Tag Archive | "teachers"

Test Refusal Movement Continues to Grow in Sag Harbor

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By Tessa Raebeck

Spring break is traditionally used for some much needed relaxation and time in the sun before the final sprint to the end of the school year, but a group of East End parents, teachers, and community members had a loftier goal for last week’s vacation: Taking back public education.

About 50 people filled a meeting room in Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers’ Church on Thursday, April 9, for an informational dialogue on test refusal hosted by the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH). The “refuse the test” movement has gained steam across New York State in recent weeks, in reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to increase privatization of the state’s education system and put mounting emphasis on state tests by tying teachers’ jobs and basing schools’ effectiveness on students’ performances on standardized tests written by for-profit companies. The governor threatened to hold out on providing aid to schools if the State Legislature did not pass his reforms as part of the state budget earlier this month.

The picture painted at the forum is one that has been repeated across the country increasingly since the implementation of the past two major federal educational reforms, President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top: public schools in which art and history classes and recess, gym and lunch periods have been eliminated and replaced with test prep.

The Sag Harbor School District has made many efforts to resist pulling the plug on the creativity administrators say is fundamental to a strong, engaging education, but the new state regulations will force school districts to fire teachers and administrators and relinquish local control of schools should students not perform up to par. Sag Harbor’s schools, which perform well on state tests, will be subject to the same guidelines as the state’s lowest performing schools.

As a means of resistance, unions and some administrators have urged parents to “refuse the test” by not having their child sit for them. From an academic standpoint, a test becomes invalid if 17 percent or more of the students across the state refuse to take it.

On Tuesday, April 14, the first day the state tests were administered, Superintendent Katy Graves said 25 percent of Sag Harbor students had not taken the ELA test that day. Many of the students who refused the tests are the same students who do the best on them, and Sag Harbor’s scores will likely suffer as a result.

Ms. Graves said Thursday that she does not support refusing the test because the district has invested so much in the scores and analyzing the data they provide, but that “watching this has been heartbreaking.”

“The majority of the districts in the state—especially upstate—are so aid dependent,” she said. Never before, she added, had a governor inserted language into the budget linking school aid to how schools operate.

She added that tenure, which the governor wants to make more difficult to obtain, had been brought in for a reason, so, for example, if a teacher decided to teach a topic like evolution, which was once highly controversial, he wouldn’t have to fear losing his job.

“There’s some reasons we deal with things very slowly in education, so we’ve never dealt with this embedding of this kind of language—I as governor am deciding how you locally evaluate your teachers…so you’re living in a new world,” she told the crowd of parents.

TASH President Jim Kinnier, a math teacher at Pierson, said he and Ms. Graves are on the same team, however, they “disagree upon what pitch to throw.”

The governor has issued a gag order on teachers forbidding them from encouraging their students and parents to refuse the test.

Mr. Kinnier, under that gag order, said he hosted Thursday’s forum to “bring forth some facts [and] allow folks to voice their opinions.”

“From my perspective, we’re out of strategies. There’s only one strategy left that I see,” he said. “In my view, to let your children take the test is to endorse the governor’s efforts to make public schools be like charter schools…I don’t want to have this opinion, but I only see two possibilities—either sit here and take it or do this.”

Mr. Kinnier said he is not opposed to tests, but said the current state tests are not age or ability appropriate and are far too long. Elementary school students take the tests over six days, for a total of anywhere from nine to 18 hours depending on whether they receive extra time. He said if the scores were a smaller part of teachers’ evaluations the teacher could reflect on the results, but it wouldn’t drive their instruction.

This is the third time in four years that the legislature has addressed the issue of teachers’ evaluations.

“This is called education reform—in my opinion, it’s anything but,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor said when voting against the governor’s budget. “What we’re doing tonight is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; this isn’t reform at all. The fact of the matter is that the only solace I have tonight is that I know that we will be back here again at some point dealing with this issue.”

Administered by private for-profit companies and not written by educators, the tests are graded by hired temp workers who are paid per test. The only requirement to be hired as a grader, which includes critiquing a writing section, is a college degree.

In addition to lamenting the arbitrary nature of the tests, many teachers and parents in attendance expressed fear that the data-driven instruction will affect students’ ability to learn and be prepared for careers in a rapidly changing global marketplace.

Sag Harbor resident Laura Leever, who teaches on Shelter Island, said while she understands Ms. Graves’s concerns over faculty and students being affected by scores lowered from high test refusal, “We have to look at this in a bigger picture…this is about taking away public education, it’s about taking away local control.”

“I think we have a very punitive governor,” Ms. Graves replied. “I think he will punish every school that doesn’t comply and I think it’s going to make things worse.”

