My Community, in My Opinion

This is my response to Mr. Houdek's (Board of Education trustee) recent letter to the residents of the Patchogue-Medford School District.

I am pleased to see that many of the comments on Mr. Houdek's letter to Patchogue-Medford residents indicate that residents are not being blind-sighted by persuasive language.

Are there clever tactics implemented in this letter? Sure. However, our residents should not be underestimated.

While all ideas are worth listing when brainstorming, there needs to be more substance to a sales pitch to have me sold on it; and apparently, the same is true for many other residents as well. 

We read between the lines, and we ask questions. The “buzz words”, empty unclear promises, and the proverbial “carrot-dangling” are some of the reasons why there is a feeling of mistrust and disgust among residents regarding the Board of Education. First, let me say, that this letter is signed by only two board members. It is not a letter from the entire board as a whole. From the various meetings I have attended, it was apparent to me that more information was requested by the board before most of the members were in agreement with this theory. I find this letter to be an inconsiderate gesture towards the rest of the board, and our superintendent. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech, sure we have it. However, consideration is protocol. 

Consideration for our residents would be appreciated as well. The statement regarding the fact that this is an emotional issue is true. However, I give our residents much more credit than to regard their comments as emotionally reactionary. Many of these parents are very involved in our schools, and all of them have the  right to question as taxpayers. They have very valid, thoughtful comments and inquiries.

I have questions and comments about this proposal and the statements within it. I am uncomfortable with following a “buzz word”, as it (consolidation) is referred to. How many times have “buzz words” been given a reactionary response only to falter and leave residents and or students to fall flat on their faces? Very often it is the people who are not in the “trenches” so to speak, who throw these “buzz words” around and do not realize the ramifications of their ideas becoming careless trends.

I would also like to know what is being counted as “dead space” in our schools? This repeated somber verbiage is creating unrealistic visions of dark hollowed hallways draped with cobwebs. This is not true. I have seen for myself. What is this “dead space”? Is it specified reading rooms for instructional programs? The lobby? The library, locker rooms, hallways, offices? This needs to be much more clear as well as truthful for me to consider any substantial amount of space as being unused.

As far as I know, the  middle school structure that we have is customary for “true” middle schools across the country. Middle Schools, by definition, are primarily made up of grades 6-8. The concept of a Middle School is an alternative to the structure of a Junior High School. A Middle Grades teacher certification (in a specified subject) is customarily for grades 5-9. 

That being said, my question here is what is meant by “Teachers in those groupings cannot support duties in the other areas”? What duties are you suggesting need to be done that our highly qualified teachers cannot do? Are you saying that teachers with an elementary certification have no place in a middle school? Some actually have dual certifications. I am just not seeing the logic or relevance in your statement here.

It has been stated that we have been sadly missing sound educational decisions in recent years, yet this plan seems to be focused on what is referred to as “an effective administrative point of view”. Are we looking for a sound EDUCATIONAL point of view or some kind of management point of view? While the job of a trustee is not easy, I think that a thoughtful “education” portion of “Board of Education” is missing in this theory.

This theory is also said to “foster parent involvement”. I find that you’re throwing a lot of enticing, honey-sweet “buzz words” out there like “parent involvement”, “educational opportunities”, “true”, “Intel Scholars”, etc. without any specific “meat and potatoes” so to speak. I don’t see this as an educational plan. I see it as a money-crunching sales pitch…and a crummy one at that.

Here’s another blow to our hard-working faculty, administration and education-minded board members: “location determines choices”. What do you mean by that? Are you saying that our district has been unfair to students due to location? Really? I think we do our best to provide for everyone. Some things may be slightly inconvenient, but provisions are made. Certainly more considerate choices have been made than 9:00 am “lunch”, which I will also address. You raise eyebrows here, but do not give any details. Are you trying to create hysteria? Are you trying to make it sound like we must close these schools to make everything fair? I think programs offered in the summer, throughout the school year, and so on, have been thoughtfully located. 

Lunch. At the , when Ms. Donna Jones indicated that lunch in the proposed middle school would have to begin with a 9:00 a.m. period, Mr. LaValle stated,“that’s life." True, we cannot always have things perfect. This is not a perfect world. However, realistically, you must be kidding. Middle School students are expected to concentrate and learn until after 2:00pm. I would like to see Mr. LaValle tell a very hungry middle school child who cannot focus on his studies because he had an early “brunch” at 9:00 a.m., “that’s life”. Let alone, trying to teach a multitude of these hungry students daily.

