customary lack of leadership and decision making by the top management
and board of the Freeport Schools was demonstrated again as
Freeport raced to meet the deadline for the state's mandated
With the final decision looming on the policy tonight, the
district refuses to post the draft policy on its web site in any
language. It is unknown why the district did not advise the
community that a committee was formed to develop the mandated
As the district continues to flounder with both the high school
and middle school on state watch, the district remains
controlled by the same insiders.
In February of 2001, the NYS
Board of Regents began discussing the development of a statewide
attendance policy and formed a state wide advisory council.
According to the State Education Department (SED), "there
is a positive correlation between consistent school attendance,
academic success and school completion."
A bulletin prepared by SED in
March of 2001 gave these reasons for taking attendance: "To
know the whereabouts of every student for safety and other
reasons; to determine the districtís average daily attendance
for State Aid reimbursement; to verify that individual students
are complying with various compulsory education laws; and to
identify individual and group absence patterns in order to
provide programs and services that will assist each student to
be successful in meeting higher academic standards."
In November of 2001, the Regents
received a synthesis of the recommendations of the Commissionerís
Statewide Attendance Advisory Council.
Unknown, except for the chosen
few, the district recently formed an attendance committee. While
SED required that district reach out to students, parents, and
community members, the committee was hand picked by the
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Tony Ciaglia. There were
no students or unaffiliated community members on the committee.
The top man in the district, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Eric
Eversley, did nothing to see that Ciaglia out reached to the
community. It is unknown if the school board ever knew that the
committee was formed.
On May 22, 2002, the draft
attendance policy, dated May 9, 2002,
was presented to the board. Of course, it was not available in
Spanish, nor was the policy posted on the districtís web site,
even though the district has continually claimed that this is one
of the primary ways they want to stay in touch with the
community. The policy was not sent home with the children to
give to their parents.
On June 12, 2002, for the first
time, the district allowed public comment on the attendance
policy. The Internet
use policy and part of the SAVE policy were also
discussed that evening.
Four members of the school board
were present at the meeting. They were, John Muscara, Joe
Cattano, Ron Ellerbe, and Mike Raab. It appeared that none of
them were familiar with the policy. Even though the board had
the policy for three weeks, neither the board nor the
Superintendent had any suggestions for changes.
Teachers, parents and
administrators came to the microphone with their comments and
suggestions. The largest contingent attending the meeting was
the teachers from the high school. Reflecting the lack of notice
regarding the agenda of the meeting, only a handful of parents
were in attendance.
One parent didnít think that
the policy addressed the needs of the children at the middle
Ms. Cieslik, past Co-President
of the high school PTA, asked why all the school site based
teams in the district, except that at the high school, received
the proposed attendance policy. Ciaglia explained that she would
have to take it up with the high school. When Ms. Cieslik asked
why there werenít any children represented on the committee,
Ciaglia explained that all the stakeholder groups were
represented. He could not explain why neither residents without
children nor any students were represented on the committee.
Superintendent Eversley, following in the footsteps of former
superintendent, Josephine Moffett, remained silent.
In a refreshing departure since
the days of former Superintendent Richard Bonen, who was just
about the last person of authority in the district who took any
responsibility for anything, interim high school principal,
Robin Calitri, told the board, "If any member of the
community has a problem with anything that is going on at the
high school they should be addressing me, because it is going on
my watch and that is what you hired me for and I will accept the
blame for it."
Former high school principal and
current middle school principal, Mike Campbell, who was ousted
from the high school a couple of years ago by a thoughtless,
self serving and vindictive school board, addressed the board
regarding the proposed attendance policy.
Campbell spoke extemporaneously.
He told the Board:
principal of Dodd and as a person who has been in the district
for over thirty years, I have a few concerns about the
attendance policy. I am concerned about the punitive nature of
it. Iím concerned that it appears that it is a policy
written almost entirely for the high school. Many of the
clauses in it do not apply to the elementary schools and to a
limited amount, to the middle school. Because of our policy on
social promotions, it has very little meaning in seventh and
eighth grade. Under no circumstances can a youngster be held
over in those grades more that once.