She said she fears that, rather than acknowledging how many families refused to take the test, the governor will instead say the scores mean “our schools are failing even more.”

“I’m an AP U.S. History teacher,” said Sean Brandt, president of the Southampton teachers union, “and America is founded by a bunch of rebels—and I think now is the time to stand up. My son’s in the third grade and he’s not taking the test. As far as what’s the outcome, we don’t know, but this is the loss of local control, this is the privatization of public education and this is as criminal as it gets—and this is our opportunity to take a stand.”

Chase Mallia, a Pierson math teacher, said teachers who have a lot of students refuse the test would likely have worse results, because those students are often the same ones who would perform the best.

“There’s a possibility for me that I’ll be rated ineffective,” he said. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take, because I see the direction the state’s going, because I’m in it for the kids.”

New York State Budget’s Education Reforms Draw Criticism

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Just before graduation, Jessica Warne takes one last walk down the hallway at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

Just before graduation, Jessica Warne takes one last walk down the hallway at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

New York’s school districts have watched Albany intently since January, when Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a $1.1 billion increase in education aid on the condition that the Republican-controlled State Senate and Democratic-led State Assembly agree to his series of education reforms.

Those reforms, called a “disgrace” by the state’s teachers’ unions and denied by a growing movement of parents who are “opting out” of state tests, include linking teacher evaluations more closely with student test scores, making it harder for teachers to be hired and easier for them to be fired, and allowing state takeovers of schools whose students perform poorly on tests.

Democrats in the Assembly, members of the governor’s own party, voiced their strong opposition to the reforms as they voted on the budget on Tuesday, March 31, but conceded that passing the budget and avoiding a government shutdown was of greater priority than preventing the education overhaul. An aide  to Senator Kenneth P. LaValle confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the budget’s final language was still being worked on before the formal adoption. By Wednesday, some concessions had been made, but not enough to quiet the worries of educators across the state and the growing opposition of parents and their children.

Although legislators, educators and teachers unions opposed the bulk of the reforms, the primary standout is teachers’ evaluations, which will be taken further out of the hands of the schools themselves. The governor wanted half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student performance on state tests, which educators and parents alike have decried, saying the system would put even more emphasis on “teaching to the test” and less on creative, engaging learning.

Administrators and school board members in Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton and Bridgehampton have publicly spoken out against the governor’s reforms.

“It is ridiculous,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the Sag Harbor School Board, at a meeting last month. “It just puts more pressure on that single test being the only measure of effectiveness…it’s very unhealthy—this increased anxiety-ridden testing environment that the governor’s creating and ratcheting up.”

The new budget removes teachers evaluation planning from the legislative process and places the power of determining the weight of the various components, primarily test scores and observations, into the hands of the State Education Department, which will have to come up with a plan by June. The department gained notoriety last year for its haphazard rollout of the Common Core standards  when it administered tests to students before providing teachers and parents with basic materials like lesson plans and textbooks.

Under the new evaluation system approved Tuesday, teachers will continue to be judged on the current scale as “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective,” or “highly effective.” Those who teach math and English to third through eighth graders will be judged on their students’ performance on state tests in those subjects and high school teachers will be judged on the Regents exams. Educators whose courses don’t end in state exams, such as art or kindergarten teachers, will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives” determined by the state.

Observations conducted by a principal or administrator within the school and an “independent” observer from a different school will also play a role in a teacher’s grade. Lesson plans, student portfolios, and student and parent feedback surveys may no longer be considered in determining whether or not a teacher is doing their job.

In addition to requiring that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on tests, the governor wanted 35 percent to come from an observer from outside the district, with the remaining 15 percent determined by the teacher’s school itself, numbers that education proponents are urging the state to abandon.

“The idea of a teacher evaluation system being related to 85 percent coming from outside local control is absolutely horrific,” said Jim Kinnier, a math teacher at Pierson Middle/High School and president of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, who fears the Education Department is under the governor’s control and will end up implementing his desired weighting regardless of the input of legislators and educational experts.

“A lot of what this is, is the governor is unhappy with the teachers union on the state level because the teachers union didn’t endorse him…. a lot of this on his part is an eye for an eye kind of thing.”

Other components of the budget will make it harder to become a teacher in the state, which has been struggling to recruit new educators in recent years, and for teachers to keep their jobs. Every five years, teachers and administrators with lifetime certification will be required to register with the state again and complete 100 hours of continuing education or professional development under “rigorous standards” to be released by the Education Department. There is no funding mentioned to help school districts comply with the mandate. The state’s graduate schools of education will be required to “adopt rigorous selection criteria,” including a cumulative 3.0-grade-point average during an applicant’s undergraduate career. Teachers will not be able to qualify for tenure until they have taught for four years, as opposed to the current three.

