Mineola Superintendent's Blog

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Preparing Mineola Schools for the next decade, and beyond

Nearly every generation has uttered the phrase “I just don’t understand young people these days”.  History demonstrates marked differences between generations and can easily distinguish between ‘baby boomers’ and the ‘generation-x’.  However, the onset of advances in technology has blurred these lines. We have never been faced with such dramatic changes in technology that in turn have altered the work force and the way we work.  From computers in automobiles to data programming, technology advances so quickly that the professions of today’s Kindergarteners do not yet exist.  To quote from the popular You-Tube video, “Shift happens 2010”, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” For educators it begs the question: “How are we supposed to prepare students for life after high school if we do not know what jobs will exist when they graduate?”

 

Educators can no longer afford to teach the way they learned.  Children today are so inundated with media and technology that it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage and motivate them in school. In fact, in most cases, they use more technology at home than at school. More than ever we need to embrace the notion of ‘if you can’t beat them- join them”. Our school system must reinvent itself to focus on student engagement and collaboration, while simultaneously not forgetting the ‘three r’s’ (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic). 

 

 In order for us to meet these new demands and to create a learning environment that children want to be a part of and grow, we need to change the way we do educate them. We are re-designing our schools with a new generation of learners in mind.

 

1) The Prek-2 program must emphasize “reading.”  The primary goal of our new ‘reading schools” will be to ensure that every child is on grade level when they leave second grade.  With “Reading Buildings” we  concentrate our  resources to insure that every child progresses at his/her own rate in not only “reading” but in such areas as whole-body movement, hands on learning, social interaction, cooperative learning activities, open communication and problem solving skills.    All of this in an environment that teaches children appropriate social and ethical behaviors including anti-bullying, to prepare them for a global society.

 

2) Jackson Avenue’s grade 3 & 4 building will be designed to build on the foundations of the ‘reading schools’.    Jackson will become the “inquiry school’, where children use the tools/strategies they have acquired to ask questions and find the answers to their questions. (Helming 2011)  Embedded in the inquiry school is teaching students how to think. The foundation of 21st century skills is based on the four “C’s”, Collaboration, Communication, Creative thinking and Critical reasoning.  These skills must be taught and cultivated. 

 

3)  Our middle school (grades 5-7) will allow for an exploration of different skills and technology.  The fifth grade ipad pilot program has given our students an opportunity to collaborate and be creative thinkers. By expanding the pilot to the entire 6th grade will allow us to change the way we teach and then the learning process changes dramatically.  The ability of students to access information is literally at their fingertips.  This automatically changes the way teachers think about the learning process.  Questions that require students to recall specific facts now take a back seat to questions that require analysis.   Classroom activities that involved worksheets are replaced with real learning requiring students to work together and develop problem solving skills; just like we face in the workplace every day.   Our focus shifts from rote memorization to how we solve problems and how we explain and demonstrate our understanding of our work. Technology will allow students to actively engage in their work and creatively demonstrate their understanding.

 

4) The culmination of a child’s journey through the Mineola School District will be at our high school (Grades 8-12).  An 8-12 HS will allow our students to learn about specific content but with the skills and knowledge to make meaning of their studies.  The entire 8th grade will begin Algebra next year, something only two classes were able to achieve in the past. The progression of students through The Reading Schools, The Inquiry School and The Technology Skills School are all in preparation for the rigors of higher expectations in the high school.   Students all too often do not believe they have the knowledge or skills for such subjects as Calculus.  We will provide them the skills, knowledge and confidence to challenge difficult work and, most importantly, to succeed.

 

Every aspect of public education is now under the microscope be it on a national level, state level or right here in our community. We can not continue to do business the way we always have. Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We have a unique opportunity in Mineola to re-create our schools in such a way that will excite our students about learning,  properly prepare them for their future, and provide for a more cost effective and efficient school district.  I hope that you are as excited about the path ahead as I am.

Posted 8 years, 7 months ago.

4 comments

Is this our future?

