Teachers got a chance to share their pent-up frustrations before the Northport-East Northport Board of Education, colleagues, and members of the public at Monday's first Board-teacher relations meeting taking place outside of executive session since last year.
Curriculum changes were a key topic of discussion. Scott Shutka, a science teacher at Northport Middle School, wanted to know if the district is definitely moving to a Regents curriculum for eighth grade students beginning in 2012, an initiative which he said he first heard about at a faculty meeting in September.
Shutka said he and other staff members were caught off guard by the announcement, and urged the district to slow down. "If we’re going to do this, let’s do this right,” he said, voicing concern for seventh grade students who might not be prepared for the change.
Superintendent Marylou McDermott said that New York State’s tougher core curriculum underscores the need to elevate students to make them both college and career ready, but said the initiative is in the discussion stages. She invited Shutka as well as other faculty members to attend the new curriculum council meetings which began in September.
Possible changes to the English language curriculum also came under fire. Robert Feinstein, an English teacher at Northport High School, wanted to know why none of the faculty had been included in the discussions about possibly making IB (International Baccalaureate) English mandatory for all eleventh grade students. “Where’s the respect?” Feinstein asked rhetorically, adding that teachers hadn’t been included in discussions about eliminating Honors English classes for ninth and tenth grade by 2014.
In response to Feinstein’s question as to whether Northport is being converted to an IB school, McDermott said the possibility is being discussed because of the rigors of the IB program and the emphasis on writing skills. She spoke highly of the program, and said she would be happy to meet with the English department as well as IB Coordinator David Storch and Principal Irene McLaughlin to discuss the matter.
At one point in the exchange, Feinstein wanted to know, “Where’s the Board on all this?”
Waldenburg said he was on the Board when it was decided to include the IB program, and Vice President Donna McNaughton voiced her approval as well, saying that she liked the idea of raising the standard for students. But McDermott took full responsibility for IB, saying it was part of her vision for the school.
Technology was a source of much debate, with several teachers saying that they weren’t given any clear directives for the use of the new Netbooks they were given this year, and expressing frustration at the inability to access wi-fi throughout many of the district’s buildings.
Both McDermott and Waldenburg said the goal was to get the laptops into teachers hands early so they could begin to work with them while the wi-fi rollout was completed. McDermott asked for patience, and said that the decision to make sure all teachers received laptops was hers. “It was about respect for the entire faculty,” she said, adding that it would have been unfair not to distribute Smartboards and laptops to all teachers.
Some Board members expressed surprise that the teachers seemed caught off guard about the impending technology initiatives. Trustee Jennifer Thompson said she remembered painstakingly discussing the topic at earlier Board meetings.
McNaughton said that it was important to remember that the “half a million” she kept hearing people repeat about the cost of the Netbooks is actually $487,000 spread out over five years, with $130,000 being spent in the current school year.
At the close of the meeting, both Blanck and Waldenburg thanked United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport member Dr. Nina Dorata for suggesting the open forum, and agreed to discuss a schedule for future Board-Teacher Relations meetings.