11/21/13 2:28pm
11/21/2013 2:28 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | David Gamberg talks to Greenport school officials after Wednesday night's meeting.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Greenport school board president Heather Wolf (left) and member Lisa Murray speaking with Southold Superintendent David Gamberg (right) after Tuesday night’s meeting.

Two concerned moms took to the podium at Wednesday night’s Southold school board meeting to question plans by the Southold and Greenport school districts to share a superintendent starting next year.

Amy Doering, the parent of a third grader in Southold, asked what the benefit to Southold would be in sharing the current, Southold-only superintendent David Gamberg — particularly when making difficult decisions.

“When there comes an issue that could affect this district over the other, which hat do you wear at that point?” Ms. Doering asked.

Erin Kaelin, parent of a second-grade student approached the microphone to say she has “a ton of questions about” the move.

Among them: “Is this the first step on consolidating the two schools?”

No other residents spoke on the matter.

Both Mr. Gamberg and school board president Paulette Ofrias assured the arrangement would not lead to merging the two North Fork districts.

“This is actually an opportunity to allow each school to maintain its identity,” Ms. Ofrias said. “I think it will prevent that.”

Ms. Ofrias said discussions of the shared superintendent position started in August – when Greenport school board members approached Mr. Gamberg about the position.

Between August and November, Southold and Greenport school boards met four times to discuss the position, Ms. Ofrias said, adding there were “reservations among both boards,” but that the decision ultimately “rested on Mr. Gamberg and his family’s shoulders.”

Mr. Gamberg took time to reflect on the decision.

“l continue every single night to think about the potential, all of the good that can come of this, but I am not unaware of all of the challenges that come with that,” Mr. Gamberg said.

“In my mind I do envision down the road there will be greater savings both financially and programmatically,” he continued. “And I think it will work to our advantage for both Southold students and Greenport students.

“I think that it’s something that the times we live in may have given rise to this… we wouldn’t be the very first.”

Board member Scott Latham said “this was an education-first idea.”

“Yes, there is going to be great saving; but the whole thought process from the get-go was to enhance the student experience here and in Greenport,” Mr. Latham said.

That chance to enhance education opportunities is worth trying something new, said board vice president Judi Fouchet.

“Without risk you don’t know what will happen,” Ms. Fouchet said. “If it doesn’t work, I also know that we are a board of people that have no problem saying, ‘This is not working; this is not something that should be moved forward.’ If that’s the case.”

Scott DeSimone was the only Southold board member to say outright he was not in favor of the decision, but that “if it was the will of the board, I am going to give it my full support. We’ve got to make it work and I’ll do what I need to make it a success.”

Ms. Doering said after the meeting that she was still opposed to the idea of sharing a superintendent.

“My biggest reservation as a parent is that it’s going to be to the detriment of the students here,” Ms. Doering said. “A person can’t possibly have enough time to devote to a group of students that large. I don’t see why the residents, we the district, would want this.”

Ms. Ofrias said there will be many challenges and questions that come up, but added, “I don’t see a downside for doing it for two years. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. That just means it didn’t work right for us here.”

Mr. Gamberg said he would need the help of both districts to make the move a success.

“I have a lot of confidence in what I know of both boards of education and I have a lot of confidence in the staff members of both districts and that’s really where much of this is going to be successful,” he said, “in the trust I have in people and building their capacity because I think that’s how any organization advances.”

Greenport school board members and Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda, attended Wednesday night’s meeting as well.

Ms. Ofrias said a few Southold board members will be also attending tonight’s meeting in Greenport.

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11/14/13 4:00pm
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Southold students plant a redbud tree in honor of Ronan Guyer, the Southold teen who suffered a heart attack and died last year.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Southold students plant a redbud tree in honor of Ronan Guyer, the Southold teen who suffered a heart attack and died last year.

Southold sophomore Billy Bucci recalled the things he and his longtime friend Ronan Guyer used to do: play football, practice lacrosse in their yards, volunteer as boy scouts.

They would go sailing, racing each other at the Southold Yacht Club. Ronan always seemed to win, Billy said.

