01/07/14 7:00am
01/07/2014 7:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch listening to a parade of speakers at a public forum in November.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch listening to a parade of speakers at a public forum in November.

Seventh and eighth graders enrolled in New York public schools will no longer have to take the math state assessments come this spring, according to a press release issued Thursday.

Previously, those students taking Algebra I or geometry would sit for both the Regents exam and the state assessment — a practice referred to as “double testing.”

The federal government has now accepted New York State’s request to waive the state assessment mandate, thus eliminating double-test pressures for nearly 60,000 students.

Federal approval was needed to waive the math assessment requirements because all state assessments are mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, including grades 3 through 8 assessments; secondary-level exams in English, math and science; alternate assessments for students with disabilities; and annual assessments for English language learners, officials said.

State education department commissioner John King, who has come under fire in recent months from angry parents and teachers over the state’s implementation of new rigorous curriculum tied to teacher evaluations, said in a press release this week that he’s committed to reducing the amount of time students spend on tests.

Mr. King also announced last fall that the number of questions and testing time on state assessments for students in grades 3 through 8 will be reduced this school year.

Meanwhile, his department has asked the U.S. Department of Education to ease testing requirements for ESL students. The state is also asking the federal government for permission to base testing on “instructional level” rather than “chronological age” for students with significant cognitive disabilities and aren’t eligible for the New York State Alternate Assessment.

“Testing is an important part of the instructional cycle and good, sound assessments are necessary to monitor student academic progress, but we have repeatedly said that the amount of testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making,” Mr. King said. “Our successful waiver request is an example of New York’s commitment to smarter, leaner testing.”

While some local school superintendents welcomed the announcement of the waiver, they also believe the state needs to do more.

“It’s the least they can do,” Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen said when asked for comment on the state’s announcement.

Mr. Cohen said he believes implementation of the new academic standards was rushed and fails to address how family income levels play a major role in student performance.

Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said although he’s pleased the double test has been eliminated, he would like to see the state’s one-size-fits-all approach toward education come to an end, too.

“We’re not opposed to preparing students,” he said. “Students, parents, teachers and Boards of Education should be a part of developing curriculum for the future.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

12/18/13 12:30pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | From left, Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen, school board president Bill McGrath and vice president John Zukowski at Tuesday night's meeting.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | From left, Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen, school board president Bill McGrath and vice president John Zukowski at Tuesday night’s meeting.

A Wading River resident took to the podium at Tuesday night’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting to accuse and chastise a school board member for wrongfully “leaking” an email sent from an unidentified resident to another resident.

Nikko Lavey claimed the email, which the News-Review could not obtain, was addressed to Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen and contained “unflattering” comments about another person in the community. Apparently, the email got into that person’s hands. Although Mr. Lavey offered no details, he said the email was about the controversy concerning longtime boys varsity lacrosse coach Tom Rotanz, who will not be returning to Shoreham to coach the team in the spring.

Mr. Lavey said the email in question has created an uproar among district lacrosse players.

“The end result, teammates on the lacrosse team are now pointing fingers at each other and there has been no shortage of dissension among families involved,” he said.

Mr. Lavey declined to say which board member he believed had provided the email to the person mentioned in it.

Jeff Hayes of Wading River was the only other person to address the school board on this matter during Tuesday’s meeting.

“How is an email sent to you and only you forwarded on to board members or community members?” Mr. Hayes asked Mr. Cohen. “What is the policy on that? It was an email sent to you and only you and it ended up in a community member’s hands.”

None of the school board members responded to Mr. Lavey and Mr. Hayes.

Mr. Cohen declined comment after the meeting.

Also at the meeting, interim athletic director William Denniston honored several coaches and student athletes from this past fall season.

Some of the accomplishments were the tennis, cross country and football teams’ victories.

jennifer@timesreview.com

12/17/13 5:00pm
JOE WERKMEISTER FILE PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the high school library.

FILE PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the high school library.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board is expected to discuss instructional program support plans during its regular meeting Tuesday night.

The discussion is part of Superintendent Steven Cohen’s series of presentations titled “Strategic Planning.”

The school board is also expected to vote on coach appointments, according to the meeting agenda. The district doesn’t release the names listed under personnel recommendations until after the resolution is approved, administrators have said.

It is unclear if the list includes a replacement for boys varsity lacrosse coach Tom Rotanz, whom the superintendent has said will not return next school year.

