They’re being charged with the gargantuan task of completely re-envisioning how children are educated in the Patchogue-Medford School District.
They’re storming a hill, and Superintendent Michael Hynes seems to have developed a battle cry.
That is, “Leave no stone unturned.”
It’s a phrase Hynes uses often in describing the work ahead for the school board and the 65 committee people now hammering out plans for what’s being called Patchogue-Medford 2.0: The Road to Success.
“If we want to stay on the same road and be average and settle for mediocrity, then we’re not going to turn over every stone,” Hynes said in his first in-depth media interview about the plan. “But if you really want to bring this place to another level for our kids, then what you need to do is make sure you look at everything humanly possible that’s going to benefit all of our students.”
He looks to the positive growth of Patchogue Village as inspiration, explaining how the village’s leaders had a clear goal of what they wanted to accomplish, and though there was some pushback, once people started seeing real results, then even doubters began to buy in.
Hynes indicated some drastic changes will be explored, and with that, there could be pushback.
“The hardest part will be holding onto our old mental models, or thoughts and feelings of how schools should be,” he said. “Because the one common experience we all have is we all went to school, and there are a lot of emotions attached to that. Many people think that it should stay the same.
“I think some things should remain the same, but with some things, because of time and because of the way things are, we need to think differently, and we need to be progressive. And that’s what I’m hoping this plan becomes. But it also needs to be inclusive and collaborative.”
Pressed for details, Hynes mentioned the possibility of reconfiguring the district elementary schools so that they’re no longer K-5 schools drawing students from the immediate neighborhoods. The schools would instead be grouped by grade through what’s called a Princeton Plan, or Princeton Model.
He noted that Princeton Plans are often proposed in districts that are looking to close a school.
“If its sole purpose is to save money, I don’t believe in it,” he said. “If you move to a different construct because it’s best for kids, and allows teachers to meet more often, to collaborate, to serve kids in a higher and more efficient way, then that’s a model we need to look at. That doesn’t meant adopt, but at least investigate and research it.”
The district could examine freeing up a building for vocational opportunities, he said.
Hynes explained that, currently, students who might be looking toward the trades or the military, as opposed to college, aren’t offered resources within the district to pursue those interests until the twelfth grade.
“For us, we want to start providing those opportunities in ninth grade,” he said. “Right now we’re missing out on three extremely vital years.”
A vocational school would allow Patchogue-Medford to offer trade skills from plumbing to hairdressing to paralegal work, he said.
“These are professions where people are making a good living,” Hynes said. “The caveat is, it would have to include a one-year internship program through the Patchogue and Medford areas, and that’s where a relationship with the larger community comes into play.”
As for the district’s higher-achievers, Hynes said there are opportunities for them to be challenged even further, such as through a Geneva-based International Baccalaureate program.
“We’re already looking at the feasibility of that,” he said. “It’s an investment, not only in resources but it’s actually an investment in our educators, because they have to be trained as well.”
With special education and English language-learners, Hynes said there could be more of an emphasis on before and after school opportunities, outside of the students’ core academic work, that could help them socialize within the wider communities more effectively.
Through his own experience in school, Hynes said he felt as if he fell into a growth-stunting abyss with other middling students who didn’t get the same attention given to the brightest students, as well as the most troubled students.
He sees that phenomenon as a nagging flaw in how children and teens are educated in the state.
“Many of those students in the 80% range, they get lost in purgatory,” he said.
For them the schools should be committed to providing “richer opportunities,” he said. And that can be done by doing away with programs that haven’t been working, or just aren’t popular with the young people any longer, and introducing new ones that foster curiosity and enthusiasm.
Asked about whether spending would need to increase under the strategic plan, and if the district would consider bonding, Hynes replied as follows:
“You want to do whatever is necessary to accomplish what needs to be done. When we look at cost, we’re going to look at investment and return on the investment, and if the return on the investment is worth it, then anything is possible as far as I’m concerned.”
Hynes said about 65 teachers, parents and other community members have begun meeting in committees to take closer looks at five specific aspects of the 2.0 plan, which Hynes and the board are calling pillars. Within each pillar, the assigned committee will develop specific goals.
What will guide any decision-making moving forward, Hynes said, are the vision and mission statements that were adopted by the school board last week, along with six district core values.
Click here to follow the work of the committees through meeting minutes and video, and to read the mission, vision and core values
“We want to make sure the community knows exactly what’s taking place,” Hynes said.
The goal is to have the plan adopted by the board in May, and start implementing some changes as soon as next school year, with other, larger changes, needing to take more time.
Asked how the plan could operate within the state’s mandates, including its across-the-board educational standards, Hynes — an outspoken critic of recent education reform efforts in Albany — said he must do now whatever he believes is in the long-term interests of Patchogue-Medford students — not wait for Albany to figure its own policies out.
“If this plan comes to the place where I think it can, I would like the state to exempt us from 3 through 8 testing, and allow us to evaluate teachers on our own accord, based on our professional judgements, and assess students in a much better way,” Hynes said.
“Then we can possibly use this as a case study for other districts in New York State, to see if this is a possibility for them to — I don’t want to say emulate, but to look into and make it their own.
“Nothing like this has ever been done before.”