South Country Central School District Board Notes - September 11 Business Meeting

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The Board of Education commenced the meeting with a moment of silence and personal reflections on the events of September 11, 2001. Several of the trustees payed tribute to the teachers who kept their classrooms calm and protected the children at this time of uncertainty. 

During the Superintendent’s report, Dr. Joseph Giani described opening day as a “smooth start” and “absolutely delightful.” Bus transportation went well with a few hiccups, especially since the district has a new bus provider. Dr. Giani noted that 70% of South Haven’s students also took advantage of bus transportation. Opening day followed the successful opening of the South Haven Early Childhood Center on September 3, which was commemorated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the school. Dr. Giani also addressed the issues surrounding vaccine immunizations, particularly the lack of time for some families to plan or adjust to the new law eliminating the religious exemption option. He said he has followed up with a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, expressing concerns about families’ abilities to meet the deadline. The Superintendent’s report concluded with a report on the marked improvement of grade 3-8 ELA and math assessments. Grade 3 students demonstrated a 19% increase overall in ELA and a 15% increase in math, Dr. Giani reported. 

Dr. Giani announced the hiring of Frank P. Long Intermediate School music teacher Joseph Giammona, and welcomed him to the South Country community.

The Board unanimously approved the Board Priorities for the 2019-2020 school year. At the Board’s request, Dr. Giani added the District’s Mission Statement and Strategic Planning Goals to the final draft. Board Vice President Jack Nix said the document was the clearest set of priorities he has seen thus far, while President Hayes said she liked the layout and inclusion of the Mission Statement and Strategic Planning Goals.

The Board also discussed the dissatisfaction among parents in the community about a letter from the middle school indicating that students can no longer “opt out” of taking a local assessment called the NWEA. Dr. Giani explained that this measure of academic progress is a local assessment and does not have a refusal or opt-out provision. He also explained that the NWEA serves as a “universal screener” to identify students in grades K-8 who may need additional support or services. Dr. Giani said the letter’s purpose was a good effort to better inform parents of the importance of taking the assessment so that children can acquire the support they need and student learning can be improved overall. However, several members of the community expressed their dissatisfaction about the strong language in the letter and its timing, claiming that parents should have a say in whether their children take the test or not. President Hayes asked Dr. Giani to prepare an NWEA workshop so that the Board of Education and community can be better informed about the purpose of this particular assessment.

The Board also continued their discussion on allowing consent for school security cameras to be linked to the Suffolk County Police Department in cases of emergency. Dr. Giani and the Board further discussed concerns regarding how the language of the agreement potentially affects student privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Counsel weighed in, suggesting that the District still needs to acquire the “nuts and bolts” of how this technology works, and reported that details about the agreement have not been completely ironed out. There is also the looming question on whether the SCPD will have access to data when maintenance on the technology is performed.

Trustee Chris Picini also informed the Board about the voting practices of the New York State School Boards Association’s proposed by-laws. He recommended that the trustees read the 38-page document to familiarize themselves with the issues, prior to voting on October 25.  

In closing, Trustee Clyde Parker shared experiences of watching firsthand the Twin Towers collapsing on September 11. He said he was most touched by the way people came together and that we need to continue finding the love that unites communities and people. 

The next Board of Education meeting will be held on September 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Board Room.