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Against Standardized Testing

Let me say at the outset that I do not approve of using standardized tests as a significant factor in evaluating teachers. However, assuming that the state tests are given more weight, it is extremely important to focus on how they are being used. Based on the results presented in The New York Times on March 23, the equation used to compute teacher effectiveness serves only one purpose: to make the best school districts in New York State look like the worst. Let me present a few examples: Great Neck, Manhasset, Jericho, Syosset, Herricks, Port Washington, Roslyn and Garden City, to name just a few, were all given teacher effectiveness ratings of less than 10 percent. Yet all of these school districts had very high scores on the state tests!

The fact that the NYS Department of Education concocted a statistical formula to completely distort the truth is deplorable. Not only are the teachers portrayed as incompetent, the students are as well, because teacher ratings are based on student performance.

We in Great Neck, knowing that our children actually do very well on the state tests, may not feel properly threatened by the use of the tests to evaluate teachers. In fact, we need to respond very proactively to what is a very real threat. The threat is not only to our teachers. The quality of our schools is also threatened because the teachers will increasingly “teach to the test,” which means that other, more enriching activities will be sacrificed. In a more long-range view, if people think that our school systems are failing, they may no longer view our communities as desirable places to move to and raise their families.

I believe that a very effective strategy is to “opt out” of the tests altogether. More and more districts throughout the state are adopting this strategy. It is not up to school personnel to encourage this course of action, it’s up to us as parents.

Parents: talk to your school administrators and PTA leaders to learn more about how this works. We really do have the power in this situation to protect our children and our communities and to send a message to Albany!

Amy Glass

Save The Saddle Rock Grist Mill

To Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano

(This letter, dated Dec. 11, 2014, was originally sent to the County Executive back in December without a response. At the writer’s request. the letter is now being printed as an open letter to the editor.)

The Saddle Rock Grist Mill, a historic 18th-century building, owned by the County of Nassau under the authority of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums, is in disrepair.

According to Wikipedia, the building “is a historic grist mill building located in Saddle Rock, a village in the town of North Hempstead in Nassau County, New York. It is a two-and-a-half story gambrel-roofed structure. Adjacent is a stream-fed millpond that is supplemented by tidal water impounded by the dam. It dates to the 18th century and is the only extant, operating tidal grist mill on Long Island. The building underwent restoration in the 1950s and is operated as a local history museum.”

In reality, it is closed, has not worked in years, does not operate as a local museum, the signage outside the locked gate suggests that it is closed because of employee illness, suffered Superstorm Sandy damage ([for]which I believe no claim was ever filed), is currently unsafe for public use and is in total disrepair and neglect.

While the Grist Mill is on the United States National Register of Historic Places, the county has demonstrated no plans to maintain this historic 1702 building, once used as a kid-friendly educational place. Now relegated to a neglected historical structure, [it has] little value to Nassau’s historical past.

While I know your administration has financial limitations, I call upon you, as county executive, to put the full force of your office behind saving this national treasure. I understand that there might be grant funds to help restore the Grist Mill.

Charles Schneider, vice president, external relations, Great Neck Historical Society

He Thanks Ellen

I want to express my appreciation to Nassau County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum, who worked tirelessly with the various county agencies and departments to have Middle Neck Road repaved in the village. It’s truly a marvel to see and experience the difference. I don’t know anyone works harder for her constituents than Ellen Birnbaum and we can all feel confident that if a problem arises she will be out front fighting hard for us all the time.

Sam Husney

Volunteer Firefighters Needed

New York needs more volunteer firefighters and first responders, and on April 25 and 26, fire departments across the state will open their doors and welcome the community.

Whether their house is on fire, a hurricane has flooded their basement or a loved one is experiencing a medical emergency, countless New Yorkers rely upon their neighbors to answer the call. There are thousands of volunteer firefighters in New York State who stand ready, and these brave men and women are proud to help their fellow citizens in times of need.

Volunteer firefighters are just that: volunteers. These dedicated individuals provide critical, lifesaving services to their communities on their own time, without pay. Statewide studies show that providing these services on a volunteer basis saves New Yorkers roughly $2.8 billion in salaries and benefits, equipment, and general operations costs every year.

They are your local small business owners, police officers, students, and computer programmers. They live down the street, around the corner and up the block…simply put, volunteer firefighters are neighbors helping neighbors. And together, we are looking for some more neighbors to help us out.

New York’s statewide recruitment event, RecruitNY, is fast approaching. On April 25 and 26, fire departments across the state will open their doors and welcome the community. Volunteer firefighters will be on hand to show their neighbors and friends what it means to be a first responder. They will conduct tours, provide equipment demonstrations and will be available to discuss what it means to be a volunteer firefighter.

