Pulaski Street students learning to read ‘closely’

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

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.


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.


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

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