“He was always determined to do the best he could,” Billy said.

Ronan died one year ago today after suffering a heart attack during a practice run for the  state cross country championships upstate. His sudden death send shockwaves through his close-knit class, and for months, his classmates mourned.

But a few months after Ronan died, the sophomore class got together and began brainstorming a way to honor the beloved teen, Billy said.

“He was a very loyal friend,” Billy said. “I don’t think anyone could ever remember anything mean he ever said.”

On Wednesday, the class finished the first step of their plans by planting a tree in memory of Ronan on the high school grounds.

About a dozen students — including freshman and upperclassmen — gathered around the small redbud tree as members of the sophomore student council and friends of Ronan dug a hole, set the sapling inside and filled and watered it.

The sapling was donated by Imbriano Farms in Southold, who also helped the students plant the tree. A plaque

The students are also planning to paint a mural in the school’s science wing for Ronan that will show the things he loved: snowboarding and mountains, yachts and a sunset and even a group of penguins.

Now that his tree has been planted, student will begin work on Ronan’s mural soon.

Special Education teacher and class advisor Kristen Derrigan said the plans were made entirely by the students.

“They’re the ones that scheduled the meetings, they’re the ones that said ‘we want to plant a tree,’ ” she said. “They’ve done it all … it’s genuinely from the heart.”

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09/02/13 4:00pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Southold Union Free School District superintendent David Gamberg at a board of education meeting earlier this year.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Southold Union Free School District superintendent David Gamberg at a board of education meeting earlier this year.

As we embark on the start of a new school year, educators must remain deeply committed to the vision of having our students further develop the skills, habits of mind and dispositions that will allow them to thrive both in and outside of school. Ultimately, we must be mindful of the core elements of our mission.

Nurturing a climate in each and every classroom, activity and moment with the caring adults of any school is a key ingredient to success. We must continue to impart the knowledge and inquiry into subject matter, as well as create a thirst for finding a place in the world that should be the hallmark of every quality school. All stakeholders should become part of the ongoing dialogue that allows us to work collaboratively toward realizing the mission and vision of each school district.

Preparations are well underway for the opening of school throughout the North Fork. I now find myself taking the time to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead. While doing so, I am mindful of what we must celebrate in terms of all that we should afford our students to learn and grow. Communities must steadfastly protect opportunities for students to discover more about themselves and the world around them in academics, the arts and extracurricular activities. These valuable experiences collectively educate the whole child.

It is no secret that during the past few years we have witnessed major challenges to the status quo in education and throughout our larger society. Within education, those who are charged with the responsibility of engaging students for an unknown future have been subjected to an untold number of calls to “change the way we do business.” The pressure to perform permeates throughout the schoolhouse, from 8- and 9-year-olds to the most veteran of educators.

There is no shortage of opinions as to the culprits that conspire to blame public education for the economic, political and social ills that we confront in a democratic society.

Horace Mann, considered the father of American education, famously said, “The public school is the greatest discovery made by man.” I still believe this to be true and now, more than ever, I work each day to strengthen the covenant between our schools and the community that we serve. To paraphrase Dr. Haim Ginott, no system or technology, however sophisticated it may be, can replace the enduring value of building rapport between a teacher and a child.

I do not feign progress, nor do I reject the use of powerful learning tools and protocols that have developed over many decades of research and study.   We must become learning organizations, flexible and dynamic places that aspire to uphold the values of our community and the integrity of the teaching profession. Yes, there are many competing views of how to accomplish this — a return to the good old days, a desire to change with the times, face a new reality or continue to hold out for a vision of what we have yet to realize.

At a time when powerful interests claim to have the formula for fixing what is wrong with public education from the tip of Long Island to the New York State border with Canada and every school community in between, I would submit that each locality has an obligation to chart its own course, mindful of seeking to discover the essential elements of a quality education. What works in one community may or may not work in another, so it is not simply a matter of creating a cookie-cutter approach in defining such qualities.