I have some
real concerns about the whole concept about holding a
youngster over and if you look at the research on that,
holding a kid back in grade is an indicator of future
dropouts. Certainly, if we do it a second time, there is a
very clear connection between those two.
I think the
whole policy itself needs to address the whole aspect of the
importance of attendance and within each school I think we
need to develop procedures to make sure that actually happens.
We have one
attendance officer throughout this district. I think that
needs to be addressed as part of this policy. It is virtually
impossible for one person to monitor seventy-two hundred kids.
has to be looked at very carefully. I donít believe that in
any way, Summer School is a reward for a youngster. I donít
believe kids look at Summer School as a reward. We have had a
lot of discussion over the last several years about improving
summer school, as part of our expanded school year and our
expanded program for those youngsters who have deficits in
their background. To deny them the opportunity to attend
summer school, we would loose the opportunity to extend the
school year for those youngsters who need it the most.
difficult issues and I understand there are no easy answers.
Some of these things apply at certain age groups. I think some
parts this current attendance policy will work at the high
school. I think they are less effective at the middle school
and almost meaningless at the elementary level. So I think at
the very least, we need to do more work on the policy.
thing, I do think they are important issues.
issue of a youngster who has been denied credit, whatever the
magic number may be, has got to be addressed. To say that
youngster is going to be in school every class every period is
not realistic. Thatís not going to happen. I think that
issue has to be addressed. If a youngster knows that they are
denied credit and denied the right to attend summer school,
you have another issue that you need to deal with, about what
we are going to do with that particular kid.
Interim Principal, Robin Calitri,
followed Campbell to the microphone. He told the Board:
is a culture in Freeport that says a child says to themselves,
"I wonít bother coming to school for a whole year,
because I can get it in summer school in six weeks." So I
am certain that before the committee made its recommendation,
they did extensive interviews with students attending summer
school, to be certain that that reason actually goes through
the mind of many of our students.
To echo my
esteemed colleague, Mr. Campbell, not only is retention, which
is what these policies are, they are retention policies. Not
only do these policies end in a particular dropping out, they
are a predictor of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy,
violence and all the other behaviors we want to correct.
suggest that this be given careful consideration. We want the
students in class. Denial of credit may be a fear that adults
understand and students who comply with rules understand and
we may be able to turn the corner with enough of our students
to change the culture of learning in Freeport, but for those
students who are disenfranchised, we have a disaster looming.
That disaster is hundreds of students who are denied credit,
in the first few weeks of school, but are told they must
remain in the classroom in order to attend summer school. Are
they going to sit and be wonderful good citizens for the
remainder of the year? Are they going to be a joy to teach,
or, are they going to contribute to the negative behavior in
classes that the teachers find difficult?
I would hope
that the board would consider some of the research on
attention and some of the research on students in Freeport, in
terms of the reasons for failure.
Your reporter, referring to
the part of the attendance policy that stated, "...
designated staff members will communicate the studentís parents and the studentís guidance
counselor within 48 hours when determination of an
unexcused absence has occurred," asked
Superintendent Eversley if he thought 48 hours, which really
amounted to three days, was an acceptable amount of time for
to contact a parent when a student didnít show up for school
Eversley stared straight ahead
refusing to speak.
Your reporter continued
addressing the Superintendent. "Letís assume a single
parent leaves for work before her child leaves for school. The
parent has the expectation that her child will show up in
school and be in its care and custody for the school day. The
child could go absent the following day and the district still
would not have to notify the parent. Under these
circumstances, could you please tell me if you think the 48
hour policy is a prudent one?"
Eversely continued to stare
straight ahead and not answer.
When it became clear that
Eversley was not going to answer, your reporter asked,
"Are you going to answer?"
Eversley thought for a moment.
Showing his annoyance, he furled his brow and after having
said nothing, answered, "You have my answer."
It is unknown whether or not
Eversley or the board thought the committeeís 48-hour time
limit for notifying a parent was excessive, as none of them
volunteered any thoughts on the matter. Indeed, other than
board member Raab, who feels compelled to comment on
everything, there were no suggestions from anyone on the board
or any of the Superintendents.
As the meeting concluded,
board member Joe Cattano complained that he was tired of
hearing people complaining instead of offering suggestions.