Scarsdale High School Math Teams Place Top in County
- Category: Schools
- Published on 30 March 2015
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
The Scarsdale High School Math Team A won first place in the Westchester County Interscholastic Math League, and the Scarsdale High School Math Team B won second place. This league consists of teams from 22 school districts in Westchester county. The teams meet monthly to solve challenging and intriguing math problems. Individuals and teams earn points based on the number of problems they solve correctly.
Five of the top six students in the individual rankings are from Scarsdale. Richard Xu won first place, Dexin Li won second place and third place was a four-way tie. The three Scarsdale students who won third place are Harry Chalfin, Garrett Tanzer and David Wang. The teams are led by Scarsdale High School Math teacher Laura Estersohn.
The final meet was held Monday, March 16 in White Plains High School. Seventeen Scarsdale students attended the final meet. They prepare at Scarsdale High School where they meet, on average, one or two times every week to play in various leagues. The students work through problems and explain their solutions to each other. By so doing, they become stronger mathematically. In addition, they enjoy each other's company and have a good time.
Seventy-seven teams from 22 school districts in Westchester entered the contest. The questions reward clever thinking as much as straight-ahead math knowledge.The questions do not require a knowledge of calculus. In fact, most of the questions can be solved using high school algebra and geometry so that students from all grade levels can participate.
The Scarsdale rankings were based on results from 5 meets throughout the year. The top students throughout the county will go on to a state level meet on April 25 in Syosset, NY. Here are the twelve students who will represent Scarsdale:
Rebecca Agustin, grade 12
Michael Bogaty, grade 12
Harry Chalfin, grade 11
Alan Chung, grade 9
Connie Lam, grade 12
Dexin Li, grade 10
Cailey Martin, grade 12
Garrett Tanzer, grade 11
David Wang, grade 11
Cherie Xu, grade 11
Richard Xu, grade 9
Tom Zhang, grade 10
Jewish Film Festival Starts on April 8 at Jacob Burns Film Center
- Category: Shout it Out
- Published on 30 March 2015
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Tickets are now on sale for The Westchester Jewish Film Festival at The Jacob Burns Film Center which will run from April 8th - 30th and feature an extraordinary crop of moving, humorous and enlightening films from all over the world, plus discussions, special guests, receptions and live music. You'll find the full listing at Westchester Jewish Film Festival.
Here are recommendations for films you may like to see and programs to attend from Karen Goodman, a former Scarsdale resident who selected the movies and programs for the festival.
She found a group of films at this year's Toronto International Film Festival including several historical dramas: Phoenix, the opening night selection which is a stunning post-war drama about mistaken identity from Germany, and the unexpected break out hit from the Netherlands Secrets of War, along with Israeli films including the riveting courtroom drama Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem with Ronit Elkabetz, and the courageous dark comedy The Farewell Party. Another one of her personal favorites is Felix & Meira, a tender drama about an unhappy Hasidic wife featuring young actress from last year's hit Fill The Void.
The festival includes some documentaries that highlight the broad history and legacy of Jews and the entertainment industry, some with live musical performances: Forbidden Films, the chilling chronicle of film making under the Nazi regime, The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, which chronicles the rise and fall of moguls Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, Theodore Bikel: In The Shoes of Sholem Alechem which will be presented with a live concert from The Aaron Alexander Klezmer Trio, and finally The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, a delightful look back at the iconic stage and screen star dubbed 'Last of the Red Hot Mamas' for which they have arranged to welcome the cabaret performer and renowned impressionist Christine Pedi to share Tucker's musical legacy and milieu.
Scarsdale residents may be interested in seeing 112 Weddings which will include a session with WRT's Rabbi Blake who is in the film. The new Ben's Deli on Central Avenue in Scarsdale will sponsor a Community Night reception with the film Deli Man.
Also on the program are Lloyd Handwerker with his unique documentary Famous Nathan about his grandfather's legendary Coney Island empire, and veteran actor Mark Blum who gives a spot-on performance in the quintessentially New York comedy Blumenthal. And finally, the iconic Israeli singer/songwriter David Broza will be speaking and performing on closing night after East Jerusalem/ West Jerusalem which highlights his music and peace initiatives in the Middle East.
All of the events and many films sell out quickly, so reserve your tickets today.
Senior Cut Day: Is There a Better Way to Celebrate?
