Nassau school chiefs list challenges ahead

Saying that it's "bad policy and bad politics,"

Saying that it's "bad policy and bad politics," Joseph A. Laria, Superintendent of the Glen Cove School District, took to the microphone to express his opposition to the state's new teacher evaluation plan at C.W Post. (Feb. 15, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas)

What is the biggest issue facing your district for the 2012-13 school year?

 

Joseph A. Laria, superintendent of Glen Cove School District:

One of the biggest challenges we face in public education as we prepare to open the 2012-2013 school year is the implementation of all the new state initiatives -- seemingly at the same time. These changes are being imposed too rapidly.

We are forced to implement the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) legislation and initiate other mandates from the State Education Department including Response to Intervention and the formation of Data Inquiry Teams. At the same time, we are working with teachers to align instruction to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and dealing with a 2 percent cap on the tax levy. This is a perfect storm. These regulations are flawed, and our students, teachers and schools may suffer.

The new APPR legislation requires us to evaluate teachers using a combination of state and local measures for the first time. As part of this mandate, for those subjects that do not have a state growth measure, administrators will need to work with teachers to create Student Learning Objectives. As part of this process, teachers will be required to use baseline data from assessments to target student growth objectives and then administer summative assessments to evaluate them.

At the same time, educators across districts are scrambling to align instruction to the new CCSS adopted by the New York State Board of Regents. These standards represent a new set of expectations for student knowledge and skills that high school graduates need to master to succeed in college and careers. This has resulted in shifts in standards at each grade level, and teachers being asked to teach a more rigorous curriculum.

Overall, we must keep in mind that education is America's social equalizer. As a result, we need to continue to provide quality public education for all and keep children first.

 

David J. Flatley, superintendent of Carle Place Union Free School District:

The challenge for the Carle Place has always been to develop the best educational program possible in balance with our community's ability to provide support. The magnitude of this challenge continues to grow as school districts face the realities of a long-stagnant economy; the increasing demands brought by new, unfunded and underfunded mandates; and increased levels of expectation for student achievement.

Carle Place is proud of its tradition of developing students of excellent character who are ready to pursue further study in some of the finest colleges and universities in the nation. As an extension of that tradition, we look forward to the implementation of the Dignity for All Students Act and the Annual Professional Performance Review legislation. In both instances, these ''new'' requirements provide our school district with the opportunity to codify practices that have long since been an important part of our culture. We also eagerly anticipate the continued expansion of the excellent Common Core State Standards and their related, technology-based assessments. Unfortunately, all of these initiatives serve as examples of unfunded mandates that promise to bring a new round of fiscal challenges to an already stressed budget development process.

Accommodating the academic, social, emotional and physical needs of our students in a safe, supportive and challenging learning environment has never been more demanding -- or more important. I trust that our representatives in Albany and Washington will do all that they can to provide the financial support that our students and their communities need and deserve.

 

Bill Heidenreich, superintendent of Valley Stream Central High School District:

Public education is frequently criticized since most systems and supports remain mainly the same decade after decade. I believe that this year is the start of a series of years where public education transitions in many ways.

The main catalyst for such change is the federal and state reform agenda. While the reform agenda is built upon the belief that public education is failing -- and as such does not apply readily to Valley Stream -- this agenda will change our practices in the supervision and evaluation of teachers and principals, use of data at the school and classroom levels, accountability measures, support for students and more. The state cap on tax levy increases is another major change force that will result in education being implemented differently.

This year, I plan to focus on what we can learn from mandated changes and how we will become better because of them. There is a lot about evidenced-based practices, such as teacher/principal supervision/evaluation, growth and valued-added measurements of student progress, Data Inquiry Teams, and Common Core State Standards from which we can learn. It is hard work and is strongly tied to accountability. That means it is culture-changing work. As such, it is exciting -- but also unfamiliar and threatening -- because it challenges the status quo. As superintendent, it is my duty to collaborate with Valley Stream's faculty and staff to ensure that mandated changes are implemented in a way that best advances the students we serve.

 

Robert Feirsen, superintendent of Garden City Public Schools:

Schooling is different from many other endeavors in that the months seem to have very distinct cadences, and the school year is marked by finite beginning and ending points (at least for students). As we look ahead to the 2012-13 school year, I see not one but three key issues looming ahead, all related to the question Will it work?

First, will our new teacher and performance evaluation system, Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), work? This implementation of this massive statewide initiative has been hampered by numerous revisions, clarifications, changed deadlines and mysterious algorithms, of which the crucial ones have yet to be revealed. Although New York State has set some important parameters around the process, each district has been required to negotiate its own version of the APPR with the unions representing teachers and principals, resulting in distinct variations from one place to another. Thus, it may be difficult to determine how well the system works and more importantly, what impact it has on meaningful gains in student achievement. Experiences in other states have not generally been promising.

Next, we are now implementing a new set of national standards, that is guidelines for what students should know and be able to do. Much like APPR, the concept sounds appealing: Educators have often clamored for more clarity and consistency in curricula. The Common Core State Standards also seem headed in the right direction by focusing on skills and understanding thought to be needed for success in college and careers. Again, there is not a great deal of evidence that the standards will accomplish their goal: There have been no pilot programs or randomized trials.

Finally, school finance remains a great concern. Certainly, the tax levy cap has constrained budget increases, but at what long-term cost? In year two of the tax levy cap, will we lose even more of the valuable programs that make a Long Island education so distinctive? Will we lose talented teachers or dissuade new ones from entering a field where layoffs are always around the corner? Will districts eliminate reserves needed to sustain fiscal health? Will the state make up for shortfalls in local revenue?

We hope that the answers we get during the next months will show that we are on the track of progress: We all want sunny, clear vistas at year's end, rather than a landscape of worrisome clouds.

 

Carole Hankin, superintendent of Syosset Central School District:

Syosset is a community that values the education of all of their students. The collective effort of the Syosset Central School District will continue our unparalleled success in academics, athletics, extracurricular clubs, arts and innovation this year and beyond. The challenge for our district as well as other districts is to maintain the exceptional educational programs that our students are exposed to and prepare them for their future.

In Syosset we strive to deliver the highest level of educational service and support to the community. The achievements of our students, both past and present, are a testament to the exceptionally skilled administrators, and our instructional and support staff, as well as an excellent board of trustees, wonderful students and community. This year Syosset will remain committed to the continuation of our successful programs while implementing the many new state mandates. We are confident that we will do that."

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