By Carrie Ann Salvi
Sag Harbor School Board members proposed their priorities for the 2015-2016 school year at Monday’s goal-setting meeting, with increasing technology courses and improving math scores a part of the equation, and elementary school lunches also on the menu. The possibility of consolidation with surrounding school districts and improved communication with the community were also discussed.
Superintendent Katy Graves distributed the board’s goals from 2014-2015. She started with a list of what she said was “done, doing, and to do” with the administrators and members who were present.
Ms. Graves issued a warning before the goal-setting session began. “We all tend to be overly optimistic,” she said. She explained that most financial planners force people to set aside funds. “None of us expect things to happen,” she said. “Last year we set ambitious goals.” Having said that, she said that getting Sag Harbor Schools in US News and World Report as well as in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade were goals of hers.
“Done” goals included expenditures coming under the tax cap with a growing population, and Ms. Graves thanked Jennifer Buscemi, the school business administrator, for her hard work, especially with regard to shared services. “We are saving a lot more than our original goal,” Ms. Graves said.
Increased technological programs including computer coding courses were discussed as an important curriculum goal, with 11 million jobs expected to be created in that sector in the coming years and interest among students readily apparent by their attendance at after-school programs. Pierson principal Jeff Nichols confirmed that he has and will continue to work on expanding on those courses.
“We have implemented coding modules in grades three, four, and five,” announced Matthew Malone, the principal of the elementary school. “Some second graders are getting an introduction too.”
Board member Chris Tice urged the courses be offered during the school day to those in grade six through nine. “It’s important not to lose kids in that age group,” she said.
Mr. Malone mentioned additional learning kits and science labs for next year, and said that he is also working on electrical engineering programs, to which board member Diana Kolhoff made a double-fisted cheering motion.
“I have concerns. This year sixth graders need to achieve mastery on the Regents,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “Our pass rate is good, our mastery is not so good. That is a flag in my mind.”
What is the issue and how do we solve it?” she asked. “I don’t want to guess at what the problem is.”
Ms. Graves suggested that the board rely on data analysis to find the root cause of the problem. “We really need the teachers at the table,” Ms. Graves said. “They can tell us what happened,” she said, with all of the new practices that include checks for student understanding, adjusted pace and instruction, and initial analysis of how much knowledge the students come in with.
Ms. Kinsella recalled a discussion of an additional math teacher, and Ms. Kolhoff, a mathematical education consultant, suggested that it might make sense to have a lead teacher for the department that is a mathematician.
Ms. Tice said she would like the board to continue its dialogue about potential school consolidation. “I’d like to make sure that we are open to that opportunity,” she said.
“You’re not talking about shared services,” confirmed Ms. Graves, seeming surprised. She said that district officials have attended meetings in Southampton that involved New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., but said, “it is so difficult.”
“I too am for looking at consolidations,” said Ms. Kinsella. “Tiny schools in districts adjacent to us would really benefit from merging with us,” she said. “It’s just a waste of money.”
When it was her turn to talk about suggestions for the year, Ms. Bitis joked that as a newly elected board member, she has received a lot of input while on line in King Kullen. She showed a glimpse of a list on her cell phone.
“It all boiled down, in my opinion, to communication,” she said. She suggested a goal relative to improvement in that area. She said that she thinks the public needs to receive the information three times. “I get inundated by email blasts telling me the same thing,” she said. Speaking from her own experience she said that the first time, people don’t pay attention. The second time, they read it. The third time, she said, is the charm, “I understand it.”
In-school lunch for elementary students was included as a goal to work toward in the upcoming year, although there is currently no cafeteria in that school. Ms. Bitis said that is number-two on her shopping-generated, public-request list. “It is amazing how many people are able to deliver lunch here,” said Ms. Bitis, adding, “That shouldn’t have to happen.”
“There has been a lot of progress, and there will be more if we continue to focus on it,” said Ms. Tice. She suggested a survey to students, and education for parents so they understand legal restrictions.
“If we’re doing things over, I’d like some green,” said Ms. Kolhoff. “I’d hate to see work done and continue to see a bunch of disposable stuff and Styrofoam,” she said.