Strong participation in school matters

Elaine Kanas

Sneak Peak

This is a long newsletter with lots to share, so I am saving some things for next week!  As a look ahead, congratulations to all our students and teachers who participated and supported the successful Science Olympiad that took place on October 8, 2015. 

I also plan a report on Wheatley’s special yearly event, the Annual Day of Service and Learning that took place on Oct. 15 as well as other highlights as our  Board, staff, committees, students, and PTO’s continue to so actively engage in the many activities that keep our school district moving forward.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

Have you started reading Mindset?!  

This past Wednesday, the entire Wheatley faculty devoted a common hour to discuss the book and its implications for our students, staff and community. The discussion was thought-provoking and we look forward to adding parent and community voices to our ongoing district discussions through the year.   

Staff Development Update

As I mentioned last week, members of our teaching and administrative staff shared information regarding recent staff development initiatives and their impact on student learning and development at the October Board of Education Work Session.  The power point presented at the Work Session can be viewed on the district website at > scroll down left navigation bar and click on School Board > scroll down left navigation bar and hover on 15-16 BOE Meeting Presentations > click on 15-16 BOE Presentations.

The presentation, coordinated by Dr. Danielle Gately, director of secondary curriculum and social studies, described our four models of staff development. These four staff development models foster our updated learning and reflection in order for us to continuously meet the evolving needs of our students and the educational field, similar to the way that other professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, update their skills and knowledge on a regular basis.

Workshop Model

This model often involves one or more sessions of learning on a particular topic conducted either in the district, or out, by a consultant or expert in the field.  For example, in June, after the close of the school year, many teachers, and all members of the Leadership Team, received training in the Understanding by Design Curriculum Framework from Andy Greene, a consultant who has trained and worked extensively with the late Grant Wiggins and continues to work closely with Jay McTighe, developers of the well-known UbD framework and curriculum design model.   

This idea of developing curriculum in the Backward Design Model, thinking about where we want students to be and what we want them to understand, before we start planning our lessons and units, gives us a common framework and language to use throughout the district and across content areas and grades.

While the Workshop Model in the instance above involved two days of intense participation, we continue to turn-key the training and focus collaboratively with colleagues on the key areas of learning throughout the year as we begin to apply what was learned to our curriculum design projects.

Wheatley social studies teacher Cindy Schwartz and library media specialist Jo Beth Roberts shared a curriculum unit that they revised using the UbD model that supports our eighth grade students in their research and writing skills for the National History Day project.  

Working backwards from the end goal product of a 1500-2500 word National History Day paper, the unit is designed to help students transfer skills such as (i) search (how to ask important questions and develop keywords to focus research), (ii) effectively use and evaluate resources, (iii) locate primary sources, (iv) analyze, (v) make connections from text that lead to further research and (vi) effective note taking, outlining and logical writing.    

In an example of a workshop approach of a longer duration, David Casamento, director of science and technology, described the intensive training in which our Wheatley staff participated in, in order to meet the Project Lead the Way requirements for teaching this well-known and respected engineering program. 

For example, this summer, Wheatley teachers Patrick Hurley and Thomas Storck went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for a two-week course in preparation to teach one of the second year offerings in our four-year engineering sequence, Civil Engineering & Architecture.  Wheatley teacher Joseph Fina attended a two-week training course at the University of Maryland-Baltimore for the Computer Science and Software course offering.

In order to offer an AP course, schools must ensure that the teachers instructing them have received special College Board training.

For example, teachers delivering a new course and teachers new to a current course will often attend a week-long summer training to prepare for our students in September.  

Two new exciting opportunities brought to our students as a result of their teachers’ summer training workshops were shared at the Work Session.  Chair of World Languages Joan Anderson described the AP Italian course that will be taught by Susan Vasselman.  

Social Studies teacher Andrew Ardito described his experience this summer at the AP Institute, participating  in simulations, research and presentations and examining various textbooks and online resources in order to prepare for teaching the new AP Art History Course being offered at Wheatley this year.

Curriculum Writing

Another method for staff learning involves the model of curriculum writing.  

Summer offers members of our staff a rare gift, not time off, but as Dr. Gately described, “time to reflect and gather together to examine how to improve upon, re-work and create an ever improving curriculum for students.”  

Sometimes new curriculum is written in response to district goals. Sometimes standards are new or changing. Sometimes new courses are introduced and/or a combination of all of these factors mentioned.  

