Gazette Ceases Publication: Donates Archives to LHS

In 2010, the Larchmont Gazette ceased publication. In 2011 the publishers donated all contents to the Larchmont Historical Society, which will continue to make the Gazette archives available online.

All inquiries should be addressed to the Larchmont Historical Society.

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Some Progress, Some Setbacks: Principals Report on Goals

The nitty-gritty work of improving instruction for students in each of Mamaroneck’s six schools was on display at the school board’s May 26 meeting.  This was a sequel to an earlier meeting asking “How are we doing?” in academic departments, and a prequel to next week’s study session which will look at goals across the district.

Each principal reported on progress towards goals set last fall.  At each building, principals and teachers are using data and collaborating with each other and with the district’s instructional coaches as they tackle goals in a variety of areas, including math and literacy instruction, differentiation of lessons for students at all levels, and support for struggling students.

Not all goals have been accomplished.  Superintendent Paul Fried noted that goals “should stretch us,” so some will not be completed in a year.

Three Elementaries Focus on Math for all Levels

mathproblem2Central, Chatsworth and Murray Avenue Schools each implemented a revised mathematics curriculum for grades K-5 this year.  This TERC Investigations program was implemented last year in Mamaroneck Avenue School.

As part of the new curriculum, teachers have spent a great deal of time working with math coach Barbara Dean to develop lessons for students at all levels.  Lessons have been “differentiated,” both for students in self-contained special education classes who need to move at a slower pace with many repetitions, and for “high flyers” who need additional challenge and enrichment.  Plans are being developed to use the website and other technology to share these lessons between schools.

Board members questioned whether the teachers are “buying in” to the new curriculum.  Chatsworth Principal Gail Boyle noted that teachers “say they’re going with it,” but are reserving judgment until the end of the year.  Future meetings will allow for discussion of the curriculum’s effectiveness and next steps.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Annie Ward advised that there will be more “TERC talk” at next week’s study session.

MAS Implements New Word Study Program

Teachers and administrators at Mamaroneck Avenue School have spent the year working to identify and implement a new word study program.  After studying various programs and performing school-wide assessments of students in grades one through five, MAS and district administrators settled on “Words Their Way.”  This sequential word study program uses word “sorts” to teach phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling and vocabulary.  Working in groups, students learn to sort words by sound, pattern and meaning.

MAS teachers began implementing the program in February.  Shortly thereafter, workshops were conducted to teach parents about word study and to share the program with teachers from each grade at the other district schools.  Literacy coach Allyson Daley assisted with training and support throughout the process.

In June, children will be tested again and data will be analyzed.  Because the program has only been in effect since February, huge gains are not expected, but the data will be used to assist in planning for students who attend Co-op Camp over the summer, and for the following year.

The “Words Their Way” program will be implemented district-wide for grades one and two next year.  Ms. Ward promised more details about this program at next week’s study session.

Hommocks Develops New Literacy Curriculum

Hommocks Principal Seth Weitzman reported that the middle school had almost met its ten-step plan to improve literacy instruction, needing only to complete an e-mail to parents about grammar instruction.  This plan was  explained in detail last April.  See Writing & Rigor: Hommocks Looks to Improve Writing Curriculum.

Rather than following the previous practice of “letting a hundred flowers bloom,” Dr. Weitzman explained, Hommocks teachers have been collaborating to develop a consistent writing curriculum.  This work has been spearheaded by literacy coach Lisa Ramos-Hillegers, new this year.

Standardized test results have shown a significant improvement. Preliminary results of the March 2009  New York State English Language Arts test (ELA) show the pass rate for six graders increasing from 87%  to 93%, Dr. Weitzman told the Gazette after the meeting.   The percentage of seventh graders passing increased from 89 to 95.   The pass rate in eighth grade remained the same.

Results on the fall 2008  Writing Assessment Program (WrAP) published by the Educational Research Bureau (ERB) were also very positive.  This assessment is more rigorous than the ELA, said Dr. Weitzman, because it measures Hommocks youngsters against students from 50 high-performing suburban school districts.  This year, Hommocks students surpassed suburban norms in every grade.

Larry’s Legacy:  All Students Can Learn

Hommocks also has been working on all grades and in all teams to support struggling students by a variety of methods, reported Assistant Principal Larry Keane, who is retiring this year.  Supports include teaching study skills, allowing students to retake tests that they failed, enhancing parent communication and mandating after-school help.  Mr. Keane said the number of students with multiple failures has decreased significantly, but exact figures are not available.

