LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — The hot-button topic at the monthly Sullivan West Central School Board of Education meeting on Thursday, November 19 was the district’s new, controversial system of …
LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — The hot-button topic at the monthly Sullivan West Central School Board of Education meeting on Thursday, November 19 was the district’s new, controversial system of grading practices for students at the middle school and high school levels.
The new way of grading was presented to the board and the public by a triumvirate of district administrators: superintendent of schools Stephen A. Walker, high school principal Mark Plescia and the high school’s second-in-command, Scott Haberli.
In a nutshell, the stated goals of the revised grading practices included the following: “providing consistency for students in their teachers’ grading philosoph[ies], “exemplify for students the inherent value in demonstrating their learning” and “maintaining some teacher autonomy regarding grading within each classroom.”
Walker noted that, as things stand now in what he referred to as a “continuum,” “some teachers can issue a zero for [late] work... some teachers accept late work on a regular basis with a [grade] reduction... and some teachers accept late work on a regular basis with no [grade] reduction.”
Under the new grading practices, all faculty will accept late work. Students can receive a reduced grade for late assignments, but they must be able to receive a passing grade if their content knowledge demonstrates mastery. Teachers can still issue a zero for an assignment, but they must have documented multiple attempts to encourage students to finish their assignments.
Anticipated benefits of implementing these new grading practices, which went into effect at the start of the second marking period on November 16, include the following: students will produce more evidence of learning, there will be fewer zeros handed out and the disproportionate impact of zeros on some students will be reduced.
The school administrators emphasized that the new system is subject to review by students, teachers and parents with the goal of determining the practices that will “encourage all students to best demonstrate their learning to our teachers.”
Then it was time for the audience to respond during the period of public comment, and of the four folks who walked up to the podium, it was a resounding thumbs down. They spoke about the lowering of educational standards, implementing poor accountability practices that will ultimately not serve the student in their educational career and stripping teachers of their autonomy in terms of grading and teaching practices. (Read their full comments below).
Following the meeting, Walker said, “We believe that a student’s learning is the most important factor in their school experience and that our grading practice should reflect that idea in every classroom. We respect that, on a topic as complex as grading philosophy, some will have different ideas. We look forward to examining how the new grading practices have an impact on teaching, learning and our students, and to continuing the discussion going forward.”
For a report by the district on highlights of the board meeting, and a detailed look at the administration’s presentation of its new grading practices, visit www.swcsd.org.
In other business, a moment of silence was held in the memory of Derrick Hanslmaier—a Sullivan West graduate of the Class of 2020, Eagle Scout, local 4-H member and student at Sullivan BOCES—who died in a car accident on October 27 in Callicoon Center.
“The entire school district mourns his tragic passing,” said Walker. “He is remembered by all for his sense of humor, for being the kind of young person that adults enjoyed having a conversation with and for the lasting friendships he made.”
Charlotte Schwartz, an instructional technology facilitator at the middle school and high school, received the district’s monthly Sullivan West Standout award. “Charlotte was nominated by numerous colleagues because of her outstanding work in the use of technology to support learning on our classrooms. [She] is a true superstar on our team,” said Walker.
The board accepted a $50 donation from the Sullivan County Volunteer Firefighters’ Association (SCVFA) to be used for art supplies at the elementary school in lieu of the annual fire prevention poster contest and received a donation of a fish tank by Judith Highhouse to be used at the elementary school.
The board approved the creation of new clubs: Esports, Agriculture, and Family and Consumer Science.
In personnel matters, the board appointed several leave replacements, positions, the resignation of two extracurricular and coaching positions, and approved numerous coaching and extracurricular appointments, with attendant stipends.
The next regularly scheduled board of education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, December 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.
Dave Hubert teaches technology at Livingston Manor, and his wife, Christina, has been teaching Spanish to high school students at Sullivan West for 21 years.
“Basically my whole philosophy is that this school has had a high standard for a long time, and the kids do really well by that. I think they should let the teachers have the policies they used in the past because it works. With COVID, a lot of schools put in new policies, and guess what, it didn’t work,” said Hubert. “If we lower the bar, some kids are not going to try to get over it.”
Christina Hubert said she came to the meeting to “express my aversion to the new elimination of zero policy.”
“When I informed my students of this new grading policy, they were angry, disappointed and confused,” noting that the contention of some was, in essence, “It isn’t fair. I can hand my work in on time and earn an 85, and someone else can hand in the same assignment weeks later, and receive a 65. Why are we as professionals being stripped of our decision-making within our own classrooms? It is my job to teach accountability.”
In addition to teaching Spanish at Sullivan West, Hubert instructs a course at SUNY Sullivan and said the local two-year college’s guidelines state that no work is accepted late without a note from a physician.
“The college was appalled that we are conducting our grading in this manner, as is only hinders our students when they attend college, expecting to hand in their course work late. We are jeopardizing our relationship with the college and creating a challenge for new college students who were accustomed to our new zero policy,” she said.
Amy Hellerer has been teaching at the “Home of the Bulldogs” for 18 years.
“This new procedure is an insult to the capability of our students and, inadvertently, teachers. It is telling children that they are not capable of meeting expectations, so administration has lowered the bar,” she said in her remarks to the board.
Hellerer said that, as a parent, she received a letter dated August 14 that stated in part, “It will be expected that students will meet all deadlines set by the teacher for assignments,” but got a letter dated November 16 that stated “all late work will be accepted. Students will not receive a failing grade for an assignment solely because it is turned in late.”
“This procedure is a deviation from instilling the idea that persistence, a good work ethic and intelligence are valued tributes... Why am I not allowed to hold them to that standard?” she said in summation.
Cheryl Graham took to the floor as a parent of two Sullivan West grads, a teacher for 24 years and vice president of the high school building union.
“I am here to express my disappointment with our administration’s decision. I have never been directed on how to grade my students or questioned on my procedures and requirements in my classroom,” she said.
“We are lowering the standards and responsibilities of our students... all responsibility is being put on the teacher [since we now] have to prove that we have done our job to keep zeros as grades. How about the students proving their grades? Students used to be held responsible for their work, not me.”
In conclusion, Graham said, “Thank God we have a faculty and staff that will continue to hold our high standards as much as will be allowed in order to conform with this absurd grade change procedure.”