School Board: A deeper dive to develop students’ potential

JULIA BRENNAN PHOTO  A student choir serenaded the school board with a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the annual school board “appreciation night” Monday at the meeting of the Board of Education.

A student choir serenaded the school board with a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the annual school board “appreciation night” Monday at the meeting of the Board of Education.

Figuring out which behavioral or academic strategies work best for a particular student is an essential aspect of teaching, but even in a small school it can be difficult for educators across grades and disciplines to effectively share with each other what they’ve learned.

That was the message delivered by Shelter Island School Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott at a meeting of Monday’s meeting of the Board of Education.

To enhance understanding of what makes each student tick, Ms. Rylott said the district is rolling out a new web-based reporting system that will allow teachers in grades pre-K to 8 to collaboratively develop a profile for each student, with an initial focus on struggling students. Called “Branching Minds,” the program is funded here by state education aid that also covers training for key teachers who in turn, will train their peers, Ms. Rylott said.

In addition to basic information, such as performance on local and standardized assessments, a student’s profile may include teachers’ responses to surveys designed to capture harder to track emotional, social or behavioral issues that can influence a student’s capacities. The program also points teachers toward resources they can use to develop strategies to help students, Ms. Rylott said.
In her presentation to the board, Ms. Rylott showed part of an episode of the PBS program “In America” that featured “Branching Minds” (see the whole video at and took questions from those in attendance.
School Superintendent Christine Finn noted that the system is not open to input or interaction with parents — like the parents’ PowerSchool portal. Instead, Branching Minds is a tool designed to help educators in academic and specialty areas share insights, she said.

Monday marked the annual school board “appreciation night,” celebrated with a student choral performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and a gift for each board member of a half-dozen of Jacqueline Dunning’s apple spice cupcakes with maple icing.

In other business: Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio, in response to questions raised at an earlier meeting about possibly reinstating the school’s shared sports program (cut to reduce costs in the budget squeeze after the state imposed the 2 percent tax levy cap), said parents may not drive their own, or other, children to competitions, and may not fundraise to pay for such transportation.

That said, five schools within reasonable distance of Shelter Island may be willing to partner with the district for sports, he reported. Host schools charge a per participant fee for each outside student that joins a team. The fee is based on costs such as coaches salaries, team transportation and equipment purchases. In addition, Shelter Island would have to pay to transport students to the host school for practices and competitions.

If the Island school was to host a shared team, it would charge participating district or districts.
Mr.Gulluscio strongly encouraged the board to consider purchasing a small bus or van as a way to minimize transportation expenses — whether it chooses to pursue shared sports or not — noting that coaches may also act as bus drivers.

With the closing of Schimidt’s Market, he suggested the district arrange with a beverage vendor to reinstate an after-school vending machine so students staying for athletics and other programs can purchase bottled water and other wholesome drinks.

Board member Linda Eklund asked that the school investigate ways to encourage students to also use refillable bottles, which might be sold at a school store.

Ms. Finn reminded those in attendance of the October 31 deadline for grant applications to the Shelter Island Educational Foundation. Early in the evening, music teacher Jessica Bosak explained how funding from SIEF has supported the district’s field trips to New York City for students to see theatrical performances and take part in backstage educational experiences.

The board unanimously approved items on the agenda posted at

Ms. Eklund and Mark Kanarvogel abstained from voting on matters pertaining to members of their families.