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

SWR School board meeting agenda, Dec. 17, 2013

12/13/13 7:00am
12/13/2013 7:00 AM

The night of May 28 provided for a unique showcase for Shoreham-Wading River High School to flex its muscle as an athletic powerhouse. Hundreds of fans sporting blue and gold packed into Dowling Sports Complex on a rainy night in Shirley to watch a doubleheader featuring both the boys and girls lacrosse teams battling for county championships.

It was a rare pairing of boys and girls title games on the same field, a few hours apart. But it seemed perfectly appropriate. After all, since 2004, the teams have combined to win 15 county championships.

That same night, far removed from the cheering crowds, the behind-the-scenes flux within the athletic department hit another crescendo. For the past six years, a revolving door of athletic directors have come and gone at Shoreham, an unprecedented rate of turnover that has deprived the program of any long-term stability.

In the high school library, about two hours into its meeting, the school board turned its attention to Resolution No. 1213-221, a tenure recommendation for athletic director Ken Marlborough, who was first hired in 2008.

As a handful of residents looked on, board president Bill McGrath put the motion to a vote.

“All in favor?” he asked, raising his left hand to cast a yes vote.

Board members Michael Fucito, Robert Rose and Sean Beran raised their hands, giving the motion a majority vote for approval. As Mr. McGrath asked who opposed, vice president Richard Pluschau interjected and questioned Mr. Beran’s decision.

Mr. Beran shuffled some papers, and apologized for getting his “papers mixed up.”

Mr. McGrath asked once again for those in favor. Three hands went up. He asked for those who opposed.

Members John Zukowski, Jack Costas and Mr. Pluschau raised their hands. So, too, did Mr. Beran.

The motion failed, 4-3.

Mr. Beran’s apparent confusion as to which resolution was up for vote came with a plausible explanation: He had been elected to the board just one week earlier.

Yet with no prior experience on the board, he felt confident enough in a decision to vote against the recommendation of Superintendent Steven Cohen, effectively firing Mr. Marlborough and guaranteeing the district’s run without a tenured athletic director would extend beyond a decade.

When Mark Passamonte — who’s currently a principal at Canton High School, located about 25 miles south of the Canadian border — begins his duties Jan. 6 as the Shoreham-Wading River School District’s newest athletic director, it will mark the ninth transition the position has undergone since 2005. Seven of those transitions have come in the past six years. By comparison, of the 11 similar-sized schools Shoreham competes against in Class A this year, none has endured more than one transition during that same time period.

Interviews with more than a dozen current and former coaches, administrators and board members, plus a review of Board of Education minutes, revealed a timeline of the ever-rotating position and offered insight into some of the controversy surrounding it. While some of the turnover has been unavoidable, and the result of poor luck, two interim ADs abruptly resigned in addition to Mr. Marlborough’s departure. Most recently, Lynn Schwartz, a retired Westhampton superintendent, left the position at the start of the school year in September. Mr. Schwartz’s sudden exit left the school scrambling to find a replacement just as fall sports were getting underway.

The success Shoreham teams have enjoyed over the past decade has fueled a culture where everyone wants a piece of the pie. In many ways, sports has become the community’s identity.

“Lacrosse in Shoreham is not just a sport that plays in the spring; it is the very heartbeat of our district,” Shoreham resident Christine Bruno said at a recent board meeting in defense of ousted boys varsity coach Tom Rotanz, who was informed last month that the superintendent would not recommend him for the position this spring. In lacrosse especially, the potential for scholarship money leads to frenzied parents going all-out to assure their child has every chance to reach their athletic pinnacle — and possibly ease the burden of the enormous expense of secondary education. It’s the athletic director who’s often caught in the cross-hairs.

“This place has chewed up its ADs,” Mr. Cohen said.

At Shoreham, strife among the administration, school board and overbearing parents, along with the constant threat of a budget crisis, has transformed the athletic director position — especially when it’s without tenure — into one of the most challenging in the district.

And in the past six years, no one has survived.

RICH BARNES FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River fans have been passionate supporters of their teams.

Throughout much of Shoreham’s history, the athletic department was guided by either Diana Wells or Mike Schwenk. As other administrators came and went, the athletic department could count on stability in the AD position for more than 20 years, into the early 2000s, when Mr. Schwenk resigned.

It wasn’t always perfect. But the stability was evident.

