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Story - Education

May 11, 2010 5:54 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Group for Good Government holds school board candidate forum

May 11, 2010 5:54 PM

Candidates vying for one of the three open seats on the East Hampton School Board felt some of the heat on Saturday that sitting board members have been facing throughout the year, as community members used a forum sponsored by the Group for Good Government to question them on the $64.8 million budget proposed by this year’s board, the growing tension between East Hampton and its sending districts and the poor report card the district recently received from the New York State Department of Education.

Board President Sandra Vorpahl was the only incumbent candidate at the forum. Vice President Michael Tracey withdrew from the race earlier in the week and board member Wendy Hall was unable to attend.

Four other candidates are running for a board seat for the first time: George Aman, Alison Anderson, Lauren Dempsey and Linda Silich.

Ms. Vorpahl is in her second term and worked for the East Hampton School District for 32 years before retiring in 2002. Currently, she works at the East Hampton ReCenter and is a member of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association. She is a lifelong resident of East Hampton, raised two children here and now has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Ms. Vorpahl said that if reelected to another term she wanted to focus the board’s efforts on improving students’ test scores.

The New York State Department of Education recently released its annual evaluation of school districts, called the New York State School Report Card, which includes a part listing student test scores on Regents exams by subject. At East Hampton High School, 70 percent of students who took the Mathematics B Regents Exam scored a 55 or higher, 56 percent scored a 65 or higher and only 7 percent scored an 85 or higher. Armed with the state report card in hand at the forum, audience members also had the same numbers for area high schools for comparison. In Southampton, for example, 15 percent of students who took the Math B exam scored an 85 or higher.

Ms. Vorpahl said the board has already started to address the issue of low test scores, especially in mathematics, and hired a math consultant this year to aid the high school’s math department. She said the consultant has been observing classes and offering new teaching methods, and the district was considering math labs for next year.

Ms. Vorpahl stressed that the current board has a strong working relationship and she felt the district would be best served next year if that board were to stay intact.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job, but we can admit that we made some mistakes,” she said. “We can still learn.”

She said she hoped that moving forward the members of all the School Boards in town could mend their relationship.

“We haven’t been as pleasant to each other as we should have been,” she said.

Dr. Aman, a father of seven who received his Ph.D. in mathematics education and spent more than 40 years as a teacher and then administrator in public schools across the state, including as superintendent of the Amagansett School, was the only candidate to offer a fresh perspective on improving test scores. He said that as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, East Hampton could be eligible to receive grant money toward improving academic achievement. He also mentioned a formula he has seen used in other districts that would help gauge each student’s progress and a teacher’s effectiveness.

“It would create a process of evaluating and measuring the worth of a program,” he said.

Dr. Aman said that if elected he would come in with a working knowledge of school budgets and negotiating teacher’s contracts from his roles as an administrator.

Dr. Aman also stood apart from the other candidates when he opposed the use of the Seneca Falls Formula to calculate tuition for sending districts. He said the formula was antiquated and also not a perfect fit for its current use with sending districts. He said it was originally created to deal with tuition for foster children.

“When I was superintendent we didn’t use the formula,” he said. “It was a lower, negotiated rate.”

Dr. Aman said he did support a consolidation study, though he doubted that many of the districts would be willing to consolidate.

Ms. Dempsey, a medical office administrator whose daughter is a senior at the high school and whose son graduated from the district last year, stressed the need for more open dialogue between the districts. To a burst of applause from the audience, Ms. Dempsey proposed representation of the sending districts on the East Hampton School Board.

Though Ms. Dempsey has never served on an elected board before, she said her administrative roles—previously she was a hospice director in Hawaii—would serve her well.

“I’m a sound thinker, a good listener and I’m dedicated,” she said.

Ms. Anderson, a lifelong resident, mother of three and president of the high school PTA, also called for more transparency, not only between districts but between the board and the taxpayers. She said that as a board member she would be proactive, and involved and that she doesn’t like to “sweep something under the rug.”

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Comparing our test scores with nearby districts is apples versus oranges. Those districts DO NOT have a Hispanic population of almost 40%!! But nobody can say that in a public forum.
By YEAROUNDER (81), East Hampton on May 14, 10 8:34 AM
that actually was addressed by mrs vorphal...and the the fact that these scores are all students (high acheivers and students with IEP"s) are lumped together..there are some students that cannot actually score better due to learning issues...
By gansetteer (125), East Hampton on May 14, 10 10:01 PM