Public Curriculum/Technology/PPS Board of Education Committee Meeting
7pm @ the Falls School
Nineteen Mahopac High School students were inducted into the National Technical Honor Society last week, having demonstrated scholarship, character, leadership, service and skill at an exemplary level.
The honorees and their fields of study were:
Daniella Bastone (Medical Assistant)
Tara Burt (Cosmetology)
Lindsey Civita (Child Development and Education)
Kristen Corona (New Visions Health)
Athena Durnin (Medical Assistant)
Cristina Fierro (Fashion Design and Merchandising)
Stephanie Grossi (Child Development and Education)
Ryan Isherwood (Auto Body)
Amanda Kelleher (Child Development and Education)
Ariana Lopez (Cosmetology)
James Ormsby (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning)
Michael Parducci (Architectural Design and 3D Modeling)
Kacey Riordan (Television Production and Digital Film)
Danielle Rizzo (Veterinary Science)
Gina Roche (Child Care Aide)
Ashley Sherman (Baking and Pastry Arts)
Julianna Tozzi (Veterinary Science)
Niki Ward (Animation & Motion Graphics)
Alessandra Zonetti (Fashion Design and Merchandising)
Samantha Squillante (Cosmetology)
The event, held at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES’ Yorktown campus on May 18, was attended by BOCES administration, Tech Center faculty, students, friends and family members. In addition to those students who were inducted into the National Technical Honor Society, more than 80 students received scholarships and awards.
“Whether they are framing a house in Carpentry, saving a tree in Urban Forestry or comforting a child in Early Childhood Education, Tech Center students gain skills few others do,” Vilma Ramos of Walter Panas High School told the audience of 400, including fellow honorees, Tech Center faculty and staff, students, friends and family.
The Honor Society looks for students who “demonstrate a spirit of personal excellence, honesty, leadership, teamwork and responsibility,” said Chelsea Horsfield of Walter Panas High School. The honorees, from high schools throughout the region, all attend technical and career classes at BOCES.
In addition to scholarship, inductees had to exhibit character, skill, leadership and service.
Lighting a candle to represent “service,” Nicholas Mills of Walter Panas High School listed the organizations that Tech students aid with volunteer work, including volunteer ambulance companies and fire departments, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the Special Olympics, ROTC programs, Guiding Eyes for the Blind and more.
BOCES Superintendent Dr. James Ryan told the students that he and the faculty were proud of them.
“I have seldom seen students who have such tremendous composure, maturity and focus on their areas of interest,” he said. “I really am so taken by the dedication that you have for your areas of interest, and I know that you are going to do great things as you go from Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES.”
In all, 104 students from Westchester and Putnam were inducted into the honor society.
Mahopac teachers and administrators are not only changing the way education works in their own district, they are being invited to share their innovative, cutting-edge practices with educators in other districts.
Recently, Mahopac educators presented on diverse topics including Innovative Professional Development Systems, Crisis Management, School Finance and Human Resources, Virtual and Augmented Reality, and Critical Issues Facing School Leaders.
In April, Mahopac sent two teams of educators to present at the regional Technology Leadership Institute, hosted by the Lower Hudson Valley Regional Information Center (LHVRIC) at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff.
Dr. Adam Pease, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development, along with Instructional Technology Specialist John Sebalos; elementary school teachers Christine Czuy, Andrea Jones, Carolyn Ryan, Tiffany Ziegelhofer; high school teacher Alicia Manguso; and library media specialist Dara Berkwits presented Teacher Professional Development that Nurtures a Culture of Innovation: Want Innovative Students? Let Teachers Go First.
“Our team talked about how Mahopac has re-imaged our professional development philosophy to support teacher creativity, innovation, empowerment and motivation,” said Pease. “We shared how we redesigned Superintendent's Conference Days to give teachers voice, choice and more control over their own professional growth as they support a more innovative district-wide culture.”
Part of this innovation includes allowing teachers to choose what they do at professional development days rather than having it chosen for them. “Traditionally, school districts will have a professional speaker present a topic, but what we are doing is letting the teachers tell us what they want to work on during those days,” said Sebalos. Pease and Sebalos said there was tremendous interest from area superintendents on the approach. “After the conference, some superintendents said they liked the idea but wondered if it was costly,” Sebalos said, “but the fact is, it saves money because we are not hiring people from the outside. We are working with teachers and administrators in our own district, collaborating with each other and sharing each other’s talents.”
