Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath continues to wreak havoc on families impacted by its wrath. As the emotional and physical recovery continues into the foreseeable future, a venerable vacation tradition may become yet another casualty of the super storm – the weeklong February vacation.
As reported by NEWSDAY, most Long Island districts are expected to cancel three to five days of the February vacation, which begins on Presidents’ Day and continues throughout the week. This year it takes place from February 18 to 22. The goal of the cancellation is to try to make up lost time due to Sandy and the nor’easter that closed some schools for up to two weeks. New York City schools have already cut the vacation back to two days; students will attend school from February 20 to 22.
According to the NEWSDAY story, 66 of Long Island’s 124 school districts have already announced that they are cancelling or are considering calling off all or some of the midwinter vacation. While some district officials say they may restore the vacations if the state grants waivers from the mandated 180-day school year, the February vacation is the logical place to restore lost learning time.
Districts are in danger of losing state aid if they do not comply, although the state education commissioner can grant districts waivers of up to five days to cover “extraordinary” circumstances. But Commissioner John B. King Jr. has already emphasized that districts must use up vacation days before they are eligible for exemptions. There is also legislation pending that gives districts an additional five days of waivers, but the state legislature does not reconvene until January 1.
With news of the impending cancellations, there are complaints from students, parents, faculty and staff, many of whom have made vacation plans well in advance and stand to lose thousands of dollars – and priceless memories. It’s likely that a sizeable number of families will go ahead with their vacation plans anyway and attendance will be down – and that’s an individual family decision.
But that’s not a good enough reason to keep schools closed for everyone. Every district has already used up its store of emergency days and it’s only November! Those days are usually set aside for snowstorms.
Off the record, educators have long questioned the February vacation for its timing and value. Coming approximately seven weeks after the Christmas break, it interrupts the flow of learning in the middle of the school year – the prime time for education. Many regions in the country do not close school for the entire Presidents’ Day Week; perhaps this is the appropriate time to question the wisdom of this weeklong break. What do you think?
Amid the massive devastation of super storm Sandy that has touched virtually everyone in Long Beach, L.I., the light of caring and giving shined brightly this week.
Many teachers from public and parochial schools throughout Long Island who were off on Veterans Day showed up at the Long Beach Ice Rink to help in the sorting of massive donations of food, clothing, personal items, and household supplies. Like the teachers – students who also had the day off and were out of school for much of the storm — assisted in the effort.
Six families from Great Neck showed up to sort clothing by gender and size.
“We came with our moms and brothers and sisters,” said Orli Cole, 14. “We were looking to volunteer for something, and we learned of this online.”
Jacky Kislin, also 14, said they had all volunteered the previous week in Brooklyn.
“In the last two weeks, we have had one day of school,” she said.
Outside the ice skating rink on Magnolia Boulevard, a line of people waited patiently for donated food, clothing and household supplies. Two weeks after the storm, many of the residents still did not have electricity in their homes.
In front of the ice rink, representatives from FEGS offered bagels, cream cheese, juice, and coffee to those in need.
Zach Solomon, 24, whose home had to be gutted due to the flooding, spearheaded his own effort to help storm victims. He handed out new blankets, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks and flashlight batteries that he purchased from the money he raised. He said he thought of the idea after remembering that a friend had started a nonprofit to help Katrina victims.
“Within the first 48 hours after I sent out 150 e-mails, we had raised nearly $10,000,” Solomon said. “We used it to buy 500 blankets, and we have a lot more money left to buy other things.”
He pointed to unsorted bags of clothing that filled half the rink’s bleachers.
“It’s estimated to be in excess of 40 tons,” he said.
“We’ve taken in food and household goods and cleaning supplies, and as there is a demand for it we run it out [to those on line],” he said.
Piazza said they are planning to send what is not needed to other communities that can use it.
At the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County dinner on Tuesday night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo thanked the 550 attendees for coming to the event, despite their own difficulties with the storm. Speaking about the destruction experienced by Long Beach and other communities throughout Long Island and New York City, he noted that Sandy was one of three storms he has confronted since he became governor 22 months ago. He fears Sandy is not the storm of the century, but a new reality for which we must prepare.
