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06/16/2013 3:00 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Miller Avenue parents and teachers rallying for popular principal Louis Parrinello

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Miller Avenue parents and teachers rallying for popular principal Louis Parrinello

One week after the Shoreham-Wading River school board’s controversial vote to switch the principals of two elementary schools, dozens of parents spoke out against the decision at the board’s regular meeting earlier this week.

And though district officials did offer some explanations for the switch — including a potential reorganization of the district to eventually turn Briarcliff into a kindergarten-only school — some parents were still unhappy with the move’s sudden announcement and what they saw as a lack of transparency by the district.

At their meeting last week, the board voted unanimously to move Miller Avenue principal Louis Parrinello to Briarcliff Elementary School in exchange for that school’s current principal, Patricia Nugent. The measure, added onto the agenda before the meeting, drew harsh criticism from hundreds of parents who filled the high school auditorium to protest the change.

At the time, parents demanded to know the reason for the switch, but district officials said they couldn’t comment on “personnel matters.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Parrinello was the first to take the podium in support of the board’s decision.

“From last week to this week it’s been a whirlwind, and it wasn’t easy for anyone, on our end or on your end,” he told the parents. “But in looking at it, it’s in the best interests of our district.”

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the district is planning ahead to the day when current Wading River Elementary School principal Steve Donohue retires. The district could then not fill Mr. Donohue’s position and save over $100,000 a year. Under that plan, first grade would be moved from Briarcliff to Wading River and Miller Avenue schools, and Briarcliff would be made into a kindergarten with no principal. Mr. Parrinello would then be moved to Wading River.

District officials stressed that the move was made in the best interests of the district’s children.

Mr. Parrinello said he was “humbled” by the support he had received from parents, but he stressed that Ms. Nugent deserves support and that parents should get behind the move and think positively.

Though the speech diffused much of the animosity in the room, some parents still demanded to know exactly why the switch was made.

After some heated discussion, board member John Zukowski — who was not at the previous meeting — explained that due to the tax levy cap, there was a projected $6 million gap in next year’s budget.

“That is in the back of every decision we need to make,” he said, adding the board is bound by state law not to discuss specific personnel matters.

“If that makes people unhappy, I apologize for that, but I’m not violating my oath as a trustee,” Mr. Zukowski said.

He also said he was disgusted by rumors that were spreading among parents about the reasons for the move, saying the administrators involved deserved better.

But while the most vocal parents in attendance accepted the move, some said afterward they were disappointed by the way it was handled and said they could not understand the logic behind the move.

“We sort of felt like we were left in the dark,” said parent Jeannie Spuhler. “[If] this was something that was proposed and maybe thrown out to the public, we could have had a discussion about it and it wouldn’t have been so heated the other night. It would have more thoughtful.”

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06/05/2013 2:30 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Parents and teachers rallying for popular principal Louis Parrinello.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Parents and teachers rallying for popular principal Louis Parrinello Tuesday.

More than 200 Shoreham-Wading River parents and school staffers flooded the high school auditorium at Tuesday night’s school board meeting to protest a planned transfer of a popular elementary school principal to a different school in the district.

Despite urging from the audience to reconsider the move and threats of voter retribution, the board voted unanimously to move Louis Parrinello from Miller Avenue Elementary School to Briarcliff Elementary School in exchange for current Briarcliff principal, Patricia Nugent.

School officials said they understood the move was not popular, but explained that the transfer fit into the district’s long-term plans to preserve student services.

“We have to plan for administrative turnover,” said district Superintendent Steven Cohen. “We need to find ways to eliminate unneeded administrative positions to save money to preserve our programs.”

School officials would not go into further details about how the transfer of principals plays a role in the district’s plans. For more than an hour during an extended public comment section of the meeting, parents of Miller Avenue students praised Mr. Parrinello for his caring work with his students, and said the sudden switch of principals “flies in the face of logic” while demanding answers.

“My question to the Board of Education is, ‘Why?’ ” said district parent Lisa Julian, to a standing ovation. “Why would you make such a dramatic change in such a successful school?” Some members of the audience carried signs that read “Mr. Parrinello IS Miller Avenue” and recited sayings he would use to motivate kids in the school.

The crowd quickly grew frustrated when the board said it “couldn’t comment on personnel matters” because of state law.