The stark truth is we need more volunteers. The number of volunteer firefighters has been dropping precipitously over the past several years, and this is happening during a time when firefighting is evolving into something more challenging than before. In a post 9/11 world, and an environment where we face “generational storms” much more frequently, the men and women of the fire service require far more training and specialized skills than in the past. Today’s firefighters are responding to more emergencies every year.

Growing responsibilities and escalating challenges faced by volunteer fire departments have stretched resources ever thinner; more volunteers are needed to help staff New York’s firehouses. Our brave volunteers provide an invaluable and cost-effective service to their neighbors and their communities, but they cannot do it alone.

Come on down to your local firehouse during the RecruitNY weekend. Hundreds of fire departments will be participating: visit www.recruitny.org to see which one is closest to you. Visit your neighbors who dedicate so much of their time and their lives to making your community a safer place. You might even decide to join us.

At the very least, you’ll go home with a renewed sense of appreciation and understanding of the tremendous service that these dedicated individuals provide.

—Robert McConville, president, of Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY),

CVS Cat Community

It has come to my attention that the little community cat colony behind CVS on Middle Neck Road is being threatened with eviction. I understand that residents on Preston Road consider the cats disturbing and would like them eliminated.

I urge the community, whomever is in charge of this, to reconsider removing the cats. It would be shameful if the cats were taken to a shelter and exterminated. These are purrrr-fectly good cats (no pun intended) and it would be a shame to see them disturbed.  I agree that plates of food and refuse by the cats is inappropriate but it looks like that has been cleaned up. I have community cats in my backyard and feel that they may keep the field mouse population down.  Anyway, that’s how the plague started in Europe—with the elimination of community cats. So let’s be kind to our animal friends and try to find a compromise so that they can keep their home.

It would be excellent if the community would reconsider and save our cats! I often visit the community cat colony and see the black cat patrolling the CVS parking lot for his clan. Animal lovers unite.  Perhaps there is a solution for the residents that would not involve displacing the cats and putting them in danger of extermination. Remember: the true worth of a society is how nice we are to animals.

Leslie Feldman

Fire, Home Safety Tips

Smoke Alarms

Install smoke alarms inside and outside of each bedroom and sleeping area. Make sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of your home, including your basement.

Smoke alarms should be on the ceiling or high up on walls. Keep them at least 10 feet from the
stove to cut down on false alarms. Follow manufactures guides on proper placement of carbon monoxide alarms.

Use interconnected alarms, so when one sounds they all sound.

Test every alarm once per month by pressing the test button.

When you change your clock, change the battery in your smoke alarm as well as your carbon monoxide alarm.

Replace all carbon monoxide alarms every five years and all smoke alarms every 10 years.

Make sure all outlets in your residence are GFCI and inspect all electrical cords periodically for damage.

Cooking Safety

Turn pot handles inward, facing the wall, to prevent burns caused by overturning or spills.

Never put water on a grease fire, use an extinguisher and call the Fire Department.

Have a pot lid and container of baking soda on hand to smother a pan fire. Do not use water.

Treat burns immediately with cool running water and seek medical attention.

Designate ovens, stoves, and heat producing appliances as a “No Go” zone for children.

Position the blech (stovetop burner cover) so heat can escape from all sides without heating walls, cabinets, and counters.

Never put linens of any kind on top of your blech or stove top.

Never cover oven vents with aluminum foil.

Never leave appliances which are turned on unattended and always check all electrical chords for damage.

Candle Safety

Use sturdy candle holders, with flame-protective non-combustible (glass or metal) shades or globes.

Place candles at least four feet away from curtains, draperies, blinds, kitchen cabinets, and bedding.

Secure hair and clothing, such as sleeves or aprons, from the flame when handling candles.

Light candles out of children’s reach and where they cannot be knocked over.

Never leave candles unattended and keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.

Use extra caution when lighting yahrzeit candles and keep them on a heat resistant surface away from flammable materials.

If There Is A Fire

Each family makes a home escape plan and locate two ways out of every room. Families should have a fixed meeting place outside of the house to be able to account for everyone. If there are infants, older adults, family members with mobility limitations and/or children who may not wake to the sound of a smoke alarm, someone should be assigned to assist them in an emergency. Do not try to fight a fire yourself, get out and stay out. Make sure to close the door behind you (to rooms as well as the front/back door to your house) which will help limit the fire from spreading. Calling 911 will delay fire department response so know who provides fire and ambulance service to your house and make sure to know their direct phone number. If you have any questions about which department to call, email me your address to jforst@gnfd.org.

—Joshua Forst, Chief of Department, Vigilant Engine & Hook & Ladder Co., Inc.

Thomaston Mayor Says “Thanks”

I would like to thank the residents of Thomaston and especially my friends and neighbors who turned out to vote for me as mayor and for Gary Noren and Jill Monoson as trustees.

We look forward to working together with the rest of the board of trustees in service to the Village of Thomaston.

Thank you.

