Oysterponds community meets final two principal candidates

James Williams

The two finalists for the vacant principal position at Oysterponds Elementary introduced themselves to the community Wednesday during a Q&A session aimed at helping the Board of Education make its choice.

Either James Williams, an elementary assistant principal in the Three Village School District, or Francoise Wittenburg, assistant principal at Arlington High School in Lagrangeville, NY, could be hired by the end of the month. Board members said they intend to visit the two finalists at their current schools and could choose a finalist at their next meeting June 21.

The finalists were narrowed down from 45 educators who sought the job.

The questions Wednesday ranged from queries on state testing to how they would adapt to working in the North Fork district.

Francoise Wittenburg

Both agreed that while mandated state testing is necessary, it’s not the mark of how good an education students are receiving, nor should efforts at remediation be delayed while awaiting test results.

“If kids are falling short, intervene now,” Ms. Wittenburg said. Testing is lowering expectations, she said. Each student needs to have individual goals and “frequent and continual assessments” of their progress, she said.

Students need to be “immersed in quality learning” and exposed to “enriching experiences” that build an excitement in them about learning, said Mr. Williams.

Calling the New York State Education Department approach to testing “a work in progress,” Mr. Williams said test results are only one measure of a student’s abilities and it’s incumbent on the principal to find a balance between performance on tests and mastery of skills necessary to succeed.

“The test becomes the curriculum” in some schools and “that’s not engaging” for the students, Ms. Wittenburg said.

Both acknowledged that they would be coming from much larger school districts, but said their approach to management wouldn’t have to be substantially different.

For Mr. Williams, Oysterponds would afford “an opportunity to touch more kids more often” and “get in the mix of learning,” he said.

Ms. Wittenburg said she liked the “quiet” she experienced visiting Oysterponds. In any district, you encounter three kinds of people, she said. There are those who understand and embrace your ideas, those who don’t understand and those who disagree with your goals.

“I really like to get to know people” and to understand why someone might not embrace the goals, she said.

How would they control gossip in the community?

Mr. Williams said it’s not a matter of control, but of navigating through it and distinguishing what’s important and what isn’t.

For Ms. Wittenburg, it comes down to frequent and transparent communication, she said.

Both embrace technology but want to assure students are learning fundamental skills of reading, writing and mathematics.

Summing up their approach to the job, Mr. Williams said, “In order to know where you are going, it’s important to know where you have been.” He would want to get a sense of what’s working and what isn’t before trying to implement changes.

His aim is to create an atmosphere where all students are challenged and given an opportunity to succeed academically and socially.

Ms. Wittenburg, who developed an international baccalaureate program that embraces critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and written skills, said she wants to implement such a model for Oysterponds students.

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