As Dr. Gately stated, “We know that we have some of the best teachers who are our very own experts in so many areas and therefore often much of the summer work is done by our teachers who have the benefit of knowing our students and our culture – the benefit of reflecting upon what has worked, what needs re-working and the ability to adapt the new curriculum throughout the year as the children they work with adapt to it.”

Wheatley music teacher Dr. Peggy Ho described the writing of the Nature and Music curriculum, a learning experience within her music class, that involves exploration of a combination of composition techniques and form, composition writing (utilizing technology and the Music Maker app) and first-hand experience with the natural environment, working in conjunction with science teacher Steve Finkelstein, using our Wheatley Woods as a learning lab.

North Side principal James Bloomgarden described the process over the past two years of utilizing summer curriculum writing time to make adjustments in the state math modules to better meet student learning needs based on an analysis of student performance. Each grade level, with the support of Elementary Math Content Area leader and North Side AIS teacher Lisa Minerva, has been involved in this work.

Ms. Minerva, along with Diane L. Viola, grade 5/6 Math AIS teacher at Willets Road, described the summer curriculum work that the two of them collaborated on this past July and August. They conducted cross grade level analysis in all five mathematics domains, operations and algebraic thinking, number and operations in base ten, number and operations-fractions, measurement and data and geometry.  Their work focused on making strong connections between grade 4 and 5 mathematics to support an articulated transition for our students from North Side to Willets Road.

In a similar support for coherence, this summer Willets Road teachers Jennifer Taggart and Sloane Sepe analyzed the impact of the grade 5 curriculum work on the current grade 6 curriculum and applied knowledge gained to the first two units of study in grade 6 math this year.

Dr. Jeffrey Lesser, secondary chair of mathematics, described the summer curriculum work, which created curriculum to support the new Common Core Algebra 2 that is being taught to our students for the first time this year, replacing the former Algebra 2/Trig course. 

Director of Science and Technology David Casamento, North Side teacher Donna Crennan and Willets Road teachers Lynn Flynn and Diane M. Viola, presented the summer curriculum writing that supported new units of study, as per our Strategic Plan goals, in the K-6 Next Generation Science Standards implementation. (These are exciting new STEM units which I’ll describe in-depth in another newsletter.)

Willets Road Instructional Technology teacher Kim Kelleher and Library Media Specialist Diane Ilkiw described their work this summer preparing learning experiences for grade 5 students that include students learning to use the tools provided by Google Apps for EDU and a class for our students to study coding.

Wheatley English teacher Colin McKenna described another form of summer curriculum writing our teachers participated in when he explained the professional development provided through SUPA.  He explained that SUPA courses are dual enrollment courses where students are enrolled at Wheatley and also receive college credit through Syracuse University.  Each Wheatley staff member who teaches a SUPA course undergoes two weeks of intensive training at Syracuse to become certified as a “professor” for this college course.  In addition, teachers participate in subsequent retraining as new courses or curriculum are written each year. There are two mandatory one-day workshops for all certified SUPA teachers which keep high school instructors up to date on current practice and best strategies for teaching their subject on the college level.  Wheatley offers SUPA English and an alternate year SUPA Forensics course.

Residency Model

The residency model of professional development is one that has perhaps been the most widely used in East Williston over recent years and as such has had the most widespread impact on our students’ learning.  

In this model, teachers and administrators have the opportunity to establish a long term relationship with a consultant who gets to know our educators, our culture, our district standards and our community. 

As Dr. Gately described, “The relationships and trust which are key to working together to create the kind of common experiences and alignment on the grade levels for the curriculum that we seek …” are fostered by this model.  As opposed to a “one-size fits all” the consultants we work with tailor their support to our particular needs and goals and our teachers themselves, provide important input into the scheduling and content of our consultants’ visits.

Kathleen Cunningham, North Side reading teacher and Elementary ELA Content Area leader, described some of the opportunities staff experienced with the LitLife and Fundations staff development residencies over the past few years: “Organized literacy curriculum road map; shared website with practical lesson plans and resources; teacher created pacing guides to support grade level consistency, opportunities to share with grade level colleagues, curriculum materials and explanations of the best way to use them, well-structured lessons with goals and procedures clearly organized, performance assessments and rubrics to monitor student progress, time and support to reflect on our work together.”

Willets Road teachers Jennifer Taggart and Sloane Sepe described the shift to a longer block of time in ELA in grade 6 this year to mirror the workshop model implemented in grade 5 over the past two years with the support of LitLife.  They described how the sixth grade will be working with LitLife this year to support the transition to a block ELA period and the grade’s goal to continue to expand the ELA curriculum to include more differentiation, independent practice and small group instruction.

