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.

SUPE: CONSTRUCTION ON SCHEDULE

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.

SCHOOL BOARD GOES DIGITAL

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

jennifer@timesreview.com

12/10/13 10:28pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School principal Debra Rodgers giving a presentation Tuesday night about Common Core practices within fourth-grade English Language Arts and math.

Angry Riverhead School District parents and residents are expressing their frustration over new Common Core materials for elementary school students, particularly new math curriculum.

During the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday night, parent Yolanda Thompson said she’s upset because she and her husband have been unable to properly assist their third-grade daughter with the new homework. She said she fears students aren’t exposed to building a strong foundation in math before moving onto more complex arithmetic.

“As parents, we’re wondering if we’re further confusing our children,” said Ms. Thompson, who provided the school board with handouts of her daughter’s homework. “There’s tears. There’s frustration.”

School board member Amelia Lantz said she’s concerned about her daughter’s fifth grade math homework that’s sponsored by the state because she has found it to be riddled with misspellings and errors.

Like Ms. Thompson, Ms. Lantz said she’s frustrated that she can’t help her daughter with her homework.

“Myself or my husband are trying to teach this to a child the way we learned it,” she said. “Now you’ve got three things going on in there and you’ve got one very frustrated child. That’s the gap that really concerns me.”

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.

The public discussion came after Phillips Avenue Elementary School principal Debra Rodgers gave a presentation about Common Core practices within fourth-grade English Language Arts and math.

She said fourth grades teachers district-wide are collaborating together and combining current curriculum with state lessons plans Riverhead educators have deemed will be beneficial to students.

As for math, Ms. Rodgers conceded parents are most frustrated with not knowing how to help their children with math homework and suggested they contact the student’s teacher as soon as possible. Notifying the school will help to let the teacher know if the lesson needs to be repeated in class, she said.

“Close the book and send it back to the teacher,” Ms. Rodgers said.

Superintendent Nancy Carney reiterated that the district hasn’t “blindly adopted” the state’s recommended curriculum and is moving in a “slow and careful manner” when developing curriculum aimed at achieving the Common Core standards.

She also asked parents to be opened minded to new learning methods and gave an example of how children are able to use technology more readily than their parents.

“There are going to be new ways of learning, thinking and doing,” she said. “We need to be sure as parents and educators that we don’t frustrate kids. That’s very important to us.

“Please keep articulating to your building principals and your classroom teachers what your kids are struggling with so we can have those conversations and figure how to move forward.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

11/12/13 12:00pm

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riverhead school board members at Tuesday night's meeting.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | A Common Core informational meeting will be held at Tuesday night’s Riverhead school board meeting.

Aquebogue Elementary School principal Phil Kent is expected to give a presentation about Common Core practices within third grade at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, according to the agenda.

Last month, Riley Avenue Elementary School principal David Enos and Roanoke Avenue Elementary School principal Thomas Payton gave a joint presentation about Common Core practices within English Language Arts and math in grades kindergarten through second grade.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a new set of benchmarks that requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age to better prepare them for college and careers after high school.

In addition to Common Core, the school board is expected vote on a resolution to finalize the district’s Tuthill Lane land deal with the county and hear a presentation from the district’s external auditor.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Check back tonight for coverage from the meeting.

Riverhead school board meeting agenda, Nov. 12, 2013

10/23/13 5:00am
10/23/2013 5:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riley Avenue Elementary School principal David Enos giving a presentation about how Common Core is being implemented in the district.

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney wants the public to know where the true frustration lies with Common Core.

During the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday night, Ms. Carney said she believes there’s a lot of confusion about the Common Core Standards Initiative since New York adopted it, because several different developments occurred simultaneously when the new curriculum was rolled out, including a state-mandated annual professional performance review plans, known as APPR.

Under the state’s mandate, teacher evaluations are tied to new students assessments based on the Common Core. The initiative primarily requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and more rigorous math to students at a younger age and is a set of national standards designed to raise the bar for classroom instruction.

It’s also designed to help prepare students for college and careers upon graduating high school.

Ms. Carney described the Common Core curriculum itself as “good” and “worthwhile.”

“Our stress and anxiety is from the state’s implementation of putting this into place before we can even unveil our teaching of the Common Core and putting high-stakes testing in place along with tying it to teacher evaluations to something that hasn’t been properly implemented yet,” she said.

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. Ms. Carney said she believes the state should set aside new student assessments and the APPR plan until Common Core is properly implemented inside the classroom.

“Public education is at a crossroads,” Ms. Carney said. “We need to be sure its serving everybody and kept under local control.”

She said Riverhead is taking a slow approach toward the new curriculum and wanted the public to know that although the state has designed domains (kindergarten through second grade) and modules (grades 3 through 8) to help teachers achieve the Common Core’s college and career ready goals with students, those lesson plans aren’t mandated.

