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Fire Safety and Prevention Week is always one of busiest for the Rye Fire Department. But members always find time to visit Rye’s preschools and elementary schools to teach the very youngest citizens what to do in case of a fire.

On October 11, students at Little House Day Care were given the opportunity to visit the Fire House.

By Bob Zahm

Each year New York State conducts standardized testing in English (English Language Arts) and Math at all public elementary and middle schools. Third through eighth graders take the tests over two days in the spring, and the results are generally made available in August. The tests are intended to provide information to parents and the public about how effectively our schools are instructing New York students.

There is good news to report for the Rye City School District. The 2017 standardized test rankings have significantly improved for English, with the District moving from 12th to 6th place in Westchester County. In Math, the District rose from 15th to 11th place.

 

Outside of Rye City, the top five Westchester Districts are virtually the same as last year. The top four districts in ELA and Math mastery are unchanged – Bronxville, Chappaqua, Scarsdale, and Edgemont. Irvington earned the 5th slot in ELA mastery, and Katonah Lewisboro (replacing Briarcliff) the slot in Math.

Like the top five Westchester School Districts, Rye has also improved its absolute rate of student mastery as seen in both the ELA and Math test results. Rye City’s performance of 69.9% in English means that approximately 30% of students are not mastering the curriculum. Similarly, roughly 27% of Rye City students are not mastering the Math curriculum.

 

In comparison to overall New York State performance, Rye City and Westchester County continue to do well, with local students passing the ELA and Math exams at a much higher rate than across the State and County.

  NYS Average Westchester Average Rye City
ELA 38.8% 54.5% 69.9%
Math 40.2% 58.9% 72.8%

Rye City Elementary School performance continues to vary significantly across grades within schools, as well as within grades across schools. The only discernable pattern is at Midland, where two years of top performance has taken place starting with third grade in 2014 moving up to fifth grade in 2017. Absent a detailed look at the instruction provided and materials used, it is unclear if this success was due to teaching methods or is the function of a group of highly performing students.

The Rye City School District plans to provide their assessment of the test results and associated actions at the October 24 School Board meeting.

The District is pleased with the direction the most recent test results have taken. However, there are some doubts about the usefulness of the tests as a vehicle for assessing actual student mastery and identifying areas for improvement. The doubt is linked to the quality of individual test questions as well as the degree of coverage of the curriculum provided by the tests.

The District’s strategy for improving student mastery in English and Math has two primary components. First, enhance teacher and administrator professional development through focused training plus coaching. Second, ensure that students are strong readers and writers – critical skills for both the English and Math tests.

  • Tom McDermott and Peter Jovanovich

By Janice Llanes Fabry

Rye Neck High School is presenting the hilarious “Noises Off” at the Performing Arts Center October 26 and 27 at 7:30. The Rye Neck Theater Department, headed by Scott Harris, has never rested on its laurels and this year is no different. Not only does the fall play feature a talented cast and crew of students, but a two-story revolving set might come close to stealing the show.

The 1982 Broadway classic farce by Michael Frayn is about a hapless company of actors attempting to stage a British play. The audience gets a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes during a performance. As a result, Harris explained, the play doesn’t work unless there’s a two-story set with both front and backstage points of view.

“The audience gets to watch actors getting ready to go on stage to perform the play within the play. They get an insider’s view of the magic of theater,” said the director, who hired a set designer to construct the two floors, complete with a fulcrum for spinning. The students played a big part in assembling all the parts.

“As always, our fall play is almost completely homegrown. Students run nearly all aspects of the production,” said Harris. “There’s been a flurry of activity at rehearsals every night since early September, as students have been learning lines, assembling costumes and props, making signs, and basically putting the whole thing together.”

He introduced “Noises Off” to his acting classes last spring.  The title comes from the theatrical stage cue that indicates sounds coming from offstage. The play was also made into a screamingly funny feature film in 1992 with a star-studded cast that included Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, and Marilu Henner.

“We laugh all the time during rehearsals as the students practice the timing, the pratfalls, and the slapstick,” Harris remarked. “It’s a very challenging piece because the timing between the action and the dialogue is very specific.”

The school’s fall play has become as much a staple of Rye Neck theater as their elaborate spring musical, albeit on a much smaller scale. All 11 actors have meaty roles and all 40 crew members are integral to the show.

As Harris noted, “For those students who love theater but may not have the singing chops for the spring musical, this is a great option. Because it’s a smaller group, each student has a special connection and feels ownership in the play. It fills them up with joy.”

Tickets are available at the door, general admission. Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for students/children.

Rye School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Byrne, Assistant Superintendent Sheryl Goffman, along with School Board President Katy Keohane Glassberg took time to go over the test scores with The Rye Record, and took part in a wide-ranging discussion of student performance. Below is a summary of that conversation.

What about the Common Core? “The whole thing is being rebranded,” said Dr. Byrne, “There is no such thing as a ‘Common Core Curriculum’. What we have is a set of learning standards.” He also said that the tests do not count for anything until 2020, and are not currently used for teacher assessments.

