Herricks student voices opinion over teacher contract negotiations

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Herricks High School student Eish Maheshwari, left, and Superintendent of Schools Fino Celano. Maheshwari was recently named one of 40 Regeneron Scholar Finalists nationwide. (Photo by Jed Hendrixson)

In the ongoing saga of the Herricks school district teachers’ contract negotiations, one group affected by the division has not spoken up.

District students, up until the board’s meeting Thursday night, had not made public comment on the state of the negotiations between the Herricks Teachers Association and the Board of Education. 11th grader Kathryn Ritchie broke the trend.

“Herricks students see both sides of the argument despite the little information given from both sides as we have been taught to extrapolate and critical think by our indisputably high quality teachers,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie mentioned that from the board’s most recent statement, the negotiations have entered a fact-finding process, which will involve a mediator to determine a possible resolution to the negotiations, which have been going on for over a year.

The teachers previous contract agreement, which the teachers are still currently working under, expired in June 2018.

The implications of working under an expired contract and not having agreements that are modernized to the current economy are worrisome for students, according to Ritchie, because Herricks’ staff are like family to the students.

“Herricks staff do their jobs extraordinarily and should be fairly compensated, which we know can be achieved” Ritchie said.

Ritchie acknowledged the board’s position on considering the taxpayers of the Herricks community was important, adding that the district’s teachers are in fact among the highest paid in Nassau County, but said that the personal lives are staff can vary and the statement on median salaries may not encompass all teachers.

The central issue of the negotiations is compensation, according to a statement previously read by board president Juleigh Chin.

The fact-finding process is non-binding, Chin previously said, and if efforts fail to achieve a settlement, a super conciliator will then be appointed, also by PERB, to reach a settlement. There are no further steps in state law for collective bargaining of public schools after the appointment of the super conciliator, according to Chin.

Ritchie said that “petty politics” surrounding the negotiations should be set aside, considering the issue has not been amplified to the community as much as it should be.

“For such a small group to decide what benefits the larger community without looking to the constituents is concerning,” Ritchie said. “We are standing behind our teachers because we know this contract will benefit the community, what the board seems to be most focused on.”

The board did not immediately issue a statement responding to Ritchie.

Following comments from the public, district administrators presented two presentations on initiatives in the district.

District math director Geetha Murthy provided the board with an update to the math curriculum for students in sixth through 12th grade.

Students entering sixth grade next year will be a part of the department’s new curriculum path, allowing students to decide whether they want to pursue advanced and multiple math classes later in their education or more humanities oriented classes like statistics, according to Murthy.

The department has also established a climate of “growth mindset” with students, according to Murthy, and students are encouraged to make and learn from their mistakes.

“Turn negatives into positives,” Murthy said.

Following Murthy’s update, district Assistant Superintendent for Instruction K. Elizabeth Guercin presented the board with the district’s new standards-based report card for elementary students.

Previously, the district used a one-through-four scale for determining a students grades, which sometimes led to students believing they were “stuck at a one,” while in school, according to Guercin.

In order to encourage student improvement and growth, Guercin and a team Herricks’ staff developed a new report card system that will emphasize progression through subjects and hopefully de-stigmatize the notion that not initially grasping concepts is failure, Guercin said.

The new report card, which will launch in next fall, will grade students based on a R-S-O-C scale. The scale explains that students either rarely, sometimes, often or consistently demonstrates behavior indicating success. The letters M and P will also be used by the district to denote consistent mastery of the learning standard, M, and progressing toward mastery, P.

The report card will also be available digitally for the first time, Guercin said.

A pilot program using this methodology took place earlier this school year, with eight students’ families that were selected, and the results have been positive overall, according to Guercin.

Also at the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Fino Celano commended high school student Eish Maheshwari for his selection as one of only 40 students national to be named a Regeneron Science Talent Search finalist.

Maheshwari’s project, according to science research teacher and adviser Renee Barcia, utilizes a nano-particle system to deliver vital drugs to the body that are often metabolized by the liver too quickly to be administered.

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting, which will begin the district’s budget season, will be Feb. 28 at the Herricks Community Center.

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