturbing, story. Most of the Regents send their own children to private schools, so they, unlike the rest of us, have no personal stake in the roll-out of their ambitious, but untested, “reform” program. (In fact, the private schools to which they send their children do not embrace this Reform Agenda!) And although “reformers” do not like us to notice, many of them have personal ties to companies that profit from selling educational materials to public schools, creating an unwise conflict of interest. (There is an annual $500 billion market in public education in the U.S., generated from school taxes.)

ON TOPIC: Editor Michael White column on Common Core

“Reformers” also insist that superior alternatives to locally controlled public education exist — charter schools. However, they are reluctant to admit many troubling facts about these schools: charter schools are funded by public school taxes, but many of them also receive large donations from private foundations and from individuals who have interests in companies that receive public school taxes; many charters have produced test results that do not compare favorably with their public school counterparts; many charters appear to offer superior education because they do not accept students with disabilities, or students who speak languages other than English, or because they encourage students who do not conform to the charter’s rules and expectations to drop out of school. Too many charters divert resources from local public schools, whose revenues are now, more or less, fixed by the new tax levy limit law, while they receive generous donations from businesses and foundations that seek to privatize public education.

Perhaps the Regents should consider some new ideas to “leave no child behind:” first, insist that the governor and Legislature ensure that all children in the state live in safe neighborhoods, that their parents have good jobs, that they have prenatal care, early childhood education, and adequate medical and social services; second, put aside the expensive and faulty APPR initiative, and instead use audit teams of professional educators to issue written reports of all school districts every several years; third, extend the probationary period for teachers and principals from the current three years to six years, to provide an apprentice period as well as sufficient time to make informed decisions about the potential of young teachers and principals.

Bring all children, especially the poorest, to school every day, ready to learn. Evaluate and support teachers and principals in meaningful ways based on detailed analysis of each teacher’s and each principal’s strengths and weaknesses. Assess school districts in depth, from student work to teacher training to Board of Education leadership. If the Regents were to consider these changes, and reject superficial data and calls to privatize this essential public institution, all children might come to school eagerly, districts (and the teachers, principals, and yes, superintendents, who work in them) would be assessed realistically by legitimate and competent external authorities and be provided meaningful direction for improvement, and all new teachers and principals would have to meet a threshold of professional competence that is demanding and fair before they would receive tenure. The Regents Reform Agenda creates problems where none exist, and fails to meet genuine challenges.

It’s time the Regents considered other paths to defend this fundamental democratic institution.

Steven R. Cohen, Ph.D., is superintendent of schools for Shoreham-Wading River School District.

09/24/2013 12:02 PM

JOE WERKMEISTER FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River High School.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board will vote on a resolution calling on state and federal officials to end the over-reliance on standardized testing at tonight’s Board of Education meeting. The board is also expected to vote on a resolution asking state and federal officials to re-examine New York state’s accountability systems.

Recently, both the Riverhead and Southold school boards took similar action.

The Shoreham school board is also expected to discuss a security improvement proposal at tonight’s meeting. In January, the district hired two security guards after a SWR parent raised concerns at an open forum on district security, Superintendent Steven Cohen said at the time. A head security guard was also chosen this winter to review the district’s security policies and improve them.

Tonight’s board meeting takes place at 8 p.m. in the high school library.

ryoung@timesreview.com

SWR School Board Agenda 09/24/13

09/21/13 5:25pm
09/21/2013 5:25 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School Board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse is the East End Women's Network 2013 "Woman of the Year."

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School Board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse confirmed that the district made a contract offer to its teachers.

The Riverhead Board of Education may vote on a new teacher’s contract at its Tuesday meeting after the district made an offer to its teachers, who have been without a contract for just over a year.

Board of Education president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse confirmed today that an offer has been made.

“It’s my understanding that the teachers will ratify it,” she said. “But nothing has been formalized yet.”