A 7th or 8th grade student who is so hungry, who can figuratively feel his stomach sucking up against his spine, is not going to react well to “that’s life, kid”. It is scientific fact that a truly hungry person can become angry.

IF in fact, Ms. Jones’s analysis is incorrect, as Mr. Houdek implies, then my question is this: What time are the elementary schools going to start lunch periods in this plan? You are adding a whole grade level to the elementary schools. You might as well change the “lunch” menu to pancakes and sausage with a side of orange juice, please.

What is a “true” honors course that you would like to add to the schedule of the starving Middle School students? When you consolidate three schools into one, the kids will obviously have less opportunity. There is only so much room in a building; unless you are going to teach these honors classes in the “dead space” of the school lobby.

The comment that “Superintendent Locantore speaks fondly of his tenure as the Principal of Saxton at a time when there were 1,200 students” is true to some degree. He speaks fondly of his time at that school because he is an enthusiastic educator. However, I have heard him say that Saxton was crowded at that time. Isn’t it around that time that the 9th grade was moved to the high school because Saxton was too crowded? I don’t think I heard Mr. Locantore make the statement that the population count at Saxton at that time was the high point of his career. As I recall, he made the statement regarding population at the last PTA Council meeting.

I assume that you remember that evening. Am I mistaken in recalling that you were right next to him, Brett, telling the PTA attendees that the board does not need to form a committee regarding school closure; the board can do “whatever the hell it wants”? Thankfully, Mr. Locantore corrected this poor word choice that was used by someone. Was it you? If so, I can only summize why we do not have a committee to address the issue. Furthermore, I think it is unfair for the superintendent to be dragged into this theory with such ambiguous statements when he has not in fact confirmed that he is in favor of it.

What is the point of mentioning that Saxton was once our High School? How is that relevant? The District Office on South Ocean Avenue was a school too. Should we consider closing all middle schools and house 7th and 8th grade there? You have totally lost me on that statement. I just see it as a tactic to conjure a perspective in the minds of readers that Saxton is huge. Clever, but please give us a little credit.

I am very curious about the “increased offerings to all students”. What are the offerings that are truly attainable by closing a school? Isn’t this theory addressing consolidation in order to fit an impending budget? How are we going to get “increased offerings” when we are number-crunching just to keep our heads above water? It sounds to me like empty promises of spending money that will not be there. If it was “sadly not the case” of the board to “seek ways to expand educational opportunities for all students” in recent years, then, in your opinion, what has been the main objective of the board? This appears to me that someone just wants to be perceived as a savior, a knight in shining armor, if you will. It sounds like you are saying that the board has done a horrible job up until now…now that we have this wonderful “plan” to offer our students streets paved in gold. 

We have 29 students in some of our kindergarten classes. Is this an indication of a projected decline in enrollment? How much more can be consolidated? I think you may be putting the cart before the horse, but that is just my opinion. I don’t know how those population projection studies are done, but I see new construction in Patchogue.

If there is a decline in the future, one reason may be because we have “consolidated” and residents are not happy here, so they leave or send their kids to private schools. Furthermore, I do know that other studies could be done. 

Here’s a “buzz word” that has been hitting the news for decades: energy conservation. Why not have a study done on the cost-effectiveness on installing solar panels on the huge roofs of our buildings? Or windmills? It will cost money to install, but as I heard mentioned at a board meeting, “sometimes you have to spend money to save money”. I think other options should be explored before we compromise the education of our children by “consolidating”. They are children, in their formative years, not merchandise.

In regards to the closing of Oregon, I have to ask how the community in that residential area feels about a moth-balled, boarded up school in their neighborhood. I would be shocked if we were able to find anyone to rent such property. South Ocean Avenue is in a more marketable location as a rental, but who says it can be rented?

At a , Mr. LaValle mentioned that might possibly want to rent it for $300,000. Was that a concrete offer? Did they really express that interest? Since Mr. LoSchiavo seemed stunned at the statement when he asked for it to be repeated, I wonder who met with St. Joseph’s College to obtain that number, and when?

I like that members of the community are thinking outside the box, and coming forth with intelligible suggestions and questions. That is what we need. We can create our own “buzz”, by thinking about options other than what is status quo.

Schools divided by counties or towns has been mentioned. I think that would take a long time to happen, but it is done in other areas of our country.

