Recapping the Board of Education meeting: A Meeting in Numbers

North Salem Board of Education conducted business as usual on Wednesday, December 1 with a focus on AP exams, the Regents Exam, and ACT and SAT results. Test results reported by Dr. Vazquez, Director of Instruction and Human Resources for North Salem Schools, were nestled between opening public commentary by a student about the district’s neglect of the arts and an update on COVID data from Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services VanDerStuyf.

At the start of the meeting, junior Kara Paulsen challenged the district to focus on the arts. She expressed that the middle school performance of Peter Pan was met with some challenging issues that included the stage being full of “useless junk.” She expressed that she “begged” for the auditorium to be cleaned so that the show could continue. Both Superintendent Dr. Freeston and Facilities Director John Sieverding, did not respond to follow-up questions about the “rotten pipes” and the lights. However, principal of North Salem Middle School/High School Vince DiGrandi remarked in an email that he met with Paulsen and updated her on the work that is scheduled to happen at the theater. At the time of writing this article, no specifics about the identified “work” have been shared.

Dr. Freeston's Superintendent report focused on snow days. He stated that snow days would be traditional, and there would be no remote learning on days when there is snow. He cited equity issues with storms coming with power outages and not all students being able to access instruction remotely. Freeston said that when making decisions, he will “err on the side of closing if it's a hard decision.” In follow-up commentary, Dr. Freeston referenced at minimum 4 days would be used before the district would start to use spring break days noted on the calendar.

Also released but not discussed in depth in the Superintendent’s Report was the Long Range Planning Study which helps administration and the Board of Education plan. Part of that planning involves district enrollment numbers and this study predicts a steady decrease, with 2031 having a combined enrollment for K-12 of 972 ( down from 2021’s current place of 1025). 2025 received a slight increase in enrollment to 1007. On page 21, the report also predicts a decrease in the number of instructional sections for the elementary school from 25 to 20 by 2031. For a full look at the report, please visit the Board Docs.

Dr. Vazquez, Director of Instruction and Human Resources for North Salem Schools, gave a lengthy presentation reporting on the demographics of AP Assessments/Regents, Exams, ACT & SAT. Vazquez began his presentation with a disclaimer: “these results are not the most important work that we do. Our district’s mission which provides our students with learning that is rooted in critical and creative thinking and problem solving is the greater work that we do.” His report suggested that COVID has had a significant impact on the students’ learning and that teaching is being adjusted to better meet the learning needs. Since the 2021 Regents exams were optional, despite having strong results, far fewer students took the exams.

Much of the breakdown of Vazquez’s data involved race, and gender and the success of varying groups in different subjects. In a follow-up phone conversation, Vazquez explained that data has historically been broken down by gender and only recently has included race. On page 7 of Vazquez’s report, 24% percent of the 2021 class is identified as economically disadvantaged, and of that group 8 out of 10 students self-reporting as economically disadvantaged took AP courses. 16% of the class of 2020 was reported as having disabilities, but in cases where the number is too small to report success with the AP courses, the district doesn’t report the data. Such is that case with certain race comparisons and students with learning disabilities.

One of the stated goals for the high school is to “increase the number of students in AP courses, with every student taking at least one course.” In follow-up commentary, Vazquez described AP courses as the best the district has and thinks that “We [should] push the kids to take AP because it is the best offered.” In AP History, North Salem continues to be a steady performer. Vazquez described the AP European history results as “remarkable” considering the hybrid instruction. In AP US History, 85% of students achieved a 3 or more. Higher education universities and colleges vary on what they will accept with many (if they do accept AP results as college credits) wanting a 4 or 5 for acceptance of credit. Vazquez’s report also included information on how teachers and departments identified ways they would improve.

Despite Vazquez’s continued use of the words “received college credit” in reference to those receiving a 3, 4 or 5 on the exams, parent Carol Hughes pushed back in public commentary, stating the AP course was not about college credit. Rather, Hughes said it was about taking “the most challenging course offered.” She went on to challenge the claim that every student who earned between a 3 and a 5 received college credit. She suggested better wording that emphasized the potential to earn college credit.

In other news, Dr. VanDerStuyf, Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services, noted a slight increase in COVID cases, saying, “in the past week we have had 5 positive cases reported to us.” He also remarked that of the 90 individuals tested in the past two weeks in random testing, they caught one positive case.

For a deeper dive into the data and a look at specific subjects and SAT/ACT scores, please view the Board Docs. The Board of Education will hold a Community Conversation on Monday, December 6, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. Interested attendees must RSVP by email to boe@northsalemschools.org.

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