She said the leadership of the teachers’ union held meetings with teachers in various school buildings Thursday and Friday. Another meeting is set for Monday.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said that if the teachers’ union ratifies the agreement, it will likely be voted on at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Lisa Goulding, the new president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association, which represents district teachers, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said that while the district has made an offer, she is not at liberty to disclose any details.

The district’s last teacher contract ran from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2012. (The school’s fiscal year starts in July.)

That contract gave teachers a one percent increase for the first six months of both years with no step/increment increases, and another one percent increase for the second six months of both years, with step/increment increases.

The step/increment raises are in addition to the base salary raises teachers get annually according to the terms of their contract and are based on experience and other factors, such as whether they have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and how many graduate credits they have.

The last Riverhead teachers’ contract had a salary scale with 30 steps.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/09/13 12:30pm
09/09/2013 12:30 PM
First day of SChool in Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Teacher Emily Chizever comforts a tearful kindergartner, Charlee Koke, on the first day of school Monday.

Longtime Riley Avenue Elementary School principal David Enos walked up and down the school’s new sidewalks with security guard Tom Crabb, directing parents and children to the school’s newly built drop-off area Monday morning.

Under a bright blue and nearly cloudless sky, Mr. Enos waved and yelled “Happy New Year!” to the arriving students.

He’s headed the school since the mid-1990s, but greets each year as if if were his first.

This year, some 600 students, from kindergarteners to the fourth grade are enrolled at the school in Calverton.

“I’m so excited because the kids are arriving to a brand new fabulous upgraded renovated school, Mr. Enos said, in reference to construction work that was completed this summer and came as part of a $78.3 million construction bond. ”The reconfigured parking lot and separate drop-off area for parents is an improvement for safety. The parents and buses no longer intersect.”

“Wow look at that. A new library!” one student said to a classmate while walking past the school’s new cafeteria/gym, library and computer lab.

09/08/13 3:00pm
Riley Avenue School, Calverton, North Shore University Hospital

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Nurse practitioner Sheila Davies shows Riley Avenue first-grader William de Lauzon and his classmates a plastic model of a human heart in 2012.

There has been a great deal of press about the Common Core curriculum, testing and what schools will and won’t be doing to improve the education system. News-Review editor Michael White’s column raised some excellent points and concerns about whether these efforts will actually help all children.

Angelo Truglio

Angelo Truglio

As a retired teacher and grandparent, I am concerned. What can teachers, parents and caregivers do while the decision makers plan their next move? We must preserve the curiosity and love for learning that our children have at birth and not lose or stifle these traits in the scuffle.

I have spent the last seven years, reading, tutoring, meeting with teachers and creating I Can Do That! Kids, a web and printed resource that helps children stay motivated and excited about learning. I have found that there are some simple, proven ways to help children stay energized, persevere and achieve their “personal best” — even as schools raise the bar.

We read “The Little Engine That Could” to a child when they are very young to inspire them to say, “I think I can, I think I can” when faced with a challenge. As they grow up they need to learn, “How I can! How I can!” strategies and actions to work at something difficult.

There are some easy ways parents and caregivers can help children know what to think, say or do when faced with a challenge. Put aside the back-to-school ads. Here’s a different way to get your child “ready for school” with these five tips.

1. Talk about “hard stuff” — challenges. Ask your child to tell you about something difficult that they recently accomplished. Explain that kids have to do lots of “hard stuff,” called challenges. Obstacle courses are a challenge, but are fun. Video games are challenging and that’s why kids love playing them. Make the connection that doing “hard stuff” is really like an obstacle course or a video game and rather than think, “Oh no, this is too hard!” think, or say, “This is a challenge that I can’t do … yet!”

2. Break it down. “There’s too much to do.” Help a child work at a challenge by starting with a small, doable piece. Think of it as a large puzzle with pieces that need to be assembled. When they have a page of math problems to solve that seems overwhelming, get a blank sheet of paper. Say, “Find the one that you think is the easiest to begin with”, and then cover the others. Help them focus on just one piece of an assignment at a time.