It is often difficult to determine exactly what works, Mr. Keane noted, citing the example of a young man who failed multiple classes in sixth grade, in seventh grade, and in the beginning of eighth grade.  For the last two quarters, however, he has passed all his courses.

Neither the student nor his teachers can explain what made the difference.  “Something just clicked,” said Mr. Keane.

Dr. Weitzman summarized by remarking on “Larry’s Legacy:  All students can learn.”  With the additional supports that have been put into place at Hommocks, all eighth graders now take Earth Science and two thirds take Algebra, both high school level courses that conclude with Regents exams.

“Climate Control” at the High School

Several initiatives have resulted in significant improvements in the tone of the high school, reported Mamaroneck High School Principal Dr. Mark Orfinger.   Important factors in  this “climate control”  have been the installation of fifty-five new security cameras and the opening of a new support center, staffed by counselor Dina Powis-Borbon.

The support center provided a locus for 391 referrals for minor disciplinary infractions through the end of April.  Dr. Orfinger likened the referrals to “the Giuliani squeegee approach” of getting on small things before they get out of hand.

In addition, the support center served as a drop-in safe haven for students who needed a place to go.

High School Supports At-Risk Students, but Cancels Project Success

Referencing the work of the department chairs presented at the board study session a week ago, Dr. Orfinger noted that the significant curricular work takes place at the department level, whereas tackling an issue like students at risk of failing is appropriate for the school as a whole.

This year, various outside structures were put into place for students who had failed a class, including daily academic enrichment in reading and writing skills for 30 students, twice weekly small group instruction (on top of regular classes) for 55 students, and teacher mentoring for 19 students with social and emotional issues.

Another 13 students participated in Project Success, a program designed to assist students who needed to recover credits in order to be on target for graduation.

Nearly every student  identified as being at risk of failing received some type of structured support.

The new structures appear to be making a difference in connecting students to staff and in getting kids to attend classes, reported Dr. Orfinger.  More will be known after final grades are in, but it is clear that there still will be some failures.  And it is clear that Project Success “was not successful.”  It will be disbanded.

Although a disappointment, the mixed results are not a surprise, explained Dr. Orfinger, since many of these students have had academic difficulties for years, sometimes with emotional issues as well.

More Work to Do

Chatsworth had hoped to align its social studies and science curriculum from grade to grade, but that work is just beginning.  Ms. Ward noted that there has been work in these areas district-wide, but that teachers could only implement so much new curriculum at a time.  She will be addressing the pacing of these new plans at the study session next week.

Murray Principal Jennifer Monaco explained that her faculty had not done as much as they had planned to get teachers with similar interests and goals to work together.  Nevertheless, she had successfully implemented monthly “visitation days,” where an administrator covered a classroom so the teacher could observe another teacher or students in another setting (like in speech and language classes, for example).

All the schools are working behind the scenes on their web pages.  The district’s new website was rolled out in September, but the process of populating it has been slow.  All schools are expected to “go live” with their web pages by June 30, Dr. Fried explained.

The website is already being used by teachers to share materials and lesson plans, but more virtual sharing is planned for the future.

Next Up:  District Administrators Report on the Year

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Annie Ward promises that next week’s school board study session, led by central administrators, will address curriculum initiatives and examine student work in several areas.   The meeting will be held at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, June 2 in in the Library Classroom at the high school and will air live on LMC-TV.

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5 comments to Some Progress, Some Setbacks: Principals Report on Goals

  • Eleanor Sherman

    I hope Mamaroneck High School has lifted their ban on the use of NYS approved TI92 scientific graphing calculators that they placed on Special Ed students in the past. Although NYS allows certain technology to be used by this district, Mark Orfinger, Principal of MHS denied its use to a math LD classified student. I certainly hope that things have changed at the H.S. I was never under FOI able to determine the cost that the district spent on Shaw and Perelson, attorney to fight the case. My FOI request was denied. I noticed we are spending in 2009 $100,000.00 on increased legal fees in our budget. How much of that in on Special Education attorneys? Mark Orfinger used to argue that it was “the process that counted…not the answer.” Well, the process they used couldn’t get the right answer to the School Budget Vote. Answers do count!
    My case was discussed in:
    “”Special Education Law: Cases and Materials, Second Edition 2007” citing our case concluded
    Eleanor Sherman v. Mamaroneck Union Free School District
    “3. Sherman suggests that the nature of a student’s services for a course can be related to the essential function(s) of the course. In this case, an essential function of the math course was factoring. If the student had not been able to perform the function of factoring, would the student then have been entitled to the use of the TI 92 calculator? How does the court’s reference to an “alternate assessment” relate to the use of the TI 92 calculator? Can the New York Department of Education’s permitting use of the TI 92 on its statewide test be reconciled with the school district’s denial of use of the calculator of the course? Considering that the cost of the TI 92 is relatively low and that the student would be able to use the TI 92 anyway when he took the state Regents exam, does the school district’s incurring considerable expense to litigate this case seem to be an appropriate use of school resources?”

