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Mattituck BOE to approve replacement physics teacher at Nov. 15 meeting

Board president Charles Anderson and superintendent Jill Gierasch at Thursday’s board meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

A former Mattituck High School physics teacher, who most recently taught in Port Jefferson, will return to work in the district later this month to replace Steve DeCaro during his administrative leave.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education will vote at its Nov. 15 meeting to formally approve the hiring of Tom Tomaszewski, who will teach physics and AP physics, Superintendent Jill Gierasch said.

Mr. Tomaszewski taught physics in the district from 1971 to 1988, before Mr. DeCaro joined the faculty in 1996.

“I am confident, under his instruction and guidance, our students will be well prepared to succeed on the end-of-year exams associated with the physics regents and AP physics exams,” Ms. Gierasch said.

Mr. DeCaro was placed on administrative leave the week of Oct. 7 for unspecified reasons. The following Thursday, about 200 community members attended the district’s school board meeting to express their concerns regarding the absent teacher. At the time, board president Charles Anderson said the administration was investigating Mr. DeCaro’s situation. Citing a personnel decision, board members and the superintendent declined to provide further details.

Mr. DeCaro has declined to be interviewed.

Financial arrangements with Mr. Tomaszewski have not yet been disclosed by the district. The district will continue to pay Mr. DeCaro.

According to the New York Department of Education, the starting salary for teachers in the state who have a master’s degree and eight years’ teaching experience is $85,794. But a 2013 study from Cornell University stated that among Long Island teachers with a master’s and 10 years’ teaching experience the median salary is $81,852.

According to 2018 data from the Empire Center, Mr. DeCaro was the district’s 13th highest paid employee and was earning a salary of $140,631 when he was placed on administrative leave.

Mr. Tomaszewski sent a letter to physics students and parents introducing himself. He said he had no knowledge of the reason for the decision that brought him back to the district, and he empathized with parents who expressed their concerns.

“My interest is in providing an experienced and professional learning environment for your son or daughter so that they may appreciate and hopefully love the science of physics,” he wrote. “I have had the pleasure of having students redirect their future studies toward a physical science profession — a highly rewarding outcome for any teacher.”

Steve DeCaro gives the benediction at the 2016 Mattituck graduation. (Credit: Krysten Massa, file)

After pursuing a 15-year career in computer science, Mr. Tomaszewski taught physics at Shoreham-Wading River High School from 2003 to 2014 before joining the faculty at Port Jefferson High School four years ago. He said his interest in physics and computer science mirrors that of his two sons.

“It’s likely that my career paths and interests influenced my sons’ vocations — one an IT professional and the other a physics teacher,” he said in the letter.

At a Sept. 20 school board meeting, high school principal Shawn Petretti presented the district’s annual report on Regents exam results and AP scores. A summary of all AP exams showed Mattituck students scored above the state average each of the past three years (2016-18). In AP physics, however, the mean score was below the state average for each of the past three years. Of the eight AP exams, physics was the only one where scores below state average all three years. Scores from AP world history and AP European history exams were also below state average in two of the past three years.

From 2016 to 2018, the number of students scoring a 4 on the physics Regents, the highest grade level, decreased by 53.24 percent. That means that more than half of students who took the exam last year scored a 3 or lower. During the meeting, Mr. Petretti said that the physics Regents scores were down because more students took the course.

“Fifty-four percent of our seniors took physics last year — that’s a high percentage in the high school,” he said.

The mean score of AP physics results in Mattituck was about 2 in 2016 and 2017 and dropped to 1.63 last year. The national and state averages for the past three years were slightly above 3.5.

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Petretti said he and Mr. DeCaro had discussed the results of the AP exam.

“We’ve had different conversations with the teacher as far as how could we improve those grades,” he said that evening. “He’s not happy about it, either. It’s a difficult test and we have a high number of kids participating in the class, and we certainly don’t want to limit that. I don’t have a solution for that, and it’s been pretty consistent like that for a while.”

In a statement released Nov. 1, Ms. Gierasch said she’s confident in Mr. Tomaszewski’s teaching skills and feels students will be prepared for final exams.

“Not only does he have an outstanding reputation and a myriad of experiences that will enhance instruction, he also has a familiarity with our school district,” she said.

Photo caption: Mattituck school board president Charles Anderson and Superintendent Jill Gierasch at the Oct. 18 school board meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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