May 11, 2017 -- The North Shore School District may be the first public school district in the United States to pilot a program to identify students with personality and tempermant traits that researchers say put them at a higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse, said district officials at the North Shore Board of Education meeting on Thursday May 4. The announcement came during the Board’s discussion of the most recent North Shore Coalition Against Substance Abuse (CASA) meeting held late last month.
The program, called Preventure, which was developed in Australia and that has also been used in Canada, involves administering a survey to students that looks for one or more of four specific personality or temperament traits - impulsivity, sensation seeking, anxiety sensitivity, and negative thinking.
The state of Virginia is also currently considering introducing the program in its schools
Dr. Melnick said that if a student tests “one standard deviation above normal” in any of those areas, he or she is considered at risk.
With that information in hand, the counseling and other services could be offered to students to help them develop coping strategies. The district is considering mandating that the test be administered to all 8th and 9th graders this coming fall.
Trustee Marianne Russo expressed concerns about the protection of student privacy rights and said that she believed many parents in the community would have similar concerns.
“Do we mandate it?” she asked. “Or do students have the right to opt out?”
“We’re having legal counsel taking a look at it,” replied Dr. Melnick.
“If we truly want to engage at-risk students,” he continued, “then this is a way of doing it.”
Trustee Joanna Commander, a leader of the newly formed North Shore Coalition Against Substance Abuse, and who has in the past expressed strong support for adopting the program, said that “she understands parents’ concerns about confidentiality," but that she hopes that they “will not shield themselves from finding that information out about their children.”
“You mean we’d be the first in the United States to do this?” Trustee David Ludmar asked.
“It’s been done in Australia and Canada,” replied Dr. Melnick.
According to the Preventure website, data from six studies and four research trials indicate that the program is effective when administered by school psychologists or by teachers who have been properly trained.
Trustee Commander said that implementing the program would allow the district to provide a custom-made preventative program for each student whose survey results indicate a higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse.
Trustee Russo replied that she understood the importance of helping at risk students acquire coping strategies, but reiterated her point regarding confidentiality. “There is still a privacy concern we are going to have to vet with legal counsel,” she said.
Board President Toni Labbate said that the issue would be discussed again when the District’s lawyers provide their legal opinion.
BOARD DISCUSSES SUBSCRIBING TO TRANSPARENCY SOFTWARE
The board discussed subscribing to software known as “Open Checkbook” that would provide residents the opportunity to see how the district spends its money by simply clicking on a link on the district website. The software provides pie charts and bar graphs as well as payments that have been made to vendors, listing the vendor name and amount, but not the actual good or service that was purchased.
Assistant Superintendent Olivia Buatsi said that the budget code could be listed, giving those who know what the budget code means a rough idea of what the purchase was for.
Trustee Marianne Russo wondered whether the program could make the district vulnerable to being swindled. "If people know who we are paying," she asked, "does it open us up to fraudulent invoices?"
Trustees asked whether the information could be posted on-line without the software.
Ms. Buatsi said that the district could do so without the program, by posting every two weeks on the website where other financial information can be found links to a "check register."
As for the cost of Open Checkbook, it would be $30,000 the first year, and $26,961 annually in subsequent years.
Dr. Melnick asked the Trustees if they would like a representative of the company to speak to the board. They said that they would.
No other school districts subscribe to Open Checkbook, but some municipalities do including the Town of North Hempstead.
Trustee David Ludmar said that he was skeptical of anything in which "we would be the first to do it."
Dr. Melnick said suggested that the Board submit questions to Ms. Buatsi and that Board Counsel would look into Trustee Russo's concerns and based on that information decide whether or not to invite a representative from the company to come in and give a presentation.
BACK TO WEEKLY
TRUSTEES DEBATE BOARD'S ROLE IN SELECTION OF NEW ADMINISTRATORS
Noting that the District is looking to fill four high level administrative positions over the next month, Trustee Marianne Russo asked for information on the interview and selection process and urged her colleagues on the Board to consider taking on a more prominent role in that undertaking. The positions currently unfilled for next school year are the Middle School Principal; the Director of Guidance at the High School (which may become a k-12 position); the Assistant Director for Elementary School Special Education; and, the Assistant Director for Secondary Special Education. The District has of course, already made two significant appointments this spring - Dr. Peter Giarrizzo to replace retiring Superintendent Ed Melnick; and Chris Marino, currently Assistant Director for Secondary Special Education, to serve as Director of Special Education, replacing Thomas Korb who is also retiring.
