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.

09/25/13 3:00pm
09/25/2013 3:00 PM

 

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Homeland Systems president Chris Downie, front, discusses his company’s emergency alert system at Tuesday’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting while his business partner, Phil Tumminio, looks on.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Homeland Systems president Chris Downie, front, discusses his company’s emergency alert system at Tuesday’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting while his business partner, Phil Tumminio, looks on.

As school district officials across the entire country consider ways to make their classrooms safer less than a year after a school shooting in Connecticut, the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education heard a presentation Tuesday night about an emergency alert system it’s integrating that will enable designated school personnel to communicate with first responders in the event of a security breach.

The software was discussed at Tuesday’s school board meeting by Homeland Systems president Chris Downie. S.A.F.E.R. Direct, the name of the program, is smartphone-based and can send text message and email alerts to first responders and school personnel depicting where a security breach has been made. Alerts can be sent via smart phone, tablet or computer.

“Our system is a virtual panic button,” said Phil Tumminio, a district resident and the treasurer and marketing manager of Homeland Systems, based out of Delaware. He said he and Mr. Downie have been working with the district since May and are in the midst of negotiating a contract. “It’s not stationary. Everyone on the system with a smart phone can send an instant emergency alert direct to first responders from any location in the school.”

This is the latest in a series of security measures the district has implemented or is considering.

In January – less than six weeks after the deadly shooting in Newtown, Conn. left 26 innocent victims dead – the district hired two security guards. A district parent had raised concerns during an open forum on security in the district, Superintendent Steven Cohen said at the time. The middle and high school’s entrances have also been upgraded with more security measures.

In explaining in more depth the ‘virtual panic button’ to the board of education Tuesday night, Mr. Tumminio said one of the main problems with emergency cell phone calls is poor cell tower coverage in the area. “Hard-wired calls from alert stations can work, but in times of crisis it might be impossible to get to a hard-wired phone to send an alert,” he said.

The S.A.F.E.R. (School, Ambulance, Fire Department, Emergency, Response) Direct program would not be reliant on cell coverage, but would rather run through the a wireless Internet network.

Glen Arcuri, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said S.A.F.E.R. Direct is already partially installed at Shoreham-Wading River High School. He hopes to see the installation process completed there by mid-November.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said on Wednesday that the board had instructed him to move forward with installing the program.

“Much planning will be needed, however, before the system is operational,” he said in an email.

The cost to install the program, Mr. Arcuri said, is typically $7,000 per school, or a total of $35,000 for the district. The total cost is offset by a $20,000 price reduction Mr. Tumminio and Mr. Downie said they’re willing to contribute, bringing the total installation cost down to $15,000. Once installation is completed, the district would have to pay $18,000 annually in maintenance fees – $300 per school, per month – Mr. Arcuri said.

Board member John Zucowski said during Tuesday’s meeting he supports installing an emergency alert system throughout the school district.

“What first responders really need during an emergency is information, so I think it’s worth pushing forward,” he said.

ryoung@timesreview.com

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

09/11/2013 2:30 PM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen said programs and positions such as teacher aides and tutors could face cuts.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board is discussing the possible elimination of some non-mandated programs next year, including athletics, full-day kindergarten and musical performances, if the district can’t find a way to close a projected $6 million budget gap.

While the 2013-14 budget keeps school programs intact, school officials have said it will be difficult in future years to find ways to trim the budget to fit within the state-mandated tax cap, largely because increases in teacher salaries and benefits will outpace the cuts.

Programs aren’t the only things in danger of being cut or reduced. Positions like teacher aides, tutors and an athletic trainer are also potentially at risk, Superintendent Steven Cohen said during the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

“We’re now at the point where the board needs to make some strategic choices,” he said. “We need to decide, ‘Are we going to dip into savings? And if so, how much?’ That’s where we are.”

Mr. Cohen said he believes the gap could be filled temporarily by dipping into the district’s savings. In March, the district had reserves of $14.7 million, with $9.9 million still due from prior-year state aid.

During the meeting’s public comment period, Shoreham-Wading River PTA vice president Alisa McMorris expressed concern about eliminating all non-mandated programs and asked how her group could help.