When Mr. Schwenk resigned, the school hired Paul Jendrewski, the school’s former wrestling coach, who had been a teacher in the middle school, as the next AD. It was his first position as an administrator.

He held the job for about three years before deciding to retire at the end of the school year in 2005. His wife was ill and he wanted to spend more time with his family, he said at the time.

In July 2005, Jim Cranmer officially replaced Mr. Jendrewski as the school’s fourth athletic director. Over the next three years, Shoreham’s sports teams continued to excel, winning state championships in lacrosse and sending teams from nearly every sport to the playoffs, even as budget problems constantly threatened the athletic department’s future.

A gregarious man who had worked previously as an athletic director at Bayport-Blue Point and Plainedge high schools, Mr. Cranmer was an ideal replacement. As his third year at Shoreham wound down — when he would have in all likelihood been granted tenure — Mr. Cranmer got an opportunity to become athletic director at Island Trees High School. The school was a brief commute from his home in Nassau County. The job was too good to pass up, so Mr. Cranmer accepted the position and left Shoreham in 2008.

“If you want to call it a problem, one of the biggest things you have to look at when you’re an AD is there seemed to be a real money flow problem,” Mr. Cranmer said of dealing with budget issues during his time at Shoreham. “Financially, it just hindered you from wanting to move forward with things.”

Mr. Marlborough, who lives in Cutchogue, became the next athletic director. As he entered his third year, an unfortunate accident sidelined him for about eight months. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in August 2011, Mr. Marlborough fell from a tree while clearing debris and was seriously injured. The accident sparked the run of interim ADs and postponed for more than a year Mr. Marlborough’s tenure recommendation.

“He was supposed to work the whole year and a tenure decision was going to be made sometime during the year,” Mr. Cohen said. “But when he fell out of the tree, that sort of put off our ability to make a decision until when he came back.”

JOE WERKMEISTER FILE PHOTO | Lynn Schwartz, a retired Westhampton superintendent, abruptly resigned as interim athletic director in September, just as the fall sports season began.

In September 2011, the school board approved Mr. Schwartz, a well-respected administrator with an impressive résumé, to serve as the interim athletic director. Mr. Cohen had just been hired by the school board three months earlier on a contentious 4-3 vote as the replacement for Harriet Copel, who opted not to seek another contract.

At the time, dissenting board members said the process to hire the superintendent was rushed. Former board member Leo Greeley called it a “travesty to the community.”

Mr. Cohen’s first task for Mr. Schwartz was to provide an assessment on the state of the athletic program.

“All of these controversies swirling and I’m a new guy in town,” Mr. Cohen said. “I know nothing. Everybody’s telling me their side of the story. So Lynn [Schwartz] was going to be my guy to help me understand what was going on.”

Mr. Schwartz reported that there were no concerns over the “quality of programs,” Mr. Cohen said. A month after Mr. Schwartz’s hiring, the board appointed Debbie Lutjen, a physical education teacher, as the substitute director of physical education to fill a part of the job for which Mr. Schwartz wasn’t certified.

With Mr. Marlborough’s return date still uncertain, Mr. Schwartz had agreed to work for several months up until his planned vacation with his wife, who had recently retired, Mr. Cohen said. Mr. Marlborough’s absence extended longer than expected.

So the school hired another interim.

Starting Feb. 6, 2012, Nick Schroeder, a longtime athletic director at Smithtown and another well-respected administrator, joined as a per diem substitute. Mr. Schroeder was certified for both health education and physical education, allowing him to take on the full job.

Mr. Schroeder lasted just over a month, resigning effective March 16.

In an interview, Mr. Schroeder spoke highly of his brief stint at Shoreham, mostly in reference to the coaching staff.

“I have some opinions, but I was there so short a period of time, it’s hard for me to be judgmental about it,” Mr. Schroeder said. “But I was impressed with the coaching staff across the board.”

Mr. Schroeder said during his 17 years at Smithtown, his contact on a day-to-day basis with the superintendent was always minimal. The environment at Shoreham was different.

“It’s more microscopic, let’s say,” he said. “I was in [with the superintendent] quite a bit and dealing with issues that are typical. I was in there a lot, let me just say that. Some things you just have to let people handle.”

Mr. Schroeder reiterated that he didn’t mean to be critical of Mr. Cohen, but was merely pointing out the different approach compared to his previous job, where he had been in place for many years.

