By Kathryn G. Menu
Sag Harbor School District administration presented a hefty list of goals for the 2013-14 school year Monday night including a focus on November’s bond proposal for facility improvements, exploring the feasibility of expanding the school’s pre-kindergarten program, as well as reviewing both the middle school program and the International Baccalaureate (IB), which debuted in the district this year.
According to interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso, overarching goals within the district are to ensure academic achievement continues to grow, to create expansive and effective communication and partnerships with the whole school community, and ensure sound fiscal operation and facilities management.
In terms of specific goals for 2013-2014, the district’s bond proposal — which will be floated to voters for approval in November – was at the top of the administration’s list. The facilities bond, which will cost a projected $7,559,876, will fund a renovation and addition on the Pierson Middle-High School auditorium, a new paved area for buses, a renovated entry way and an updated intercom system. A second bond, for $1.62 million, will also be presented to voters in November, and if approved would cover the cost of the installation of artificial turf on the athletic field behind the middle-high school.
Another goal for next year is to explore the feasibility of expanding the district’s pre-kindergarten program and presenting a formal plan to the school board by January of 2014. The Sag Harbor School District has had its own pre-k program since 2010, which is run by SCOPE. The program is tuition free and is held in two sessions – from 8:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
“I think as a district we all recognize the importance of a strong pre-k program,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone, who added the program is increasing in enrollment. Malone said he would like to explore all the possible ways the district could expand its relationship with SCOPE.
“It could take on many different looks, but we want to fully exhaust the research and look at all the options, the staff implications, the cost,” said Malone.
That research has already begun.
According to Sag Harbor Elementary School Assistant Principal Donna Denon, 53-percent of the incoming kindergarten class attended the program last year, compared to 43-percent the year before and just 16-percent the year before that.
“The trend is parents want to send their kids to our pre-k program, but they just cannot do it with a half-day program,” said Denon, adding a number of parents would likely be willing to pay a small tuition fee for a full day of care.
Denon and Malone said there will be challenges expanding the pre-k program past two-and-a-half hours, including space constraints and transportation.
“We have actually been tracking students in the Sag Harbor pre-k program and how they are doing in the elementary school,” added Malone. Children who attended Sag Harbor’s pre-k, he said, were significantly less likely to require reading support.
Dr. Bonuso said the district would also focus on a review of the middle years program and the transition into IB. According to Pierson-Middle High School principal Jeff Nichols, preliminary data shows the transition into IB is so far successful, but still needs study. Nichols and other administrators will be attending an IB conference and will report to the board on issues like the cost of staffing a middle years and a high school coordinator for IB, he said.
Nichols said he expects to make a presentation to the board by mid-year.
A similar goal the district expects to tackle is to fully integrate the Common Core math and English Language Arts (ELA) standards throughout the school. Nichols has budgeted for four team-training sessions for teachers. Nichols said the district will look at not only what is expected of students under the standards but will look to see that instruction in the classroom is truly being enhanced. A special instructor, specifically to help integrate Common Core math standards in the district, will work hand-in-hand with instructors, he added. Making sure there are tools for parents to use at home is also critical, said Nichols.
Implementing Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) for teachers and submitting those reviews to the state, pending contract negotiations, expanding district staff development plans and creating shared decision making teams by September are other major goals for 2013-14, said Dr. Bonuso.
“I think these [goals] are all spot on, aggressive, but necessary,” said board member Chris Tice, who noted “wellness” was not included in the list of next year’s priorities.
“While we didn’t list it, we plan on going to the next stage with wellness,” said Dr. Bonuso.
Tice said she would like to see a broader, public discussion about the administrative goals for wellness held at the board level. Hartnett, a social worker in the East Hampton School District, noted the South Fork is considered a “suicide cluster” and pointed to other issues like substance abuse as issues that should be tackled in terms of mental health within a wellness plan.
Miller agreed she would like to see it remain a goal, and suggested the district should take its adopted health and wellness policy and implement it in the community.
Board member Susan Kinsella wondered if the district was not already away that because a significant part of that policy has to do with nutrition, without better cafeteria facilities, the district cannot offer fresh foods.
“People that are conscious about food order out right now,” noted Nichols.
Board president Theresa Samot said she believed this should be one of the school’s goals for the year – implementing the wellness plan and monitoring it.
Miller asked that the board also consider improving transparency in the district as a goal. Miller said the district could put public documents, for example, on the website in an effort to build a relationship with the community. Hartnett added he would like to see meetings streamed on the district’s website. Technology director Scott Fisher said he is already in conversations with LTV Executive Director Seth Redlus about what is possible.
Miller also said she believed the district could lead the charge in discussing what possibilities are out there in terms of consolidation of school districts and shared services.
“I would like to see Sag Harbor nudge these communities and see if we can have this conversation,” said Miller.
Tice wondered what the process would entail – while stating she was not necessarily an advocate one way or the other, but because it is increasingly becoming a topic of discussion.
“In coming years we are going to have to ask the question, and understand it, to even know why we wouldn’t do it,” said Tice.
Dr. Bonuso said he believed the first step was shared services and resources.
“These are provincial operations,” said Hartnett, noting the conversation entails breaking down a lot of legal and emotional walls. He said he would like to see the state engaged in the conversation about how to achieve cost savings.
“Maybe it is time to look at magnet schools,” said Hartnett.
Tice wondered if that was something the community wanted.
“I am not in favor of one thing or the other, but I want the data and I want to support our community and other communities to have this conversation moving forward,” said Miller.
Dr. Bonuso suggested a meeting between school board leaders and administrators is the first step, and Tice agreed.
A second Sag Harbor School District goals meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, July 17, was cancelled and had yet to be rescheduled as of press time.