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Massapequa superintendent speaks on district, Common Core

Lucille Iconis, superintendent of the Massapequa School District,

Lucille Iconis, superintendent of the Massapequa School District, seated in her office on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, discusses the district's strengths and how its taking on the challenges of Common Core with some help from a famous alumnus. Credit: Tara Conry

Lucille Iconis is just starting her second year as superintendent of Massapequa’s public schools, but she’s worked in the district for 15 years. As part of the newsday.com Town Focus series on the community, Iconis fielded a few questions from community journalist Tara Conry about the strengths of the schools, recent changes and how the district is tackling today’s educational challenges with some help from a famous graduate.

What are the strengths of the district?

“When you have committed educators and committed parents who want the very best for their children, it’s just a recipe for success,” Iconis said. “We share a common vision that every child can reach their fullest potential if given the right support.”

For instance, Iconis said the district’s special education program, which she helped start 13 years ago as principal of East Lake Elementary School, is “second to none.” It includes the Eagle program for students with autism and “life skills” classes. “It has grown into something I’m really proud of,” she added.

How is the district adjusting to the new Common Core Standards?

“I think our teachers were much more prepared for Common Core,” she said, because many of them had received training at Harvard University through a program called Project Zero.  

Iconis said that five years ago, actor and Massapequa High School graduate Billy Baldwin contacted her about Project Zero after seeing the positive impact it had on the schools his children attend in California.

The district partnered with the Massapequa Community Fund, a not-for-profit that Baldwin co-founded, and for the past five summers, Iconis said the district has received $35,000 from the fund toward the costs of sending teachers and administrators to the weeklong training course. There, Iconis said, education gurus such as Howard Gardner teach them “higher level analytical types of instructional practices and pedagogy” that “are very much aligned with Common Core.”

The staff who attend also share what they learn with their colleagues, and when Baldwin is in town, he’ll arrange a meeting with them to hear how they’re implementing the strategies into their classrooms, Iconis added.

“He is extremely supportive of the community,” Iconis said of Baldwin. “His dad was a teacher here, and all those brothers love this community and want to see it continue to flourish.”

What are the biggest challenges facing the district?

“The Common Core Standards themselves are, I think, quite good, but it was how they implemented, the rollout by the state, that really confused and angered people and this whole opt-out movement was born,” Iconis said.

Iconis said Massapequa had a high number of students opt out of state testing last school year, and she’s already received letters from parents stating their students will not participate in the tests that will be administered this upcoming spring.

“I don't know if people understand what they are opting out against,” she said. “Everyone has to get a Regents diploma in order to leave high school today, so if you’re opting your child out of all Grade 3-8 assessments, how do you really have an idea how they are going to perform on the Regents?”

Iconis added, “People are just confused, scared and they feel like this is almost child abuse, but the truth of the matter is that the state always tested ... It’s really pitted a certain segment of the community against the schools. And I do have trouble with the fact that what we’re saying to our children is that you can pick and choose, because that’s not the real world.”

What are you looking forward to this school year?

“I’m really looking forward to working with our teachers to align Common Core standards to our practice, to start delving deeper into this,” she said. “This is what I said to them on opening day: You have to find a balance. Incorporate the new standards and the new instructional strategies, but you also have to make sure you have those tried and true traditions that have worked. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You can’t, you shouldn’t.” 

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