Mr. Cohen said the athletic director reports directly to him rather than an assistant superintendent. In an ideal scenario, his interaction with the athletic program would simply be to attend games, he said.

“That’s the best sign things are working well,” he said.

However, that has not been the case, he admitted.

Mr. Schroeder’s resignation caught Mr. Cohen “a little” by surprise, he said.

“He told me that he was ill and he needed to resign to deal with that,” Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Schroeder said: “I had some issues, which I like to keep under my hat. And I wound up stepping out before Ken got there.”

To fill the brief gap before Mr. Marlborough returned, the school appointed Lou Curra as a per diem substitute starting March 16, 2012. Mr. Curra is now the interim assistant superintendent for human resources.

A few weeks later, Mr. Marlborough returned.

Over the course of a school year, a school board is tasked with approving dozens upon dozens of appointments for positions in every facet of the district. The board’s decisions are based on the recommendation of the superintendent.

“Boards are urged, [by] the New York State School Board’s Association, to let the superintendent run the district,” Mr. Cohen said. “And that’s why ordinarily, in 95 percent of the cases, the board of ed will approve the recommendation of the superintendent, because they’re not in a position to make those judgments.”

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Former athletic director Ken Marlborough was denied tenure by the school board in May, despite the recommendation of superintendent Steven Cohen.

Board members remain hushed on the tenure decision, citing it as a personnel issue.

Almost immediately after the board voted against the tenure recommendation for Mr. Marlborough, it raised a concern for Mr. McGrath, the board president.

“I think I knew it was going to be a contentious vote in that it was not going to be unanimous one way or another,” he said. “I was concerned about how the vote actually went because of the confusion.”

Mr. McGrath said he asked the administration to check with the school’s legal counsel to make sure how they voted was legal.

“At the end of the day, our job is to do these things right,” he said.

The legal counsel confirmed that the board had acted legally, Mr. McGrath said.

Mr. Marlborough appeared to have the support of the coaches within the athletic department, based on multiple interviews. While some coaches felt he had room for improvement in some areas, they still felt he did not deserve to lose his job.

“He was blamed [by board members] for a lot of things that weren’t his doing,” one source in the athletic department said.

Mr. Beran did not respond to a request to comment on his decision to vote against the tenure recommendation.

“I don’t understand why they really got rid of Kenny,” another source said. “I don’t get the board’s working.”

At the board’s next meeting after the tenure rejection, Ms. Lutjen, who also coaches girls varsity tennis, spoke in Mr. Marlborough’s defense.

“As a community member, teacher and coach in the district, I have never been as disappointed as I was at last week’s Board of Education meeting,” Ms. Lutjen said. “We currently have a staff member who works well and is supported by his fellow administrators and teaching staff. This person always demonstrates a high degree of character and integrity.”

Following the tenure vote, Mr. Marlborough remained on the job for about two months as the school began the transition to an interim.

“I think when we hire highly qualified administrators to do a job, we should allow them to do their job,” Ms. Lutjen said in a recent interview.

Asked if Mr. Marlborough was often being pulled in two directions, Mr. Cohen responded: “More than two. He was in a tough spot.”

Mr. Marlborough did not return calls for comment.

SAMANTHA BRIX FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen and school board president Bill McGrath.

Mr. Cohen knew there was nothing left to say, that no last-ditch effort was going to persuade Mr. Schwartz to stay. They were sitting in Mr. Cohen’s office when Mr. Schwartz informed him in early September of his decision to resign from his second stint as an interim athletic director.

The news came as no surprise to Mr. Cohen.

In June, the board approved Mr. Schwartz to serve as an interim from July 1 through Dec. 31. Mr. Schwartz’s job was to begin the process of finding a permanent athletic director. The goal was to have someone lined up by late November.

The reason behind Mr. Schwartz’s resignation centered on an issue that’s caused plenty of controversy in recent years at Shoreham: selection classification.

That refers to the process of bringing students in seventh and eighth grade up to play a JV or varsity sport. An eighth-grader excelling on a varsity sport is not all that uncommon. In recent years, Kari Quinn (Class of 2012) scored 16 goals as an eighth-grader on the varsity soccer team. Nick Bottari, the only eighth-grader ever to play varsity baseball at Shoreham, excelled in his first season on the varsity team, in 2010. Many wrestlers and track & field runners have played varsity sports as middle school students.