3. Increase ‘think time.’ Don’t jump in too quickly when you hear, “I don’t remember what to do.” Provide them with time to stop and think. Suggest that they look for clues or ask them to explain what they are unsure about. Delay giving them hints or information until you are certain that they have exhausted their resources. You will be providing an opportunity for them to think for themselves and to realize what they are capable of achieving.

4. Making mistakes is good! The surest way to succeeding is by working through mistakes. We tend to make a very big deal about achievements and not enough emphasis is put on the fact that mistakes will happen. It’s normal; everyone makes mistakes and they actually help us get very good at something! Mention the most recent mistake you have made, how it felt and what you did to eventually succeed.

5. Use ‘process praise.’ Acknowledge how your child is achieving, rather than just the achievement. For example, say, “That was a lot of work. I really like the way you stuck to it and didn’t give up!” Or, “You finished your homework and I’m impressed that you didn’t let anything distract you from getting it done!” Research has proven that children who are praised for how they accomplish a task build confidence quicker and are more willing to take on difficult tasks that come their way.

These are a few ways to build a child’s feeling of “I am capable!” Post this column on the fridge. Remember and use these tips. When a child comes home from school, you may find yourself on automatic pilot, saying or doing what you have in the past to help motivate them. These tips will provide you with an opportunity to do something different and perhaps challenging. It means you will experience what your child is experiencing.

Southold resident Angelo Truglio is an education consultant, music educator and founder of www.icandothatkids.com. Follow Mr. Truglio’s postings at www.angelotruglio.com. He can be reached at angelotruglio@icandothatkids.com or 631-765-8033.

09/08/13 12:00pm
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO  |  Work on the new Riley Avenue Elementary School facade as of last week. The window wall marks the school's expanded cafeteria and auditorium.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Work on the new Riley Avenue Elementary School facade as of last week. The window wall marks the school’s expanded cafeteria and auditorium.

The start of a new school year is an ideal time to roll out changes to curriculum, faculty or initiatives, and in Riverhead Town public schools, the 2013-14 school year is no exception.

From new computers at Shoreham-Wading River to 30 new staff members in the Riverhead School District, the two local superintendents each shared a list of four things that will be new or different in their districts this year, as well as their hopes for the next nine months.

Nancy Carney

Superintendent Nancy Carney

• The district has hired over 30 new staff members, including over 20 new teachers to replace retirees.

• Construction work is complete at Aquebogue, Phillips Avenue and Riley Avenue elementary schools. There are new parent drop-off areas and bus loops, renovated libraries, classrooms and computer rooms, a new kitchen at Aquebogue, two new classrooms and an expanded cafeteria at Riley Avenue and new playground surfaces at all the schools. At Riverhead High School. There are new bleachers in the gymnasium and the library and auditorium will be completely renovated this fall. Construction will continue at the high school over the next two years with the addition of new science rooms and a new weight room.

• The district has installed new physical education equipment at Pulaski, Roanoke, Phillips Avenue and Aquebogue. Equipment at Riley Avenue will be installed this fall. Riverhead is the first district in New York State to be awarded a Project Fit Grant, in collaboration with Peconic Bay Medical Center.

A new curriculum is being implemented in the physical education program as part of the grant.

• Riverhead will continue to take delivery of new propane-powered buses to replace older diesel models.

“This continued overhaul of our transportation department will be complemented by a bus garage committee that will begin work this fall to oversee the design and location of a new bus hub,” Ms. Carney said. “We are looking for community members who are interested in joining this effort. Please contact me if you would like to participate.”

Steven Cohen

Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen

• The district is implementing a technology initiative in all five buildings. This includes new computers throughout the district, as well as Smartboards.

• The faculty will be strengthening its new professional development program.

• The district will be adding more security measures to all the schools

• Officials are continuing to strategically plan for the future of the district’s facilities while developing a five-year plan for programs and fiscal plans to preserve the high quality of education in Shoreham-Wading River.

ryoung@timesreview.com