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by Stewart S. Lilker
Proud Of Themselves June 8, 2002
Please -- Tell Me One Thing June 1, 2002
June 8, 2002

Proud Of Themselves

The exact point in time that the Freeport School District began its downward spiral is difficult to pin point. The past ten years certainly put the icing on the cake, as the district began the decade of the nineties by bamboozling the state out of a million and a half dollars by falsifying over 500,000 hours of student time cards. After a series of secret school board meetings, the board agreed that the district would pay back the money. It is unknown whether they swore an oath of silence, but none of them ever told the districtís residents that they were paying back the money.

As 1995 approached the board gutted the estate of Jeanette Kaskell, an elderly lady, who left most all of her earthly possessions to the district to be used for scholarships. A decision against the district from the Surrogate Court, by Judge Radigan, forced the New York State Education Department to find that the district squandered the estateís funds and lied to the public about Ms. Kaskellís final wishes.

Through the mid to late nineties the district continued its evil ways by lying about secret board meetings, doctoring school board minutes, changing the by-laws of the district without notifying the public, completely disregarding the NYS Freedom Of Information Law whenever it suited them, and lying about the gangs in the schools. The nineties ended on the road to destruction, by the hiring of Lottie Taylor Northover, as principal of Freeport High School and the district even lied about that, claiming she wasnít hired as a consultant, when she was.

The two thousands began with the this low wealth/high need district banning the former High School Principal from the High School and then paying him to spend the year in a closet doing basically nothing. In May of 2000, school board member, Ron Ellerbe was caught red handed stealing campaign literature. By May of 2002, the gang problem worsened as the denials heightened. Freeportís students were performing smack in the bottom of the barrel of the schools in Nassau County, the public was presented with a budget packed with lies, and the board gave the asst. superintendent of business tens of thousands of dollars in bonus money, in the middle of the night, based on an unsigned memo that had been lost since 1996.

This might seem hard to fix, but it really isnít. All the superintendent and the board have to do is come to the realization that they must stop personifying Hans Christian Andersonís "The Emperor and His New Clothes" and tell the truth. As they havenít been able to do anything else, this wouldnít appear to be that difficult.

The superintendent and the board must realize that anger and frustration rule in this community. They must work to reach out to community members, both inside and outside the schools, to those who are involved and uninvolved. They must work to reach all that are reflective of the community, the home schoolers, the private schoolers, those with and without children, and even those who have abandoned the community because of the schools.

The district must assess how people view the educational system and its leadership and then determine how these views affect the important issues facing the district. The district cannot continue to work in a vacuum and expect results.

In the mid nineties, the Dean Street Debacle made the districtís leadership look unresponsive and insensitive to the community. Nothing has changed. If the district canít break from the past, they are bound to keep repeating it until they do.

The district must look for an effective means of two way communication. They must educate the people about all the issues, not just the ones they want them to know about. Most importantly, once and for all, the district has to show the community that its leadership is willing and able to seek out and listen to the views of all before they make any final decisions.

The district must use the board newspaper, the "Freeport Pride" for more than fluff stories about administration propaganda and kids in school. It must be a vehicle to square with the public and tell the truth. When the district decides it can do away with their spin doctors, we will all know they are finally doing something right.

The district must level with the residents about the magnet schools. They must tell the truth and advise the public that the magnet schools were established to integrate the communityís grammar schools and infuse the district with one time cash infusions. Now that the money has run out, the magnet school system must be reevaluated, openly and honestly. The peopleís fears that they would be stuck financing the magnet schools when the government dollars dried up, have come true. The district must explain if the magnet schools continue to be both educationally and economically viable alternatives to normal schools.

If the districtís leadership has goals, nobody knows what they are. The district must publicize its goals for the year. The district must redesign its web site to be more than just propaganda and a catch all of useless information. Unless specific schools are showcasing programs, the district should decide on one site and one Wednesday for school board meetings, and one day for planning meetings, so that the community knows where and when they are.

The district should video tape their meetings and have the tapes available in the library for those who canít attend. They could also play them in the lobby of the administration building. They donít do it because they are ashamed of themselves. They donít want questions, because they donít have the answers.

The district should have up to date and complete minutes available in the administration building and the Freeport Memorial Library, so that all members of the community will be able to view them, without the usual hassle. The districtís minutes, like other districtís, should make a record of the peopleís concerns and the districtís answers, so that the district is held accountable. The superintendentís unrecorded and stock answer to residentís complaints, "Your words arenít falling on deaf ears," when most of the time they do, just doesnít cut it.

The board must revamp its board meetings to make them more user friendly. It must prepare complete agendas, beforehand, so that a concerned and involved public will have time to prepare for the meetings. It is incredible that the district complained that the teachers would not prepare lesson plans, while at the same time the district couldn't prepare complete meeting agendas. The hypocrisy that starts at the top must now stop at the top.

Finally, the districtís leadership must communicate with all levels of the staff. It should institute a staff newsletter and post it on the district web site, so that the whole community knows what is going on. The superintendent and the board must realize that the school district belongs to the people and not exclusively to them.