As of now, the school does not have an official policy regarding classification, Mr. Cohen said. It was on the school board’s Dec. 3 agenda for discussion, but was pulled.

“The policy committee is trying to work one out and having a terrible go of it,” Mr. Cohen said.

The school board assigned Mr. Schwartz the responsibility of coming up with a guideline until an official policy could be hammered out.

Mr. Schwartz’s belief was generally against middle schoolers coming up to varsity sports, according to multiple coaches. That fell in line with former athletic director Jim Cranmer’s belief. When he started in 2005, he tried to cut back the number of students pulled up.

“When I came I had a very different philosophy on selection classification,” Mr. Cranmer said. “I spoke with the superintendent and she was on the same page as me as far as cutting back.”

In his first year, about 15 students were brought up, he said. That number dwindled to under 10 his second year and about six in his final year.

The guideline Mr. Schwartz put forward, according to Mr. Cohen, was “along the lines of middle schoolers shouldn’t go up to varsity unless they are starters.”

“That quickly kind of fell apart,” Mr. Cohen added. “But I insisted it remain until we have a policy, because we have to have something.”

Despite having Mr. Cohen’s support, Mr. Schwartz faced a backlash on how he handled the classification, several sources confirmed.

“He was getting personally attacked,” a source familiar with the situation said. “It was totally unprofessional.”

Mr. Schwartz declined to be interviewed for this story.

“The one thing I think I’ve said is that a district doesn’t need seven athletic directors,” Mr. McGrath said. “Obviously everyone has an opinion about athletics and I think that’s just kind of what I call the sports-centered mentality that’s present these days.”

Asked if he understood Mr. Schwartz’s reason behind quitting, Mr. Cohen said: “Absolutely.”

“He was unhappy,” Mr. Cohen added, declining to elaborate.

MICHAEL WHITE FILE PHOTO | School board member John Zukowski has come under fire during recent board meetings.

At recent board meetings following Mr. Rotanz’s dismissal as lacrosse coach, the public outcry has been directed toward Mr. Zukowski, who has a son that plays lacrosse and basketball. The Community Journal newsletter ran an editorial calling Mr. Zukowski a “bully,” after an incident in which he got up during a board meeting in a heated argument with a writer from the Journal after the writer questioned his motives regarding the athletic department.

Mr. Zukowski declined to comment for this story, saying the board’s rule is “we talk for everybody or we don’t talk at all.”

Asked about the perception, based on comments at school board meetings, of some of the athletic issues going back to one board member, Mr. Cohen said: “That’s what some people in the community think. There are seven board members. So even if that were true, it would mean the other six are basically in his tow.”

A few months before his May 28 tenure vote, Mr. Marlborough found himself caught up in a classification issue regarding the lacrosse teams, according to John Higgins, president of the Wildcat Athletic Club, which is a booster for the athletic program.

Mr. Higgins said before the spring season, the board approved girls lacrosse players coming up to the junior varsity, but then voted against boys coming up to JV.

Mr. Higgins said parents of a middle school student can apply to have their child brought up, subject to board approval. That’s supposed to take place 60 days in advance, he said. Once the board approves it, then the process can begin to determine whether the student reaches the criteria to come up and whether the coach is willing to bring up the player, Mr. Higgins said.

Mr. Higgins said in this specific case, the kids went through all the testing first and tried out for the team. When the coaches made selections, then it was brought before the board.

Mr. Higgins was one of six residents to speak at the board’s March 6 meeting who expressed dissatisfaction with the selection classification process.

“I didn’t talk to [board members] directly, but I kind of got the impression that felt like they got boxed in,” Mr. Higgins said.

Following Mr. Schwartz’s departure, the school quickly found the next interim, hiring William Denniston, a physical education teacher in Shoreham and middle school girls soccer coach, on Sept. 13.

In his brief tenure, Mr. Denniston has impressed the coaching staff, according to interviews with coaches. His ambition is to become a full-time athletic director, and Mr. Cohen called the opportunity a “trial by fire experience.” Some coaches viewed him as a young AD who could bring a no-agenda stability to the athletic program.

But the board’s preference was to hire someone from outside the district with more experience, coaches said.

Politics is a word that often pops up in describing the athletic director position in Shoreham. It’s a balancing act among the coaches, parents, administrators, board members and students. It’s also one of the highest-profile positions in any school district.