While promising that New York will rebuild “better and smarter,” to prepare for future storms, Cuomo noted that he was touched by the spirit of caring communities that he observed throughout the state. He noted that a lesson learned from the Holocaust – and that the Holocaust Center teaches — is that we cannot stand idly by as others suffer. He added that we are all responsible for one another, and that the ethos of kindness and cooperation is alive and well in New York State.
In the wake of Sandy, the time has never been more appropriate for the 92Y’s new initiative to inaugurate a national day of spending that emphasizes giving back. Giving Tuesday, which will be launched November 27, is garnering the support of retailers, charities, organizations and individuals to inspire a day of giving and celebration of our country’s time-honored traditions of philanthropy and volunteerism.
You can help by spreading the word about the importance of giving back and joining in the conversation at givingtuesday.org, or on Twitter by following the hashtag #givingtuesday.
Summer vacation is around the corner – and that means that both parents and kids get a break from the rigors of the school year. If your children are enrolled in day camp or other summer programs, they’ll likely get plenty of fresh air, exercise, and exploration. But the weak economy has taken its toll on families across the board. Fewer parents have the means to afford camps, tutors, and other summer programs that can enrich learning during the summer. And school budget cuts have also reduced free summer educational programs that existed in the recent past.
The bad news is that when students return to school after summer vacation, they’ve often lost one to three months of learning. Research indicates that math skills are most in jeopardy. Elementary students at all socio-economic levels typically lose math skills, while middle class students often make slight gains in reading.
The good news is that there are a number of strategies that you can use to ensure that your child doesn’t lose learning and skills over the summer. In the June/July issue of Long Island Parent, I offer 10 suggestions to help parents continue their children’s learning during the summer months. To read the whole article, go to: http://liparentonline.com/features2.html
Here are a few of the tips:
- Encourage reading by providing your children with plenty of books that interest them. Use school summer reading lists and library grade-level reading suggestions. Visit the library often and check out special summer events. Read with your children, and discuss the books they are reading with them. If you are really ambitious, organize a book club with a few of your child’s friends.
- Understand that any topic of interest to your child can be a source of learning. For example, if your child is interested in baseball, surround him or her with baseball books and magazines. Watching a baseball game and keeping score or cataloguing baseball cards can be a lesson in statistics, i.e., RBI, ERA.
- Car trips can evolve into math or geography lessons. Instead of the perennial kid question: “Are we there yet,” ask your children to estimate and calculate the travel time to a destination. Encourage your kids to recognize different state license plates, and talk about those states with them, fostering their geography skills.
- For social studies learning, make day trips to local historical sites, such as Teddy Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, or FDR’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Overnight trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Boston, offer a wealth of information about our nation’s history. And for science skills, don’t overlook children’s science museums and zoos, as well as outdoor natural wonders to explore, such as caves, beaches, and parks.
- Don’t overlook the kitchen as a wonderful learning lab. Involve your children in cooking and preparing meals, and they will exercise their reading, math and science skills. For example, have them read recipes, measure ingredients, and observe how the combination of different ingredients leads to the creation of something amazing. For advanced learning, ask questions, such as how many pints are in a quart, or what made the dough rise?
Remember to keep learning fun. You want your children to return to school in September with improved skills and a renewed love of learning!
In the first New York State budget vote since a 2 percent tax cap was mandated, 92.7 percent of Long Island school budgets passed last week. Of the Island’s 124 districts, 115 had their budgets approved; nine were defeated.
Of the nine that were defeated, seven had opted to exceed the 2 percent tax cap in the hope that voters would approve the increase anyway. But those school administrators bet wrong because under the new rules, they needed to convince at least 60 percent of their voters to approve their spending plan — and they didn’t. Districts whose budgets were defeated may submit the same or a new budget to voters next month.