- Category: The Goods
- Published on 26 March 2015
- Written by Isabel Klein
For the past four years, high school seniors have stumbled into class at 8:05 AM, ready to learn whether they wanted to or not. On the morning of March 17, many seniors decided that they did not want to learn, and never did show up to class. It was senior cut day -- a rich tradition that usually falls on St. Patrick's Day when many seniors choose not to attend school.
Plans for the day vary. However, the most common activity is going to the St. Patrick's Day parade. Every year on St. Patrick's Day, seniors get dressed up in green and join the usual morning commuters at the Scarsdale train station.
Given the parade's reputation as being the epicenter of drunks and chaos, many parents, teachers, and administrators were concerned about students' safety. Scarsdale High School Principal Kenneth Bonamo sent out an email prior to the cut day in which he explained that the school doesn't condone the cutting. He encouraged students to steer away from the parade and wrote, "There is a widespread perception that St. Patrick's Day is 'senior cut day' and that seniors are excused from their academic and extra-curricular obligations. That is not the case ... We are concerned about the opportunity to engage in risky behavior, most notably underage drinking, that the parade presents."
In his email, Bonamo echoed many parents' concerns. However, the effect on student's choices may not have been as strong as he desired. "He was just doing his job. I don't think it changed anyone's mind or affected anyone's decision," shared senior Brian Leff.
Perhaps more potent than Bonamo's email in deterring students from cutting, however, were threats from teachers. Some teachers were more accepting towards cutting than others. Tough teachers chose to give heavily weighted quizzes on senior cut day. Students who decided to stay in school in order to take those quizzes were often disappointed to find the quizzes made up of basic questions like: "Write your name on the line" or "What book are we reading in class right now?" "The teachers shouldn't get offended and give 400 point tests on the day. It has nothing to do with respect -- it's just a tradition," expressed an anonymous senior. Many teachers refused to comment on senior cut day because they are not supposed to acknowledge its existence.
The consensus about the actual experience at the parade is exactly what most would expect: it was fun for the students to be with their friends, but the parade itself was overhyped. Drinking was definitely a component of the day for most who went to the parade. For many, alcohol consumption started at someone's house at around 9 AM. Drinking was a common theme among the senior class on senior cut day -- even for some of those who attended school.
The disciplinary measures that followed cutting were all part of the fun. Detentions were assigned -- so many, in fact, that dozens of seniors were taken to the large Little Theater in order to reflect on their wrongdoing on March 25. For many of the students present, it was their first and last detention. The energy during detention was lively, and it did not seem like many seniors regretted their cutting of classes.
The administration is so against cut day because they immediately associate the tradition with underage drinking. No one is denying that such activities do occur. Yet, not everyone went to the parade on cut day or even cut school at all. However, here's a thought: why can't senior cut day be a senior celebration day sanctioned by the school?
Bonamo should pick a day in April, when the weather is too beautiful to be sitting inside the classrooms, and organize a senior field day, picnic, or movie night. It may be true that high school students roll their eyes at school-organized events. Yet, an important concept to consider is that many students go to the parade not necessarily to pay respects to good ole St. Patrick. They instead go because everyone else is going, and it is fun to be in one place with a majority of the grade. It would likewise be fun to do anything (well, almost anything – no more SATs, please) as long as everyone is together. Of course there is prom and graduation, but a sort of "sanctioned cut day" can be special.
Seniors have less than fifty days left of high school. Given, cutting school should never be condoned, but teachers and administrators can approach the day and turn the tradition into a positive celebration, which everyone can safely enjoy. Classroom lectures are important, but in the last days of high school, spending time with those fellow classmates with whom one has trekked through the dark, awkward days of adolescence is perhaps more important. Seniors are almost there. They should finish together -- and the administration should be there with them.
Photos and quotes live from Senior Cut Day detention on 3/25:
Will Your Children Take the State Tests?
- Category: The Goods
- Published on 31 March 2015
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
The NYS Department of Education is putting Scarsdale School administrators and Scarsdale parents between a "rock and a hard place," according to Scarsdale Middle School Principal Michael McDermott. Though he has been vocal about the flaws in the state testing system for years, his position as Principal prevents him from recommending that students boycott the state tests. To those who think the school district is not doing enough to fight Albany, McDermott says, "Its not that we have been silent – we have taken a leadership position with the powers that be to point out the flaws in the system and the negative impact it has had on the students in the district." However he cautions, "I have first amendment rights to express my views but there is a fine line between individual rights vs. my responsibilities as a district administrator."
School Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and Principal McDermott along with other administrators from NYC and Westchester schools recently had a 2.5 hour meeting with NYS Deputy Secretary for Education Elana Sigall to address real concerns about APPR, test scores and assessments. We asked McDermott why the state does not permit high-performing districts like Scarsdale from opting out of the testing and he said, "It's very frustrating. The NYS Regents can't differentiate who is successful and who is not so we all get treated the same way. Though representatives from school districts from all over the world come to Scarsdale to observe best practices, we can't get anyone to drive two hours south from Albany to see what is going on here."
On March 30th, parents with children in grades 3 – 8 in Scarsdale received an email from the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lynne Shain. Shown below it instructs parents who wish to have their children recused from state testing to send refusal letters to their school principals by April 2. However, the email warns, that there could be consequences for the school district if 95% of students do not take the tests.
After three years of failure to meet the 95% quota, Shain says Scarsdale would be "deemed a district in need of assistance and would have to develop, submit and comply with a Local Assistance Plan (LAP), until we reach and maintain a 95% participation rate, with onerous reporting requirements, that would have a cost in time and staff support."
Governor Cuomo's education plan is meeting opposition from all over the state. According to School Principal Carol Burris and Bianca Tanis, a special education teacher and founder of NYS Allies for Public Education, "New York is on the leading edge of a growing national Opt Out movement—a movement that galvanizes the energy of parents, teachers and administrators who are pushing back against the Common Core tests and standardized test-based reforms. Support for such practices has plummeted, with Governor Andrew Cuomo's education reforms dragging his approval ratings down to their lowest level ever. By more than a 2 to 1 margin, New Yorkers trust the teachers union more than the governor, and less than 30 percent want test scores to determine teacher pay and tenure.
Last year the parents of approximately 60,000 New York students in Grades 3-8 refused to have their children take the English Language Arts and mathematics exams. This year, the New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of pro-public school, anti-testing advocates, are sponsoring more than 40 forums across the state, and parents are coming out in droves to express their dislike of Common Core test-based reform. One forum on Long Island, featuring Diane Ravitch, had nearly 1,500 attendees. Other forums have drawn hundreds of parents and teachers who applaud Opt Out as the strategy to stop the attacks on public schools and teachers."
We asked a few local parents for their view on the upcoming state tests and whether or not their children would participate. Here are a few comments:
Quaker Ridge Parent: My children in 5th grade at Quaker Ridge will be refusing the state tests, as they did last year. In my opinion, the tests, as they are currently written, are not authentic assessments, as they do not provide any diagnostic information about the student. I object to both the content and duration of the tests. I also do not believe that teachers should be judged by the scores their students receive on these tests. I am glad that our district allows children to refuse via letter, as it would be absurd to require a child as young as 8 years old to personally refuse in front of classmates. Children who refuse are counted as "not tested." They do not receive a zero. Consequences to the district from a less than 95% participation rate would only happen after three years in a row of less than 95% participation. The consequence would be a requirement to implement a Local Assistance Plan to boost participation. Big deal. I would argue that the amount of time and money spent on a LAP would be less than the amount of time and money spent on administering flawed tests.
Another Mom says, "I have kids in grades 5 and 8. We are opting out of the State tests for two main reasons: 1) my understanding is that the State tests do not yield timely, actionable results that would help my children in any way and 2) I don't think it's a good use of their time - this won't prepare them for life and doesn't "teach" test taking - we will prepare them for that in other ways (i.e SAT prep, etc). "
Greenacres Mom: So I guess I have a minority view. I have no problem with my kids taking these tests because life is full of tests and forgetting the test itself, I think as much practice as they can get sitting for tests, feeling that stress and working it through will only help them later in life. So for me, it's not about the content, but the actual experience.