Mr. Cranmer said when he began as the AD in 2005, parents approached him immediately.

“They approached me because of things they demanded,” he said. “I told them I wasn’t going to make a move because they wanted me to make a move. I needed a year to assess things. And some parents didn’t like that response.”

Stability in the athletic director position is key for several reasons, education experts agree.

A tenured athletic director can make decisions and enforce policies without fear of losing the position. And a long-standing athletic director can cultivate relationships in the community, which is key to easing controversy as it pops up — or avoiding it altogether.

Such is the environment Mark Passamonte enters when he begins as the school’s athletic director in three weeks. By the time he’s eligible for tenure, it’ll be 2017, and Shoreham-Wading River will be closing in on two decades without a tenured athletic director.

That’s assuming he survives that long.

“I think he’s really well qualified and has a lot of potential,” Mr. Cohen said. “Whether he can weather the politics, that’s the $64,000 question.”

joew@timesreview.com

12/04/13 12:30pm

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen gives a presentation at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

Shoreham-Wading River School District’s elementary students will be divided among buildings based on grade level — not neighborhoods — starting in the 2014-15 school year.

The school board voted 4-2 in favor of implementing what’s called a Princeton Plan — developed in Princeton, N.J., and currently used in other districts — to enhance educational opportunities by grouping elementary school teachers and students by grade in the same buildings while downsizing staffing levels.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said a Princeton Plan model will benefit students because teachers will be with all their grade-level colleagues, which he said will result in an increased opportunity to collaborate on lesson plans.

But which grades will be housed in each building isn’t yet known.

Under one proposal for implementing the Princeton Plan, Briarcliff Elementary School would become a kindergarten-only building. That school currently runs a K-1 program. Students in grades 1-3 would attend either Miller Avenue or Wading River elementary; those in grades 4 and 5 would go to the other.

“The most important benefit from the Princeton Plan is that there’s much more dynamic interaction among teachers in order to improve and distribute high-level instruction and continuity of curriculum,” Mr. Cohen said. “In these days of heightened demands from Common Core and state ed, that is an important consideration to keep in mind as we talk about elementary school.”

The second Princeton Plan option, which would only be implemented if the budget fails in May, would involve closing the Briarcliff school.

During his presentation Tuesday, Mr. Cohen said his office has also drafted a Neighborhood Plan, an option that groups students by “catchment areas,” or where they live. Mr. Cohen wanted to present it for the board’s consideration because residents have said they’d prefer a more traditional option, but the board opted to go with a Princeton Plan.

School board member Robert Rose, who, with Sean Beran, cast a dissenting vote against the Princeton Plan, said that although he liked the Princeton Plan, he believed it would be more appropriate at this time to implement the Neighborhood Plan, which he described as “a baby step” toward the large-scale reconfiguration of the elementary program.

After a nearly two-hour discussion, and with more residents speaking in favor of the Princeton Plan than against it, the board approved the Princeton Plan proposal, with school board vice president John Zukowski and members Richard Pluschau, Michael Fucito, and Jack Costas voting for it. School board president Bill McGrath was absent from the meeting.

Now that the board has agreed to move forward with a Princeton Plan model, Mr. Cohen said it must now look at ways to reduce expenditures in the district’s secondary program.

He said that should the district do nothing, it would face a $8 million budget deficit next year.

The deficit was caused in part by the district’s pulling from its reserves in recent years to maintain programs and staffing levels at the school. Last year, the district used $5.5 million in reserves and leftover balances from the previous year.

Were this year’s budget to roll over into 2014-15 as-is, the district would be looking at a $2.5 million increase in expenditures.

jennifer@timesreview.com

11/27/13 9:00am
11/27/2013 9:00 AM
RACHEL YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen.

RACHEL YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen.

The New York State Board of Regents insists the state’s public school students are not “College and Career Ready.” They claim that public school students are not prepared for the rigors of college reading or mathematics. And, since these skills are thought somehow to be crucial to getting a good-paying job, New York’s public school students who do poorly in mathematics and reading are believed to be in danger of becoming unemployable (or at least underemployed).

However, what seems like a simple, straightforward notion — that high school graduates ought to be ready for college and the world of work — turns out to be something quite different. And by that, I mean the announced public school goal of graduating students “College and Career Ready” is yet another sleight of hand from the Board of Regents.

First, consider exactly how the Board of Regents defines “College and Career Ready.”

