As 2016 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on all the changes that took place at local schools over the past 12 months. The Suffolk Times sat down with Anne Smith, superintendent of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, and David Gamberg, shared superintendent of the Southold and Greenport school districts, to discuss the past year, which included school garden expansions, the introduction of Project Fit and increased security measures.
The Suffolk Times: Agriculture and wellness play large roles on the North Fork. How have your districts incorporated those themes this year?
Anne Smith: Of course, our agriculture program is just off the charts with excitement. We’re working with the Slow Foods movement and with the Edible Schoolyard people … Simple things like meeting with the food service providers last week and talking about how the students that are in the food service program at BOCES can be part of what we do here … We had donations for Project Fit. Then we got the Farm to School grant, which is a pretty big deal, so I’ll be working with David Gamberg and the other local districts implementing that … The greenhouse started last year, but now have done everything they wanted and it’s operating. There’s a lot of stuff growing in there right now. It’s the coolest thing.
David Gamberg: We continue to try and be creative and seek out grants. Small, little steps that we’re taking [applying for the NYS Food-to-School and Seeds of Change grants] as well as Project Fit America. The point of that is these small grants — the $68,000, the $10,000, the Project Fit America — these are ways to creatively get to provide more opportunities.
ST: What are some changes that took place this year with the Board of Education and administration?
AS: Before the board election and before the budget vote, one of my priorities was to have ongoing leadership training with the Board of Education and administration. I started to bring in speakers and trainers, so we did things just for us as a team … With the — I would say a very positive renewed interest in people wanting to be on the Board of Education, having seven people run — was an invigorating time … Amanda Barney and the teaching ambassador fellowship [in Washington, D.C.] came to our November conference day and made presentations to both the elementary and the secondary [staff] and then ran a focus group for her work with the administrators.
DG: In Southold, just prior to 2016, we had the bond passed. What this year’s been about is drilling down and looking at designing some very exciting learning spaces — interior as well as exterior athletic fields. In Greenport, we have experienced a restoration of some of the staffing that the district had experienced in previous years, but due to budgetary constraints over the years, some of those staffing positions were not sustained. We took a big step in 2016 to return the district to a staffing level that matches the variety of courses that prepare students for their future … Similarly, the year 2016 has seen an expansion in the back end of things. In other words, administrative functions that are shared. The important takeaway here is we are now in our third year, but 2016 was a big year, because we’ve expanded that to include the assistant superintendent for business, which is now a shared function … This past fall we hosted something called EdCamp on Election Day. It brought together Greenport and Southold teachers for a full day of a wide array of discussions that allowed the teachers to explore topic areas from their own expertise that they shared with one another.
ST: Were there any changes to security programs?
AS: In last year’s budget the board supported a third full-time security [position]. They do a range of things, from monitoring birthday snacks coming in at the elementary school to making sure we have actual security staff here through about 8 or 9 p.m. We’ve added security cameras throughout the district … That ties into, some of it hasn’t quite been done yet because we submitted our Smart Schools investment plan last January to the state so we’re entitled to our $283,000, but we’re still waiting for those funds to come in. As soon as that funding is released that’s going to start to change the entrance at Cutchogue East to add a layer of security to the entryway, implement more cameras, and just do a lot of upgrading with the connectivity.
DG: There’s something called a SmartBond that New York State provided to each school district, so it’s in the process. We submitted in both districts, and in both districts you’ll see some level of enhancement to security, which was one option to use the funds for. It was either technology and/or security. We are providing some degree of computer technological enhancement, and the specifics are different in each district.
ST: Where has there been progress in or changes to student programs?
AS: Of course, a significant loss we had this year was of a longstanding member of the Board of Education, Jeff Smith, who actually helped get us to be the district we’re all describing. He had wanted us, since I can remember, to have student artwork submitted in the NYS School Board convention … This past year I was very excited that we submitted work and we had work accepted. Of course, we hadn’t learned about it until after Jeff passed, but it felt like a real tribute to him that had occurred. We also had artwork accepted to this biannual global mural that was in Fairport, N.Y., and for the first time we had student artwork submitted and then recognized at the Longhouse Reserve … For many years we’ve had a National Honor Society, which is always a big deal and has been prestigious for our kids. But our district has also started an honor society for art and for foreign language, and for the first time last week we inducted members into a new honor society for music. It’s called the Tri-M Honor Society … Our virtual enterprise course, which is a business program that we started a few years ago, has really started to take off.
DG: One of the highlights certainly is the ability to offer some integrated and creative instructional support and integrate things like working in the school garden, working with teachers in creative ways to infuse science, technology, engineering, art and math. It really affects the way we are now able to see the teaching-learning process in a more integrated fashion as opposed to breaking it up … In Southold we’re taking what was basically an experiment in the SoHo TV idea and now creating a more permanent home for that program. Robotics went to the nationals this particular year. We have the virtual enterprise program, which is a new course offering that was very successful; it’s now in its second year. These are all things that, for a small school district, there are a lot of real, authentic learning opportunities students have.
ST: How would you summarize 2016 and what are you looking forward to in 2017?
AS: Our focus is building on our strengths by working closely on our partnerships and with our community — which we really value — investing in leadership capacity and professional development … So integrating our past and present as we shape our future is the next couple of months now. I feel like the year has been leading to this moment. A new board and a new direction, so what do you want to do with this energy? How do you want to tap into this energy and plan for the future?
DG: I think this particular year has solidified my belief that we derive great value in expanding the horizon of our individual districts. In 2017 I want to continue to head down the path of expanded opportunities in a cost-effective way. I just continue to appreciate the opportunities that each school community offers its students. The ability for both students and teachers to visit one another and get the chance to see things through another lens is something that is of great value.