Mayor Steven Weinberg, Village of Thomaston

Re Facebook Anti-Semitism Post

By now, most readers of this newspaper have learned about the Facebook graphic on which a student, from outside the Great Neck district, drew symbols of Nazism. Many in our town responded vocally to this blatant act of anti-Semitism. Although some among us responded (both verbally and in print) a little too impulsively and without knowledge of the facts, most responded out of grave and passionate concern. Continuous acts of hatred, whether directed at Jews or other religious and ethnic groups, have no place in Great Neck nor in any community. Fortunately, the school administration responded immediately. There will never be unanimity when it comes to determining an appropriate and just response to such heinous acts, but we encourage the school leadership to continue teaching both students and parents about the values of tolerance and respect we so dearly cherish.

When someone commits a bias crime, that crime affects all of us, and not exclusively the religious or ethnic community to which that crime was directed. To live in Great Neck means that we commit to living in a diverse community and that we take responsibility for enhancing the quality of life for all people. As representative of the Great Neck clergy, I urge colleagues of all faith groups to join together in ongoing dialogue; so that we may help address all issues of intolerance and bias, regardless of to whom that bias is directed.

On a positive note: Although we tend to publicize incidents of intolerance, I want to share a wonderful illustration of how diversity can bring us together. In February, the South Middle School held its annual Cultural Heritage Night. The first part of the evening included an impressive display of the food and culture which reflected the various ethnic communities in the school. The latter part of the evening was devoted to dances performed by Middle School students; dances which also reflected our ethnic diversity, Hispanic, Greek, Armenian, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Israeli to name a few. As I was honored to choreograph the Israeli dance, I watched not only the performers, but the students (most of the school, I believe). Following each performance, students applauded wildly and with great pride. One dance was performed by a single male student, dressed in the clothing of his family’s culture. During and following his performance, no one laughed or spoke derisively. This boy received a loud reception when he finished; every student in the auditorium appreciated his efforts. Perhaps I missed a larger picture, but from my vantage point, I only witnessed pride, joy and a celebration of diversity.

We in Great Neck will confront many challenges in the years ahead, including our response to diversity issues. Unfortunately, there will be (hopefully isolated) incidents of bias not only against Jews, but against other groups living in our town. My hope is that together we will combat the evils of racial, religious and ethnic bias, so that we can remain proud of our community and even prouder of the diversity within.

Rabbi Michael Klayman, Lake Success Jewish Center, Great Neck Clergy Association president

Plaza Trustees Thank You

We want to thank our residents for their continued support in the election for village trustee. The village experienced higher than typical turnout, and that’s a win for grassroots democracy.

We value the continued trust you have placed in us. We take the responsibility associated with that trust with the utmost seriousness.

We urge all residents and other concerned individuals to stay involved in Plaza government by attending the bimonthly meetings of the board of trustees at Village Hall, volunteering for a resident committee and communicating your concerns and thoughts to us. We pledge to keep the lines of communication open to everyone.

Lawrence Katz,
Gerry Schneiderman

 

Saving Public Ed

I am writing this letter as a retired teacher who has been disheartened to watch the profession I love maligned, discredited and blamed for educational problems that occur mostly in areas of poverty.

Currently it appears that our policies in education are being dictated by the testing industry, politicians and well-meaning philanthropists like Bill Gates, not by those professionals who are trained to teach and spend their lives developing ways to improve learning. The testing industry has made hoards of money designing tests which has resulted in a narrower and test-driven curriculum. Now the governor is suggesting that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be based on testing results. This means the curriculum will be further stripped of any creativity or imagination, and will instead hold children’s minds hostage to the profit-driven testing industry.

I do not say there are no problems or inequities in education, or that all teachers are adequate. As in any profession there is a wide range of ability and talent. However, it seems absurd to punish everyone for a minority of inadequate staff. Better to find more effective ways of weeding them out. The governor’s attempt to extend the probationary period for tenure from three years to five is simply another method of curtailing tenure and weakening teachers’ unions. Unions are essential to protecting workers and helping workers move into the middle class. The Republicans and also some Democrats might do well to look at this issue and re-evaluate their positions on unions.

Where students struggle, the common denominator is poverty. Correcting the state’s failure to provide adequate resources to less advantaged areas should be the objective of this budget season. Instead, the governor wishes to provide tax relief for private education and drain more money out of public education by giving a 4.8 percent boost to charter schools. Some charter schools are very successful but many are not. We do not see a push for a more meaningful evaluation of the effectiveness of charter schools before more money is allocated to them.

Many of us have come through public education, city colleges and state colleges and have done well, contributed to our communities and would have found it to be an impossible journey without public education. Therefore, I also speak for no cuts in higher education in our SUNY and CUNY systems which have provided us with numerous Nobel Prize winners.

We need the active participation of our legislators and citizens to protect and support all areas of public education in our state, and to thwart the governor’s attempt to demolish public education.

Charlotte Sear