Congratulations to Mrs. Susan Phalen, a Clarkstown English teacher, who was recognized by the New York State English Council (NYSEC) as an Educator of Excellence at a luncheon on October 18, and to Clarkstown North’s English Department, which also received a designation at a NYSEC Program of Excellence for its Sticky Notes program. The day before, English Department Chairperson, Mrs. Karen Czajkowski and English teacher, Mrs. Allison Stein-Jackter presented a workshop on Sticky Notes to other New York State English educators. As you may know, Sticky Notes is a day devoted to creative poetry and prose writing. Workshops, led by students, authors, and other guests, are offered; the event culminates in a “sharing out” session of student-created work.
I was fortunate to be able to travel to Albany to attend the awards luncheon and support our fine teachers. Seated at a table with other teachers who were talking glowingly about the Sticky Notes program, I proudly said that I am the principal of the school where it was offered, and that I had been a presenter at a workshop on slam poetry. The teachers were intrigued, and I invited their high school to participate in our Sticky Notes program this spring. I look forward to their visit.
The discussion then turned to the new Common Core Curriculum and how schools were addressing this new initiative. These teachers were concerned about the timing requirements; many people do not realize that teaching modules were released by the State after the school year began would have to be incorporated in the same school year. People were genuinely worried that they would not have sufficient time to review and analyze the material disseminated to teachers and administrators.
There were also broader concerns about State Education Department tone and strategy. At a recent town hall meeting in Poughkeepsie, parents had questions about the Common Core curriculum and the increased emphasis on high stakes testing. Commissioner John King publicly stated that the meeting had been “hijacked” by “special interest groups” and this tone sparked some concern. Below is a video of this meeting.
Local politicians encouraged the commissioner to reschedule, which he has done on a more limited basis. (A link to a Huffington Post article on this issue can be found here.) On Monday, October 28, parents, students, and teachers expressed similar concerns at a community forum held in Westchester. An account of this forum can be found here. While the state’s largest teacher’s union is calling for a three-year moratorium on high stakes testing, principals across New York State are appealing to parents to sign a letter calling for an end to high stakes testing. The principals’ letter can be found here and I encourage you to review it. If you would like to support the letter, you may do so by accessing this site.
I agree with my colleagues that “…school principals, care about your children and will continue to do everything in [their] power to fill their school days with learning that is creative, engaging, challenging, rewarding and joyous.” Programs of Excellence, such as Sticky Notes, are proven educational programs that tap into students’ creativity and engage students in authentic learning. As principal of Clarkstown North, I am proud of our teachers and of the outstanding educational programs that have been noted by New York State and U.S. News & World Report.