As we begin this school year we welcome kindergartners, or the class of 2026, and we move toward the final phase of a 13-year journey with our high school seniors. Challenges were, are and always will be a part of what is experienced in a given school year — whether by local or global events, changes in technology or any other factor that impacts our daily lives.

I look forward to the school year with a renewed determination to maintain the interests of our students, staff, families and communities as we look to the future while having a reverence for the rich heritage of the North Fork.

Mr. Gamberg is the superintendent of the Southold Union Free School District.

03/02/12 5:00pm
03/02/2012 5:00 PM

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Southold Superintendent David Gamberg.

I invite you to think back, not to your favorite teacher, but to the one who was most effective.

Chances are that despite our chosen paths in life, we come away with some common threads that run through what we all experienced when we learned from an effective teacher. The ability to inspire us, relate to us, hold us accountable for our actions and treat us with dignity would probably stand out.

Even if we preferred teachers who were strict and dispensed tough love, we knew we were treated fairly and those teachers were doing their best for us. These qualities led to learning important lessons that serve us well as adults.

Now fast-forward to the latest plan to measure teacher and principal effectiveness. New York has joined with other states around the country to impose a system of measurement that on first blush appears to be long overdue. Known as the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), the system of evaluation is a multifaceted approach to review all aspects of educator performance and includes the use of student test scores as a factor in rating performance. There is no doubt that education stands to improve in order to meet the demands of a highly competitive society, however there are many unforeseen consequences of this ill-conceived system.

It’s all too easy to look around and blame kids, parents, teachers and others for not having the qualities that we saw in evidence during the good old days. I do not for a moment deny that contemporary society (within which schools and education exist) is undergoing transformative changes in business, culture and civic life. Not all of this may be seen as progress.

The demands of our community at a local as well as a national level call for change and/or a return to a civility that seems absent from our current dialogue on so many levels. So much that we see and hear is an affront to our senses. However, the new, more punitive “fix” for our schools does more harm than good.

Those aspects of our curriculum that promote critical thinking, a strong work ethic and the ability to solve complex problems stand to lose as a result of this evaluation system. When given the choice between preparing for one test that will be used as part of the way to measure teacher performance or having students take the time to develop the skills and attributes used in work and citizenship, both teachers and principals will focus time and resources on preparing children for high stakes tests that take place on just a handful of days out of the school year.

Preparation for a music concert, project-based learning and other authentic, purposeful student engagement will give way to an over-reliance on test preparation. A generation of our youth may pass the tests, but fail to become the civic-minded, entrepreneurial citizens that our nation demands for future success.

I recently looked at old documents found in the school district office dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. These artifacts showed students performing in plays, teachers working together, celebrations of the arts, debating teams and the like — all of which will suffer when we place a narrow band of being successful around our modern day definition of educating our youth. I’m concerned with what this will do both now and in the future.

The promise of having young men and women mature and become thoughtful citizens who deepen their understanding of the world through a curiosity promoted by their teachers will not be advanced under a regime that seeks to stigmatize and punish. In a recent New York Times opinion piece even Bill Gates, a harsh critic of the old system of teacher evaluation, cautions against shaming educators by publishing teacher scores in the media. If this is not the solution, where should we look to improve?

Look no further than at the effects of real school reform that has taken place in Finland over the past 30 to 40 years. There’s no comparable APPR in that system. They regularly outperform much of the rest of the world (including the U.S.) in reading, math and science, and they do so with grace and integrity.

There are examples of the qualities that are associated with effective teaching practices in the United States, but these pockets of excellence will retreat from the pursuit of exemplary work in the face of potential public humiliation.

The consequence of this effort to “reform” education is to drive money, energy and attention into a thinly focused set of criteria at the expense of promoting the best in what we want, deserve and expect in our students who graduate our schools. We want our students to appreciate and value hard work, dedication, commitment and the ability to successfully challenge themselves to become their own personal best. Much of this cannot be measured under the new system.

Education cannot be exempt from necessary changes that are well under way in one industry after another. The rapidly changing conditions in the economy represent a challenge and opportunity to improve, but these improvements must be carefully constructed, based upon the best evidence at hand.