Track systems are also implemented in other areas. Elementary and Middle School children go to school year-round on a modified school calendar. This may or may not work for us. If we had solar panels and could afford air conditioning, the track system would certainly decrease class size.

I agree that these may be radical ideas, but they are just seeds that are thrown out there to protect the educational standards for our children. I think that the members of our community have a lot to offer.

I believe that the committee that was going to be formed to include many opinions should still be formed, and without the stipulation of having to comply in accordance with a specific education law to close schools. Mr. Locantore himself said, that he likes committees. Why don’t we have one to brainstorm ideas? What happened in regards to the committee that made Mr. Donofrio so upset at the last budget meeting, where he was responded to with yelling, Mr. Houdek? Rather than allowing a committee to be formed, has there been a rush to close schools by a minority of board members?  It was not clear, and I am just curious.

I appreciate all opinions and ideas. However, if an idea is going to be presented by a trustee or two, I would prefer it to be presented in a manner that appears viable with concrete details to support the sugar-coated verbiage. I give you credit for apparently doing your best to persuade us, but your best is not good enough to convince me that this is a viable solution at this juncture. Whatever is done, I think I can speak on behalf of many residents when I say, PLEASE…no more empty promises, no more play on words. We don’t want to hear the gift of gab, we want solidarity within a Board of Education that we can regard as respectable. We don’t want to have to read between the lines anymore. That is how to gain our trust.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

katie mucha January 31, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Thank you for writing this and I agree completely on your comments Christine. My son is one of the 5 year olds stuffed into a kindergarten class of 29 kids. It is absurd. And so is the idea of our kids benefitting from closing schools in our district. I will be working towards sending my kids to a private school if this happens. Crowded schools are only a recipe for disaster.
Wendy Blake January 31, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Hopefully parents in the district will take action beyond posting and make their voices heard at BOE meetings. There is power in numbers and putting a face and a voice behind your comments here. Let the BOE know how you feel....tell them your concerns and ask your questions. That is the best way to make sure that your opinions are heard.
diane burke January 31, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Bravo Christine! I couldn't have said it better myself. As a parent in this district I am deeply concerned about the issues at hand and what is really going on behind the scenes to address all these issues. Thanks for the eye opener!
Christine Rignola February 04, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Many thanks to all of you who have read my blog, commented, and recommended it. I appreciate your time, thoughtful ideas, and your interest in our community and schools. I agree with Wendy regarding attendance at BOE meetings. Most peope don't go to BOE meetings. As I casually ask why that is, the most common answers I receive are that "it is a waste time", "the BOE doesn't care what I have to say anyway", and "it is intimidating". I understand completely. This is was one of my concerns in my last campaign; the feeling of disconnect between the BOE and the residents. There is a feeling among many that the BOE is on a pedistal and the residents are just looking up from the ground waaaay below. Let me remind you all, that these people on the BOE are elected. They are people, not deity. They make mistakes, they occasionally need help, they make tough decisions. Throughout the history of the district, the ones who have been there for the right reasons should be commended for their volunteerism. However, remember, they should be representing you, considering all needs, and your voices should be heard. They have to make decisions, but your VOICE counts just as much as your VOTE. This is NOT a time for complacency.
Christine Rignola February 04, 2012 at 04:38 PM
For those who have never been to a BOE meeting, I just want to describe one briefly to alleviate any feeling of the unknown, and encourage you to join in even if you don't want to speak. They're usually in the S.Ocean Middle School Cafetorium. There is parking in the parking lot behind the school. You can enter through the back doors. There will be folding chairs set up for attendees facing the BOE. The BOE sits at long tables facing the audience. A podium for speakers (residents, presenters, etc), faces the BOE. Meeting agendas are on a table in front of the BOE. You may take one if you would like to. They just list the order of events in the meeting (speakers, school presentations, reports,etc.). Attendees usually include a sampling of residents. You may see your neighbor, your child's teacher, or a friend you haven't seen in a long time. You may meet others who have the same concerns and views as you do. If you would like to speak, there is a time alloted for that as well. It's part of the agenda, and the BOE President will ask if there are comments or questions when appropriate (in conjunction with the agenda). If you choose to speak, you go up to the podium, state your name, and then you have two minutes to say your piece. If you are nervous, I suggest you have something written to read from. The BOE and/or the superintendent may comment. And that is it. You will learn alot even if you just go to observe. I encourage all residents! Hope to see you there!


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