Tag Archive | "forum"

Discussion Starts on Future of Education

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By Claire Walla
In the Sag Harbor Elementary School gym, many speakers ran past their three-minute limit and the event spilled into over-time. But since the goal of the Education Forum held last Wednesday, December 8 was to bring a diverse range of voices from the community together to discuss the future of education in Sag Harbor, it would seem the event was a success.

The forum attracted nearly 90 people for just over two hours of public comments ranging from specific topics like implementing a gifted and talented program at the elementary school; to broader ideas, such as making the district more competitive in a global context; and even serious concerns, like making more of an effort to reach out to Sag Harbor’s Latino community.

Forum organizer and former Pierson High School principal Bob Schneider said the forum went very well, for its first run.
“I appreciated that there wasn’t a lot of criticism of the school district,” he said.

Although, in the interest of time, not every person who wished to speak had the opportunity to do so, Schneider added that school board president and forum co-organizer Walter Wilcoxen has received emails and index cards with as yet unvoiced comments. “These will be addressed at the next forum,” he added.

It was parent Leah Oppenheimer who first raised the issue of reaching out to the Latino population who, she said, make up 18 percent of the G.D.P. on Long Island. She expressed concern that Sag Harbor’s Latino families are not given the opportunity to learn about their cultural traditions, and many children are not coming to kindergarten with enough preparation because they aren’t able to afford the pre-schools in the area.

As a social worker in East Hampton who works with many Latino families, school board member Dan Hartnett echoed this sentiment. He also commented on the importance of the International Baccalaureate program, which Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols is investigating for next school year.

The idea of evolving the Sag Harbor curriculum is one that was touted by many who spoke at the forum. While Pierson senior Max Moyer thanked every one of his teachers for doing a great job, he expressed frustration that, often, times the scope of his school work does not leave the four walls of the classroom.

“It does not get to a state, a global or a national level,” he said.
Community member Chuck Neuman, who said he went through a baccalaureate program as a child in Germany, emphasized the need for rigor at the school.

“It has to be tough and it has to be demanding,” he said. “I went through six years of boot camp.”

Several parents, including Alison Scanlon, spoke of the need for classes on all grade levels to put more time and effort into developing reading and writing skills. Scanlon spoke of a school in Rockton High School in Massachusetts, which at one time had a drop-out rate of one in three students.

“Decades ago it was a case study in failure,” she said.
But after organizing a school-wide campaign to incorporate reading and writing into every single class, including gym, Scanlon said the school went on to out-perform 90 percent of high schools in the state.
“And it doesn’t cost a thing,” she added.

The need for ecological programs, as well as health and wellness initiatives, was brought up by teacher Kryn Olson who said she wanted to focus on developing more energy efficient techniques within science courses. Similarly, Eco-Walk creator and parent Ed Bruehl and parent Barbara Kinnier of the Wellness Foundation of East Hampton were passionate about increasing health and wellness within the district.

While Bruehl mentioned his desire to form a committee of parents who might work together to tap into the fresh food sources available here on the East End, Kinnier spoke about further improving the district’s approach to nutrition. She lauded the school’s efforts to incorporate organic milk and healthy vending machine options.

But, she added, “It breaks my heart to hear that we have Pop Tarts in the vending machine because it keeps us out of the red.”
Technology was another hot-button issue, prompting many parents to address the lack of adequate options at the school.
“We’re a very low-tech/no-tech school,” said parent Gay Snow. “It’s time we start introducing laptops and computers.”

Snow added that she wants the board of education to approve a foundation so that parents can start soliciting corporations for grant money and donations. She added that the school should do “anything to help educate and simulate kids in the district,” including appealing to corporations, “because that’s what the times require.”

Speakers differed on the scope of the education problems afflicting the district, some blaming national issues and some blaming problems closer to home. But, most audience members seemed to agree with what teacher Peter Solow had to say at the end of the night.

“We’re not going to change the education system [in the country],” he said. “But one of the students that goes to this school may in fact change the world.”

While the event brought a good-sized crowd to the elementary school, both Schneider and Wilcoxen said they’d like to see more people at the next forum on January 12. Wilcoxen added that although there were 10 teachers at Wednesday’s event, he wished there had been more. Wilcoxen also said he was surprised that the science and math curriculum was not mentioned during the forum, but there’s always next time.
And Schneider noted that for the next forum he and Wilcoxen will specifically try to do more outreach to members of Sag Harbor’s Latino community.

For the next meeting on January 12, half the time will be devoted to comments that were not heard at last Wednesday’s meeting (all will be limited to three minutes), and the rest of the time will be devoted to small group discussions centered on eight umbrella topics: Enrichment, Careers/College Prep, Technology, Reading and Writing, Ecology (including health and wellness), Pre-K, Communication and Curriculum Enhancement. Each group will be moderated by a teacher, administrator, school board or community member.

Forum Urges Many Visions of Library

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Forum Attendees help plot out a possible future division of library services.Dozens of local residents squeezed into the Rotunda of the John Jermain Library, on Saturday, December 6, as architect Richard Munday began a community workshop for local residents who were urged to share their ideas for a possible division of services between the existing library building and a new location.

