ÂFurther Discussion of School
A democracy is more than a form of government; its is primarily a form of associative living…
John Dewey, 1916
John Dewey was “the most important advocate of participatory democracy; that is, of the belief that democracy as an ethical ideal calls upon men and women to build communities in which the necessary opportunities and resources are available for every individual to realize fully his or her particular capacities and powers through participation in political, social, and cultural life.”
Robert Westbrook, 1991
America’s great philosopher and educator John Dewey believed that the essential element, the key to American democracy is education. He also believed that the stewardship of that education resided in “communities” which have the obligation to provide “the necessary opportunity and resources” to provide for that education. His philosophy was mirrored one hundred years ago in the words of Olivia Sage who spoke of our community’s obligation “as guardians of children to provide for the education of our children.”
Anyone in our community who believes in this collective commitment to our children and their education should be greatly concerned by the series of articles about our school that appeared in last week’s Express. Most troubling is the article titled “School Super Grilled” which described last week’s meeting of the Noyac Civic Council. Comments made by members of the Civic Council during their meeting are consistent with their concerted efforts to discredit the educational performance of children and our school district over a period of time. It has become obvious over time that their activity is not driven by a concern for our children or their education but instead by the immediate self-interest of reducing their own tax burden by cutting our school’s budget, increasing class size, cutting education programs, services and staff. It is much easier for them to legitimize their beliefs to the community and rationalize them to themselves if our district, particularly Pierson Middle/High School, is perceived as mediocre and teachers and administrators are perceived as scoundrels. The truth is, that Pierson by any meaningful, comprehensive assessment (which would include student performance on standardized tests) is the best secondary school on the East End. Moreover, Pierson has shown remarkable improvement over the last ten years.
In this context the Express’s article is illuminating.
According to the Express, one member of the Civic Council stated “I’ve been paying taxes here for 47 years. You don’t send your kids to Harvard or Brown…You’re a joke.” This statement is completely false. We send our students to the best schools in the country including Harvard, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Bowdoin, Bard. In the discipline which I teach, the fine arts, we have an extraordinary record of placing our students at the finest professional schools in the country including the Chicago Art Institue, Rhode Island School of Design, Cooper Union, Cal Arts, The Boston Museum School, and Pratt Institute among others.
Patrick Witty asked if Advanced Placement courses were mandated by New York State. The answer of course is no. Was this a rhetorical question? Was Mr. Witty suggesting that we reduce our kids’ education opportunities to the minimum required by the state?
Once again, according to the Express, Elena Loreto wondered if anyone was monitoring the number of special education students in the district which she said was high. As a former teacher, Ms. Loreto should know better. The classification of students is part of a comprehensive, deliberative process mandated by the state that includes health care, educational, and behavioral specialists, teachers, parents, the head of Pupil Personal Services and principals. Every recommendation of services for a student is review by the school board. There is absolutely nothing casual about this process. Would Ms. Loreto like to cap special education classification at a certain level and take away services from some of our most needy kids in an effort to save herself some money? If so, it reflects an attitude which is antithetical to the whole purpose of public education and the democratic principles at its foundation. It is the principle articulated by Dewey. We as a community have a responsibility to educate each and every student who walks through the door of our school irrespective of the baggage or disability that they carry with them.
Finally, in the comments made by Ed Grohan at the Civic Council meeting there is a disconnect between perception, reality and the fundamental mission of our school. Mr. Grohan talks about district goals favoring teachers and administrators specifically that maintaining the current education program and talks about this leading to “stagnation.” Mr. Grohan as a teacher, a resident of Noyac with one child in our school and one that just graduated and is attending The School of Visual Arts in September, I assure you I have no interest in our school stagnating.
Ten years ago our community made a commitment to maintain a community based school, which would provide our children with a comprehensive, rich and textured education. This was the commitment at the foundation of the renovation and enlargement of Pierson High School. Over the years our faculty has been transformed by new, energetic and talented teachers. The curriculum has been in a constant state of development, improvement and change. The positions of assistant principals at the middle school and high school have allowed for hands on direct and daily contact for both students, parents and teachers with our administrators. They have improved the function of our school and provided invaluable service.
Ten years ago, many in our school and community felt that Pierson was second rate, incapable of competing with East Hampton or Southampton let alone the Ross School. Today Pierson has Intel science national semifinalists, students that save lives with lessons well learned in Sue Denis’s CPR classes, students passionate about math, history, literature, students who have exhibited remarkable and tangible achievement in music and art. We have former students attending the best universities and colleges in the country and serving with bravery in Iraq. Our staff includes a Harvard graduate, graduates from Columbia’s prestigious Teachers College, award winning coaches along with two Suffolk County Teachers of the Year.
This having been said, our school is far from perfect and it must be improved both in terms of its education program and fiscal accountability.
The mission of our school has nothing to do with factions or special interests. It is the moral obligation of our community and our school district to provide our children with the best possible education and to do so in a sustainable fashion that takes into account the finite nature of our community’s resources. To find that sustainability will require a board of education that embraces community participation, and acts transparently and honestly. It also will require renewed commitment form the community.
Sadly, the Noyac Civic Council, by their statements that act to obscure instead of illuminate, who continually and purposefully misrepresent the truth about our school and the performance of our children, who put their own petty self-interest before that of our community and our children, has done little to further the necessary discussion about our school.
Just a Little Bit Longer
A few days ago I read with unbelieving eyes that our own movie theatre, the Sag Harbor Cinema was about to be sold. That in the blink of a candle it would be snuffed out.
I re-read the sentence with a sinking stomach. It was impossible to accept. I suppose I could rant on about how our movie auditorium on Main Street was of vintage architecture with its white facade and old neon light sign. Yes, it was all that — and much more.
It was a place that showed marvelous films, without hideous trailers. Year in and year out, thanks to its perspicacious owner, Gerald Mallow. For three decades or more he selected features less known than the Hollywood extravaganzas. What we saw were not syrupy romances, nor gangs of killers being chased by cops, nor pathetically humorless comedies. He’d more likely choose provocatively interesting foreign films, or the work of independent filmmakers. Almost all were well crafted, some were quirky and some were eye-openers that would change a bit of us forever. There were many gems among them that we Sag Harborites are grateful to have seen — recent ones come to mind, “My Father, My Lord,” and “The Band’s Visit,” and “Before the Rains.
These films so often had us arguing excitedly all the way home from the movies.
What was the screenwriter saying? How did the director carry it out? And the actors -those brilliant actors -how was their interpretation?
I would like to send a heartfelt thanks to Mr. Mallow from my family, and from the Sag Harbor buffs, the “regulars” who often take films so seriously as to live a second life through them. A thank you, too, from all those who have enjoyed an evening at a cinema not famous for its comfortable seats, nor even its acoustics — but for a treasure of superb movies.
My only wish is that Mr. Mallow would hang on to his cinema for a little longer — giving time for the Save Sag Harbor group to work on keeping it a movie theater.