The tax cap ushers in a new era in New York State. It demonstrates that the majority of districts were able to make deep cuts, and most taxpayers accepted the reductions despite outcries in numerous districts that cuts were hurting students. Across the Island, a number of schools were closed, teachers were excessed, class size was increased, and educational programs were reduced.
The dilemma is that taxpayers want to keep tax increases down at the same time that they want their schools to be outstanding. It remains to be seen whether parents will accept this state of affairs in coming years.
High School Senior Elected to School Board
High School senior Joshua Lafazan did the unimaginable last week! Just 18-years-old and the president of his senior class, he won a seat on the Syosset Board of Education – in a landslide!
Voters gave Lafazan an overwhelming mandate despite the district’s launching of a robo-call to parents accusing his father of taking the district’s list of absentee voters. He said his win was a backlash against what he characterized as a “smear campaign” by district officials.
“The people of Syosset have sent a mandate that we need open government and transparency in this town, and Josh Lafazan will deliver,” he told Newsday after he learned he had won.
During the campaign, Lafazan had been critical of the salary and benefits of Superintendent Carole Hankin, who is the highest paid superintendent in New York State and earns $541,000 in salary and benefits.
It’s interesting that while taxpayers and parents have decried administrative salaries and benefits in many districts, it took a student to make this a centerpiece of his campaign.
Could this be a harbinger of school board elections of the future? Will parents and taxpayers in other districts take on entrenched administrators? Calling for transparency is a familiar theme among critics of school boards. But most critics never step up to the plate by running for office. How many adults have the courage of this young man? If more did, it could substantially change the dynamics of school district politics.
This week I look forward to attending the Brentwood (N.Y.) High School Awards Night as a presenter of two scholarships in memory of my father, Herbert Fischman, who was a teacher and principal in the school district for 25 years. With this gesture, I will join with many other individuals and groups who together award hundreds of scholarships to Brentwood’s deserving graduates. I suspect that we are all part of a much larger group this spring who will also donate scholarships to high school graduates across the country.
In these difficult economic times, it hardly seems like a $500 or $1,000 scholarship makes a difference, but it does. Many of the students are awarded multiple scholarships, so while most of the individual awards are modest, they can add up — and numerous students receive sizeable support.
But it’s not just about the money. It’s about honoring young people who have excelled in spite of adversity, and who passionately want a shot at college. One of those Brentwood graduates, Samantha Garvey, made national headlines earlier this year when she was named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Competition while her family was living in a homeless shelter. She is president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, and has a 3.9 grade point average.
But you don’t need to have Samantha’s resume to receive a scholarship. The more that are available, the more opportunity there is to acknowledge young people who work hard to do their very best, as well as those who exemplify character traits that our communities and country desperately need, such as service and caring. I have to confess that the scholarship was not my idea. Vicki Novak, a Brentwood graduate who later became president of the Smithtown Council of PTAs, had the council donate the scholarship when my father died in 2005 and I was the administrative liaison to the PTA Council.
It wasn’t until three years ago while writing a book with my husband and brother that a light bulb went off in my head. Our book is about honoring memories and carrying on legacies, and the idea for the scholarship came from two of our interviewees — Nick Clooney, the father of George Clooney and brother of Rosemary Clooney, and Yeou-Cheng Ma, the sister of cellist Yo Yo Ma. Both separately suggested that one of the most accessible ways of honoring a loved one was to establish a scholarship in his or her memory. It was then that I made the commitment to continue the scholarship each year.
While the students are the recipients of the scholarships, attending the assembly and presenting the scholarships has been both cathartic and therapeutic for me. For example, I met retired teachers who worked in my father’s school and who shared with me their reminiscences, as well as their affection and admiration for my dad. In addition, listening to others speak about their loved ones confirmed that dedicating a scholarship, no matter what the amount, helps to keep alive the memory of those who are no longer here.
Since establishing the Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship, I have met some amazing students, parents, teachers, and principals. Some of the past recipients have sent me thank you notes expressing their appreciation.