“We’re reading articles about less and less people wanting to become teachers in New York State because we have a governor that’s creating a platform that seems to be…hostile to teachers and children, both,” said Ms. Tice.

In addition to the teachers union and state legislators, a grassroots movement of opposition has formed in the state and is swiftly growing on the East End. New York State United Teachers Union President Karen Magee encouraged parents to “opt-out,” or remove their children from standardized testing, saying it is the only effective method of resisting the governor’s changes, and a group of local parents is taking up the charge, opting their children out of the state exams, which begin on April 14.

“The goal for us parents and teachers is to get as many families to refuse the test as possible, because that’s where it gets noticed,” said a Pierson Middle School parent who wished to remain anonymous until the group comes out publicly. “I don’t really have a political bone in my body, but at this point it’s really hard to ignore…. the testing is ineffective and it’s not pro-student, it’s not pro-teacher, it’s not pro-school.”

Mr. Kinnier said he is generally in support of standardized testing because it helps teachers to serve their students and “the school can look at their program and make adjustments based on results. It allows you to compare where our students are compared to other students across Long Island and across New York and I think those are good things.”

On the state exams for third through eighth graders, however, teachers do not receive students’ results. They are given a numerical grade of one through four for each student, but no additional information on what a student struggled with or what areas were challenging, so they cannot diagnostically look at the right and wrong answers and adjust their program accordingly.

“The state exams on the seventh and eighth grade level are more challenging than the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam,” said Mr. Kinnier. “And the reason why the state makes the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam so easy is because it’s one of the requirements to graduate from high school, so they have these other tests which their only purpose is to judge teachers.”

Teachers across the state write the Regents exams, which are included on students’ high school transcripts, but Pearson, a for-profit testing company with strong lobbies in Albany, writes, administers, and grades the exams for younger students.

“That’s another thing that virtually all teachers are opposed to—these state exams ought to be written by teachers and not a for-profit test writing company,” said Mr. Kinnier.

The teachers union is “taking a close look” at how the state is spending money for testing purposes and links between leaders in Albany and profiteers at Pearson, he added.

Bridgehampton School Teachers Update Board on Evolving Pedagogy

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By Tessa Raebeck 

Bridgehampton School teachers updated the Board of Education Wednesday, February 25, on their teaching methods and PBIS, the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention System.

Special education science and math teacher Jeff Neubauer showed videos and shared the science and thinking behind “these new ways of approaching education.” Bridgehampton teachers Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, who teaches environmental design and runs the up-and-coming robotics program, and Helen Wolfe, a math and science teacher, were also there in support of Mr. Neubauer.

In drafting this philosophy, the teachers took their academic experiences in a special education classroom and transferred those lessons to apply the methods to the larger student body.

The three core tenets of the philosophy, which was fostered by a handful of Bridgehampton teachers with help from Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, is a diversity of instruction methods and teaching styles, a focus on rewards rather than punishment in terms of student behavior, and a focus on transition, or accurately preparing students for work in a modern world through programs like robotics and coding, Mr. Neubauer said.

Special education teachers, Mr. Neubauer told the board, are able to work together in the classroom and thus, “we get to see a myriad of teaching styles.”

“The real thing we came to,” he said of he and his colleagues, “was that diversifying instruction and motivation really became the pillars of what we wanted [education at Bridgehampton] to be.”

The Positive Behavior Intervention System, or PBIS, focuses on rewarding good behavior in students, rather than punishing bad behavior. Originating in the district about five years ago, the system was designed to provide good behavior with rewards in a consistent fashion across grade levels and classrooms.

Good behavior in the classroom, Mr. Neubauer said, allows for a safer environment, where students can feel comfortable learning, asking questions, and expressing their creativity. With the slogan that ease of use equals implementation, the teachers created a Bridgehampton PBIS website. The platform, which uses technology to streamline the process, has earned recognition at the local, state and regional levels.

All behavioral actions are logged onto the PBIS website by teachers, producing a vast display of data on behavior trends in Bridgehampton.

Teachers can use the extensive data to make informed decisions on how best to deal with behavioral issues. They can track, for instance, that most of the negative write-ups for a student occurred during first period, then see that they were predominately for tardiness. The data allows teachers to “isolate the problem and try to solve it,” Mr. Neubauer said.

“We want to make school a place where you don’t have behavior issues, so every kid can learn and be able to be creative and have this freedom,” he added.

In other school board news, the board decided to pursue a budget that will not pierce the state-mandated property tax cap, which it expects to adopt at its meeting on April 22.

The annual community forum on the budget will be held Wednesday, March 11, at 7 p.m. in the school gymnasium. The next meeting of the school board is March 25 at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria.

