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Superintendents list challenges ahead

Russell Stewart, superintendent of the Center Moriches School

Russell Stewart, superintendent of the Center Moriches School District, says his district is “confronted with a greater task than most districts as our student population has grown 5 percent each year for the last three years, whereas most districts on Long Island have been facing a declining enrollment.” Credit: Handout

Six Suffolk superintendents were asked about the biggest issue facing their district for the 2012-13 school year. Their answers -- including those of Russell Stewart, whose comments were inadvertently excluded last week -- follow:

Russell Stewart

Center Moriches School District

When I consider the biggest challenge all New York State educators face this year, I cannot help but recall the observation of [the ancient Roman poet] Juvenal: "Nosse volunt omnes, mercedem solvere nemo." ("All wish to have knowledge, but no one wants to pay the price.") The formula inherent in the state's mandates of both the Race to the Top legislation and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver in the first year of a tax cap budget is akin to trying to put 10 gallons into a five-gallon bucket by supplying a 10-gallon bucket after the excess has spilled all over the floor. We in Center Moriches, like all other districts, have limited resources, yet we are expected to implement the new common core curriculum with expanded literacy demands in each and every classroom K-12. However, we are confronted with a greater task than most districts as our student population has grown 5 percent each year for the last three years, whereas most districts on Long Island have been facing a declining enrollment. Thus, this presents an additional challenge since the 2 percent tax cap does not allow for increases in student population.

As desirous and necessary as the goal is for every student to graduate "college- and career-ready," the lack of time and fiscal resources to develop curricula fully and provide adequate professional development for all teachers to be able to enhance classroom instruction is daunting. However, we are confident that as experienced and committed educators who have traditionally worked with the community, we will face this challenge and strive to expand our academic resources and increase student success.

Enrico Crocetti

Mount Sinai School District

I don't ever recall a time in our public educational system's history where so much stress has been placed upon our schools. Recently, the State Education Department has made bold moves to develop a new core curriculum that reflects the National Race to the Top initiative. This attempt to improve instruction carries with it a requirement to purchase all new materials and to train our teachers and administrators so that they may effectively improve instruction. At the same time, our governor shifted a good deal of tax burden from the state purview to the local community by reducing aid to our schools. Our communities are already fiscally stressed, and now wonder why our schools are raising taxes. The governor then brings in his 2 percent tax cap program and then blames our schools for not living within their budgets! I can say the greatest challenge facing our schools is a state government that attacks, rather than supports, its schools.

Steven R. Cohen

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Last year, the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District preserved and improved its K-12 academic, extracurricular, athletic and arts programs, while also addressing some long-standing facilities issues. Significantly, the Board of Education collaborated with the teachers union to create a new approach to professional development that we believe will expand the capacity of teachers and support staff to improve instruction and meet new State Education Department regulations regarding professional evaluation.

In 2011-2012, Shoreham-Wading River was able to "dodge" the fiscal bullet created by the gap between the new tax levy cap and inadequate state support for education, on the one hand, and financial demands the district must meet that stem from government mandates and contracts, on the other. In short, the district was able to improve the education it offered children and adolescents -- last year. The "big question" is whether we have the capacity to do the right thing by the next generation, next year, when the "fiscal gap" grows larger.

James Polansky

Huntington Union Free School District

It is both a challenge and responsibility to ensure the maintenance and delivery of high-quality educational programs and services in a manner that does not further contribute to the taxpayer burden.

Although New York State has been granted a waiver from Elementary and Secondary Education Act requirements, the new accountability standards maintain a strong emphasis on annual testing. This will be guided by recently introduced Common Core State Standards. During the coming year, teachers and principals will experience an overhauled Annual Professional Performance Review process, which will focus on student achievement on state and local assessments.

Additionally, the Dignity for All Students and the Concussion Management and Awareness Acts for student health and safety will require extensive staff training and school community education.

Districts face the prospect of addressing local, state and federal initiatives with a tax levy cap in place and at a time when taxpayers are unable to assume additional financial encumbrance. Districts must continue to search for ways to realize cost efficiencies without compromising their ability to prepare and address the needs of all students.

Paul Casciano

William Floyd School District

Similar to many districts throughout our state, the William Floyd School District will be challenged by an uncertain economy, funding education and the implementation of new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) requirements. The APPR focuses on teacher and principal evaluations. Teachers and principals are critical human resources in the school setting and deserve our support in their continued development into highly effective professionals.

Through an ambitious capital project, our district is positioned to provide Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses of study in cosmetology, building trades (carpentry) and culinary arts for the first time as we continue to address increasing the percentages of students who successfully complete high school and pursue college and career-readiness programs. While we face the challenge of implementing year one of these exciting offerings in 2012-13, we are also finalizing our plans for introducing an industry-standard automotive program and a course of study in health-related professions for the subsequent year. We expect a challenging and rewarding year at William Floyd.

John Williams

Amityville Union Free School District

Public school superintendents are frequently criticized for complaining about not having enough money to effectively manage their school districts. This summer, the greatest challenge for school administrators stems from compliance issues.

For years, unfunded and underfunded state mandates have hindered school professionals from doing their jobs effectively. The lack of sufficient time and resources to accomplish competing priorities is a pressing issue today particularly, as they relate to implementation of the state's Regents Reform Agenda.

New York State's Race to the Top (RTTT) application incorporates reforms enabled by legislation that establishes a new teacher and principal evaluation system. RTTT also makes student achievement a substantial component of how educators are assessed and supported. This is a stipulation of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Administrators in Amityville have been preparing for more than a year for APPR.

New legislation also requires districts to adopt Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math, revise science and social studies standards, and revise standards in arts, technology and economics.

This reform agenda presents a whole new set of challenges to districts across the state and adds to the long list of mandates. While we agree with the intent of the measures, the practice has many school officials wondering if the money and time would better serve our students by enhancing classroom, out-of-classroom and extracurricular experiences.

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