One female student wrote:
“It is with great appreciation that I thank you and your family for allowing me to be one of the recipients of the $500 Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship. Words can’t describe how grateful my family and I are for your help towards my future. In this economy every little bit helps.”
And a young man who was on his way to an Ivy League college wrote the following:
“I would like to thank you for your generosity and support toward my college education. I would also like to pay respect to your father since he did serve in the community for an outstanding 25 years and is most likely respected by former colleagues and students. It still must be tough to cope with this loss since it is just over five years, but I know he still lives through people like you who give back to the community of Brentwood.
I am of Mexican and Haitian descent and I will be the first in my family to attend college.
I am blessed that I am one of the recipients of your scholarship. I will work hard to keep the spirit of your father alive and I will not let you down.”
In these difficult economic times where discretionary funds are diminishing, a scholarship, no matter how small, can enhance the life of a young person. It also perpetuates the living memory of a loved one.
Education news has been breaking at such a fast and furious pace that I’m calling your attention to a few important stories you may have missed.
New Organization to Engage Families in Education
First, I’m delighted that my good friend Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Ky., has been named regional director for the central states in the newly formed National Family Engagement Alliance (NFEA). The organization was unveiled this week as part of Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress Conference in Washington, DC. Gwen Samuel of Meriden, Conn., was appointed as regional director for the eastern and southeast regions and has been an advocate for disenfranchised families.
The organization will provide resources, education and support to engage families, individuals and organizations in schools for the benefit of children. Both women have been recognized for their advocacy and training of parents and education professionals in effective family engagement in education.
While Myrdin was in Washington this week, she was honored as a White House Champion of Change and met with President Barack Obama. He characterized her as “awesome,” which is exactly what she is. Myrdin and I are both part of the blogging team at ParentNet Unplugged, a great group of people dedicated to parent engagement in education.
A few months ago, I featured Myrdin in two consecutive Your Education Doctor blogs because one just wasn’t enough. I called her a Parent Advocate Par Excellence, and I’m thrilled that she will be bringing her experience and expertise to our shared passion of parent engagement in education! To read more about Myrdin, here are my blogs:
A Letter to the President from School Boards Leader
Standardized tests have recently been on the minds of both parents and children. Last week, Mary Broderick, president of the National School Boards Association, wrote to President Obama urging him to begin a national dialogue on education – not among politicians but educators. She asked him to wear his “parent hat” to the endeavor of finding a new direction for public education.
Your daughters, she wrote, “like all of our children and all of our teachers, don’t need more tests designed to identify weaknesses. They need excited, motivated, passionate teachers who feel challenged, supported, and encouraged to try new approaches, who share with their students a learning environment that is limitless. …”
She also decried the focus on standardized testing, saying: “Strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. … Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.” Here is the full text of her remarks.
Resolution to Reduce Standardized Testing
Finally, the National Education Association (NEA) has thrown its support behind a resolution calling on federal and state policymakers to reduce standardized test mandates, and to base school accountability on multiple forms of evaluation that will support students and improve schools.
Other supporters include: Parents Across America, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The resolution’s signers have joined with public education advocates Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier to call upon state officials to “reexamine school accountability,” and to develop an evaluation system that reflects the “broad range” of how students learn rather than mandating extensive standardized testing. Click here for the full text of the resolution.
Three separate school bus accidents on Monday – in Indiana, Washington State, andOhio — have left a student and a bus driver dead, and scores of students injured, some critically. The three crashes have fueled concerns about school bus safety.
In the Indiana accident, the bus was mangled when the driver hit an overpass without braking. In Washington, the bus rolled over after it veered off the road. In Ohio, the bus tipped and then rolled over onto its right side into a ditch.
None of the buses were equipped with passenger seatbelts, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not require in larger school buses. But those accidents have now renewed calls for passenger seat belts on all school buses.
Federal law requires seat belts on school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds, but 80 percent of the nation’s school buses do not fall into this category. Six states – New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana – have laws requiring seat belts on all school buses. But just because seat belts are installed, doesn’t guarantee they will be used.
