Three Village Central School District Holds Community Forum
By Andrea Paldy
Contrary to its normal meeting format, the Three Village Central School District held a town hall meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 26, which gave the public an opportunity to ask administrators a wide range of questions, including the budget and the registration, COVID protocols, mental health support, DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and back-to-school hours.
The Town Hall, held in person at Ward Melville High School auditorium, also offered a virtual component. Over 100 viewers tuned in to the two-hour YouTube live stream. District administrators answered questions that had been submitted in advance.
Alan Baum, Executive Director of Human Resources and Secondary Curriculum, moderated the Town Hall. While the district was open to various structures for future forums, Baum said the benefit of pre-submitted questions was that it ensured that the answers given were “accurate, complete and detailed.” Administrators, he said, had the advantage of being able to gather the necessary information.
Concerns about the ongoing pandemic prompted an expected flurry of questions about procedures, masking and vaccines and represented both the feelings of parents who felt the district was being too cautious, as well as those who thought it could Do more. Questions on this overarching topic included whether the district had reviewed studies related to the psychological and learning effects of masking and distancing on students, and whether the district would take legal action to end the mask mandate. Concerns have also been raised about non-compliance with masking requirements and why students and teachers were not required to get vaccinated.
The Executive Director of Student and Community Services, Erin Connolly, answered many of these questions. She said the district would not pursue legal action against the mask mandate and that due to the novelty of masking and social distancing, no studies were available on their long-term effects. She added that concern about the possible effects is driving the district’s implementation of “extensive” social and emotional learning (SEL) programs aimed at mitigating COVID-19-related issues.
There was no decision to make the vaccine mandatory for students, but if there was, it would be done by New York State and not the school district, administrators said. Teachers, on the other hand, should either be vaccinated or tested regularly, said Dawn Mason, executive director of school personnel services. She added that vaccination is a personal decision to be made with her doctor.
Pandemic-related questions also included whether the district would go remote again or offer a remote learning option. Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said the district won’t be offering a remote learning option, though it has offered live streaming for high school students and tutoring for elementary students during the coronavirus surge. omicron. The decision to walk away would be based on local infection rates and the availability of teachers and staff. Such a decision would be made “after extensive consultation with the Board of Education, with our administration and the Department of Health,” Pedisich said.
“We view our schools as the central pillar of our community’s infrastructure and as such, schools are essential. They are essential for students’ learning, social, emotional and psychological growth, and so we strongly believe in the importance of in-person learning, and we will do everything we can to keep our schools open, healthy and safe,” said the superintendent.
Administrators also spoke about the district’s focus on student mental health, saying district programs focus on the “whole child” – school, as well as their health and well-being. social, emotional and physical.
Enrollment in the district has seen a decline over the past 15 years. When asked to compare current enrollment and staff – 5,651 students and 589 teaching staff – to that of the 2012-2013 school year – 7,307 students and a staff of 591 – it became clear that staffing levels, which include “COVID hires,” are virtually the same today, despite shrinking by nearly 2,000 students over the years.
In addition to reducing class sizes and the number of electives, Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent, said Three Village is providing more services to students and has added more social workers and psychologists to the staff over the years. years after reducing the workforce to 545 full-time equivalents in 2013-14.
“Every school district has social workers and psychologists,” he said. “We have more than most. We’ve been working hard to bump up those numbers in staffing.
Pedisich later said the current enrollment count does not include the district’s pre-kindergarten students, which can range between 180 and 200 students. Although the district has seen a decrease in secondary populations, it is currently experiencing an increase in elementary school students by 105 students, which Pedisich attributed to changes in the housing market and families moving out of town due to the pandemic. .
Paul Gold, director of social studies and deputy director of Ward Melville, answered questions about the district’s DEI committee, which he chairs. The district does not teach critical race theory, widely known as CRT, which it says is taught in law schools and “has no place in K-12 schools.” Gold added that what the district teaches about race and racism is “through the lens of history” and that the teaching “does not come with blame or shame. It comes with context and conversations about how, over time, so many Americans have worked to promote fairness and equality for so many groups that have historically been marginalized.
In addition to clarifying that equity and inclusion goes beyond race to include gender, physical and intellectual disability, and sexuality, Gold answered questions about district committee funding. The committee is made up of unpaid teachers, parents, staff and volunteer administrators. He also explained that professional development is a priority for the committee and that one of its sub-committees is working on professional development opportunities for staff.
Questions were also asked about the district’s commitment to finding a way to implement a later start time for high school students. Pedisich, who acknowledged the health benefits of later departure for students, said the school board should discuss reinstating the late departure time committee, which has been on hold since the pandemic.
A recording of the forum, which also transportation covered, testing and school meals, can be viewed on the Three Village Central School District YouTube page.