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State Education Department to designate Shelter Island School ‘in good standing’: Off the ‘targeted’ list

It’s been four years since the Shelter Island School District was listed by the New York State Education Department as “targeted,” a designation meaning the state watches a district closely for actions to improve identified faults. The district is now out of the doghouse and is to be listed as “in good standing.”

It has been a long road, partially because the pandemic slowed down processes, and partially because the steps involved took time to achieve.

It’s worth noting that Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D. was named to his post in July of 2019 and was sworn in on Aug. 12, so the circumstances that contributed to the negative designation had occurred prior to his administration.

Mr. Doelger reflected on why the district was targeted and what it took until now to become a district in good standing.

Standardized tests are important to the state, but can be misleading in a small district. There was a period when parents for various reasons were opting out of requiring their children to take the tests. Some were concerned about the pressure they thought their children experienced, especially younger students. The opt-out rate for students in grades three through eight was high.

For each of the past three years, the number of students taking tests has increased.

“Due to this, our school will be removed from the list and we are in good standing on all levels,” Mr. Doelger said, calling it “a major accomplishment.”

He explained that it took implementation of a District Comprehensive Improvement Plan collaboratively written by staff with input from parents. The Plan took a three-pronged approach:

• Focus on increasing student participation in testing.

• Improve the curriculum and learning.

• Continue to take a balanced approach to education.

Increasing participation in testing not only would improve scores, but serve students long-term as they become better prepared to deal with Regents, Scholastic Aptitude Test, ACT standardized tests used for college admissions and ASVAB aptitude tests used for entrance to schools and military programs.

Teachers gain valuable knowledge in using assessment data to inform their instruction to students, the superintendent said.

To continue to improve the curriculum and learning, the staff turned to “Introducing the Next Generation Learning Standards,” with a focus on learning targets and questioning techniques, teacher coaching, and more professional development.

An approach to education concentrated on the well-being of students, checking in with their needs and incorporating special assemblies, “Mystery Mondays,” and other programs to contribute to their enjoyment of being in school.

“Due to our amazing staff, students and our plan, we are now thriving academically,” Mr. Doelger said. “We have been rated as a top high school in New York State and the United States by US News and World Report for each of the past two years and expect this honor again this year,” he said.

The district is now recognized by the State Education Department as having a top performing elementary school, he said.

“As a superintendent, I could not ask for more than for the elementary and secondary school to receive such high rankings,” he said. “Again, we have phenomenal teachers here.”

But the staff isn’t going to rest on its laurels, he promised. There are more than 20 teachers working on a strategic plan to take the district to another level.

“This will help us go from good to great,” the superintendent said.

Soccer is back

Good news for the community came with an addition to the budget of an anticipated $25,000 to launch a soccer program requested by students. Harrison Weslek and Jaxson Rylott, accompanied by a number of other students, brought the request to the Board of Education last month.

Mr. Doelger noted the cost will decrease after the first year because there’s a need to invest in goals, equipment, uniforms and similar startup expenses for the initial year.

“The cost going forward after this year would be much lower,” the superintendent said.