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East Williston survey prioritizes security, STEM skills

The Wheatley School in Old Westbury is part

The Wheatley School in Old Westbury is part of the East Williston Union Free School District. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Parents in the East Williston school district want educators to emphasize students’ social-emotional growth and STEM skills during the next five years, according to results from a survey.

District officials on Tuesday shared results from a survey that was sent in the spring to parents, students, staff and district residents. More than 800 people responded and said security/school facilities and real-world learning are also priorities.

Sean Feeney, principal at The Wheatley School, a high school in Old Westbury, said the survey results give district leaders a clear message from parents.

“We want our kids to learn the stuff that prepares them for the future, but we want them to be well-rounded, well-prepared and caring,” Feeney said.

Superintendent Elaine Kanas said the district will design lessons and perhaps new programs to address STEM skills, social-emotional growth, real-world learning and security/school facilities, but not at the expense of teaching core academic subjects.

“We always will continue with the programs that we have and continue to grow them each year,” she said. “Just because they didn’t choose English language arts as a priority doesn’t mean we’re not going to do the next-generation standards or like we’re not going to teach math anymore.”

The school district has finished its 2013-18 strategic plan and is now creating a 2018-2023 road map. Kanas said the four areas will be written into the larger strategic plan, a document that will guide budget decisions, curriculum choices and even professional development opportunities.

The district, which has about 1,800 students and 249 instructional staff, operates under a $58 million budget across an elementary, middle and a high school.

Kanas noted that STEM was an emphasis in the previous five-year plan. She said the district added an engineering curriculum at the high school and a robotics club at the middle and high school. The district hasn’t decided how to re-emphasize STEM for the next five-year phase, but perhaps it means adding more robotics club competitions, Kanas said.

“And we’re starting to look at coding on a regular basis,” she said. “We’re looking at a K-through-seven program, so that might be a next level.”

In the survey, respondents were given 15 areas to prioritize. Parents made up the largest response group at 479, followed by teachers at 159 and students at 114.

The district hopes to pass the first phase of its five-year plan in October.

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