Regents head tours storm-ravaged school districts

Regents and other education officials visited storm-damaged schools in East Rockaway and Long Beach. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Dec. 13, 2012)

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Educators in Sandy-battered school districts expressed worry Thursday to the state's top education policymaker about how students will fare on exams in the spring because of upheaval, lost class time and crowded classrooms.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, spent more than five hours touring schools and meeting educators in East Rockaway, Island Park and Long Beach. The Regents set statewide educational policy, including testing standards.

School administrators and teachers both posed this question: How will students who missed a week or two of classes after Sandy struck Oct. 29 fare on April's state tests?

"They're a little bit behind, actually," said Rosmarie Bovino, superintendent of Island Park schools, as she escorted Tisch and other visitors past a classroom packed with 42 first-graders -- a combination of two classes -- and their teachers.

The small district has one elementary school and one middle school. Students attend high school in either the West Hempstead or Long Beach districts.

In Island Park, classes in some cases have doubled up in Lincoln Orens Middle School. Francis X. Hegarty Elementary School, hit with 5 feet of floodwater in the storm surge, remains closed and is not expected to reopen until sometime in the 2013-14 school year.

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Thomas Rogers, the regional Nassau BOCES chief who helped organize the tour, said the issue of testing and its effects on students -- some of whom have been forced from their homes -- also was discussed during private talks between Tisch and local school officials.

"I think we're all concerned with how to account for the fact that not all kids are living in their home districts, that they may be doubled up in classrooms, and that scores may reflect that," Rogers said.

Tisch, 57, who lives in Manhattan, acknowledged the special circumstances faced by districts such as Island Park, and said those conditions would be considered in Albany later in the academic year. The chancellor added that she was encouraged by much of what she saw during the trip and in earlier visits to hard-hit schools in Queens and on Staten Island.

"What we're seeing is great school leadership, and teachers whose own homes have been flooded coming to work each day," Tisch said. "I would have predicted chaos. But there's real instruction going on. So I'm hopeful."

The tour was arranged by Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the Regents board and also visited the three districts Thursday.

State Education Department officials, who report to the Regents, have maintained a firm stance on the need for districts to make up academic days lost to Sandy. State law normally requires a minimum 180 days of instruction, and those officials have insisted that schools use up vacation days, including February's midwinter break, before requesting waivers.

The tour had some bright spots. In East Rockaway, the 320-student Rhame Avenue School reopened Thursday. East Rockaway High School remains closed, and no reopening date has been set.

In Long Beach, eighth-graders are scheduled to return Monday from the high school to the district's middle school, which already has taken back its sixth- and seventh-graders. Another local school, West Elementary, is due to open in March or April.

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