Here is the email from Lynne Shain
Dear Parents of Students in Grades 3-8,
Since my March 19 letter to you about Grades 3-8 testing, we've been working with the State on a daily basis to get clarification on testing regulations. We've received vague and often contradictory responses. Recently, we learned that it is now a district decision as to whether to accept parent refusal letters, and we have decided to accept them. To expedite the process, parents sending refusal letters are asked to do so by April 13, but preferably by April 2 before spring vacation, through an email to the principal, the receipt of which can be quickly acknowledged. If a principal receives parent refusal letters by April 13, we will not put a test in front of the children involved during the testing or make-up days. During testing days, students will stay in their testing room and may read. On make-up days, students will not have to report to the make-up room and will follow their regular class schedule.
Please understand that the NYS Department of Education requires all schools to have a 95% participation rate in State testing. We've been told if we do not comply there is not only an adverse effect on teacher, school, and district scores, but that there is an additional penalty to the district. In Scarsdale's case, as best as we can determine, there would not be any negative impact on State aid. However, if we do not have 95% of our students take the State tests for three years in a row, we would be deemed a district in need of assistance and would have to develop, submit and comply with a Local Assistance Plan (LAP), until we reach and maintain a 95% participation rate, with onerous reporting requirements, that would have a cost in time and staff support.
I have included below the citations that were sent to us in the past week from the NYSED. If further clarification is needed, please feel free to contact me.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction
Reference Information Regarding Testing and Student Participation
Common Core English Language Arts and Mathematics Tests School Administrator's Manual Page 9: All students are expected to participate in State tests as part of the core academic program. Absences from all or part of the required academic program should be managed in accordance with the attendance policies of the district. For accountability and other statewide reporting purposes, students who do not participate in an assessment are reported to the State as not tested. Schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while the tests are being administered."
Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual: Students who refuse to take the entire test must be reported at the local level with a final score of "999" and a standard achieved code of 96, indicating refusal. These records do not move to Level 2 of the Student Information Repository System. These students will be considered to have "no valid test score" and will be counted as not tested. Students who indicate refusal however, answer at least one question on the test, will receive a scale score and performance level based on the questions answered."
Steven Katz's memo re: Information on Student Participation in State Assessments
"With the exception of certain areas in which parental consent is required, such as Committee on Special Education (CSE) evaluations for students with disabilities and certain federally-funded surveys and analyses specified under the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (see 20 U.S.C. 1232h), there is no provision in statute or regulation allowing parents to opt their children out of State tests. The failure to comply with the requirements provided above will have a negative impact on a school or school district's accountability, as all schools are required to have a 95% participation rate.
On Mar 20, 2015 Ira Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner, wrote: There are multiple negative consequences for not meeting the required 95% participation rate requirement:
(1) Schools in which subgroups do not meet the participation rate will fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
(2) SED will continue to determine and report AYP every year. A school that has not been designated as Focus or Priority and fails to make AYP for the same subgroup for the same measure for 3 successive years would be identified this year as a Local Assistance Plan (LAP) school. LAP schools would have their accountability status changed from Good Standing to LAP for this school year. LAP schools, in collaboration with the school district, will be required to annually use a diagnostic tool to develop a local assistance plan.
(3) Schools failing to make AYP cannot come off Priority and Focus Status.
(4) Schools failing to make AYP cannot become Reward Schools, and would be ineligible for the funding that comes with such a designation.
(5) Schools that persistently fail to meet participation rates may be subject to participation rate audits and may be required to develop plans to improve participation rates.
What do you think? Will your children be taking the tests? Enter your thoughts in the comments section below.
My Trip to Angola
- Category: People
- Published on 26 March 2015
- Written by Caroline Kristof
I had never heard a noise quite like it. A sharp, blazing howl echoed around the room as it shook the cracked ceiling. All was motionless, and for a moment, the only thing that could be heard was an explosion of tears. I shivered. But then in an instant, there was movement again, a rapid shuffling around, murmurs of consolation, whimpers of pain, a few touches of empathy. The dead baby was then quickly carried away, and all was back to normal.
When I first told my teachers a few weeks ago that I was missing school for a week to go to Angola, they were less upset than just highly confused, because—let's be real—who misses a week of school to go to Angola? Nonetheless, I assured them it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But in reality I had no idea what Angola would be like. I imagined the capital, Luanda, to be filled with the usual developing world features—bustling streets, makeshift roads, overcrowded sidewalks, traditional music, and cheap goods. I consider myself fairly well-traveled, yet both the horrors and delights of Angola did not cease to leave a deep impression.