When the board and the superintendent start telling the truth; when they start believing that the people are not an impediment, but an asset that has been ignored and in many cases forced out of the schools and out of the community; when they begin to believe in themselves and the children of this district, then and only then, will the school system become what every successful school district is, the anchor of the community. If the board and the superintendent once again want to make the residents proud of their school district, they have to be proud of themselves.

June 1, 2002

Please -- Tell Me One Thing

Whenever you think it canít get any worse, it does.

Welcome to the Freeport School District, a district whose student's performance rivals those in the bottom three school districts in Nassau County. In one month the new Superintendent, Dr. Eric Eversley, and two new board members, Joe Cattano and Mike Raab will have been on board for one year. Please, tell me one good thing they have done.

As Freeportís students languish, a Superintendent, who is incapable of making a decision, and a school board that confuses bantering into the wee hours with actually doing something, lies bobbing in the water like a giant rotten whale made buoyant by its own decaying gasses. Another school year is about to end with more young lives having their futures ruined and dimmed by an impotent Superintendent and Board of Education. Let no one be fooled, the bright star that might have once been Freeportís educational system has long ago imploded and disappeared. The word is on the street. The community knows it; other districts know it; colleges and universities donít ignore it and the numbers donít lie, but the district does.

After reading a comparison of student achievement in Newsday, a grandmother, who had long since put her grandchildren into private school, called the district and inquired as to why Freeportís children achieved so near the bottom. She was told that Newsday was wrong and Freeportís students were doing much better. Newsday had the wrong numbers.

The Superintendent and some board members spread the word far and wide that the new numbers were going to be the panacea to show how well Freeportís students achieved. After it was determined that human error, not computer error, skewed the numbers, the Superintendent and the board glossed over the truth, putting their spin doctors to work. Freeportís students still achieved at or near the bottom of all Nassau County schools. The numberís didnít lie, but the district, well Ö

Freeportís high school remains gang infested and everybody knows it. When it became clear that Freeportís Police Department could not attract officers because they refused to move here and send their children to the Freeport schools and veteran police officers were abandoning the community because of the schools, Freeportís Mayor, William F Glacken and his Glackenite band of empty suits gave the police department carte blanche to move out, despite a residency law.

Every day in front of Freeport High School are four or five police cars, both in the morning and in the afternoon. They are there to prevent fights, gang fights. The Freeport Police Department is doing the real school security and as one officer was heard to say about the high school, "They have their own little police department."

The Superintendent and the Board just wonít level with the public and while board member Cattano claims he and others have addressed this problem, it is impossible to find one thing they have said in public or one thing the Superintendent has done. Indeed, board member Cattano, who long ago removed his daughter from the districtís public schools, once joked at a planning meeting that if things kept up the way they were, soon everybody would be sending their children to private school.

Where is the School Newspaper? Where is the Superintendent? Where is the Board of Education? Where is Lillian Gutman, the head of the Teacherís Union? It stretches the imagination to have one believe that in a high school with two thousand plus students a school newspaper canít be published. It doesnít stretch the imagination that nobody wants it published and nobody wants to hear the truth. A simple phone call to the high school from the Superintendent is all it would have taken. Itís as simple as that.

The evening that the state assessments were presented to the public, the Superintendent and the board would not allow any questions. When the Superintendent was asked why the agenda was changed to disallow the publicís questions, he sat paralyzed, along with the board -- unable to speak and unable to act.

Ironically, after continually proclaiming the need for more community involvement, one of the first things accomplished by the new Superintendent and board was to constructively eliminate the publicís right to speak. Led by the newly elected Mike Raab, who with his partner, Joe Cattano, had spoken out and campaigned for more access, Raab and his partner double crossed the public by not only eliminating most of the speakerís time, but by giving the Administration the right to filibuster to speakers time away.

Paralyzed by fear and unable to act, the Superintendent and the board passed up a golden opportunity to install one of the districtís veterans as interim principal in the high school, former high school Asst. Principal Ernie Kight. Not only would it have saved the district three thousand dollars a week, it would have given some stability back to the district. Why did the Superintendent put the kibosh on Kight? While no one will ever know for sure, one thing that is universal in the district, is that the Superintendent and the Board couldnít make the right decision.

The unabashed ability of the Superintendent and the board to flaunt their incompetence is mind boggling. In one year they havenít done anything productive.

The paralysis of the Superintendent and the board was evident during last monthís election. The Superintendent sat idly by as the district tallied and tabulated the election night results in a locked room out of the public view. When it was brought to the Superintendent and Boardís attention that the votes should be counted and tabulated in public, not in a locked room behind closed doors, they sat, seemingly paralyzed. When it was further brought out that one of the districtís polling places threw out one of the candidateís poll watchers, the Superintendent again sat paralyzed, as board member Raab made up some nonsense about poll watcherís certificates.

Did the school budget really pass or was the vote doctored in the back room as the Superintendent and board played dumb, doing nothing to see that an honest count was relayed to the public? Were they really paralyzed, or was the fix in? Did the Superintendent and Board finally do something? No one will ever know. Welcome to Freeport.

Coming Thursday -- The Solution ē Itís Not Too Late



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