This type of collaboration is invaluable to both teacher and student growth. “We always strive to give ‘voice and choice’ to our students, so we wanted to make sure we were doing that with our teachers as well,” Sebalos said.
Teachers, in turn, like the idea that they can learn from each other, and they appreciate having the opportunity to collaborate on topics they have chosen.
High School ENL teacher Alicia Manguso and Library Media Specialist Dara Berkwits, who also spoke at the LHVRIC conference, said that they appreciate the district leaders responding to their needs. The pair worked together during the last professional development day, which focused on the district’s use of Google programs and technology.
“Dara helped me find the apps for my students to use for a special project we are working on,” said Manguso. “The time we spent collaborating was invaluable.”
“These types of interactions are really great, because instead of just listening to someone speak, you get to be in charge of your own learning and help others to as well,” said Berkwits, who helped other teachers out with technology in the Google platform the district is embracing.
Middle School science teacher Brian Cauthers and high school science teacher Jennifer Cauthers also gave a technology presentation on classroom applications of virtual and augmented reality at the Technology Leadership Institute. “The goal is for students to be creators of content, not simply consumers,” said Pease. “The Cauthers shared innovative ways that teachers and students could use augmented and virtual reality to create original content using apps such as CoSpaces, Thinglink, and Aurasma, as well as cutting-edge cameras such as Theta 360, Nikon Keymission and Google cardboard camera.” The Cauthers also presented this topic at the annual NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education) conference this past November. “We talked about how to integrate these programs into our classrooms,” Cauthers said, adding that the topic generated great interest among the audience.
Pease and Mahopac Middle School Principal Vince DiGrandi were also invited to present in the workshop, Effectively Managing Crisis in Schools, hosted by PNW BOCES. “The ability to effectively respond to a crisis is an essential quality for school and district leaders,” said DiGrandi. The ease with which information and misinformation is shared on social media and the 24-hour news cycle adds a level of complexity to an already complex process. “Although no two crises are the same, they do follow a predictable cycle of planning and preparation, response, recovery and debriefing,” said Pease. “We prepare school and district leaders on how to effectively navigate these phases.”
Pease also partnered with Brewster’s Assistant Superintendent, Michelle Gosh, to present a workshop series called Critical Issues Facing School Leaders, at PNW BOCES. In this workshop, building administrators from across the region assembled to discuss best practices on timely topics including how to encourage a more student-centered, learner-active school, how to support Professional Learning Communities among staff and organizational change theory. “It’s challenging for building administrators to network with other building administrators to have structured conversations around critical issues facing these leaders, so Michelle and I were happy to be part of making these important conversations take place in the region.” said Pease.
Mentoring leaders is also important to Ron Clamser, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Human Resources, who presented to a group of regional school administrators on the topics of school budgets and human resources during one session of the PNW BOCES workshop series entitled Preparing for Central Office Leadership. “Through my years of school administration I’ve learned a lot from those mentors who shared their knowledge and experiences with me,” said Clamser. “It’s important for me as an educational leader to do the same.” Clamser, along with Mahopac Middle School Assistant Principal Alex Levine, also participated in Manhattanville College’s Dean Symposium on Success as a New Teacher. Clamser and Levine spoke as panelists discussing what graduating students can expect upon entering the field of teaching and preparing for the interview process.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dennis Creedon, noted, “Great things are happening in Mahopac, and we are happy to share them with our neighbors. As a unified District, we are embracing change as learning opportunities that directly benefit our students.”
Said Pease, “Being part of the larger professional conversations in the region has been rewarding. It’s great to see the district’s emergence as a regional powerhouse in the areas of progressive instruction, leadership, technology integration, teaching and learning.”
Mahopac High School senior Emily Park won first place in the SkillsUSA film competition held recently in Syracuse. SkillsUSA is a nationwide partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. The competition helps students hone their skills by enabling them to compete with their peers at the highest level.
Park, who is a TV Production and Video Film student at The Tech Center at PNW BOCES, plans to study film at SUNY Purchase in the fall. Park also won best in cinematography in the Westchester County Future Filmmaker’s Film Festival 2017.
