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Sag Harbor School District Administrators Make Recommendations on Pre-K, IB Expansion

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By Tessa Raebeck

In back-to-back workshops before parents, teachers and members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Monday night, administrators voiced their recommendations on how to progress with the potential expansion of the district’s Pre-Kindergarten and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

Pre-K

Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone and vice principal Donna Denon updated the board on the pre-K program, currently in its third year, and discussed the possibility of extending the program to a full day of five and a half hours.

Through SCOPE, a not-for-profit organization chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide services to school districts on Long Island, Sag Harbor currently offers a fully funded two and a half hour pre-K program for any eligible four year old in the district. Ms. Denon noted it is an option for parents that is “very rare.” The district pays SCOPE tuition costs to run its pre-K program.

If that program extends to a longer day (considered to be anything over three hours), there are additional requirements the district would need to meet, including limiting class size to 14 students, providing a bathroom for each classroom, ensuring both a certified teacher and teaching assistant is in each classroom, scheduling a 40-minute recreation period, as well as designated lunch and snack times.

The extension would increase the tuition paid to SCOPE from $2,750 to $3,150 per child for the half day, or $10,150 for the full day, although the numbers are approximate because they dependent on enrollment, Mr. Malone said.

“Each year, we’ve been making sure we have monies to accommodate 60 students, so clearly that would be a significant increase in what we would have to budget for for an extended day program,” Mr. Malone said.

This school year, 2013-2014, the pre-K program has 32 students and a budget of $88,000. The district is using only one classroom, which has its own bathroom, for both the morning and the afternoon sessions. The reduced class size of a full-day program would mandate more classrooms, and thus more teachers and teaching assistants.

“It’s a great model, but it’s a big undertaking,” said Ms. Denon, voicing concern over how they would find empty classrooms that could be designated solely for pre-K. Parents dropping off and picking up students would also “be a bit problematic,” she said, as more pre-K parents would be coming and going at the same time as the parents of older students, rather than in the middle of the day.

With space and logistical concerns, as well as fiscal limitations due to the lack of state aid for pre-K and the state-imposed tax cap on the district budget, the administrators’ suggestion to the board was to keep the program the way it is for now.

“We have a very strong program right now,” said Mr. Malone. “The entire school district and community are behind it and let’s keep that solid.”

Mr. Malone and Ms. Denon had several conversations with George Duffy, the director of SCOPE, on the pros and cons of pursuing an extended day program. His advice, according to Mr. Malone, was, “You don’t want to hinder the greatness of what you have. In other words, you don’t want to sacrifice something good to say you have an extended day. Keep your eye on what’s important.”

 

IB

In its second year of offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program for 11th and 12th grade students, Pierson High School is considering extending the curriculum to students in grades six through 10.

The program offers students the option to be diploma candidates, who complete the full IB program for diploma credit, or certificate candidates, who do not receive a diploma but can take individual courses where they have an interest in that subject matter. It has grown steadily each year; in 2012-2013, there were 11 diploma candidates and 47 students enrolled in at least one course. This year, there are 21 diploma candidates and 83 students enrolled in at least one course. Selection is still ongoing for next year, but there are an estimated 31 diploma candidates.

“For the last five years,” said Gary Kalish, Pierson High School vice principal and the IB diploma coordinator, “we’ve been making the kinds of changes and trying to do the kind of development to help students achieve at a higher level.”

The Middle Years Program (MYP), he said, offers curriculum alignment across the grade levels and opens the program to all students, rather than the self-selecting, open enrollment of the upper level program.

After working with IB for the past couple years, “We’ve recognized the rigor and the level of difficulty,” Mr. Kalish said, adding that in the end, “it really is just good teaching and good learning.”

IB is designed to give students a global perspective, with more group discussion, problem solving and abstract thinking than traditional lecture-style classrooms. With an interdisciplinary focus, the MYP has eight subject groups: mathematics, language A (the “mother tongue,” or English for Sag Harbor students), language B, humanities, arts, sciences, physical education and technology. At the end of the five years, MYP students complete personal projects and compile portfolios of all their work. Administrators said the Common Core curriculum, with its similar focus on collaborative planning and interdisciplinary work, could be embedded within the IB framework.

The district can choose to extend the program to just the 9th and 10th grades or to grades six through 10. The administrators’ recommendation to the board, Mr. Nichols said, is to extend the IB program to grades six through 10, “because we see value in what the IB does for our students.”

Districts must apply to be authorized to offer IB, with the candidacy process expected to last about two years. After initial application and candidate fees of around $13,500, there would be an annual school fee of about $8,000. Staff development costing as much as $20,000 is also required, although Pierson has already sent its three administrators, Mr. Nichols, Mr. Kalish and Ms. Brittany Miaritis, along with some seven teachers, to training on MYP.

