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Attorney general investigates Marlboro officials

January 29th, 2014

Last week, the Marlboro school board confirmed that the New York State Attorney General’s Office is investigating school Superintendent Ray Castellani and Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Technology Mike Bakatsias for alleged conflicts of interest surrounding their connection to a district software vendor, Evan Panagiotopoulous of Online School Data.

Board member Dean Tamburri, who ran last week’s meeting in board President Frank Milazzo’s absence, stated that the matter has now reached the attorney general.

The board also verified that the school board’s attorney was instructed to stop his own investigation into this matter as it is under review by a state agency.

Contract Extension
Castellani said recent news reports in the Southern Ulster Times stating the school board is discussing extending his contract are “fiction.” He did say, however, that “informal” talks have taken place about his future with the district.

“There is no official negotiation going on,” he said. “It’s really an informal discussion of the future and where the board stands and where the superintendent, as me, stands in their plan. And that’s it, there’s no vote going on [and] there’s no official discussion going on regarding any type of finances. It’s really truly a vision going forward of where we’re going to go.”

Castellani said contracts for the positions of assistant superintendents or directors are part of the overall budget process, with the board deciding when to include that on their agenda. He added that any discussions concerning his own contract would involve a public presentation and a vote that would also be done in public.

Tamburri backed Castellani’s statement, saying a contract extension with the superintendent “is not being discussed right now” and “we’re not in negotiations,” adding that the budget for 2014-15 is the board’s present priority.

NYS comptroller
Patrick Witherow, director of Business and Finance, said representatives of the Office of the NYS Comptroller returned to the district in early January to continue the audit they started in late 2013. He said they are primarily looking at payroll and purchasing items.

Witherow said within the district’s financial computer programs there are reports that are specifically designed for ease of review when there is an audit. He said when files are downloaded they are put into a format that cannot be changed.

“You actually submit electronically to the comptroller’s office through an encrypted file. They then run an analysis on that information so that gives them a starting point,” he said. “They then may ask to see some professional services contracts. Most of our functions with WinPcap are electronic; they are all paperless. At some point they [comptroller] are going to be given some access to the financial system when they are going to look at individual transactions.”

Common Core workshop
John Cantone commended Elementary School Principal Marie Toombs and the board for scheduling a workshop on the Common Core curriculum for parents.

“It was really good and parents had to sit there and actually learn what their kids were doing. It was kind of scary,” he said. “I have to say I learned a lot and I think it was really good. It was really worthwhile.” He urged to board to host additional workshops in the future.

Castellani thanked Toombs, Robin Hecht, director of curriculum, and the staff for putting this on; with Tamburri adding that the board has received many positive comments about the workshop.

Thank you from the troops
Castellani shared a card that Toombs recently received from Commander Joseph J. McGuiness of Marine Detachment 249 out of New York City. It was addressed to the students, faculty and staff of the elementary school.

“True thanks just can’t be put in words. It loses its translation but hope you know the feeling is one of true appreciation. Thank you all so much for your support of our nation’s troops at a time in all of our lives when we can help our troops who are in a foreign country far away from home and family. All of you let our troops know they are not forgotten. Thanks to your pictures and letters, they made them feel a little closer to home than they thought. You should all be very proud of yourselves. You have given our troops the incentive to keep going because you made each and every one of them a big thank you from home.”

Handwriting presentation
A presentation on cursive handwriting was given by occupational therapists Noreen Martinez and Christian Weiss, Special Education teacher Nicole Roberts and reading specialist Caroline Edick. They pointed out that handwriting is an often overlooked skill but it is one of the first important means of communication for students.

Martinez said the goal is to have a districtwide handwriting program that will instill pride in the student’s individual expression, which in turn will increase their chances of academic success in the future.

The now 40-year-old handwriting program is part of Preventing Academic Failure [PAF] that was created by educators with skills in remediation and expertise in handwriting.

PAF is an early educational intervention program aimed at teaching proper handwriting in K-5 grades in order to prevent difficulties as they progress through school.

Roberts stressed the importance of handwriting for students; from taking notes and laying out proper paragraphs for assignments to doing homework and ultimately achieving student learning objectives [SLO].

“Poor handwriting can have a negative effect on school performance,” she said. “When students perceive handwriting as hard and time consuming, the motivation to write may be greatly reduced.” She said learning correct handwriting in the earliest grades is linked to attaining basic spelling and reading skills.

“The key is we should teach correct letter formation so students can spend more time on sentences and comprehension, which increases test scores.” Roberts said.

Roberts said sound/letter association; visual perception and auditory and visual perceptual sequencing all play a part in learning how to write.

Roberts outlined the steps for student success; starting with clear and explicit instruction that will reinforce “muscle memory” so that once learned, the process of writing becomes automatic. In addition, the program encourages proper posture – “sitting up tall with their feet on the floor and listening ears and eyes on the teacher.” If left-handed, the paper should be tilted 45 degrees to the right and the exact opposite if the student is right-handed. Attention is also paid to ensuring the student has a firm 3-finger grasp – thumb, index and 3rd finger – on the pencil when writing.

“This ultimately produces more fluid and productive writing…so we want to instill the good habits from the beginning,” she said. “We will see many, many positive changes through implementation of this research-based, multi-sensory based writing program in the K-5 level.”

Toombs said there is no additional cost to the district for this program because of savings realized with less-costly handwriting workbooks that are distributed in 2nd grade and will again be used in the 3rd grade.

By MARK REYNOLDS
mreynolds@tcnewspapers.com

  1. John J. Cantone
    January 29th, 2014 at 11:12 | #1

    I can’t remember exactly what I said when commending Mrs. Toombs and the board on the common core workshop, but if what Mark Reynolds has reported includes everything I stated then I owe the teachers who participated in the workshop an apology for not thanking them as well. All of the teachers who volunteered that night did a fantastic job using the smart boards to demonstrate to the parents exactly what our children are learning , and most importantly the specific core principles that are being taught consistently throughout the elementary grade levels as part of the common core curriculum. The whole evening was well organized, the teachers explained things in great detail and offered to help parents individually after the workshop was over. A great job was done by all and I apologize to the teachers for not specifically thanking them at the board meeting. The best experiences for me that night took place in each of the individual classrooms and most of the praise belongs to the teachers for making that happen.
    Sincerely,
    John J. Cantone

  2. Diana Smith
    January 29th, 2014 at 18:42 | #2

    An excellent rationale for Cursive writing. More area schools need to perk up and read this.

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