Sag Harbor Elementary School Teacher Travels to Malawi to Visit School for Orphans

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Students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. Photo courtesy Jacaranda School.

Students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. Photo courtesy Jacaranda School.

By Tessa Raebeck

Hundreds of art supplies, dozens of books and one Sag Harbor Elementary School teacher are on their way to a school for orphans in Malawi Thursday, July 17.

Science teacher Kryn Olson will spend three weeks at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in the village of Che Mboma, near the city of Limbe in the south of Malawi, a small, landlocked country in southeast Africa.

Sag Harbor Elementary School science teacher Kryn Olson.

Sag Harbor Elementary School science teacher Kryn Olson.

Ms. Olson, who pioneered the outdoor gardening program at the elementary school, is visiting Jacaranda to work with the children there on a gardening program they’ve started. She’s been researching the types of greens that would be successful in Malawi’s tropical climate and could flourish in African soil.

“It’s going to be an experiment, but exciting,” Ms. Olson said in a recent interview. “They have a very successful program they’ve been working with on gardening and so, they want to have me come and just see how we can join forces and work together on learning and developing what they have.”

The family of a young girl Ms. Olson has been mentoring over the last several years is friends with the owner and developer of the Jacaranda School, Marie Da Silva.

“They invited her to come out and see what I do here,” Ms. Olson said. After Ms. Da Silva visited Sag Harbor, she and Ms. Olson decided to work together in expanding Jacaranda’s garden—and uniting their students as pen pals.

Ms. Olson said Sag Harbor children wrote letters to the kids in Malawi she will carry with her on her trip, and then she will bring the Jacaranda students’ letters back to Sag Harbor. After the first exchange, the students will begin emailing back and forth regularly.

“They can’t stand it, they’re so excited,” Ms. Olson said of her students in Sag Harbor. “It’s really a beautiful thing. There was such a level of humility, but smart humility.”

“They were very excited about being able to write somebody in another country,” she added. “They realize that they live another life, so they were just curious. It was just kids talking to kids; it was beautiful. It wasn’t about depth, it was: Tell me what your country looks like. What animals live there? Do you have a brother or sister?”

Born and raised in Malawi, Ms. Da Silva, who has lost 15 members of her family to the AIDS pandemic, including her father and two of her brothers, came to the United States to work as a nanny and lived in New York City for 19 years. In 2002, she returned to Malawi and, after seeing how many children in her hometown were left out of school, she founded the Jacaranda School for Orphans, operating out of her family home. She used the money she earned working as a nanny to scrape together supplies and teachers’ salaries.

“When she nannied,” Ms. Olson said of Ms. Da Silva, “she really researched the schools and watched how the children were being raised here. She felt that education here was profoundly different. She wanted to expose the children to things she learned here. So she took those concepts back to Malawi with her.”

Twelve years later, the school has 400 students, its own campus and is the only entirely free primary and secondary school in the country. It provides the orphans with a free education, scholarships to high school graduates, uniforms and school supplies, clothes and shoes, daily nutrition, medical care and counseling, AIDS awareness activities, arts programs, agriculture activities and home support in the form of renovation of students’ houses, monthly financial support to the most impoverished children and construction of boarding houses for students in child-headed families.

Ms. Da Silva was recognized as a Top Ten Hero by CNN in 2008.

“It’s really an incredible thing that she did,” Ms. Olson said. “She not only feeds them, but she gives them medicine and funds their education. She has also now sent six kids to college, which is unheard of.”

In addition to bringing the pen pal letters and her school gardening expertise to Malawi, Ms. Olson is also bringing boxes of gifts to the Jacaranda School.

Sag Harbor students raised funds to donate two cases filled with art supplies—hundreds of water color tablets, reams of paper, colored markers and other materials—and “an enormous amount of books,” which will be shipped over on a boat.

“We’re trying to double the size of their library,” Ms. Olson said.

In addition to the books donated by students and their families, Ms. Olson is bringing a suitcase with all her favorites, including Eric Carl classics and “Goodnight Moon.”

Ms. Olson will also help the Jacaranda School enhance its garden, which currently grows carrots, tea and other vegetables.

“What they raise they sell to help support the orphanage,” she said. “And they also really are working at making sure the kids understand that it’s about learning how to be sustainable and how to take care of themselves and not taking things for granted.”

The produce that isn’t sold is used to feed the children.

“She wanted to teach them how to survive in the world,” Ms. Olson said of Ms. Da Silva.

Sag Harbor Teachers Accept Minimal Salary Increases in New Contract

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Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a surprise announcement last week, released with little fanfare, the Sag Harbor Board of Education and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) said they had agreed on new contract.