For example, New York leaves the decision of whether the seat belts will be used to local school boards. On the contrary, the Texas law calls for disciplinary action against students who do not use them. California and Florida laws, while requiring seat belts in school buses, state that employees of school districts are not responsible for requiring students to buckle up.
The debate about seat belts on school buses has been going on for years. Despite increasingly strict requirements about helmets for bikers, seat and lap belts, and car and booster seats for children in passenger vehicles, school bus safety has not kept pace. In an ABC News interview, NHTSA spokesperson Lynda Tran said of school buses: “They are safer than their parents’ cars.” But Dr. Phyllis Agran, a pediatrician, told ABC that about 17,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each year from injuries sustained in school bus injuries.
Defenders of the status quo regarding school bus safety contend that statistics are on the side of the 24 million children who take a bus to school each day. But statistics fly out the window if it is your child who is involved in an accident.
Two of my three children were involved in school bus accidents and I have to tell you that although they were minor, it was a chilling experience to be notified that your child has been in a school bus accident. Parents have a right to expect that when they put their children on the school bus in the morning, they will get to and from school safely. They certainly don’t expect serious injuries or worse.
Seat belts have become a hot topic, but I can tell you as a former school administrator that they are not the only bus safety issues. Buses tend to be a “no man’s land” when it comes to supervision. It’s difficult for drivers to steer the bus while at the same time police kids’ behavior. Because there is no adult supervision on the bus other than the driver, school buses are fertile fields for bullying, profanity, fistfights, and other dangerous behavior, such as walking around while the bus is in motion and throwing things.
If the bus driver reports misbehavior to the school, it will be handled with an appropriate consequence. But not all bus drivers take the trouble to write a report. If your child tells you about misbehavior on the bus, take it seriously and report it to your principal or assistant principal. It’s not just annoying – it’s potentially dangerous. Be sure to inquire what steps the school takes to emphasize school bus safety. And make sure you reinforce them at home.
You may also inquire about the supervision of bus drivers. If the school district owns a fleet of buses and the drivers are district employees, they are usually better screened, supervised, and monitored than if the district contracts with a private company for their buses and drivers. If you have reason to believe a bus driver is engaging in dangerous or suspicious behavior, be sure to report it to your school district immediately.
The following bus rules should be emphasized by the school and reinforced by you with your child at home.
- Kids should go directly to their seats. They should remain seated and facing forward for the entire ride.
- Children should speak quietly and make every effort not to distract the driver.
- Students should not throw things on the bus or out the windows, or play with the emergency exits.
- The aisles of the bus should be clear at all times. That means no walking around or placing objects that may cause someone to trip.
- In an emergency, children must listen to the driver and follow instructions.
- Students should never put head, arms or hands out of the window.
- At their stop, children should wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting up. They should then walk, not run, to the front door and then exit using the handrail.
Presidents’ Day always makes me remember my maternal grandfather, who encouraged my brother and me to learn the names of all the US presidents and vice presidents when we were still in the early grades. When we got together each week, we would play quiz show, mimicking the popular TV shows of that era. He would give us our assignment the week before and then reward us with pocket change for our correct answers the following week. He also had us learn each of the states and their capitals, as well as difficult spelling words.
My grandfather, who came to this country from Russia at age six, had to leave school at 14 to work as an errand boy to help his family of 10. But he knew the importance of learning. He later secured a plum position at the Post Office and courted and married my grandmother, who was one of 12 children born to immigrants.
My grandmother had graduated from high school, which she attended at night – something that was unusual for her day and station. My grandparents later ran a drug store with a soda fountain and put my mother, their only daughter, through college. When my mother graduated from New York University in 1943, she enlisted in the military after seeing a film about the Nazis. A generation later, my brother and I both received advanced degrees.
Only in America — the land of freedom and opportunity — is such advancement possible. Only in America could an errand boy have a daughter graduate from college and grandchildren earn a doctorate and a law degree. Only in America could individuals from humble origins — such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Lyndon Johnson — become president of the US. Only in America could Oprah Winfrey achieve her incredible success. Despite being born into poverty, her grandmother taught her to read when she was three-years-old. Later, when she went to live with her father as a teenager, he made education a priority.
