State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King Jr. took questions Thursday morning from a panel at Whitman High School that ranged from classroom size to the value of mandated tests.
After visiting Whitman, King was scheduled to talk with more than a dozen educators from around the area at a closed-door meeting at Huntington High School.
King addressed students gathered for the forum, noting his own drive for an education after he lost both of his parents by the time he was 12. "It was the school that became the place where everything was possible," he said. "I saw every day as an opportunity to prepare for all the possiblities of life. The question for you is whether you’ll take that opportunity. Our future depends on how you embrace that."
Dennis Callahan, president of the South Huntington Teachers Association, asked King if he is open to changing certain requirements.
"South Huntington is not a failing school district and yet we are asked to modify our tactics as if we are failing," he said. "Our students are burdened with testing. Would you be open to lifting testing requirements where scores and the passing rate already exceed the state average?"
King responded by saying, "At the end of the day, tests are a part of the educational experience. The challenge I think is to make sure instruction aspires to rich academic experiences. Rich instruction should happen and if it does, students will succeed. Sometimes class instruction starts to look like the test and what’s lost in that is inspired teaching. But assessments are a part of any educational system."
Other questions covered the educational experiences of students who are pulled out of classes for special services, the availability of AP tests, and how to maintain quality education in light of state mandates and less money because of the state tax cap.
To the last question, asked by school board trustee Ed Nitkewicz, King replied, "It's a challenge to make sure we’re creative. The reality of the current state economy is that we are in a period of very limited economic growth. We don’t expect a huge infusion of new resources. Can we think creatively, to study how we use class time. Are there ways to leverage technology? Are there ways to think about scheduling," he said.
During his talk before taking questions, King emphasized the value of people giving students a chance to live up to their potential. He said he became a troublemaker for a while in high school but that his uncle had intervened to help straighten him out. That uncle was Hal King, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
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Students from Oakwood Primary sang songs to greet the commissioner while Stimson students presented him with Wildcat mementos.
Earlier in the day, he visited the Kings Park school district.