“Many of the things we’re already doing is helping to meet those standards,” she said. “But we are looking at modules to make sure we are exposing our kids to the skills they will need to be successful.”

When parents express concern about students falling behind as tougher programs are implemented, Ms. Carney said teachers are creating “individual differentiated instruction” as each student’s learning ability is identified.

To make sure students don’t fall behind as tougher programs are implemented, the district is offering new types of support for teachers and students. For example, the district’s Response To Intervention program, known as RTI, provides students with one-on-one instruction.

Tuesday night’s meeting marked the district’s first Common Core presentation of a series planned for upcoming school board meetings.

Riley Avenue Elementary School principal David Enos and Roanoke Avenue Elementary School principal Thomas Payton gave a joint presentation about Common Core practices within English Language Arts and math in grades kindergarten through second grade.

Mr. Enos talked about how ELA is changing under Common Core, including how elementary students are increasing their vocabularies by reading more non-fiction, learning how to attribute information in their writing and how to read closely.

“They’re like detectives looking for evidence,” he said. “Students are learning about the world by reading.”

Mr. Enos said the domains Riverhead has chosen so far — “Learning the Five Senses” for kindergarten; “Animals and Habit” for first grade; and “Cycles in Nature” for second grade — will be implemented during science and social studies class times.

As for math, Mr. Payton said there’s more focus on teaching students math concepts and integrating them within other core subjects.

“Math isn’t just done during math time anymore,” he said. “Students are practicing math concepts with an intensity that focus application in relevant situations.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

10/22/13 12:00pm
10/22/2013 12:00 PM

Riv_board_Carney

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney is expected to give a presentation about Common Core practices within English Language Arts and math in grades kindergarten through second grade, according to Tuesday night’s school board meeting agenda.

For the first time this past April, the state’s ELA and math assessments included elements of what’s known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Common Core is a new set of national standards designed to raise the bar for classroom instruction and help “prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century,” state officials say. The initiative primarily requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and more rigorous math to students at a younger age.

In addition to Common Core, the school board is expected to discuss its budget-planning timeline for the 2014-15 school year.

On Jan. 14, the school board will go over its tentative budget goals and will hold a special meeting Jan. 21 to discuss personnel issues in executive session.

Ms. Carney is then expected to hold the following budget presentations:

Feb. 11: General support, benefits and debt service

Feb. 25: Regular day school budget, transportation and facilities

March 11: Special education, PPS, guidance and other instructional items

March 25: Revenue and tax levy

April 8: Tentative budget

The school board is expected to adopt the 2014-15 spending plan by April 22 and release it to the public by May 2.

The final budget hearing is set for May 13 — one week before the vote.

As for the school board race, president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, vice president Greg Meyer and member Kimberly Ligon are up for reelection. Board of Education candidate petitions are due April 21.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Check back for an update.

jennifer@timesreview.com

Riverhead school board meeting agenda, Oct. 22, 2013

09/24/13 5:00am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Superintendent Nancy Carney, left, with school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse at a Board of Education meeting in February.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Superintendent Nancy Carney, left, with school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse at a Board of Education meeting in February.

The Riverhead school board is expected to vote on a new contract agreement with the district’s teachers union at Tuesday night’s meeting.

On Saturday, the News-Review reported the school board and teacher’s union were close to reaching a new contract.

Lisa Goulding, the new president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association, which represents district teachers, declined to comment on the specifics until the new agreement is finalized.

“Although Riverhead teachers have been without a contract for more than a year now, the new leadership of the RCFA hopes to foster a relationship with administration and the board that allows us to continue to serve the needs of our students and this community, while honoring the professionalism of our members,” she said in an email.

The memorandum of agreement’s timeframe is between July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2017, according to the meeting’s agenda.

In addition to the teacher’s contract, the school board is expected to vote on Superintendent Nancy Carney’s recommendation to suspend a non-instructional employee without pay for 30 days pending an investigation. The move is pursuant to Civil Service Law Section 75.

If the school board approves the resolution, Huntington attorney Lawrence Spirn will be designated as a hearing officer and will make a disciplinary recommendation if the unidentified employee is found guilty.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Check back later for an update.

Riverhead school board meeting agenda, Sept. 24, 2013

09/10/13 4:00pm
09/10/2013 4:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | One of the two new classrooms at Riley Avenue Elementary School.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | One of the two new classrooms at Riley Avenue Elementary School.

The Riverhead school board is expected to discuss employee contract negotiations during an executive session at tonight’s regular meeting, according to meeting agenda.

The district’s teachers contract expired June 30, 2012.

In addition, the school board is expected to vote on a couple of change orders related to capital improvements currently underway. Superintendent Nancy Carney will also give a construction update, according to the agenda.

The public portion of tonight’s meeting is at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Check back later for an update.

Riverhead School Board Meeting, Sept. 10, 2013

09/08/13 12:00pm
09/08/2013 12:00 PM
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