Traditionally, public education in the United States was considered the passport that would level the playing field for the poor and disadvantaged. But an article in last week’s New York Times reported that several research studies indicate that while the racial gap has been shrinking, there is a widening achievement gap between affluent and poor students that is threatening to weaken education’s equalizing effects.
Researchers aren’t certain why, but some hypothesize that affluent children may perform better because their parents spend more time and money in providing them with enriching experiences, such as tutoring, music lessons, and literacy activities. Additionally, they appear to be more involved in their children’s schools. The recession likely has exacerbated this disparity.
But James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, contends that parenting counts as much or more than income in developing a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school.
“Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role,” he said. “The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it’s a mistake.”
One young person who still believes in the power of education to be the great equalizer is Samantha Garvey, the 18-year-old Brentwood, L.I., high school senior who in January was named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Competition while her family was living in a homeless shelter. She is president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, and has a 3.9 grade point average. Her amazing story so captivated the public that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone arranged for her family to move into a rent-subsidized home.
“My family’s setbacks are a source of motivation. I want to get my family ahead, which is why I do well in school,” Samantha told Newsday.
“My daughter is a blessing,” her mother, Olga Garvey Coreas, an immigrant from El Salvador, told the Huffington Post’s Latino Voices. “I never tire of thanking God for giving her the talent she has. She lives dedicated to her studies — nothing stops her.”
She added that parents must be vigilant in encouraging and supporting their children’s education. She pointed out that her husband, Leo, worked nights and that she worked days.
“The fact was that we never left them alone; we were always there to help them with their homework,” she said. “I believe that good communication is the basis for guiding our children.”
As we observe Presidents’ Day, let’s remember the promise and the possibilities of our country. We must ensure that public education continues to be the great equalizer. But that requires a team. We need more parents like Samantha Garvey’s, who encouraged her to learn despite the odds — enabling their daughter to achieve the unimaginable. We need more teachers like the ones in the Brentwood Public Schools, who embraced and encouraged Samantha, enabling her to shine. Samantha, of course, deserves credit for internalizing her parents’ values and grasping the opportunities her school offered.
There is no substitute for active and involved parents partnering with caring public schools. They are still our country’s best hope for enabling young people to become all they are capable of being.
I’m pleased to let you know that beginning this month, I will be a regular
contributor to Long Island Parent Magazine.
Published by Liza Burby, it is a wonderful resource for parents as it addresses issues of concern to parents on Long Island and beyond.
My first article, What You Need to Know About Your School District Budget, provides tips about how to navigate the budget process in your school districts.
Here are a few tips from the article:
- Know your school district’s budget calendar, which will give you a list of meetings and topics. Check your district’s website for information, and read budget brochures that are mailed to your home. Read the fine print so you will understand if your children’s school experience will be impacted. Keep up with local media reports of budget meetings.
- Know when PTA meetings are held. Your PTA president should have the latest budget information.
- Know when and where Board of Education meetings are held, attend them, and feel free to voice your opinion during the public participation part of the meeting.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk.
- If you are upset by a proposed cut, you may circulate petitions to the board, discuss the topic at PTA meetings, write letters to the board and to the newspapers, and come to board meetings en masse.
- Make sure you register to vote. Check with the District Clerk for procedures and deadlines if you are not sure if you are registered.
- Remember to vote. If you will be out of town you may request an absentee ballot. Check with the District Clerk for information about absentee ballots, polling places and voting hours.
To read the full article, go to http://liparentonline.com/features3.html.
In addition to the print version, I will be writing a monthly online column, Ask the Education Expert, on the Long Island Parent website. There I will be answering questions submitted by readers. In the current column, I discuss parent concerns related to kindergarten registration and readiness. Take a look at http://liparentonline.com/ask-the-school-expert.html. Email your questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out LI Parent online for the answers each month.
For more information about Your Education Doctor or Meryl Ain, please visit: