Last Tuesday, March 22, members of the Sag Harbor community had the chance to take part in an open dialogue that will ultimately work to shape the future of education in the Sag Harbor School District. In the company of both elementary and high school administrators, district superintendent Dr. John Gratto said he hoped the conversation would solicit honest opinions and constructive feedback from those in the community who wanted to weigh-in on important issues surrounding education.
“This is a brain-storming session,” he told the group, which was made up staff and a handful of residents. “I hope this helps us get a lot of good thoughts out in a short amount of time.”
The idea behind the event was to hone in on a cluster of attributes the Sag Harbor community feels would be the most marked characteristics of its graduates.
Dr. Gratto introduced several articles and educational methodologies for participants to consider, including a list of important attributes he put together in 2008, as well as a list of attributes from the Colorado Springs School District, which he thinks is a good model, and a breakdown of the International Baccalaureate learner profile (although he clarified that the forum is in not connected to Pierson’s push to bring the IB program to the school).
Dr. Gratto noted that there are several important points to consider when the district begins planning for the future, like the rise of international commerce and global mindedness, the importance of financial awareness and the growing reliance on new technologies.
Again, he raised the issue: “What attributes should a graduate have when they leave this building?”
Participants in the forum split up into smaller groups to address eight overarching attributes, as laid-out by the Colorado Springs School District: Academically Prepared, Culturally Competent, High-Functioning Team Member, Innovative Thinker and Problem Solver, Effective User of Information Technology, Vital Participant in Civic Responsibility, Effective Communicator and Responsible, Respectful Citizen of Character.
On the small group level, discussions were kept very broad.
As for team work, Pierson Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Bekermus said, “This is often what you assume the kids just know how to do, but this is critical. In the work place, we’re always working in teams.”
Parent Laura Matthers chimed in regarding the nuances of the term, explaining that there are many ways to participate when you’re working as part of a team. The school, she said, should focus on the various aspects of what it means to be part of a team.
“So much of this starts in the elementary school,” she said. “There’s always a job for each kid.”
When discussing being academically prepared, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols said, “For me an essential skill would be ‘a thinker.’”
There was some disagreement over the importance of state assessment tests, though the group didn’t linger on the issue, and instead proceeded to focus on the positive aspects of educating students at Pierson.
When the group reconvened, each shared a handful of bullet points members came up with to modify each umbrella topic.
There was some discussion of wording and sometimes whittling down answers to be more concise, but the group ended the evening with the understanding that it now had a working document that, in the next few weeks, would be refined and ultimately presented to the Sag Harbor School Board.
While the topics themselves remained somewhat intact — except Vital Participant in Civic Responsibility, which school board member Teresa Samot tweaked to add more of a worldly slant — only Montgomery Granger, district groundskeeper and athletic director, suggested a new topic entirely: mentally, emotionally and physically fit.
“We can put it in as a sub-category for something else,” he said. “But I think it’s more important than that.”
The group at one point wondered whether religion might be something students need to learn more about, although the group ultimately determined spirituality and social activism were personal choices to be determined by the students themselves.
“I think the spirituality piece is important for some, but for others they don’t believe in anything beyond what’s here,” Nichols said