Besides minimal fanfare, the three-year agreement also carries minimal increases. It was approved at a board meeting on Monday, July 7, and is effective from July 1 through June 30, 2017. It gives teachers salary increase of 0.7 percent for the 2013-14 school year and increases of 0.75 percent for both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

The last contract negotiations between the district and the teachers union, which concluded in December 2010, took over two years and were marked by acrimony.

The union, led by then-president Eileen Kochanasz, had initially asked for salary increases of 3.9 percent, which were comparative to those in neighboring districts. After much back and forth, they agreed on increases of 2.5, 2.65, 2.7 and 2.6 percent for the respective school years from  July 1, 2008, through July 1, 2013.

During those negotiations, teachers eventually started wearing black t-shirts to school to protest their lack of a contract.

This time around, the bargaining was “much, much easier,” Jim Kinnier, the union’s current president who was involved in both processes, said Thursday, July 10.

“I think, in general,” Mr. Kinnier said, “both the board of [education] and the teachers wanted to have a more cooperative negotiation session and we kept negotiations out of the public. That was a priority for both sides.”

The process was eased by an early, private start in the fall that gave the groups plenty of time to go back and forth, in addition to “a much more cooperative environment than was around the last time,” said Mr. Kinnier, who is a math teacher at Pierson Middle-High School.

According to his understanding, this is only the second time in 40 years that a teachers contract in Sag Harbor has been settled on time.

“This is the third contract I have done,” board member Sandi Kruel said Thursday, “and this was one of the best experiences I have had. I feel that it was a wonderful team effort between the board and the teachers.”

Having asked for a 3.9-percent increase in 2008, when the economy first crashed, accepting an increase of less than 1 percent six years into the recovery is a seemingly surprising move on the part of teachers, but Mr. Kinnier attributed their willingness to compromise to the tight financial burdens felt in schools since the 2-percent tax cap was enacted by New York State in 2011.

“There’s only so much room that the district has and that’s the major reason why the increases are a lot less than they were,” Mr. Kinnier said, adding that teachers in many districts on Long Island have had to take salary freezes and give up step increases.

For the three-year term of this contract, the teachers’ contributions to active employee medical health insurance will remain at 17.5 percent. When the contract expires on June 30, 2017, however, that contribution will go up to 20 percent.

“Actually, the healthcare costs have leveled off a little bit, but the district wanted us to contribute more,” Mr. Kinnier said. “Our argument was that we contribute more than any district on the South Fork and we have done so for a long period of time,” he said, adding that Sag Harbor was among the first in which teachers contributed to healthcare costs at all.

“So, the compromise was that there will be an increase, but not until these three years are up,” he said.

“We have what I think is a fair deal, and they think it’s a fair deal” he added. “And as a result, we get to concentrate on what it is we do best and that’s public education.”

Update: Sag Harbor School Board Approves New Teachers Contract

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Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

Art teacher Laurie DeVito in her classroom at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor Board of Education announced at its annual reorganizational meeting on Monday that it had reached a contract agreement with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH).

With unanimous approval from the board, the contract was settled before the current one expires for the first time in recent memory and only the second time in the district’s history.

“It was a sign of all of us working together collaboratively and we’re proud to have all of you in the district teaching our children,” Theresa Samot, president of the school board, said Monday.

The last contract negotiations took over two years and became quite heated, with teachers protesting the lack of a settlement by wearing black t-shirts to school for months. After the contracts expired in August 2008, the union and the school district did not decide on a new agreement until December 2010.

The new three-year contract is in effect from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2017. The agreement between the district and the union will increase the 2013-14 salary schedule by 0.7 percent. For each of 2014-15 and 2015-16, salaries will be increased by 0.75 percent.

During the term of the three-year contract, TASH members will contribute 17.5 percent of the premium costs for employee health and dental insurance, the same amount they’ve been paying since July 1, 2010. Starting June 30, 2017, members of TASH will have to contribute 20 percent of those costs.

“I just want to say thank you and how happy we are that we have settled this contract and approved it tonight,” said Ms. Samot.

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, added the contract is “respectable both to the needs of the district and of the employee.”

The increases are significantly lower than those in the previous contract, which retroactively gave teachers a 2.5-percent salary increase for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, a 2.65-percent increase for the 2010-11 school year, a 2.7-percent increase for 2011-12 and a 2.6-percent increase for 2012-13.

“Finalizing the contract agreement through 2017 is a very good way to begin the new school year,” the district’s new Superintendent Katy Graves, who was sworn in at the meeting Monday, said in a press release. “It clearly shows the strong relationship and common goals shared between the board, administration and teachers union.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, Ms. Graves and new school board member Diana Kolhoff took the oath of office.

Having just finished her ninth year on the board, Ms. Samot was again elected president on a motion brought by Ms. Tice and seconded by Susan Kinsella.