In grade 5 mathematics, Willets Road teacher Diane M. Viola described the residency model that brought math consultant Patricia Scavuzzo to the fifth grade over the past two years to support transition to the new math standards and provide the grade 5 teachers with the opportunity to build a common curriculum and understanding to reach across classes. This common curriculum, as in many of the areas described above, has resulted in strong student achievement in math.

Professional Conferences

A final form of professional development that was described at the Work Session, is attendance at professional conferences.  This type of activity supports all of us in keeping up-to-date and has an impact far beyond the individual(s) attending as teachers and administrators then turn-key and share knowledge with district colleagues when they return. It was noted that our staff often presents at such conferences and shares their expertise with others beyond our own walls. 

Seventh grade ELA teacher Antonia Laruccia and Willets Reading/AIS teacher Jacqueline Busking described some of the takeaways they brought back from the International Literacy Association Conference they attended this summer for classroom application including the latest research on practices that support adolescents in building a love and habit for reading.  

Director of Pupil Personnel Services Shari Senzer and Wheatley reading teacher Johanne Wright shared their experience attending the Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) Conference where they learned directly from the creators of the literacy benchmarks we utilize in East Williston, Fountas & Pinnell. They learned methods to continue to deepen our work implementing LLI with our struggling readers, a program that includes comprehension, phonics, word work in Greek and Latin roots at the upper levels, meaningful conversations about text and writing with materials that are designed to be captivating and motivating to the student who might otherwise not choose to read on their own.  

Special thanks to all of our presenters noted above and also to our whole Leadership Team, Joan Anderson, James Bloomgarden, David Casamento, Steve Collier, Dr. Sean Feeney, Tom Fitzpatrick, Nick Fusco, Dr. Danielle Gately, Dr. Elaine Kanas, Steve Kimmel, Karen Klapper, Dr. Jeffrey Lesser, Jacqueline Pirro, Shari Senzer and Greg Wasserman, who work together with our teachers to develop our ongoing learning experiences, tied to our district goals.


Decision-Making Process

On October 6, 2015, Wheatley was pleased to host representatives from Harvard University for their The Admissions Decision-making Process of Harvard University workshop. This extremely informative event was open to Nassau County School Counselors. Wheatley’s admission liaison, Timothy Smith, shared actual freshman applications and credentials and walked the counselors through the decision-making process. The discussion was extremely candid and helpful. After the workshop, Mr. Smith met with a group of teachers to provide insight and advice regarding recommendation letters. Thereafter, he met with a group of interested juniors and seniors to explain the opportunities that Harvard has to offer and detail the admission process. Overall, this was a very unique opportunity for our community and helped to provide great insight into highly selective admissions.

Peru Students Update

It has been a very busy week for our Peruvian exchange students and their hosts.  

They spent last Saturday getting acquainted as they toured lower Manhattan, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and rode the Staten Island Ferry. 

A barbeque and night of pumpkin carving followed at the Golden residence.  The Peruvian students visited Midtown Manhattan and Central Park with their teachers on Monday. They especially loved their visit to Times Square and the Empire State Building with their new families and friends. 

Thursday proved to be a novel experience for them as they participated in the various activities of the Day of Service and Learning and then went for a hike at Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge.  In addition to being interviewed by our students in all three schools, the Peruvian students have shared their country’s foods, traditions, music and dance with our students.  Plans for the weekend include an all day trip with the Senior Class to Six Flags followed by a farewell brunch at the Jain residence.  

Our new friends will be departing for Peru after attending first period classes with their hosts on Monday morning.

We are grateful to the following families who have opened their homes to our guests:  the Crimmins, the Feils, the Jins, the Abdelwahabs, the Avilas, the Singhs, the Jains, the O’Briens, the Hastings, the Pavloviches, the Goldens, the Papaveros, the Rosens, the Reddys, the Lees, the Kasparians, the Greenfields, the Hahamis, the Ostads, the Barrocas, the Silvermans, the Wus and the Ingardias.  Faculty members hosting the teachers include: Joan Anderson, Rebecca Castilla and Isabel Simoes.  Special thanks to Isabel Simoes and Angel Rivero for coordinating this wonderful experience.

New Faces in Our Neighborhood

As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like to introduce you to our new faculty members.  Please join me in welcoming them to our district.  At our September 1 staff convocation, our administrators introduced our new members to all the District Staff.  

Stephen Kimmel, Principal of Willets Road School shared the following comments regarding the following new staff members at Willets Road.  