   Munday, of the Connecticut firm Newman Architects, reported that at a similar forum held last month, people said the main problems with the current space were a perceived lack of parking and a lack of space. Associate architect, Michael Scott continued and said that the core priorities of the library were its history, its collections, and its outreach programs. Through a series of activities designed by Newman Architects, Munday challenged the forum’s participants to address the problems of the existing library while still protecting its priorities. In the first activity, attendees used an activity sheet to show which village locations, such as the park or grocery store, they go to before or after visiting the library.
   The second activity required everyone to split up into five groups of around six people. Each group was given a poster board with a long rectangle printed on it. The front third of the rectangle was shaded in black and this symbolized the amount of space available at the current location. The remaining rectangle space was shaded in grey, and this symbolized the extra space at a second library building. Each group was given a handful of thin foam board blocks with a different library service or space, such as collections or a senior reading room, printed on its surface. The groups were told to place these services in the rectangle in order of importance from left to right, and asked members to thoroughly consider which services should stay in the existing building and which ones could be moved to a new location. While describing this activity to attendees, Munday said “if you think about each of the services as a kind of book and you think about the place [of the library] as a kind of book shelf, how will you fit all of the services onto the bookshelf?”

Architect Munday explains the activity to library workshop participants.
   One of the key issues that came out of this activity was the accessibility and safety of the building, especially for parents with young children. Parents make up a large number of library users, but they are often absent at these forums.
“This is a beautiful historical building, but it is not accessible,” said local resident Larry Baum. “I have arrived here with four kids, carrying a stroller and I can tell you that [this building] does not work for people from my demographic. In order to have a communal place, it has to be accessible … I am disappointed that more of my peers and fellow parents are not here today.”
Tippy Amerest, a library board member and local teacher, echoed Baum’s concerns: “I couldn’t use the library from the time my son was young because I was afraid he would run into the street [while I was getting out of the car.]” Even one older resident sympathized with parents who find it difficult to safely enter the building with their children. “It is very dangerous to get out of the car with children. You have to provide parking room for any children’s area,” said Priscilla Ciccariello.
The library, though, has been exploring ways to include the voice of parents in the plans for the library. Library Director Catherine Creedon has visited the Parent Teacher Student Association and has spoken with many of the school’s community groups. Creedon has also made sure that free childcare is provided at the library during these forums.
Local mother Nancy Hallock, who attended the Saturday meeting, said, “There were many interested parents who were unable to attend the meeting today.” Hallock is looking into ways of distributing copies of the activities given out at the forum to parents. She is also trying to organize mini-forums with parent groups.
The ailing and disabled are also faced with the issue of limited accessibility to the library. Library Board President Christiane Neuville said she has difficulty maneuvering around the building because of recent back surgery: “This building is hard on me because there is no elevator. I had some friends who couldn’t come today because of this.”
During the mini-group activity, some participants addressed accessibility problems by moving the children’s section and reading room to a different location. Some reasoned that a new site would offer safer parking. Others felt that a building on the plot of land by the Gateway would be convenient for parents who take their children to Mashashimuet Park.
Others, however, felt that separating the children’s and adult’s sections would create new problems. “I would personally have to make two trips. I wouldn’t have time to get my books,” one mother observed. Some parents wondered whether the whole library could be housed in one, roomier, location, and perhaps the existing building would be used for another purpose.
One workshop mini-group toyed with the idea of an expansion to the existing building and duplicating certain services to avoid moving key services to another location. For example, one group suggested that the children’s reading room and the children’s books be housed in the same space. This group placed the archives at a separate location reasoning that this space could be open from time to time, which would cut down on staff costs.
Other attendees recognized a need for a second location. Some wondered about the feasibility of the costs associated with this arrangement. “The village might say that we can’t afford two buildings,” said Nicholas Quennell. “This is something that I think about a lot,” said Creedon. “If we do have two buildings one important thing to do is to find [existing] staff willing to work at the separate buildings.”
As the workshop progressed, the issue of funding became a pressing matter. Some believed the current economic crisis would allow the library to construct a new building at a lower rate. “Any kind of public project needs to seek bids for the work. When people are looking for work, especially in the building industry, we might be able to pay a lesser amount for the project,” said Creedon. Others wondered if the project could be phased out, or built bit by bit. Creedon is also exploring other avenues of funding. “We are looking into grants and private donors, and we have been hosting fundraisers … All of it is going to lessen the amount of the referendum,” said Creedon.
Regardless of funding issues, nearly everyone agrees that this is an important time to make a decision about the future of the library. Many participants spoke of how in a recession, people are more likely to use their local library. “People aren’t going to buy a book anymore, they will come here,” said Neuville. Creedon reports that lately the library’s “usage is skyrocketing.”
Architect Michael Scott said, “We’ve been very excited to work on this project. We haven’t fully digested everything that was discussed on Saturday, but we will certainly be ready [by January or February] to present a few options to see how a building would fit in either one or two locations.”