My dad and I arrived in Angola mid-afternoon, and the 80-degree weather was a nice shift from the spring snow showers of New York. As we bustled through the streets of downtown Luanda on the way to our hotel, the first thing I thought of was how guilty I felt about complaining about the potholes on Post Road, as the potholes here left me in a constant nauseating suspension above my seat. Yet our hotel was relatively close to the airport so nothing at first glance about the city really shocked me in any way, and I was just excited to get to the hotel to sleep, exhausted from over 20 hours of flying. When we got inside our hotel, I felt as though I had never left New York; the grand and immaculate lobby seemed all too upscale and out of place. When we got to the hotel dinner buffet, it was $75 per person; you could say I was just a tad shocked.
A local translator explained to us that Angola was rich in resources—in oil, diamonds, iron, yet the government was horrendously corrupt, meaning that the president's daughter was the continents youngest billionaire ever, yet the country had the highest child mortality rate. Over the week, we hopped from hospital to hospital, village to village, family to family, exposing ourselves to the culture and the horrors of poverty. It left me stunned, and shivering with horror, indignant for change. I used to be a bit squeamish, turning away at graphic Grey's Anatomy scenes and becoming lightheaded upon seeing my blood being taken. But seeing dozens of babies with life-threatening malnutrition, cobra-bitten feet, and gory skin diseases gradually made me accustomed in a way that I never wanted to be.
As we entered the first hospital we visited, just outside the city, I glimpsed a seemingly endless row of mothers cradling their sick babies, terrified, yet hopeful of what the next day may bring them. Some traveled hours to get there, scraping together their last savings, some even selling valuables in order to get transportation for this proper medical care. Unfortunately, these were the lucky ones as well—almost half of the population cannot access any kind of professional medical care their whole lives. Some mothers pointed me out to their children, as I waved, held out my hand, high fived, and laughed with them. One by one, a mother would be called up to see the doctor, so he could quickly stick in an IV, or hand over some pills, before moving on to the next child, possibly his hundredth in that day. I passed a young mother nursing her 11-month old baby boy, José, and enveloping him in blankets. She kept looking up, as if praying for a miracle. I smiled at her in an attempt to reassure her that José was strong, that he will fight through his deathly disease, and that she will one day be able to watch him grow up and become a man that she will be so proud to have raised. Across from José was a 2-year old girl, named Ana, who kept holding out her hand for me to hold. Whenever I turned away, she would call out to me so that we could continue laughing and high-fiving. Just as I was thinking about how adorable Ana was and how I wanted to take her home with me, I heard the shrill.
I instantly felt a dagger in my spine as I started physically shaking. I knew what had happened before we even rushed into the hospital room, where a baby boy was lying motionless on the bed as the doctor was compressing his chest with hopes of reviving him. I stood in the back, frozen with terror, as I watched a mother, wailing as she blurted out tribal prayers to bring her son back to life. And then I noticed that the lifeless boy on the bed was José, the boy I had seen just minutes before, cradled in his mothers arms in the waiting area. My maternal instincts kicked in and I felt the mother's pain, as the doctor simply shook his head, and left the room. I had never witnessed a baby die before my very eyes, and I hope in God's name that I never have to ever again.
The rest of the week brought more hospital visits, but also more optimism, as we journeyed across the country and tasted the unique culture and charm that the country had to offer. Though what I had witnessed earlier in the week still haunted me, it didn't define my trip, as there was another side to Angola. At one point we drove hours in our landmine-proof van on small side roads, through small rivers (this van endured a LOT), and up rocky slopes so we could try to visit some of the remote villages in the middle of nowhere. I met girls my age who were fun and bubbly, yet had never been to a day of school in their lives. Some of the villagers we came across had never heard of the United States, and had never been outside their village. One mother we met had had fifteen kids in total, and lost ten of them, yet could still have faith in God, and wanted to see her village thrive. I watched the young children run around, chasing their goats, and climbing their thatched roofs as a way to pass time, all giggling and getting along. It was a beautiful sight.
I had seen more in that week than I could have ever imagined, and my takeaway is easily indignation at the horrific corruption that is resulting in a horrific number of malnourished and diseased babies. But I will also always remember Ana, smiling as she reached out to hold my hand, and the village children laughing around in the midday African heat—both still able to find joy and purpose, in a life that has brought them too much misfortune and grief.