“I just want to thank Theresa because most people don’t realize how much time it takes to be president,” said Ms. Tice, adding, “Your dedication is very appreciated and you’ve done a great job.”

Board member David Diskin said how important it is in this period of transition—with a new superintendent and several administrative positions to fill—to have Ms. Samot return to her leadership position.

Ms. Kinsella nominated Ms. Tice to again be vice president, a motion that was seconded by Mr. Diskin.

The board meeting Monday was the first one to be filmed, although not broadcast, in the trial period of the district’s new videotaping of board meetings policy, which aims to increase transparency and public access to the goings-on of the school board. Future meetings will also be broadcast live on LTV and SEA-TV.

Ms. Graves told the small crowd gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School library that, having worked in the district for only four days, she was unable to share her entry plan just yet, but would provide a detailed plan of action at the July 28 board meeting.

The board appointed J. Wayne Shiernat as interim athletic director, filling the position left vacant by Todd Gulluscio’s resignation last month. Mr. Shiernat worked part time in the district prior to the hiring of Mr. Gulluscio two years ago.

“He’s going to be part time and he’ll be starting immediately tomorrow, because we are working without an athletic director at this time and a lot of very important scheduling items happen at this time,” Ms. Graves said.

Mr. Shiernat will work for four hours a day, five days a week at a daily rate of $325, with a maximum pay of $35,750. He will act as interim for up to 110 days from Tuesday, July 8, through December 19.

The board debated whether it is financially pertinent and necessary to have a full-time athletic director. Ms. Kolhoff suggested looking at sharing services with the Bridgehampton School District, but Ms. Graves said they had already reached out to that district but had not heard back yet.

“We have to proof sharing, we have to,” added Ms. Graves, “and maybe this is the part where we start.”

Board member Daniel Hartnett worried that having a full-time athletic director would require funds that could be used to keep the district’s 62 teams strong and intact and benefit the children more directly.

Former board member Mary Anne Miller, on the audience side of the meeting for the first time in years, and community member John Battle stressed the importance of addressing the health and wellness portion of the position.

In the end, the district decided to move forward with the applications it has received using a similar job description to that under which Mr. Gulluscio was hired, as director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness and Personnel.

“My recommendation with my four days here is to do what’s best for kids and that is to provide as much leadership as possible,” said Ms. Graves.

Sag Harbor School Board Approves Teachers Contract

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Sag Harbor Elementary School art teacher Lauri DeVito in her classroom. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

At its annual organizational meeting Monday night, the Sag Harbor Board of Education approved a new teachers contract with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH).

The contract was settled before the current one expires for the first time in recent memory.

“It was a sign of all of us working together collaboratively and we’re proud to have all of you in the district teaching our children,” Theresa Samot, president of the school board, said Monday.

The last contract negotiations took over two years and became quite heated, with teachers protesting the lack of a settlement by wearing black t-shirts to school for months. After the contracts expired in August 2008, a new agreement was not approved by both the union and the school district until December 2010.

The details of the new contract are forthcoming.

Sag Harbor School Board Honors Retirees, Grants Tenure

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Retiree Bethany Deyermond is congratulated by school board member Mary Anne Miller while board vice president Chris Tice, president Theresa Samot, interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and board member David Diskin look on at the board of education meeting Monday, June 9.

Retiree Bethany Deyermond is congratulated by school board member Mary Anne Miller while board vice president Chris Tice, president Theresa Samot, interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and board member David Diskin look on at the board of education meeting Monday, June 9. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

At what many members of the Sag Harbor School Board call their favorite meeting of the year, the district recognized the contributions of seven retirees and granted tenure to five teachers Monday.

The retirees, interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso joked, have been in the district for some 20 to 200 years each.

“I’m speaking as a colleague of theirs, somebody who started in the school when all of them had already established careers,” Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone, who started as a teacher at the school, said of his teachers before a crowd of friends and family gathered in the Pierson library.

“From the minute I walked into the building, I could always look to these four ladies for guidance and support and for setting the benchmark of professionalism,” he added.

Art teacher Laurie Devito, Mr. Malone said, has worked for 31 years to “ensure that art has been an integral part of our school and the educational experience for all the boys and girls. When you enter our school, art is truly alive.”

Mr. Malone spoke of the commitment shown by third grade elementary school teacher Bethany Deyermond, who has been in the district for 29 years, to promoting the growth and success of her students.

“All the boys and girls who have had the good fortune to work with her have truly benefited from that experience,” he added.

Those who have been “lucky enough” to work with Nancy Stevens-Smith, the elementary school’s Response to Intervention (RTI) specialist, during her 33 years at the school have learned much under her direction, Mr. Malone said.