DJ Paulson, Science Teacher 

Mr. Paulson joins the Willets Road staff as a leave replacement in both Willets Road and Wheatley where he will be teaching 7th grade science and high school biology. 

He joins our staff from the Beacon High School where he taught living environment, forensics, marine biology and a physics lab. 

He was also the high school track coach along with being a class advisor. He received his Masters of Science in Instructional Technology at SUNY Old Westbury and his B.S. in Biology Education from Marist College. Mr. Paulson is an Eagle Scout and a lifeguard at Jones Beach.  We welcome Mr. Paulson to Willets Road and Wheatley!

Katerina Skiadas, Fifth Grade Teacher 

Ms. Skiadas, a Wheatley graduate, began her teaching career in East Williston as a substitute teacher in 2013. She joins the Willets Road staff as a fifth grade teacher after her time as a teacher assistant and math support teacher in the district. She received her Masters of Science in Instructional Technology (pre-K -12) and her Bachelors of Science in Childhood Education in Mathematics (Grades 1-6) from New York Institute of Technology. Welcome Ms. Skiadas back to Willets Road. 

Virtual Backpack Flyer Update

Just a reminder: Please check the VB periodically for the latest postings. (On the district homepage, > scroll down left side vertical navigation bar to Virtual Backpack > click on VB.) 

The following is a listing of the new flyers posted on the VB this week:

• North Side PTO Family Bingo Night flyer

• Willets Road PTO Halloween Activity Night flyer

• Willets Road Book Fair flyer – schedule, etc.

• Invitation to Wheatley National Honor Society Student Art Fundraiser flyer

Congratulations and Commendations

Siemens Semifinalist 

Congratulations to Wheatley senior Andrew Zuckerman who was notified today that he was named a Siemens Competition semifinalist. Andrew’s research, Semi-Automatic Segmentation and Automatic Classification of Breast Lesions in Low-Resolution Ultrasound Images, took place at the Garcia Research Program at Stony Brook University under the supervision of Dr. Allen Tannenbaum.  This research addresses the question, “Is there a way to increase the accuracy of the diagnosis of breast cancer from ultrasound images and make the process more objective?

Congratulations to Andrew on this special honor.

New York State Archives

Honorable Mention

Congratulation to Wheatley seniors Nikki Koch, Alana Osroff, Gabriella Santoli and Cindy Zhou on their receiving Certificates of Honorable Mention in the Student Research Award from the New York State Archives for use of archived material in their documentary project “Charles Davenport and the History of Eugenics.”  The research award encourages students to explore the wealth of historical records found in archives, libraries, and other community organizations throughout New York State and promotes and recognizes excellence in student research. This statewide competition is open to all New York State students in grades 4-12. 

For their documentary, Nikki, Alana, Gabriella and Cindy used the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory archive, the Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Science Library as well as extensive documents and research from a variety of primary and secondary sources.  

Congratulations to Nikki, Alana, Gabriella and Cindy and advisors Wheatley librarian Jo Beth Roberts and Wheatley Social Studies teacher Andrew Ardito.

Wheatley Is Named 

School of Distinction

Wheatley has recently been informed that the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) has named The Wheatley School as a 2014-15 School of Distinction as a result of each of its varsity athletic teams being named a Scholar Athlete team.  

As Executive Director of NYSPHSAA Nina Van Erk said, “The combination of academic and athletic success is the mark of a well-rounded interscholastic athletic program.”  Tom Fitzpatrick, Director of Physical Education, Athletics, Health and Medical Services will accept this award on behalf of Wheatley at an Athletic Council meeting in December. Congratulations to our student athletes, faculty, staff and Mr. Fitzpatrick. 

Alexis Blondrage at 

Intel Conference

This weekend, Wheatley Science Research Coordinator Mary Alexis Blondrage will be attending the Society for Science and the Public Conference in Washington, D.C.  The purpose of this conference is to bring together science research teachers at all levels of experience so they can share best practices, troubleshoot any challenges they face in supporting students in independent science research and learn more about the Intel Science Talent Search and the Society.

Blondrage was one of 100 teachers in the nation to be selected to attend this prestigious conference!

The conference will be split up in large group sessions and break-out sessions. Sessions presented will include completing research in a high school lab, finding and placing students in summer programs, obtaining pre-approval for projects relating to humans and animals, combating plagiarism, reaching underserved students and many more.

Blondrage will be presenting an “Ethics in Research” break-out session. Congratulations to Blondrage for this recognition!

About the author

Elaine Kanas

Share this Article