Dr. Byrne knows his way around testing and instruction. He came to Rye from Chappaqua, ranked second in ELA and first in Math testing. How did they accomplish that? “We threw out the testing workbooks,” Byrne said. “Teachers there are still not worried about the tests.” To Byrne, tests are just one piece of a very complicated puzzle.

As to how Rye improved its rank in ELA, Glassberg commented, “Our ELA score went up because we did a lot of work on it.”

Goffman remarked that test data is one way to assess “but we have a variety of ways to look at individual student performance.” She noted that the State only began sharing the questions with the District last year. Also, in class, students look at a whole story and how it is constructed, which does not lend itself to ELA multiple- choice questions.

Byrne and Goffman, are laser-focused on teacher development as the key to achieving classroom results as schools move towards what the State now calls Next Generation Learning Standards. “When administrators – principals – are together, it will be about professional development,” Byrne said. “We ask, what do our teachers need? Teachers need support.” And in Rye, Byrne has found, as he continues one-on-one interviews throughout the District, teachers crave development.

To that end, the District is concentrating on an expanded relationship with Columbia Teachers College to improve professional development. Goffman is working on a new report card to improve feedback between parents and teachers. Byrne believes classroom coaching needs to be sustained, where students and teachers are side-by-side. “Classroom-based development is the real improver.”

All the Light You Can Clearly See

One hundred-fifty members of the Rye High School class of 2018 were inducted into the chapter of the National Honor Society at a candle-lighting ceremony at the Performing Arts Center on October 11. To be eligible for membership, students must maintain a cumulative average of 90 or greater and perform a minimum of 75 hours of volunteer service.

The Rye High faculty nominated students, who they believe embody the ideals that the Society celebrates: Jared Olbrys for scholarship, Mary (Maggie) Devlin for leadership, Alexander Mayo-Smith for service, and Chase Bekkerus for character. Those students then chose classmates they believe represent those same qualities: Nora Woodruff for scholarship, Emma Smith for leadership, Elena (Lainie) Agosta for service, and Peter Chabot for character.

At the ceremony, the students lit candles to represent each of these qualities, and all joined in repeating the pledge of induction.

Once inducted, National Honor Society members continue their volunteer service. Last year’s graduating class logged 1,300 tutoring hours, and this year's class has pledged to match that number.

Candle of Service students Alexander Mayo-Smith and Lainie Agosta

Candle of Character students Chase Bekkerus and Peter Chabot

Candle of Leadership students Maggie Devlin and Emma Smith

Candle of Scholarship students Jared Olbrys and Nora Woodruff

By Janice Llanes Fabry

Rye Neck Middle School gave author Nora Raleigh Baskin a warm welcome on September 26. Having read her novel, “Anything But Typical,” in a schoolwide assignment over the summer, Principal Eric Lutinski, teachers, and students alike became well acquainted with its protagonist, an autistic 12-year-old boy, as well as with its overriding themes of empathy and acceptance.

During three PTSA sponsored assemblies in the Performing Arts Center, Baskin revealed much of her personal background to demonstrate the profound resemblance between author and main character.

As Library Media Specialist Linda Costelloe put it, “Nora Raleigh Baskin’s ability to articulate the incredible obstacles she had to overcome on her journey to becoming an author, plus her brutal honesty, were so moving.”

Baskin’s mother committed suicide when she was 3. Later, she was abandoned by her father, then her stepmother, and exposed to domestic abuse. “I was a really angry, confused sixth grader,” admitted Baskin, who bounced from school to school.

Upon landing in New Paltz Middle School, she found her niche. A sixth grade Language Arts teacher made an impact by reading aloud a story she had written for the class.

“In that moment, my life changed. I decided I wanted to be a writer,” Baskin recalled. “John Thomsen made a real difference in my life.”

Baskin started out with autobiographical novels before turning to different subjects. When embarking on “Anything But Typical,” she learned all there is to know about autism through extensive research and personal accounts. She also did a lot of soul searching.

“I decided the book had to be about empathy, not sympathy, and about acceptance, not tolerance,” Baskin remarked. “I didn’t want to be tolerated as a kid, but I wanted to be accepted.”

For the schoolwide read, guidance counselors Meegan Lawlor and Christopher Spillane tied the visit to the district’s Anti-Defamation League No Place for Hate program. “Projects like this help to highlight empathy and acceptance which help to create a positive school climate for all,” noted Lawlor. (RNMS is a gold star No Place for Hate school.)

She and eighth grade English teacher Cathy Toolan put together lessons that culminated in the students creating posters with “Anything But Typical” themes that hang in the Community Room. The students were also invited to write an essay entitled, “Why I want to have lunch with Nora Raleigh Baskin.” After the assemblies, 21 students had lunch with the author, talking about how the book affected them all the while.

Costelloe noted, “Teachers prepared the students so thoroughly with class discussions and activities that ensured they understood the many layers and nuances of the story.”

In addition to discussing the book’s subject matter, the prolific and award-winning author gave young aspiring writers advice. “There are two levels inside a story, the emotional journey and the conflict. For the emotional part, look inside your heart and soul to connect to your main character,” she suggested. “Walk in every character’s shoes.”