It has been said that success leaves clues. We should look around the world to see such success that must be emulated in an effort to promote the best in our schools. The newly enacted fix for education in New York State is not reflective of that evidence.

Mr. Gamberg is superintendent of Southold Schools.

02/23/12 3:30pm
02/23/2012 3:30 PM

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.

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04/14/11 8:00am
04/14/2011 8:00 AM

Southold teachers have agreed to give back $2,000 in salary a year for the next two years to help the school district control costs, it was announced at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Southold Board of Education. The give-backs from the teachers will save the district approximately $200,000 a year for the next two years, Superintendent David Gamberg said.

The agreement came during contract talks that the teachers agreed to open with the district even though they still had two years to go on their current contract. As part of the deal, the contract will be extended two more years and the teachers will receive 2 percent raises during the final two years.

Also on Wednesday, the school board adopted a proposed 2011-12 budget of $26.25 million, a 2.25 percent spending increase over the $25.67 million budget for the current school year. If approved by voters in May, the budget is expected to raise the school tax rate 2.08 percent, costing a homeowner whose property is assessed at $500,000 an additional $97.92 in taxes, Mr. Gamberg said.

The teachers, he said, had acted to help the district preserve educational programs and out of concern for taxpayers they knew had been hard hit by the economy.

Teachers didn’t have to open talks on a revised contract, board member Scott DeSimone said, expressing appreciation that they had cared enough to do so. “We were able to restore programs because of that,” he said.

A full story on the district’s budget proposal will appear in The Suffolk Times April 21 edition.

10/20/10 3:29pm
10/20/2010 3:29 PM

While testing of students is mandated, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, one local school superintendent maintains that high scores on those tests aren’t necessarily a sign that real learning is taking place in the classroom.
Southold Superintendent David Gamberg so strongly believes that test scores don’t render a full picture of student achievement that he opted out of the competition for federal Race to the Top funds, which would have netted his district only about $14,000 over a four-year period, he told Board of Education members at their work session Oct. 13.
To chase that bit of money by enhancing the focus on test results would have compromised the pursuit of excellence in education, he said.
During the work session, Mr. Gamberg showed a brief trailer from a YouTube video, “The Race to Nowhere,” demonstrating the increased pressure on students to perform well on tests.
He also pointed to a book by former assistant secretary of education Diane Ravitch, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” Ms. Ravitch maintains that testing is narrowing the curriculum and resulting in more cheating and “gaming” of the system, Mr. Gamberg said. It also erodes local control of public education, he added.
“The primary challenge is to see if we have taught our children to use their minds well,” Mr. Gamberg said. That means making students critical thinkers, adept users of technology and informed consumers with a sense of responsibility to their families and community, he said.
Board member Judi Fouchet said students need to be encouraged to accept mistakes and use them as a learning tool.
To improve the educational experience for Southold students, board members and Mr. Gamberg want to survey graduates to find out how well prepared they were for the world they faced upon graduation. A concerted effort to get e-mail addresses from alumni and graduating seniors will be undertaken, he said.
The superintendent wants to identify gaps in achievement and address ways to improve the educational experience while controlling spending, he said.
Mr. Gamberg proposed establishing voluntary panels of teachers to assess students beyond what test data reveals. He has previously suggested that students collect portfolios that represent what they have learned from the time they enter school to the time they leave the district.
Ms. Fouchet said she was suspicious of an increased emphasis on substituting charter schools for under-performing public schools. She said she suspected the policy results from legislators who may have made investments in privatizing education, she said. Instead of improving the public school, it’s a way of taking the public education system down, she said.
Mr. Gamberg said global competition is real, and related an African proverb about how gazelles wake up each morning knowing they must run to avoid being killed by lions while lions wake up knowing they must catch gazelles to survive.
Whether you’re a gazelle or a lion, Mr. Gamberg said, “When the sun comes up, you better be running.”
His goal, he told board members, is to examine everything the district does in terms of its effect on improving educational excellence.
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