Every student and staff member at Fulmar Road Elementary School is on the same page—literally. Starting this month, students, teachers, administrators, bus drivers, office workers and all school personnel will read “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White, as part of the One School, One Book program.
Excited students entered the auditorium at the school for the book’s reveal this week. They were encouraged to dress in country garb while a video played with students and staff wearing cowboy hats and holding up a question mark. At the end, Principal Gary Chadwick revealed the book to be “Charlotte’s Web.”
“We are immersing students in literacy,” said Fulmar Road special education teacher and building coordinator Allyson Fallman. “Virtually everyone at the school will be reading the book, and we encourage family members at home to read it as well.” Children can read the story out loud, to family members, or to themselves—whatever they like. It is hoped that the idea of the entire school and family community reading together will foster a love for reading in students.
But perhaps Principal Chadwick gave students the biggest impetus to read the book, when he delivered a challenge.
“If everyone does their nightly reading and shares what they read and finishes the book, I will kiss a pig,” he told students. In doing this, Principal Chadwick practically assured 100 percent participation!
Collaboration is the key to success of the new writing curriculum introduced to all three Mahopac elementary schools this year. “That, and more time spent on writing units,” according to Austin Road Assistant Principal Bryan Gilligan, who headed up the committee charged with changing the writing program last summer. “We used to spend a few days on each writing unit, and now we spend about a month,” said Gilligan. “You can really see the difference in the students’ participation, because they get much more of a sense of the material.”
The committee consists of teachers from each grade of each of the district’s three elementary schools: Austin Road, Fulmar Road and Lakeview. “We meet once a month, and the collaboration has been awesome,” said committee member Michelle Seymour, who teaches first grade at Austin Road. “Every teacher has always had great ideas, but now we all get to share with each other.”
The writing committee came together over the summer to plan the units and provide support materials, according to Gilligan. “It’s great because everyone is on the same page now, working on the same units at the same time,” he said. “But within those units each teacher has the freedom to be creative.” Teachers can share ideas for lesson plans on Google Drive, which makes collaboration easy.
Seymour’s class is working on the Opinion unit of the curriculum, with a recent class lesson devoted to students’ opinions on the fairytale “Goldilocks.”
With words such as I feel, I believe, and I think on a board in front of students during writing time, Seymour prompts them for their opinion on the story. “Do you think Goldilocks made good decisions?” she asks. Students excitedly raise their hands in unison, competing to respond first.
“The students are much more excited about writing now,” said Danielle Fearns, who teaches first grade at Austin Road. Fearns credits the extra time and the fact that students are encouraged to make “imperfect” rough drafts, which gives them more independence. “They know that they can have mistakes in their first draft and that there will be time to correct everything later,” she said, “so they are more confident. They know there is no stigma to having a misspelling in a draft, so they are more comfortable taking risks and being creative in their drafts.”
Lakeview teacher Michelle Savino said that the writing program promotes student independence and metacognition. “The students take ownership of their ideas and work collaboratively to edit/revise their pieces using the skills they have been taught during our mini-lessons,” she said. “These skills have transferred to their work in other content areas, and they have become stronger writers overall.”
Fellow Lakeview teacher Kathy Hursak also thinks the program has resulted in stronger writers. “The writing program enables the students to engage in text for optimal comprehension, resulting in better writing,” she said.
One of the benefits of the writing program is the use of mentor texts that are used to model and explain different aspects of writing, according to Fulmar Road fifth grade teacher Liza Kertelits. “This allows the students to analyze the writer’s craft, and it provides them with great examples of the different writing genres,” she said.
The workshop approach encourages students to take risks with their writing and be more independent, according to Fulmar Road teacher Carol Stefunek. “The children truly believe and know that they, too, are authors, and they can't wait to share their published pieces with their classmates.”
Students in Maryanne LaRue’s second grade class at Austin Road are working on writing “how to” books in writer’s workshop. “As part of the non-fiction unit, students wrote out things that they know how to do well and can teach someone else. Some examples are: how to do a cartwheel, or how to make pizza,” she said. Before that, students created “all about” books, where they went into depth about a topic of interest to them.