“Each year, Nancy guided her students, our school and our entire community to become more aware of the tremendous contributions of African-Americans throughout history and for that we are grateful,” Mr. Malone said.

School board member Sandi Kruel thanked all the retirees, saying she is privileged and honored they have all worked with at least one of her three sons.

When asked what he was grateful for on a school assignment, “my son was grateful for Martin Luther King because if it wasn’t for him, he wouldn’t have been able to have Ms. Stevens as a teacher,” Ms. Kruel added.

Retiree Nancy Remkus has served the district for 31 years, filling multiple roles as a classroom teacher, special education teacher and music teacher.

“The institution that we all call Morning Program started with Nancy’s encouragement and triumphed due to her talents and care,” Mr. Malone said. “Our school is going to continue starting each day with a song and we thank Nancy for that.”

Spanish teacher Rafaela Soto Messinger is also retiring from the elementary school, although she was not in attendance Monday.

Director of Pupil Personnel Services Barbara Bekermus honored longtime staff member Laurie Duran, senior clerk typist for the district.

“When I was going to take this job,” Ms. Bekermus said of her position. “I thought, well, at least I have Laurie to teach me this job and show me the ropes.”

“The directors came, they went, and the only constant has always been Laurie—and every director has relied on you to steer the ship and show them the way. I’m grateful that I had my first year with Laurie, because I could not have done it without you,” she added.

A special education teacher for 33 years, Peggy Mott has “worked with some of our most challenging students, not only academically, but emotionally,” Ms. Bekermus said, adding that Ms. Mott advocates for her students and many of them told Ms. Bekermus they never would have taken challenging courses, graduated and mapped out careers without the guidance of Ms. Mott.

Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols celebrated his friend and longtime colleague Douglas Doerr, a science teacher.

“The pride with which he approaches his position here at Pierson is the same pride and commitment that he shows with regard to his own kids and as a single father, I’ve watched his kids grow up and turn into wonderful, wonderful people,” Mr. Nichols said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, five teachers were nominated and unanimously approved for tenure. Teachers can be nominated for tenure after they’ve served three years in the district.

“The board treats—all of us treat—tenure very, very seriously,” Dr. Bonuso said. “It’s not something that we automatically dole out. We know how important the teaching act is.”

For grades seven through 12, Anthony Chase Mallia was awarded tenure for mathematics, Richard Schumacher for chemistry and Kelly Shaffer for French. Elizabeth Marchisella earned tenure for Visual Arts and school counselor Adam Mingione was granted tenure in his field.

“This is one of the many fun things we get to do as a board and we have many very talented staff throughout our buildings,” said Chris Tice, school board vice president.

“To me,” said Dr. Bonuso, “I think teaching is the most noble of all professions, so to have the ability to say thank you to people who have devoted their life to that is an honor.”

“Grading” Sag Harbor Teachers: Administrators Discuss Goals Updates at Board of Education Meeting

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External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

By Tessa Raebeck

“This has been a week of very special teams,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, congratulating the champion Lady Whalers field hockey team and the community team that helped pass the district’s two bond propositions.

Passing the bond was a key component of the district goals for the 2013/2014 school year, which Dr. Bonuso presented to a small group of people gathered Monday for the Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

Dr. Bonuso discussed the headway made on the first three of the district’s nine goals. He said progress was made on the first goal, improving academic achievement, through the resubmission and implementation of Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR), an evaluation system required by the state since 2012. It rates teachers as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on a 100-point scale. Half of the review relies on administrative observations, 10 percent on an “evidence binder” of components like electronic posting and 40 percent on test scores. For teachers whose students are not yet being tested regularly, that portion is determined by a project the district assigns in order to produce a score. Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the majority of Sag Harbor teachers were graded “effective.”

“We need to take a second look at this emphasis on testing, the over testing,” said Dr. Bonuso. “We need to take a second look at whether or not we have the materials and modules – let alone the mindset – to approach this in a manner where people are feeling good about what’s happening instead of anxious and discouraged.”

Susan Hewett, a parent, asked the board how teachers are rewarded or reprimanded based on their APPR performance. Dr. Bonuso replied teachers are not rewarded, but if they are determined to be “developing” or worse for two years, “we can literally remove them…even if they are tenured.”

If a teacher is rated “ineffective,” the superintendent said, “We don’t have to go through all the gyrations and all the bureaucracy that in the past we had to in order to remove you.”

The administrators reported on the progress of the newly formed shared decision-making teams, a component of the second goal: to build partnerships with the community. Two teams have met, one for the elementary school and one for Pierson. The district-wide team is looking for two replacements for members who left the committee prior to the first meeting.

Board member Mary Anne Miller questioned the inclusion of the middle and high schools in the same team, which BOE Vice President Chris Tice agreed should be revisited.

