WITH NEW BOARD, MS PTO ADDRESSES GOVERNANCE ISSUES AND GOVERNOR'S EDUCATION AGENDA
March 25, 2015 -- The new North Shore Middle School PTO board, having only been officially installed a month ago, held its first full meeting this past Wednesday evening, and it was a productive session with action being taken on several items regarding organizational and governance issues, and a good deal of discussion regarding the district's and PTO's response to Governor Cuomo's education agenda.
Co-presidents Rob Hert and Leti Barbetta announced that although this board is only a month old, a Nominating Committee was being formed to recommend candidates for election to positions on next year's board, and that a second temporary working committee will be charged with discussing and drafting amendments to the PTO's bylaws. Laurie Grinberg and Cindy Neugebaur will chair that committee which will meet on Monday, March 30. A vote by the membership on amendments will take place on April 20.
One area that the bylaws committee will almost certainly look at is the section regarding legislative activity. That issue has come up over the past two weeks as each of the District's building PTO's have discussed whether or not to sign a letter drafted by the district's Legislative Action Committee that urges local legislators to block implementation of the Governor's education proposals.
Amy Beyer, chair of LAC, attended Wednesday's meeting and spoke about the letter, encouraging members to send their own as individuals and thanked the executive board for putting their name on the letter that has been signed by five other parent, student or teacher organizations district-wide, as well as the Board of Education. Ms. Beyer explained that the governor's proposal would alter the teacher evaluation system so as to increase the weight of student performance on standardized tests to 50% of a teacher's rating, with another 35% being based on an outside evaluator's 40-minute observation of the teacher; and upping the number of charter schools state-wide from 460 to 560, potentially diverting tax dollars from school districts to what are often for profit corporations that manage charter schools. Additionally, LAC is joining the effort to push for restoration of state funding that has been taken from school districts as a result of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a change to the state aid formula that began in 2009 to balance the state budget and that has cost North Shore $3.6 million in state aid. Ms. Beyer said that in addition to sending this letter with the stamp of approval of several district wide groups, that the Board of Education also signed a similar letter along with the Garden City and Manhasset School Boards, that LAC had written jointly with similar committees from those districts. Ms. Beyer said that sample letters are on the LAC website (click here) for individuals wishing to join the letter writing effort.
Commenting on the charter schools, parent Noah Blumenthal said that that provision in the governor's proposal would have a "cascading negative effect over time" on public education. It is an unfunded mandate that diverts public school funds into the coffers of privately run schools, and that there is no specific criteria necessary for establishing one. Much of the funds they receive go towards advertising, rather than to educational programs, he said. "Their goal is to make a profit."
Mr. Hert said that the Middle School PTO board had chosen to sign on to the letter, after the Executive Board had discussed the issue extensively among themselves and with the other PTOs. He explained that there is contradictory language in the PTO's bylaws, with the statement of purpose indicating that it is the function of the PTO to support the education of the children, while another clause limits legislative activities. He said he believed that the latter clause had been included under the assumption that 501c3 organizations would lose their tax-exempt status if they engaged in that type of advocacy. However, the PTOs, he said, had been advised that the law states that it is perfectly permissible for 501c3's to engage in legislative activiites, so long as they make up less than 5% of their overall activity. The PTO does significantly less than that, he said. The executive board, after applying four specific criteria in determining which of the two sections of the bylaws ought to be followed, decided that the statement of purpose supersedes the individual clause. "The statement of purpose," he said, "trumps all other aspects of our bylaws - it is the shining light of the document. We felt it's our job, our duty, our responsibility to protect the children at all costs." Ms. Barbetta added "Our purpose is much more important than a single clause." She explained that the PTO would be addressing that particular clause at the bylaws meeting on March 30.
Mr. Hert said he "was very proud of the process the board went through in coming to its decision, and that "although we had dissenting ideas I believe it brought us closer together as a board - sharing ideas back and forth and then coming to a shared resolution together."
Ms. Beyer thanked the Executive Board for signing onto the letter, calling the action, "very thoughtful and very reasoned and helpful to other groups as well to see what process you actually went through, and that you did not take it lightly.".
Principal Marc Ferris also weighed in on the issue during his report saying that the teacher evaluation proposal especially concerned him - that basing 20% of a teacher's evaluation on the test scores (as it is currently) "really didn't matter," but that "50% would be a problem." He said that at North Shore Middle School, "we focus on the whole child," and emphasize "hands on learning that promotes creativity, problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking," which is something, he said, the state assessments do not evaluate.
Several other matters were addressed at last Wednesday's meeting.
In addition to the Nominating and Bylaws committees, two permanent committees will also be formed, with each seeking to strengthen ties to the local community. They are a Community Service Committee, and a "Local Business Partnership Committee," that will look to connect with local businesses for fundraising efforts,
Julia Brennan, the corresponding secretary of Arts Angels, a 501c3 charitable foundation that promotes the arts district-wide, was on hand to speak about the group's mission as well as the Summer Theatre Workshop program that has been revived this year after a 10-year hiatus, for students entering grades 7-12. The 6 week program will teach all aspects of theater and will run from Monday June 26 through August 8th. Participants will perform two productions - the first, a series of short plays directed by the students themselves; and the second, a full length musical. Broadway Director Teryl Berliner will lead the program and theater professionals will teach classes. Up to 60 applicants will be accepted, although it is possible that it can be expanded. Applications are available on the Arts Angels website (Click Here).
Dr. Ferris during his report explained changes to the middle school world languages program this upcoming school year. Currently students choose to take either Mandarin or Spanish when they enter third grade and then continue with that language through sixth. Entering seventh, they are given the choice of Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian and Latin. Beginning next year, students will be given those options when they leave their respective elementary schools and enter the sixth grade. Additionally, a proficiency exam would be given at the end of seventh grade. The changes will lead to a more rigorous program at the younger grades, he said, increasing the likelihood for fluency.
Additionally, he said that there would be changes to the sixth grade cycle, with many new courses being developed, with each having a research component and culminating in a performance based project/ assessment.
Linda LaMarca, President of SEPTA (Special Education Parent Teacher Association) also spoke. She said that the group serves all students and schools in the district from preschool through age 21. "Everyone is welcome to come to our meetings," which are held once on month on Wednesdays at 7:30 pm. The next meeting will be on Wednesday March 25 at 7:30 in the High School Library, and feature College Advisor Christina Cacioppa Bertsch, who will present on the topic "The Transition to College for Special Education Students" On April 22, Matthew Lerner, Ph.D., of the Lerner Scoial Competence Lab at Stonybrook University will present on the topic New Direction in Understanding and Treating Social Competence in Autism Spectrum Disorders." click here for the SEPTA Blog.
Ms. Barbetta concluded the meeting, announcing upcoming meetings and events. They are as follows - Special Bylaws Meeting, Monday, March 30 at MS Library; April 17 - 7th Grade Social; April 20, PTO General Meeting, 7:30 pm; May 12 - PTO General Meeting.
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