“I love the new program,” LaRue said. “It has improved students’ writing so much. It is much more hands on and provides them with research skills that they can really use later on. They are learning how to write in sequential steps, which is so important.”
Fulmar Road teacher Andrea Jones said that students love the program so much that they want to keep writing even when the period is over. “The new program brings an excitement for writing,” she said. “When students are complaining when it is over, you know the program is working.”
A select group of educators from the Mahopac Central School District met last week to discuss, plan, brainstorm and model elements of what Assistant Superintendent Dr. Adam Pease has termed “Breakthrough Classrooms.”
“Many of our teachers have been doing exciting, innovative things in their classrooms for years—thinking outside the box,” said Pease. “But we didn’t have a system to coordinate these pockets of innovation. Breakthrough Classrooms has done that.”
The idea behind Breakthrough Classrooms is to create a cohort of teachers to share cutting-edge ways of teaching across schools. There are four Breakthrough Classrooms in each elementary school, six at the middle school, and five at the high school, according to Pease. “The innovation involves everything from the way teachers use space, to the way they use technology, mindfulness, and many other areas of instruction,” Pease said.
Teachers were given the book “The Innovator’s Mindset,” a guide to help educators unlock creativity within themselves and their students, by innovative-education expert George Couros, back in the summer.
“The world that we are preparing our students for is changing rapidly,” Pease said. “We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist yet. We are certain that the best of these jobs, the ones that we want our graduates to have, will require innovation, creativity, collaboration, and the ability to solve complex problems.
“The traditional system of education emphasized content because content was hard to get,” according to Pease. “Now content is at our fingertips. Students who can use this content to solve problems, innovate, invent, and the like, will be in strong demand.”
About 30 teachers were invited to pilot Breakthrough Classrooms in the district, and the group has been meeting along with Pease and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Greg Stowell throughout the year. During the most recent work session participants attended workshops on Mindfulness, given by Mahopac High School Psychologist Dr. Deborah Zides and Middle School Guidance Counselor Ofri Felder; Technology, given by Instructional Technology Specialist John Sebalos; and Classroom Space, given by Pease.
During the mindfulness workshop, one teacher was given headphones, another a pair of gloves, and another a ball to balance on her knee, all while having to attend to a lesson and answer questions to an online quiz. The idea was for teachers to experience what some of their students who struggle in school feel during class.
“We tried to make it as challenging as possible for you,” said Zides, who also sent texts to each teacher’s phone to add to the distraction. “It helps you see what your students might be feeling.” The activity was meant to help teachers be more attune to students dealing with physical or emotional issues, family conflicts, or other stresses in their lives.
“It really makes you see things a different way,” one teacher commented.
Pease, who gave the workshop on Classroom Space, said, “It is not just about buying new furniture, but it is about using what we have in a different way. Setting up nooks and spaces where students can work independently or in collaboration with each other.”
Mahopac High School teacher Sharon Forman, one of the teachers invited to the cohort, said that she has always felt that students should be allowed to use the space of their classroom as they see fit. “If a student learns better standing,” she said, “then I let him stand.” This approach, which she has been using for years, works incredibly well. “When students are comfortable, they learn better,” she said.
Middle School teacher Brian Cauthers agrees. “I think the teachers in this cohort have always been open to trying new things, even if they are just small differences from the norm,” he said. Cauthers has been a proponent of using technology in the classroom long before it became popular to do so. Cauthers has had students prepare lesson plans on Google Slides and used a space-journey app to allow students to go on a “virtual field trip” into space.
When Middle School teacher Margaret Fox began teaching 25 years ago in the district, “students were seated in rows,” she said. “But I let go of that because I found that students respond better academically when they can interact with each other. My students know that they can sit or stand where they like in their classroom, which makes them feel more comfortable, which in turn enables them to learn better.”
“The great thing about what we are doing with Breakthrough Classrooms is the collaboration,” Pease said. “So that while one teacher may be gifted at technology, another might use space in an interesting way, and all of these things are shared, so that the teachers take what they have learned from each other back to their own classrooms.”
“Another benefit,” Forman said, “is that with this type of learning environment, we see grades go up. Because students make the class their own, they are more engaged.”
“They really do take ownership for their learning when you give them the freedom to do so,” Cauthers agreed.