One of the last speakers held a moment of silence with his last minute of talking time to “recognize the arrogance and stupidity of this decision.” After a moment, the parent shouted, “Mr. P, I love you. Good luck!”

Mr. Parrinello, who attends most Board of Education meetings, sat in the fifth row of the auditorium and spoke to parents and faculty as they patted him on the back and shook his hand after the transfer was finalized.

He declined to comment on the move.

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02/04/13 7:00am

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | First-grade teacher Jillian Coster (right) uses a book to illustrate her idea for a math project at Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham. From left, first-grade teachers Linda Burke and Ronnie Malave and special education teacher Christine Bradley.

An hour before the school day started Tuesday at Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham, a group of first grade teachers sat in little blue chairs and huddled around a tiny table.

First-grade teacher Linda Burke started the discussion by spreading out pins depicting cartoon characters. Her task is to come up with a project to encourage students to discuss their opinions.

“I can seem them saying, ‘This is my favorite because one year I was at Disney on my birthday,’ ” Ms. Burke said to her colleagues as she pointed to a birthday pin. “Or this one because they like the Boston Red Sox.”

The Shoreham-Wading River School District now provides weekly professional development workshops to replace the superintendant conference days that were scheduled throughout the year. The workshops are intended to help educators cope with recent changes in the teacher evaluation process.

Earlier this month, the state approved the district’s annual professional performance review plan, known as APPR. The teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after the state was awarded a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. For school districts to qualify for part of this grant, the state requires them to im- plement their own APPR programs.

The state later approved legislation requiring school districts to replace their two-tier teacher evaluation system — satisfactory or unsatisfactory — with a four-tier rating structure — highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. A mathematical formula combining observations by the principal with student assessments determines a teacher’s score.

Shoreham-Wading River High School instructor Erin Schmalzle, who has taught electives in the district for over 25 years, said she’s grateful the district is providing professional development time because it helps her further develop what are known as Socratic seminars.

This teaching style differs from a typical lecture because it involves creating an open forum for students to share their ideas and discuss their opinions, she said.

Ms. Schmalzle said that because it gives students the opportunity to direct the learning process, this type of teaching will achieve a “highly effective” ranking in the state’s eyes.

“I barely speak,” she said. “I’ve had kids tell me they hate me because I’m making them think. So, hate me all you want for not making you just spit back memorized information.”

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the Board of Education and the teacher’s union agreed this year to the weekly workshops and he’s excited about the district’s new approach to professional development.

“They agreed having a little professional development all of the time is better than having it in big chunks,” he said. “It’s more tailored to individual needs and it’s the teachers driving the process.”

Ms. Schmalzle said although some workshops provided at superintendent conference days could be valuable, she believes the new arrangement for teacher professional development is more productive.

“This seems to me to be a whole lot more helpful because it’s driven by us and that’s what education is supposed to be anyway,” she said. “It always seems that we’re told ‘race to the top, but we’re not giving you any money or time to figure out how to do it.’ ”

Ronnie Malave, a Briarcliff first-grade teacher, said she believes the new professional development time is “extremely beneficial” because it gives her a forum for meaningful conversations with her colleagues about new teaching methods, such as the state’s Common Core Standards. This program integrates learning in different subject areas while focusing on the literacy and mathematics skills needed for problem-solving in all educational settings.

Shoreham-Wading district teachers have also come up with ways to see students’ progress through pre- and post-assessment methods. For example, one way the Briarcliff first-grade teachers are pre-assessing their students’ opinion-writing skills is by having them write letters to a groundhog explaining why they do or don’t want him to see his shadow on Groundhog Day. After the class completes the section on opinion-writing, students will write another opinion piece and the progress between the two pieces will be evaluated.

As these Briarcliff elementary teachers continued to kick around ideas for opinion projects Tuesday morning, Ms. Burke slapped two clear plastic bags onto the table filled with little animal figurines.

“We could ask them which one is your favorite animal and why,” she said.

The idea piqued her colleagues’ interest. “You have a nice collection,” Ms. Malave said. “My kids are in college, so I don’t have a whole lot.” “My kids are older, too, but I still keep this stuff,” Ms. Burke said as she arranged the toys. “This is great,” Ms. Malave said. “Do you think I could borrow your collection?” “Of course,” Ms. Burke said.

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