Pending board approval, the program could be offered for the 2015-2016 school year at the earliest. A resolution to extend the program will be voted on at the board’s March 25 meeting.

 

 

Sag Harbor Pre-K’s Success Leads to Program Growth

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By Tessa Raebeck

Now in its third year, the Sag Harbor School District Pre-K program has seen tremendous growth — and hopes to expand further.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) principal Matt Malone and assistant principal Donna Denon hosted an educational workshop on the pre-K program, updating the board on how far it’s come and where it hopes to go, as well as the continued benefits of having an in-house program.

“As a community,” said Malone, “We’ve had a long commitment to the idea of pre-K. We all have a deep understanding of the importance and value of the pre-K experience for boys and girls. We’ve really looked at it as an investment, a sound investment.”

When looking to start a program for the 2010-2011 school year, the district decided its best option was to partner with SCOPE Education Services, a not-for-profit private organization permanently chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide such services to school districts.

The district signed a contract with SCOPE to provide pre-K for every eligible four year old in Sag Harbor. The program follows a 180-day school year with New York State certified teachers and teaching assistants.

In its inaugural year, the pre-K had 10 students in one class, a morning session housed at SHES. The state previously provided funding for districts that wanted to start a new pre-K program, however, that funding was cut off the year Sag Harbor started its pre-K. The first year, the program was funded by tuition paid by parents and “generous support from members of the community who actually helped with scholarships,” Malone said.

“We all knew that really one of the inherent goals of a pre-K run by a public system is that we make sure all kids, regardless of their socioeconomic status, would have this opportunity,” he added.

In 2011-2012, the district began to fund the program — which had grown to 41 students — through its annual budget at a cost of $112,750. The program currently has 32 students and a budget of $88,000 for 2013-2014. It is projected to have 20 to 35 students next year.

Housed at Pierson Middle School, the program currently has both a morning session and an afternoon session. The pre-K is increasingly connected to the district as a whole, the administrators said.

“Partnership grows every year because our school embraces the kids and what’s happening more and more,” said Denon.

Malone said an added benefit of having an in-house program is that it provides the opportunity for the school to identify students who need some form of intervention early on. If a child has a speech impediment, for example, the school has an early opportunity to bring in speech pathologists, start conversations with parents and begin helping the child.

“We’ve been able to help a lot of students who possibly might not have gotten that early intervention,” Malone said.

Board member Daniel Hartnett added that children from non-English speaking homes also benefit greatly from a public pre-K program.

He said in addition to the children benefiting from coming into an environment where English is spoken at a young age, the program is also the first point of contact for many parents who come from other countries and educational systems.

“It goes a long way to breaking down those barriers,” replied Malone. “When we look at the numbers since the inception of our program, the one group that we have seen the biggest jump in is the students that come from non-English speaking homes.”

“It’s paying off tremendously for them educationally, but also socially,” said Malone, adding, “We’re always very proud of seeing our pre-K kids and the successes that they have.”

Malone said although his evidence is anecdotal, he has observed that students who attend the district’s pre-K as opposed to outside programs are less likely to need special attention down the line, since they are identified early in-house.

The Sag Harbor pre-K program now represents roughly 40 percent of the next year’s incoming Kindergarten class, Malone said.

Denon said the next steps are increasing enrollment in the program, improving programming and exploring extending session times, perhaps to 1:30 or 2 p.m.

District Offers Free Pre-K

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By Claire Walla

Last year, when the Sag Harbor School District instituted its first Pre-K program, it was celebrated by members of the school board for offering a service that has been much needed in the Sag Harbor community. Families were charged a monthly fee of $275 for the services, which were contracted out through SCOPE Education Services.

But, as far as Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Assistant Principal Donna Denon are concerned, the goal was always to make the program free-of-charge.

And this year it is.

“Over the years, based on the research that we’ve done, we’ve been aware that cost has been prohibitive to parents,” Malone explained.

Last year’s Pre-K class had 13 students, many of whom entered the program when new families moved into the district mid-year.  Denon referred to this as the “winter surge,” which she said tends to happen pretty regularly year to year.

But at the start of this school year — when it was announced the district would be offering Pre-K for all Sag Harbor four-year-olds for free — the program saw a massive surge.

This year’s Pre-K class has 39 students.  And, according to Denon, there’s still room to grow.  The district budgeted at the end of last year for a program that could hold up to 60 students — which equates to the average size of the school’s kindergarten classes.  Denon said she’s hoping the program will grow in the coming months, particularly for the afternoon session.

As it stands, the program has enough participants for two morning classes (from 8:45 to 11:15 a.m.) and one in the afternoon (from 12:30 to 3 p.m.).  Because of this, the school employs one full-time teacher, Mindy Reyer, who teaches both a.m. and p.m. classes; and one part-time teacher, Kate Montaldo, who taught at Stella Maris until it closed last year and who only teaches in the morning.  With an extra session, both teachers would be full-time, which Denon said SCOPE would be “open to.”  (Technically, SCOPE employs both teachers and the two assistant teachers.)