The third goal is to ensure sound fiscal operation and facilities management. The district added experienced security personnel and hours at both school, enhanced systems at school entryways and held its first lockdown drill of the year last week. External auditor Alexandria Battaglia said Monday the district is in good financial health, with an unassigned fund balance of about $1.4 million.

In other school news, BOE member David Diskin again asked the board to discuss starting to video record their meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look at further.

The next BOE meeting will be held December 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

After Heated Two Years, Teacher’s Contracts At Last

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By Claire Walla

“All in favor?”

This question, a common formality at all school board meetings, rarely carries as much weight as it did this past Monday when Sag Harbor School Board members met inside the Pierson High School library to vote on teachers’ contracts.

Making no attempt to mask their relief, all six board members present uttered a resounding “aye”—and the room filled with applause. Board member Ed Drohan was absent from the meeting, and when asked later how he would have voted declined to say.

The decision marks the end of more than two years of heated negotiations, during which the Sag Harbor School District and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) fought over the financial details of teachers’ contracts, which expired in August 2008.

The primary issues in the negotiations concerned salary hikes and health care costs. Based on the contract details finally passed on Monday, the term of the agreement runs from July 1, 2008 through July 1, 2013.

Teachers will retroactively receive a 2.5 percent salary increase for each of two years through June, 2009. For the current school year, teachers will receive an additional 2.6 percent.

For the 2010-11 school year teachers will receive a 2.65 percent increase, in 2011-12 they will receive a 2.7 percent increase and in the final year of the agreement, 2012-13, they will receive a 2.6 percent raise.

The increases are nearly one percentage point lower than a fact-finder’s report had suggested, and less than the nearly four percent argued for by the teachers union.

These salary increases are in addition to the “step” increases that average about 2.7 percent each year.

However, both parties were content as school board members were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, having approved all details of the contracts, which had been approved by the teachers union last Thursday, December 4.

“This is probably one of the most difficult things we do because we know a lot of the staff,” school board president Walter Wilcoxen said moments before the vote. “[Negotiations] had gotten very bitter, and I hope it never happens again that way. But, this agreement allows us to turn the page in a positive fashion.”

“It was long and hard for us,” said Eileen Kochanasz, president of TASH. “But my teachers are at peace with the settlement and we’re happy to have this behind us.”

Pierson math teacher Jim Kinnier, who also played an active role advocating for the teachers union over the past months, added: “Nobody got everything, but it’s as balanced and fair as possible.”

Teachers initially came to the bargaining table hoping to receive salary increases of 3.9 percent, commensurate with salary increases in neighboring districts. But the board took a hard-line stance against such pay increases, evoking the tough economic times.

“This agreement is very consistent with what the board had offered all along,” said school superintendent Dr. John Gratto.

He added that the district budgeted for a 2.5 percent salary increase (and a more conservative 2.7 percent increase this year) since contracts expired in 2008. So these funds, which were kept in the school’s general fund, will be paid retroactively to all teachers on December 25 of this year.

The new contracts also allow for alternative health insurance options, a point the board emphasized as a cost-saving measure. In the past the district has been locked into the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP), the price of which continues to rise. So, while teachers are still able to take advantage of state insurance, Dr. Gratto said he will now explore other health insurance options that offer a lower premium. Besides, he added, “[NYSHIP] probably offered more than most teachers needed.”

The ability to pay less might be even more attractive to teachers now that their contribution fees to their insurance plans have increased. Retroactive to July 1, 2010, teachers will pay 17.5 percent of health insurance costs, up from the 15 percent they have paid in the past. Also decreasing will be the amount teachers receive for supervising the cafeteria during lunch periods. By reducing the pay by $8.80, bringing it down to $17.25, Dr. Gratto estimates the district can save about $19,000 a year.

Finally, beginning July 1, teachers will be required to post information online using school e-boards. Such information will include course descriptions, homework assignments, grading policy, grades, project and test dates and attendance records. Coaches as well will be required to post practice times and game schedules.

Though the details of the contracts were not discussed at the school board meeting — the district’s lawyers are currently drafting the final version — both parties seemed poised to celebrate their new agreement, and take this as a learning experience going into the future.

All who spoke on the matter — including Dr. Gratto, Kochanasz, Kinnier and school board members Wilcoxen, Dan Hartnett and Chris Tice — agreed. And during the public comment session, community member Walter Tice elaborated: “Now is the time for both parties to examine their participation in the process which just ended. Do that. Put it in writing and convey it to subsequent boards. If you turn and leave right now with relief and don’t look back, you will make the same mistakes again.

“Give the next board your insight about what went wrong this time,” Tice added.

And for the second time that night, there was applause.