Every fall, Rye High School seniors work tirelessly for weeks leading up to October 31. No, it’s not the deadline date for college applications, but something far more important, the Senior Halloween Skits.

The seniors form their own performing groups and choreograph dances to a “mash-up” of songs and compete for best, most creative performance. Costumes are mandatory and always hilarious.

It is one of the most heart-warming and sidesplitting performances of the year, bar none.

— Annette McLoughlin

By Annette McLoughlin

Thanks to teachers Francesca Miller and Dr. Michele Haiken, Rye Middle School eighth graders can learn about World War II through a new interdisciplinary Humanities course.

“Our aim was to assure that students would learn to think more critically about history and literature,” they explained. Miller, who teaches History, incorporated topics around the Holocaust. She was inspired by Facing History and Ourselves, an educational nonprofit whose mission is “to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.”

While World War II is not a new topic in the eighth-grade curriculum, the approach is now very different. Students will create a final project using various sources various to highlight themes of World War II.

In their ELA class, students will concurrently be directed through the history of the war through literature, poetry, and plays, to understand that there is no one story for all,” said Haiken, who teaches English.

Students will participate in “literature circles” and read excerpts from diaries and testimonies about the Holocaust and the war. A trip to the Jewish Heritage Museum in New York City is also being planned.

Haiken and Miller hope students will gain a deeper and multi-faceted understanding of why and how events like the Holocaust can occur, going beyond a set of facts and dates.

Rye Middle School teachers Dr. Michele Haiken and Francesca Miller

By Bob Zahm

The Rye Neck School District’s 2016/17 NY State standardized test results for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math declined both in absolute passing rate and county ranking compared to last year. The number of Rye Neck students taking the test increased: 511 to 572 in ELA, and 496 to 552 in Math. The opt-out rate declined from 31% to 27.1%.

The following tables show the percentages of students passing the ELA and Math tests over the past five years for the top five Westchester Country districts and for Rye Neck. In Math, Rye Neck has declined over the past three years from 10th to 15th in the County. In ELA, the District has declined from 14th to 18th.

District 2017 ELA Student ELA Passing %
  Rank 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
BRONXVILLE 1 75.8% 72.2% 66.0% 71.7% 68.6%
CHAPPAQUA 2 75.3% 71.9% 65.6% 70.2% 70.3%
SCARSDALE 3 74.3% 73.3% 63.6% 65.1% 68.9%
EDGEMONT 4 73.3% 74.4% 66.8% 61.8% 64.7%
IRVINGTON 5 71.2% 70.7% 63.9% 62.4% 62.2%
RYE NECK 18 61.9% 62.2% 57.3% 56.2% 58.6%
District 2017 Math Student Math Passing %
  Rank 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
CHAPPAQUA 1 82.1% 80.2% 78.2% 78.4% 70.6%
SCARSDALE 2 82.0% 80.3% 74.9% 71.5% 68.1%
EDGEMONT 3 80.4% 79.7% 75.7% 70.8% 64.5%
BRONXVILLE 4 80.1% 78.3% 75.5% 71.8% 60.5%
KATONAH 5 77.8% 71.0% 72.9% 67.1% 63.4%
RYE NECK 15 67.6% 69.6% 70.6% 63.8% 59.5%
Test Rye Neck Students Tested
  2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
ELA 572 511 539 728 712
Math 552 496 511 689 721

To gain insight into the District’s views of the state tests, we spoke with Superintendent Dr. Barbara Ferraro and Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. Eric Lutinski. They said, “State Education Department test data for grades 3-8 is not a good measure of student performance.” The Rye Neck School District employs four of its own assessments using a tool called i-Ready, which collects quarterly grades, a final exam, and other data to develop a comprehensive picture of each student’s performance. Based on that data, the District seeks to identify and address individual student’s learning needs. The emphasis is placed on the lowest performing students. (Rye Neck’s four internal assessments are evidently not designed to provide comparative data on the District’s annual progress, or on its progress relative to other school districts.)

The District says that it is monitoring “students’ skills over the long-term to graduation.” They cite, for example, Rye Neck’s 11th-grade Regents English “excellent” scores (96% proficiency and above).

Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Dr. Chris Dede will give a talk on “Redesigning Schooling for Success in College and in Life,” November 6 from 7-8 p.m. in the Rye Middle School Multipurpose Room. Professor Dede will discuss how to prepare students to compete in a global, knowledge-based, innovation-centered economy.

There will be time for questions and answers at the end of the talk. The event is free and all are welcome. Light refreshments will be served.

For more information on Dr. Dede, including his research, visit

By Annette McLoughlin

While the City is in the process of developing a Master Plan, the Rye City School District is also looking to create a strategic map for the future. The Board of Education is conducting an analysis of its facilities with a plan that calls for making necessary infrastructure improvements to aging buildings and developing a strategy to maximize the available space. A third objective is to make alterations to classrooms to reflect the latest research in learning, research which advocates the importance of helping students to develop the 21st-century skills required for success in today’s global, digital workplace. These skills include collaboration, creativity, inquiry, ingenuity, and problem solving.

It was with these objectives that the Board of Ed recently hired architectural consulting firm Fielding Nair International, which specializes in the design and renovation of educational facilities. Their work is research-based and their experience is extensive, stretching from as far as Kobe, Japan, to very local school districts, including Chappaqua, Bronxville, and Edgemont. Their guiding mission is to modernize educational spaces in a way that marries learning research with the design of school facilities.

The theory behind the cause to update classrooms (or learning environments) is called Project-based Learning (PBL) or active learning. It’s believed that with PBL, students learn in a deeper way and develop creative, problem-solving skills when they’re actively engaged.

This approach represents a shift toward a more student-focused learning, the goal of which is to help them master not only the tangible, specific elements of a curriculum but also to simultaneously engage them in cooperative interactions and problem solving. PBL advocates would say that in the end, you have a student who has better acquired the knowledge while having fostered creativity, flexibility, and an ability to collaborate.

This PBL approach to teaching requires some modifications to the traditional classroom set-up, whereby the teacher’s desk is at the front of the room and the students are seated in rows. What do Active Learning classrooms and learning spaces look like? At a basic level, they are structured to be adaptable in that there are multiple surfaces for students to work (whiteboard on tables, desks walls, etc.) and furniture on castors to accommodate flexible project settings and allow for study groups of varying sizes. Additionally, the class is engineered to incorporate access to digital technology. Teachers can position their own mobile desks to accommodate each lesson or project of any given class and day.

Some schools have created large areas known as Learning Commons or Communities, which allow for even greater flexibility and a wider array of group structure with the enhancement of powerful digital collaboration tools. Superintendent Dr. Eric Byrne, previously the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the Chappaqua Central School District, oversaw the construction of Chappaqua High School’s own Learning Commons, called the iLab, and is a proponent of the Project-Based Learning initiative.

Rye’s public schools have started to take small steps toward this educational evolution. Midland has converted their computer lab into an active learning space and has several teachers studying how to take full advantage of using this type of space. Osborn has also converted their computer lab, replacing desktop computers with mobile devices and incorporating more flexible furniture. The Rye High School PO sponsored the renovation of two of its classrooms as a test and they were completed in early October.

Rye High Math teacher Jeff Shannon, one of the teachers now using the newly redesigned classroom, is enthusiastic about the difference. “The desks allow for students to collaborate on a whole other level. Students can compare their work with the work of their tablemates very easily when writing on the whiteboard desks. The students also get excited to use the desks and often ask for Expo markers to work on classwork. The way the desks are molded together promotes collaboration among students in a way that single-rowed desks could not. We also use the standing whiteboards to compare students' work. This makes the learning more personal as we are able to see the different ways students are solving the questions and learning from each other's mistakes.”

Fielding Nair International’s study results for the District will be presented in early 2018.

Redesigned computer lab at Osborn School

Rye High School students in one of two new flexible classrooms

At Christ's Church Nursery School’s Fall Fair October 21, family and fun were in the air. Over 400 people came out for community and to ensure that many tiny fingers had a chance to “Touch a Truck” and hop on board.

Photos courtesy of Christ’s Church Nursery School