Someone recently recommended I watch a video entitled “First to Worst” about Proposition 13 in California.  That proposition passed in 1978 capped property taxes for the State.  If a tax were to be levied it had to have 2/3 of the vote in order to pass.  The direct result on public education is astonishing.  The video on you tube has 7 parts totaling 50 minutes.  Please not that after number 4 view number 6 and then number 5.  (They are mislabeled) If you don’t have time for all of them view 1, 5 and 7.  New York State’s tax cap, as currently written is very much like Prop 13.  My purpose in sharing is not to alarm people, rather educate.  As a former history teacher I can’t help myself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTtAdJi1AjQ&feature=related

Posted 8 years, 9 months ago.

14 comments

The McGrath, Parrino Plan

I was quite surprised to read the letter to the editor in today’s Mineola American from John McGrath and Irene Parrino.  I find it full of inaccuracies and embellishments that I find it hard to believe school Board members would get wrong.  At tomorrows Board meeting I will address the issues surrounding closing one school and using reserve monies.  Below are some comments that were printed that simply are not true.

 

“A failed budget due to voters rejection of the Hampton Street School construction project funding within it might result in necessitating severe reductions in school district programs including pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, fine arts and sports”

This year’s budget will be at or close to a 2.5% levy without affecting ANY program regardless of the Hampton Project.  If the budget fails we would go to a contingent budget at 1.96%.  The 2 million dollars earmarked for the project would then be placed in the Capital reserve fund to be voted on at a later date.  The voters DID vote to approve a reserve for reconfiguration purposes, so why wouldn’t we fund it?  We are trying to accelerate the project and save money on yet another vote by placing in the budget vote. The only person that has mentioned reducing PreK and Kindergarten is Mrs. Parrino.

 

“additionally we’re told that the superintendent has already personally informed 7th grade students this past week that they would be attending school at Mineola High School in the fall, upsetting those students and alienating their parents.”

Both board members are well aware that I left for vacation on Thursday and returned yesterday morning.  I have not spoken to any student, although I plan to speak with them when we have more details of the move.  To suggest that I purposely upset children and alienated parents is divisive and unwarranted

 

“Teachers have been given excess notices”

No teacher has been given an excess notice.  At this time I do not know who is being excessed. According to their contract they must be notified by April 1st.

 

“All of this is being done without knowing whether the voters will approve the Board’s construction plan for the Hampton Street School without which the Board’s default option cannot be implemented.”

This is untrue.  If for some reason the Hampton Street project is rejected we would simply use Willis Avenue instead and close Hampton.  The modifications necessary for using Willis can be handled in house at a low cost.  The Board members are confusing the Willis projects.  The $1.7 million figure  from the bond was to build 14 classrooms and a rooftop playground.  That is NOT necessary to use Willis as a PreK-2 building.  If you recall we need to reconfigure 5 classrooms and add ovens to the lunchroom and repurpose part of the parking lot for a play area.  All of this can be achieved with the 500,000 facilities upgrade budget that currently is still in the budget for 2011-12.

 

 

“we also propose, as the Roslyn School District is doing that the Board designate $2 million from the undesignated reserve to offset the tax levy for 2011-12”

Roslyn has millions of dollars in reserve funds that they can allocate.  Mineola does not.  Instead of funding reserves we have diligently paid down the 10million dollar bond saving the taxpayer of 5 million in interest payments. 

Posted 8 years, 9 months ago.

20 comments

What does a PreK- 2 look like?

Last night I presented to the Board my preliminary thoughts on a PreK-2 building.  We have a wonderful opportunity to suspend our thoughts and beliefs about what a school is and create the perfect learning experience for our youngest students.  So I ask you, if you had to rank the most important outcome for a student to have after 4 years, what would it be? The structure of the building should center on what we believe is the most critical outcome.

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago.

2 comments

2% Tax Cap?

The New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA)   has just issued a 12 page report on what a 2% tax cap will do to schools statewide.

The report – “Property Tax Cap: Pass or Fail for School Districts” – highlights the impact of a tax cap and offers seven alternatives that would be more effective than a property tax cap at lowering the cost of public education and reducing the property tax burden. 

This is an excellent summary of the issues and 7 reasonable alternatives that the State legislature should consider.   Here is the link:

 

https://secure003.accrisoft.com/secure/nyssba/clientuploads/nyssba_pdf/nyssbapropertytaxcapreport.pdf

Posted 8 years, 12 months ago.

