Southold School Board Notes: District gets high marks on special education report

Southold schools got a positive report at Saturday’s board meeting on the district’s responsiveness to the needs of special education students. The report came from federal administrators of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Pupil personnel administrator Cindy Allentuck, new to Southold this year, told board members the federal assessment showed that Southold uses “very reliable practices” in assisting its special education students and that “by and large” procedures are appropriate to meet the requirements of students with special needs.
There have been some changes in state regulations, Ms. Allentuck said. She’ll be looking at ways to make sure the district continues to comply.
In the past, the district has come under heavy criticism from parent Donna Dzugas-Smith, who still has lawsuits pending against Southold for what she has charged were inadequate programs for her children. Ms. Dzugas-Smith couldn’t be reached for comment about the IDEA report.

Following a discussion at the board’s October meeting, Superintendent David Gamberg reached out to the other school districts in Southold Town to ascertain whether they have any interest in studying options for school consolidation. It could mean anything from full consolidation of entire districts to consolidation of specific functions, some of which are already being shared.
The districts often cooperate on transportation, some purchasing and some programs, including the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and the robotics club. In the past, they have also shared some specific educational programs.
Before Southold could consider seeking funding for such a study, it would need at least one other district to express interest, board member Judi Fouchet said.
Former board member Don Wagner said at the meeting that taxpayers can no longer afford five superintendents in town and quoted from a letter he’d received from Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) saying he would help with a request to secure funding for a study. Mr. Wagner said those who argue about the importance of local control of their schools should realize that with all the state and federal mandates, individual boards already don’t have much control.

It used to be that discussion of changes to a school’s playground generally focused on equipment, like swings or jungle gyms. But Ms. Fouchet is working with a committee to explore what she said would be a way to change and enhance the playground concept to help students become independent learners.
What she called a “playscape” could include gardens, for example, so students could learn about plants, and quiet spots where children could sit and read. Another element could be a living chess board, a concept students seem to embrace enthusiastically, she said. Basically, her committee is focused on ideas that will encourage children to use their imaginations and develop their own games and activities.
Ms. Fouchet said she wasn’t ready to spell out a full plan yet, but added that as she and committee members continue to develop it, she will return to the building and grounds committee with a full report, including the feasibility and costs associated with developing a playscape.
“We’re at the wish phase right now,” Ms. Fouchet said.

Regulation changes are anticipated in July 2011 that will affect how the performance of teachers and administrators is assessed, Mr. Gamberg said. There’s “a lot of uncertainty” about how the new regulations will work, he said. They’re all part of efforts to improve the quality of education in schools throughout the country, according to the superintendent, who said he expects having more detailed information by spring and will hold a work session with board members at that time to discuss the changes.
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