Assistant Superintendent Rob Chleblicki, explained the process, which is more or less similar for each position. He and the Superintendent review applications, and from that cull the herd to qualified candidates. After conducting screening interviews, a relatively small number candidates, perhaps four or so (sometimes more sometimes less), then meet with a selection committees that are composed of various constituent groups within the school community - parents; students; faculty; and, administrators. Committees which can be organized heterogeneously or according to constituent group then conduct interviews with the finalists. Committee members then fill out a survey and are debriefed by the Superintendent and Mr. Chleblicki, who ultimately make the final selection.
The candidate is then presented to the Board of Trustees, which has the authority to accept or reject the Superintendent’s recommendation.
Mr. Chblecki said that for the Director of Guidance position, both the Middle School and High School Principals have been involved in the initial screening along with himself and Dr. Giarrizzo. Two candidates were selected to be interviewed by the committees.
Trustee Russo also said that she had only heard very recently about the Guidance selection process and felt the Board had been left out of the loop, and that ultimately she believed that the board ought to have the opportunity to see at least two candidates as opposed to just the single finalist.
Later in the discussion, Mr. Chleblicki said that he should have given more information earlier to the Board regarding the Guidance Director selection process. “I take responsiblity for that,” he said. “I apologize.”
Additionally, Trustee Russo expressed concern that the parent representation on committees might not be a representative sampling.
“Are we reaching out to a cross-section of the parent community?” she asked.
Trustee Russo also explained that she has spoken to parents who have served on selection committees and some have said that they disagreed with final decision to choose a particular candidate.
“I’m not looking to micromanage,” she said. “It’s important to know who we are appointing in context” [of who the other candidates were].
“I don’t see that as our role,” replied Board President Toni Labbate. “It’s not our job to choose.”
She continued that she believed ultimately that is what the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent were hired to do and that there is a process put in place for vetting and selecting candidates.
Trustee Russo said she believed that there should be more discussion about the final candidate and that as it is now the board is just a “rubber stamp.”
“That is micromanaging,” said Trustee David Ludmar. “We empower the Superintendent to have a process that involves community input.”
Trustee Gonzalez said that she believed it was important for selection committee members to sign a confidentiality statement “so that there are no discussions about candidates outside of committee.”
“The candidates should have a presumption that all of their personal information is going to be held in confidence,” she continued.
Dr. Melnick added a few minutes later that it is important to maintain confidentiality to protect candidates who are usually employed in another district when they are seeking a position at North Shore and that to not to would put them in a very difficult position.
The superintendent also said that there are almost always going to be varying opinions about candidates on selection committees.
As for the Superintendent bringing more than one candidate before the School Board, Trustee Gonzalez stated emphatically, “I am strongly opposed” to that.
Trustee Joanna Commander said that she agreed with Trustee Gonzalez. “We charge the Superintendent with bringing us a candidate after having gone through all the vetting,” she said. “And I am very comfortable with that.”
She did add however that she agreed with a point that Trustee Russo had made that the board should “have a longer discussion with that candidate” than it currently does.
Trustee Russo said she agreed that confidentiality was important, but sometimes that’s a risk candidates take when applying for a new job.
She continued that knowing who the other candidates were, would enable her to better defend the district’s hiring choice when those on the selection committees question her as to when the district ultimately made the choice it did.
Overall, Trustee Russo continued, she would like to have a better idea of the process and how it is playing out.
MANY PATHS TO SUCCESS
Trustee David Ludmar explained during the “Old Business” portion of the meeting that sometimes people focus so much attention on one type of "success" that we neglect to recognize the accomplishments of students who take different paths. He noted that at a recent BOE meeting it was announced that more than 50% of graduating seniors were admitted to the most selective schools in the country. And while that is something to be proud of, Mr. Ludmar told of a student who graduated from North Shore a couple of years ago, and enrolled in Nassau Community College. That student, he continued, has just received a scholarship to continue her studies at Hofstra University that will pay for her full tuition over the next two years.
“It’s a path that some in the community might look down upon.” He said. “But, one size does not fit all. [This accomplishment] is something that should be celebrated.”