To the members of the Manhasset UFSD community:
I have read with dismay the vitriol posted on Facebook surrounding the upcoming school board election and am concerned about some of the candidates’ proposals for how to “improve” the district.
I am a former three-term board member (and president for six years), with no agenda other than wanting to see the district continue on the positive path on which our board set the district after years of low teacher morale, a dysfunctional budget process and even a failed budget vote.
I am dismayed that one of the proposals is for a “curriculum committee” on which parents will sit to determine what is taught in the schools, claiming that one was allegedly in place but disbanded. There was no such committee from 2003 to 2012, and I am unaware of the existence of such a committee prior to that. (Although there was an ad hoc elementary foreign language committee which did include parents whose elementary school children had received instruction in foreign language previously, because there was no faculty in the district that taught at that level.)
The New York State Education Department is “responsible for setting student learning expectations (standards) for what all students should know and be able to do as a result of skilled instruction. Each local school district develops curricula based on these established standards.”
The school board does indeed decide which course offerings are available (within state guidelines) and approves curriculum, but as the district employs subject matter coordinators and trained educators, the development of the curricula that meet state standards is the province of those trained professionals.
I recall when the district instituted a standardized ELA curriculum for first and second grades, there was a year-long process engaging the ELA coordinator, the teaching staff and the school administrators where a wide variety of options were considered and a public presentation made to the board prior to our approval of the curriculum. Indeed, the board was responsive to parents who wanted accelerated learning in science (we added Regents-level courses to the middle school curriculum) and broader AP course offerings. Similarly, a life skills class was added for students on the autism spectrum to properly serve those students in response to parents who advocated for that program.
From the tenor of the discussion, it doesn’t appear that the goal in creating such a committee is to implement an IB program or reinstitute elementary foreign language or any similar initiative. Indeed, I am concerned that the call for a curriculum committee is an attempt to censor literature and social studies texts and impose the standards and beliefs of a few parent volunteers—who are not experts in education—on what the students learn.
I am concerned that if Manhasset goes down this path, the district will develop a reputation for being close-minded and insular to the point where the very institutions that parents want their children to attend for college (such as Ivy and Ivy plus schools, which value diversity and rigorous intellectual discourse) will look with disfavor on Manhasset students’ applications.
Moreover, the students will not be adequately prepared to excel on AP and Regents exams, or handle the rigors of college academics. Manhasset students do so well precisely because the coordinators and faculty challenge them with sophisticated literature and thought-provoking social studies texts. If the district starts chipping away at that, the students will be less successful, and their college choices will be more limited.
Lastly, I hope all the voters in Manhasset know how much work it is to serve on a board of education. One must devote hours to preparing for meetings, serving on sub-committees, and responding to parents and community members. Many people will say horrible things about you when they don’t agree with you. Someone actually wrote to the Manhasset Press that I should be run out of town with pitchforks and torches, a comment that seems quaint in comparison to the venom being spewed on social media this year.
We all did our best with one goal in mind: To serve every student in the district in the best possible way within the confines of the budget. I don’t live in Manhasset anymore. I don’t have a vote. I am just dismayed to think that the district could be derailed by close-minded people with personal agendas. Please keep this in mind when you go to the polls.
Member of the Manhasset BOE 2003-2012