If a student passes an algebra test in 8th or 9th grade at a level that correlates to a C in freshman mathematics in college, and if that same student passes an English test in 11th grade at a level correlated with a C in freshman English in college, along with earning 22 credits in high school and passing three other Regents exams, then she or he is set and ready to go to college and into the world of work.

No music, art, advanced study in much of anything; no community service, no sports, no occupational training; no independent work in any academic or other creative field is required. In addition, to do well on these tests, it is not necessary to read entire novels or histories or write papers of any length or complexity. It is not necessary to develop a love of anything or demonstrate an ability to think on one’s own feet.

Second, note that 16 of the 17 Board of Regents members, in addition to the commissioner of education himself, send their children to private schools — ones that have not embraced the reforms the Board of Regents and the commissioner claim are needed to make students “College and Career Ready.” I mention this fact because its relevance becomes obvious once one understands what “College and Career Ready” means for the children of our educational leaders. You see, the colleges that the children of Regents and commissioners of education are expected to attend, places like Harvard University, define “College and Career Ready” differently.

To be “College Ready” at Harvard (and at other selective private universities to which Regents send their children) an 18-year old must have a “good high school education,” one that “do[es] more than prepare you for the next level of  education.” A “good” high school education “should prepare you to take advantage of future learning opportunities of all kinds.” Specifically, graduating high school “college ready” to enter Harvard requires “close and extensive reading of the classics of world literature,” four years of a single foreign language, three years of American history, European history and one other advanced history course, four years of mathematics including at least pre-calculus or statistics, advanced physics, chemistry and biology and one other science at an advanced level and “frequent practice in the writing of expository prose.” Art and music, though not mentioned specifically, are not to be understood as incidental to proper preparation for college.

So it turns out that “College and Career Ready” means two different things depending on whether you are a public school student in New York or a student at an expensive private school. “College and Career Ready” for public school kids means achieving at a decidedly mediocre level when compared to the expectations the Regents have for their own children. Perhaps that’s one reason they would never send them to schools that are benefiting from their wonderful reforms.

For “College and Career Ready,” once one digs a bit below the surface, suggests readying public school students for work that does not demand advanced learning in anything and is not oriented toward preparing students to “take advantage of future learning opportunities of all kinds.” No, these loftier expectations, and the courses and other resources needed to achieve them, are to be reserved for students not subject to the glories of the Regents Reform Agenda, students whose parents have the money and connections to keep them out of the public school system.

Most new jobs created in our economy are low-paying service jobs. We should be concerned that “College and Career Ready” actually refers to a curriculum that guides public school students to these jobs, leaving the few good jobs to students who receive a private high school education that prepares them to “take advantage of future learning opportunities of all kinds.”

Make no mistake about it, “College and Career Ready” is code for education apartheid. Do not let your children breathe the stale air of low expectations, reduced exposure to the arts and music, limited engagement with sophisticated science and little, if any, prolonged, deep and thoughtful contact with great literature.

“College and Career Ready” is a trap. Don’t fall for it. Your kids deserve better. Just like theirs.

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

11/16/13 12:00pm
11/16/2013 12:00 PM
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO  |  Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steve Cohen.

RACHEL YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen.

In the wake of Tuesday night’s announcement that Shoreham-Wading River lacrosse coach Tom Rotanz would not be rehired for the upcoming spring season after 19 years, school superintendent Steven Cohen wrote a letter to the families and team members of the boys lacrosse team seeking to explain his decision.

In the letter, which the News-Review obtained a copy, Mr. Cohen said the decision was solely his and not the Board of Education’s.

Mr. Cohen admitted he was unlikely to sway the staunch supporters of coach Rotanz, who guided the Wildcats to three state championships in his tenure, but he hoped to shed light on the decision.

“Co-curricular positions for coaching, clubs and other activities are not positions of entitlement, tenure or popularity,” Mr. Cohen wrote. “Obviously, the historical record of employment of a candidate is a meaningful consideration in any evaluation, but it is not the only one or even the determining one.”

Mr. Cohen reiterated that his decision was not influenced by any playing time or treatment of specific individuals.

“But as a practice, it is legally required that I remain silent about the employment files of all employees,” Mr. Cohen wrote.

It is unclear who will take over the program, which coach Rotanz started coaching in its second year in 1995.

To read the entire letter, click below:

Cohen Letter to SWR lacrosse team

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.