  • Eleanor

    I just did a FOIL Request and it appears that our school district is not allowing Special Education Students to be able to use approved graphing calculators that are mandated by NYS. Also, regular education students are not using graphing calculators that are allowed on SATs. Our math department is not offering technology that other districts are teaching and are using in real world situation. I have made Dr. Fried aware of this dismal situation and hopefully with a new Math Chairperson our district will bring our students up to pare with other districts. Dr. Orfinger had written a policy denying a special education student the use of an approved scientific graphing calculator, which NYS approved. He told me that he didn’t care what NYS did, this was his school and he believed that using these calculators are “like cheating.” Parents should be up in arms with all of these children at risk for not graduating. The use of technology is mandated to the fullest extent possible for Special Education Students and it is not being used. These children can learn and the use of assistive devices, like we use in the real world, would help them pass Regents Courses. Times must change. The district had spent close to $70,000 for Special Education attorneys to fight the use of my son using a NYS approved calculator. We spend approximately $50,000 a year on Special Education attorneys. With our taxes going up each year, and the budget calling for $100,000 more this year on legal fees, why isn’t someone questioning this?

  • Anon E Mous

    If our school staff are not making the most effective use possible of current technology;
    If our students are prevented from making the most use possible of even authorized available technological equipment;
    If we are paying large legal fees in this process;
    Then the result may be that we are simply telling our students to skip education and simply train to become lawyers?

    Our students deserve the OPPORTUNITY to become as educated as they can become. As a community, we have the responsibility to accommodate that but to do it in an affordable way for a diverse population. In the equation that defines education, schools can be one of the ‘addends’ or ‘subtrahends’, but will never be the entire ‘sum’ or the entire ‘difference’.

    Perhaps there is much to be learned.

    • Eleanor

      Dear Anon Mous,

      Re: MHS Students not being educated in current SAT & NYS approved technology.

      When my son was a student in MHS, they had offered us a “blank check” for any private school that I would like him to attend…all because he needed some slight modifications and a scientific graphing calculator that I supplied. He graduated with a college degree in Computer Science. At 15, he worked at IBM TJ Watson Research as a summer intern in their “Think Tank.” They didn’t care what calculator model he used. But, Dr. Mark Orfinger did.

      MHS adminsitrators suggested that he “drop his math courses” because he had completed the minimal Regents Requirements. My son refused to drop math, telling them that he needed it for college. He also refused to be “exited out of the district” because he knew that he could successfully participate in his courses with a little modfications.

      Currently, our district spends over $3,000,000 a year for “out-of-district education.” Our taxes are going up, our education legal fees are enormous, and we are paying for other districts to educate our children. Someone should be looking into the reasons we have these expenses.

      Dr. Paul Fried has just written to me saying he has his staff looking into my complaints and will get back to me.

      Sherry King was the Superintendent at the time, and told me that she wasn’t going to force “regular education teachers” to implement my son’s IEP because “they didn’t want to.” BOCES had offered the math teacher free instruction on how to use the calcualtor model that was NYS approved. She refused, and no one made her comply.

      Dr. Mark Orfinger, Principal of MHS is the only one left at the district that was directly involved in denying higher level scientific graphing calculators. NYS Department of Education begged him to allow it, and he said “no.” He is still on staff, and our students are still not being educated in calculator models that are Regents and SAT approved.

      The school board was made aware of our problems and did nothing. In this article Dr. Orfinger suggests that the students that are failing math came in with emotional problems. Give me a break!

      It appears that most of our math teachers still don’t know how to use higher functioning scientific graphing calculators, based on Mrs. Brause letter to Dr. Orfinger in my recent FOIL request, because none of the students are using them.

  • Anon E Mous

    Congratulations Eleanor and to your son.

    You both understand the difference between schooling and education. You both proudly seized the opportunity and confronted adversity. You both succeeded.

    Some things may be solved with a blank check, not by any means the best approach. Those who employ it do not learn what to do when the ink well runs dry, times such as now, and they fail hard.

    Hopefully the story you’ve told will encourage others to demand more achievement from the expensive system that is supposed to provide education. It will be interesting to read Dr. Fried’s response to you as it appears in your case the system deserves a failing grade.