According to Denon, the main reason some parents have opted out of the Sag Harbor Pre-K program is because the time is too restrictive.  The program is currently set-up for half-day options only, which means parents are only able to take advantage of the program for two and a half hours each day.

“We are fully aware that some families are not able to participate in our program because it’s not full-day,” Malone explained.  “But the decision we made this year was to provide a half-day program for some families, and we hoped that they would come, and we’re hoping [the program] will evolve.  We will continue to consider a full-day option.”

Denon agreed, saying a full-day program would be ideal, but the district has to start somewhere.  “It’s kind of like taking baby steps to get to the next place,” she stated.

Malone reiterated that a universal Pre-K program has been a long time coming for this school district.

“It’s gotta be pushing 20 years,” he indicated.  “[Former elementary school principal] Ms. [Joan] Frisicano and a group of teachers and parents started the conversations, and really wanted to get a Pre-K program going in the district.”

But the idea never took flight “for a variety of reasons,” Malone continued.  “Cost is always a factor.”

The district is paying $180,000 to run the program, a cost that was approved by taxpayers last May along with this year’s operating budget.  Though it only affords the district to run a half-day program, Malone said the benefits are invaluable; it not only allows students to foster a love of learning before entering kindergarten, it allows them to grow familiar with their surroundings and the patterns that regulate school life.

“It allows the kids to have that consistency [of schedule], and an exposure to how we do things here in the district,” Malone stated.

Last year, the Pre-K program was held within two classrooms at the elementary school that had been refurbished with pint-sized utilities and a private play area for the four-year-olds; this year the program is being held in two newly refurbished classrooms within the middle school wing of the Pierson campus.  While Denon said the ideal is for the Pre-K program to be housed at the elementary school, issues of space forced the program to cross Jermain.  However, she added it’s thriving in its new location.

Just as Pre-K students did last year, “the students will use what’s available to them at the middle school,” Denon explained.  “They will listen to band practices, use the courtyard, and use the middle school gym when it’s free.  We’re also hoping some of the ‘big kids’ will come in and read to them [during free periods or after school].”

School Board Member Ed Drohan, who has been pushing for a Pre-K program in the district, has seen what he said are the benefits of the program first-hand.  Drohan is in the classroom nearly everyday to pick-up his four-year-old grandson.

“I think they’re off to a really great start,” he said.  “Character development is one of the things that’s great about this school district.  And the fact that they seem to be starting that with the kids at a younger age — to get along with each other, to understand one another — that’s great.”

Denon Picked as New Elementary AP

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gm.slc.edu

After receiving 150 applications from across the country and state, Sag Harbor resident Donna Denon was named the new assistant principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School by the district at a business meeting held Monday night. Denon is a veteran of the local education scene, having worked in the Southampton School District for 25 years.

Above: A headshot of Denon, Malones successor at the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

For the first 12 years of her career, Denon was a kindergarten teacher. The Southampton School District, however, later recruited Denon for the pre-kindergarten program where she served as coordinator for several years. In her free time, Denon is a member of the Sag Harbor Ladies Improvement Society and Early Education Initiative Committee for the Shinnecock Reservation. In addition to living within the district’s borders, Denon’s children were brought up in the Sag Harbor school system and will enter ninth grade this fall.

According to Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and elementary school principal Matt Malone, Denon’s previous work overseeing a pre-kindergarten program and her familiarity with the school made her an ideal applicant as the district looks to establish a pre-k in the 2010-2011 school year.

Denon was selected as a top candidate by a committee comprised of teachers, parents and district administrators, including Malone. The committee sifted through the applications and after several screenings agreed upon two viable candidates who were interviewed by Gratto.

“She is a well-established member of the community … and I think that is very important for parents, especially elementary school parents. They want to feel that they can approach someone with their concerns,” noted Gratto on the selection.

As per her contract with the district, Denon is on a three-year probationary period with an annual salary of $114,000. She can officially begin working for the district as soon as August 31, although Southampton School District has the ability to retain her as an employee until September 25. Denon, however, is confident she will be able to start in Sag Harbor by August 31.

The first day of school, however, is scheduled for September 9, giving Denon only a little over a week to settle into her new position.

“The first thing we have to do is get through opening day,” remarked Malone. “Then we can spend some quality time sharing ideas about the school … But I have faith that she will be brought up to speed very quickly.”

Of her first weeks at the school, Denon said, “I think in preparation for the job I will be an observer and a listener to see what happens at the school … I hope to be a face to greet the children and their families in the morning … I just want to be available so that people can get to know me.”