7 comments

Board Presentations

Last night I made two presentations to the board.  Both are available on the district web site under “school reconfiguration”

Transitions:

Since we now know that Cross Street will be the first building to close, new transition plans have been created for both a successful bond vote as well as a failed bond vote.  Please look them over and let me know if you have any concerns.  In some cases there may be flexibility in changing the progression.

Hampton Street preliminary sketches:

I recommended changing the focus of the construction from 4 classrooms to a new Library media, music and art rooms.  Preliminary sketches are in the presentation.  I will be working with District council to create a committee to meet with the architect.

Posted 9 years ago.

10 comments

It’s settled

At last night’s Board of Education meeting a decision was made to make Hampton Street the “south school” using monies from the undesignated fund balance to pay for it.  Therefore Cross Street will close in 2011 and Willis will close in 2012.  The Board also voted to put up a bond on February 8, 2011 to build an 8 classroom extension on Jackson Avenue.  This project will enable Jackson to become a 3, 4, 5 school, thereby keeping the Middle school and High school as they currently are. I will present the new transition plans at the next Board meeting (December 2)

Posted 9 years ago.

9 comments

Now What?

We move ahead with the plan.  It is quite obvious that the community did not support this bond and clustering grades.  It wasn’t one segment of the district it was every building. So this closes on chapter of the “How will we reconfigure Mineola schools”.  Chapter two involves another bond in February. The next bond will once again recommend an extension on Jackson Avenue to house grades 3, 4, 5- thereby leaving the Middle School and High School as is. In addition, there will be a contingent option in the bond that builds a 4 classroom extension on Hampton so it will be large enough to house the South PreK -2 grades.  Legally we cannot place that bond up for a vote for 90 days.  The work is not over.  While the vote clearly told us the community doesn’t want a cluster bond, it doesn’t tell us is how many people don’t want any bond.  Those advocates that want the middle school and high school to remain the same, as well as the parents that want Hampton as the South school, must be diligent in their efforts to pass both parts of the second bond.  On November 4, I will recommend to the Board to pursue the second bond in February.  Once I receive the green light I will work with our public relations firm to create a new campaign to promote that bond. Lastly, I would like to remind everyone that the Board of Education placed this decision in the hands of the community, and the community spoke loud and clear.  They did not have to do that; it was/is in their authority to determine the configuration of the school system.  I applaud their efforts involving everyone in the decision process.

Posted 9 years, 1 month ago.

29 comments

I wonder…

If the “committee against the bond” will resurface if another bond is proposed?  The rhetoric of the second postcard leads the reader to believe that the cost of the bond is the problem with the reconfiguration plan.  They also attack previous bonds.  To be clear the 35 million worth of bonds since 1999 was necessary because the buildings were left to deteriorate or were not made ADA compliant as required by law. Willis Avenue was built because the old Willis Avenue was condemned due to years of neglect.  The monies were spent on elevators in three buildings, roofs, windows, doors, and new heating and ventilating. The HS auditorium was the only non infrastructure item. Our buildings are now in excellent shape and will remain that way.  I find it ironic that the postcard implies the bond is a waste of money, yet the configuration this bond creates is designed to save the taxpayer the most amount of money.  An independent finance committee, comprised of district residents, concluded that this bond will save the taxpayer 42 million over 10 years AFTER the cost of the bond and interest is calculated. The “committee’s” argument falls very short in this postcard. If you are concerned about saving the most money then this bond does that.  In fact the second bond saves the least amount of money, so I am certain the committee will return- if and when that bond is put up.

Posted 9 years, 1 month ago.

14 comments

Clarity

In response to the mailing that went to homes from the “committee against the bond” located at the UPS store on Jericho Turnpike.   It urges people to “Vote NO” if you don’t want a 5th grade in the Middles School or 8th grade in the high school- A no vote WILL NOT guarantee this.  Those grades will only remain if a second bond is passed in February.  If the second bond fails then those grades will move anyway.  The postcard also states vote no “if you don’t want so many transitions.”  I don’t understand this comment.  Right now there are 4 transitions, if the bond passes there are 4 transitions; if the bond fails the default has 4 transitions… It is correct that if the bond fails there will not be roof top playground, instead the default option will take parking spaces at Willis further complicating the parking situation. Please know all the facts and vote on Tuesday.

Posted 9 years, 1 month ago.

16 comments