“At some point, there’s going to be something that gives,” she said. “This is a black hole for every district on Long Island, so we’re definitely not alone.”

During the 2013-14 budget process earlier this year, Mr. Cohen said the district would be able to stay within the tax levy cap without having to cut school programs by making one-time cuts and reducing professional services. In May, residents in the Shoreham-Wading River district approved a $66.1 million budget, which represents a nearly 5.5 percent spending increase and carries a 2.29 percent tax rate (the most allowed under the tax cap).

“These are beyond difficult times in terms of trying to make these decisions,” school board president Bill McGrath said. “It’s very difficult choices we’re being forced to make here. We’re open to all suggestions.”

As the budget process unfolds for the 2014-15 school year, Mr. Cohen said the community and the board may need to come together and decide that some programs are just too important to lose.

“And if that means we need to try to convince the community to pierce the cap, that’s what it means,” he said. “It’s a tough question, but I think that’s what the numbers are telling us.”

ryoung@timesreview.com

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

08/24/2013 12:00 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | A case of whooping cough was confirmed at Shoreham-Wading River High School last Thursday.

FILE PHOTO  |  The teachers union at Shoreham-Wading River agreed to a hard freeze on salaries for the 2014-15 school year.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board and the district’s teachers union reached an agreement in June that will result in a $1.5 million savings through a combination of decreases in steps and a hard freeze, Superintendent Steven Cohen said in an interview last week.

A step is an incremental increase in salary based on individual professional experience, according to the state Department of Education.

Mr. Cohen said in an email this week that if a settlement hadn’t been reached by the previous contract’s June 30 expiration, the district would have had to pay “$1.5 million more than the renewed contract calls for.”

In the 2013-14 school year, the first year of the new four-year contract, all step increases will be reduced to 2.5 percent, he said. If there had been no new agreement, the average step increase would have been 2.8 percent, Mr. Cohen added.

During the next school year (2014-15), teacher salaries will be held flat, with no step increases or annual raises, a contract provision known as a hard freeze. The third year will include a 2.25 percent increase in steps. During the final year of the contract teachers will move up on the step scale, Mr. Cohen said.

jennifer@timesreview.com

04/10/2013 2:00 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO  |  The Shoreham-Wading River School Board at Tuesday night's meeting.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River School Board at a meeting earlier this year.

Taxpayers in the Shoreham-Wading River School District will vote on a $66.1 million 2013-14 school budget this spring after the Board of Education adopted the proposed spending plan at its meeting Tuesday night.

The proposed budget represents a roughly 5.5 percent spending increase from this year’s plan and will preserve classroom and extracurricular programs by pulling extra funds from the district’s state aid reserves, school officials said.

The proposed tax levy — the total amount the district can collect from taxpayers — would increase by 2.29 percent. The increase can be higher than the usual 2 percent statewide cap on levy increases because of certain exemptions approved by the state, said district superintendent Steven Cohen.

The district recently learned it will receive more state aid than expected next school year, school officials said. The extra funds will go into a capital fund for improvements to district facilities, Mr. Cohen said.

School board officials said that while next year’s proposed budget keeps school programs intact, it will be difficult in future years to find ways to trim the budget to fit under the tax levy cap, largely because of increases in teacher salaries and benefits that will outstrip the pace of the cuts.

“You have to look at what we were able to do with this budget with the restrictions handed to us,” said board president William McGrath.

Since the proposed budget is within the tax levy cap, it only requires a majority to pass.

If the budget fails, the tax levy would not be allowed to increase and the district would have to cut middle and high school clubs, middle school athletics, three clerical positions and one teacher to cut $1.1 million for a contingency budget, Mr. Cohen said

• Security at Shoreham-Wading River schools dealt with two minor incidents last week, school officials said during the meeting.

In the first incident, a suspicious car was seen near the high school on April 2. The car was determined not to be a danger, officials said. Two days later, security spotted a man using prescription drugs in the parking lot. Both incidents were quickly dealt with, Mr. McGrath said.

psquire@timesreview.com