Southold has joined other local school districts in readying its teachers for a new set of state benchmarks, known as “common core standards,” designed to prepare students for college and 21st century careers.
The common core program integrates learning in different subject areas while focusing on the literacy and mathematics skills needed for problem solving throughout educational settings.
Southold High School principal William Galati and elementary school principal Ellen O’Neill presented an overview of the new standards to the Southold school board on Feb. 15.
Ms. O’Neill said that schools will be shifting reading assignments during students’ elementary school years so that by the time they enter high school, half of their reading is fiction and half is non-fiction.
“That doesn’t mean in kindergarten they’ll read non-fiction,” she said. “Literary texts are very important. We need to keep that, especially at the younger grades.”
She added that by the end of high school, 30 percent of student reading will be literary and 70 percent informational.
“This approach is not an inch deep and a mile wide,” she said. “There will be fewer topics, but they’ll be much deeper. The mind set here is they will be able to take what they know and use it in other situations.”
Mr. Galati said Regents tests have already shifted toward more constructive questions, unlike when he became an educator 23 years ago, when questions were mostly multiple choice.
“It’s allowing more creativity,” he said.
Ms. O’Neill added that since every teacher, regardless of the subject, will focus on student literacy, teachers will spend more time collaborating across subjects and grade levels, and between the elementary and high school, to build on foundations set at the lower grade levels.
In response, some board members expressed concern that the common core agenda, like the federal No Child Left Behind effort, may look good on paper but be stifling in its implementation.
“I think we all agree that the vision is a good vision,” board member Judi Fouchet told the principals. “You guys have your work cut out for you with the realities of that. If it’s not looking like it’s good for the kids, we’re going to push back.”
Ms. O’Neill said the state is planning to align its new tests to reflect the change in instruction methods.
“We’re not going to stop teaching to teach to the test,” she said. “They’re saying if you align to the common core, students should do well on tests.”
Superintendent David Gamberg said he hopes to give teachers time to revamp their curriculums to reflect the new standards.
“Teachers need time to be reflective,” he said. “It’s about having a critical thinking lens. That realization is one of the shifts, and it’s a big shift for teachers … It’s process and not just content. That’s a shift.”
FOUNDATION TO RAISE FUNDS
Ms. Fouchet is looking into creating a foundation to help raise money to support school programs. That effort would attempt to find a new revenue stream at a time when state aid is threatened and districts have to adhere to a strict property tax cap.
She told the board Feb. 15 that the school is considering the establishment of a foundation board of directors with seven to nine members appointed by the board. She said she expects Mr. Gamberg will be a member, at least initially.
“I’m hoping we can get it up and running in a month or two,” she said.