Shoreham-Wading River meets its new superintendent

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | New Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen at the June 21 meeting to appoint him.

Steven Cohen wants the Shoreham-Wading River community to understand his academic vision, which involves an “authentic assessment” approach to education.

Dr. Cohen, newly appointed superintendent of the Shoreham-Wading River School District, addressed a group of about 50 people during his first informational public meeting Monday night at the high school library and said he plans to take the district in a new direction by encouraging a more hands-on approach in the classroom.

“It’s much better for young people to have the experience of doing real chemistry rather than just taking a Regents exam or an AP exam that tests their knowledge of chemistry,” he said. “Doing real science is something different. That’s what we need to focus on [and] that should be the general thrust of what we should be working on.”

Dr. Cohen illustrated his idea by comparing it to student involvement with music and sports. He said he believes the enthusiasm students convey when involved with those activities could be achieved when the same type of learning approach is applied to core subjects like math, history and writing.

Many parents said they we’re excited about Dr. Cohen’s plans.

“The things you’re talking about is what this district did and all the things that were taken away,” said parent and lifelong Shoreham resident Laura Spillane, adding that she believed the quality of education in the district has been “watered down” over the years.

One recently retired teacher criticized outgoing superintendent Harriet Copel’s administration and said teachers have felt “shunned,” “marginalized,” “jaded” and “disassociated.”

“Every time we spoke up, we were told we spoke out,” said former sixth-grade teacher Frank Calderale, who retired this month after a 38-year teaching career. “That’s what I’ve been dealing with for the last five years and I’m not the only one.”

Board member Mike Fucito told the News-Review he had issues with the audience criticism of Dr. Copel.

“I think it would be grossly unfair to make an assessment of what a handful of people have said,” he said.

Mr. Fucito said he voted against the appointment of Dr. Cohen last week not because he believed Dr. Cohen wasn’t qualified but because he opposed the quick pace of the appointment process.

“I wish we had this type of meeting before we voted,” Mr. Fucito said.

Dr. Cohen, a Uniondale native currently serving as assistant superintendent at the Rye City School District, will become superintendent when Dr. Copel’s contract expires at the end of July.

Although Dr. Cohen lacks experience as a superintendent, Just as when as did Dr. Copel on coming to Shoreham-Wading River nearly six years ago, Board of Education vice president Marie Lindell said she’s “very confident” the district has found a leader to “raise the standard of excellence” in the schools and cited Dr. Cohen’s success in implementing foreign language in the Rye City elementary schools.

In an effort to give the community additional opportunities to meet Dr. Cohen, the board is expected to schedule a few more public forums in the coming weeks.

“It gives me an opportunity to learn about Shoreham-Wading River and to find out about the residents’ concerns and hopes for the future,” Dr. Cohen said, adding that he plans to move into district this summer.

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