Three East End school districts partnering to improve education

From left, Southold Superintendent David Gamberg, author Andy Hargreaves, Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, South Side High School principal Carol Burris, Plainview-Old Bethpage assistant superintendent Tim Eagen, Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen and Shelter Island Superintendent Michael Hynes. Mr. Hargreaves co-wrote "Professional Capital" with education advocate Michael Fullan, who joined the panel via Skype. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)
School district administrators and teachers gathered Thursday at Stony Brook University for a panel discussion about”Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School.” Book co-author and education advocate Michael Fullan joined the panel via Skype. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

The leaders of three local school districts have partnered up to expand educational opportunities within their schools in the midst of mandates coming down from Albany as part of what’s known as the Common Core State Standards.

During a Thursday night forum called “Public Education at a Crossroads” at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center , Southold Superintendent David Gamberg unveiled a plan in which his district will be partnering with the Shelter Island and Shoreham-Wading River school districts.

“We know that the journey of grabbing the mantle of the education reform in a positive way is more than a one-and-done event,” he said after the forum. “I know there’s good, great work happening in Shelter Island and in Shoreham-Wading River and in Southold. Why are we keeping it to ourselves?”

One goal of the partnership is to implement the principles described in the book “Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School,” by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan.

Both authors were panelists at the Stony Brook forum, with Mr. Fullan joining in via Skype.

Other panelists included superintendents Steven Cohen of Shoreham-Wading River and Michael Hynes of Shelter Island, renowned Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg, South Side High School principal Carol Burris, and Plainview-Old Bethpage assistant superintendent Tim Eagen.

NYU professor and education expert Diane Ravitch was also scheduled to be a panelist, but she wasn’t able to attend due to a family circumstance, Mr. Gamberg said at the start of the event.

“The worst teachers teach alone” and don’t collaborate with others. “How hypocritical to put them in competition?” Mr. Hargreaves said, in reference to proposed teacher incentive programs tied to student test scores.

Mr. Hargreaves and Mr. Fullan explained that their “professional capital” approach toward education is about creating a comfortable atmosphere for teachers to encourage curiosity and creativity in students.

They described the U.S.’s current direction with education as “business capital” since the focus of measuring academic success has shifted toward the reliance of test scores, among other things.

“The problem is not that education is being driven by business values — it’s being driven by ‘big business’ values,” Mr. Hargreaves said.

In addition to discussing the professional capital approach, the panel took turns explaining what they believe are deficiencies in the New York State Regents Reform Agenda — which includes at its heart the Common Core State Standards — and compared how the country’s academic performance compares to others.

Mr. Sahlberg outlined some points on why he believes Finland has a high success rate in education.

Children need time to play and aren’t expected to take on formal schooling until they are 7 years old, he said. One Finnish method of educating that was popular with the audience was requiring young students to have a 15-minute recess per hour.

“Doesn’t that sound nice?” Mr. Sahlberg asked to an applauding crowd.

In an effort to change the state’s current path toward education, Mr. Gamberg, who emceed the event, also unveiled a new lobbying effort called “Summer 2014 Education Action Institute.” He said it’s currently in the conceptual stages and explained its purpose is to rally parents and community members to encourage elected officials to participate in future workshops and events like Thursday’s forum.

State politicians were invited but declined because they’re currently in Albany, working on budget matters, Mr. Gamberg said. He said he did pass along information for those elected officials to watch the forum via live stream and is hopeful they took the time to watch it.

“The people that have the ability to affect change need to be a part of this,” he said.

Pick up the March 20th edition of the Riverhead News-Review for additional reporting.

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