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Education reform gets personal at GITB rally

by jmaloni

•Taken from the March 27 Island Dispatch

Tue, Mar 31st 2015 12:40 pm
Speakers included high school student Katie Gentz, teachers' associated president Mike Murray and special education teacher Ashli Skura Dreher.
Speakers included high school student Katie Gentz, teachers' associated president Mike Murray and special education teacher Ashli Skura Dreher.

Stakeholders in the Grand Island Central School District joined at a rally Monday to speak in one voice in opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's state budget proposal and education agenda.

At Huth Road Elementary School during an event called the "GI Rally to Put Students First," Grand Island Teachers Association members and school district officials said Cuomo's agenda is anti-public education. They were unanimous in their opposition to the governor's proposal for a $1.1 billion increase in school aid, saying it falls short of the $2 billion requested by the state Board of Regents and underfunds K-12 and higher education. They took shots at Common Core, over-testing of students, and changes to teacher evaluations.

Speakers included Dr. Teresa Lawrence, superintendent of Grand Island Central School District; Lisa Pyc, president of the Grand Island Board of Education; Chris Savage, policy director to State Sen. Marc Panepinto; Tim Williamson, GIHS science teacher; Katie Gentz, GIHS senior; Cindy Ames, regional director of the Niagara PTA; John McKenna, co-founder of Partnership for Smarter Schools; special education teacher Ashli Skura Dreher; and Mike Murray, GITA president. All were unanimous in their opposition to the governor's education reforms under discussion in the ongoing state budget process.

"We are going to band together with parents to fight back," Dreher said, with the intent to "send a message to Albany that this is personal."

Dreher, an Islander who teaches in the Lewiston-Porter Central School District, was the 2014 New York State Teacher of the Year and said that as a teacher, she was cautiously optimistic that the Common Core would work, "but a reasonable implementation we all know would have started with the new standards in kindergarten and expand those standards one grade level at a time.

"And then we could have given schools time to integrate these new standards into our curriculum, but instead what happened the new standards were rushed into all grade levels at once without time for our teaching professionals to see if they were developmentally appropriate or if they were even useful."

Murray said Cuomo's office released a statement recently that stopped him in his tracks.

"He said the louder a special interest group screams, the more he's sure he's right," Murray said.

Meanwhile, students will soon take the latest assessments in an atmosphere that leaves them overtested and undertaught, Murray said.

"It's personal to me because these flawed tests reinforce the false narrative that public schools and most teachers are in drastic need of reform," Dreher said. "And this is personal."

Gentz said she was about to roll out of high school and embark upon the path to college "with a wheel that is strong. The hub of my wheel consists of the core subjects I have been so expertly taught. The spokes of my wheel are the activities, clubs and electives I have been given the opportunity to experience. As I stand up here before you, I truly believe the spokes of my wheel have made me stronger, more colorful, and have made my time in high school more meaningful and fulfilling."

"I feel confident that my wheel will smoothly roll, twist and turn over the bumps ahead of me because my hub is strong and my spokes provide me with valuable extensions, which are musical, treasured, colorful and well-rounded and will work in unison to carry me down life's path and get me through the miles," Gentz said. "Gov. Cuomo, please don't try to reinvent the wheel for every student going through New York state's educational system.

"Allow us to continue to roll forward with the strong spokes we need to keep us well-rounded. Afford students after the class of 2015 to continue to have the options to add spokes to their wheels ... which will provide outlets and extensions for their talents, interests and passions."

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