It was all about the numbers at Monday night's meeting of the Huntington Board of Education: test scores, budgets, class size and even the number of open schools.
On the agenda were reports from Western Suffolk BOCES on how it will help guide the search to find a replacement for retiring Superintendent John J. Finello; a detailed explanation from Dr. Kenneth A. Card on why Huntington High School was placed on a state "needs improvement" list. But above all, what brought many members of the audience to the lectern was the size of classes and the related issue of the board's decision this summer to close Jack Abrams School.
The overcrowding issue arose first with a complaint by a parent who said that Flower Hill students had no space to receive extra instruction and that safety might be an issue because an emergency drill held in the gym might well push it past capacity. Later, when Dr. Joseph Giani, assistant superintendent, presented a report on on classroom sizes, complaints flowed again.
Giani's figures showed several classes at 30 or more students.School, grade, section Average Jefferson, third grade, three sections 30 Southdown kindergarten, three sections 31 Flower Hill, kindergarten, three sections 32 Washington, third grade, three sections 31
Trustee Emily Rogan then asked questions on the topic that seemed to preoccupy many in the audience.
"We are going to be entering budget season and we are going to need to decide whether we're sticking to our guidelines of 30 students," Rogan said. "What does that mean for our current enrollment? Are we satifisfied with the current state? How can we say this is good educational decision-making if there are 32 children in the kindergarten classes?"
After board president William Dwyer asked Giani about the cyclical nature of enrollments, trustee Christine Bene asked, "Where are we going with this?" which drew applause from large numbers of people in the audience.
After some further discussion about the numbers and the impact of 30 students in a classroom, trustee Kim Brown said the board after the board had closed down Jack Abrams school this summer. "We need to open up Jack Abrams again" which drew louder applause."Until you open Jack Abrams, you're not going to get anything. That's the reality. The community isn't going to pass anything until we open Abrams."
During the discussion, Dwyer announced he would "no longer support any plan to move back just one part of the district into the school. I'm fully in favor of making it a sixth-grade center."
This summer, in response to fears about crime in the neighborhood, the board had first voted to move younger students out and turn the school into a center for sixth graders. Not long after, following some further violence in neighboring blocks, the board changed its mind, closed Abrams to students and dispersed them to other schools.
One issue unresolved is what to do about reports and efforts by the long-range planning facility committee, formed in June to consider school building needs but whose work has been delayed by the changing Abrams situation.
That group aside, the audience pleaded with the board to reconsider once again. One teacher said, "I beg you not to wait too long. We've never had more than 24 and now the kids have a lot more needs. Where do we find the extra time to do progress monitoring?" which was a topic of Card's explanation earlier in the evening on how the schools would improve their rankings. "Class size is something you have to address or we're going to be here every year," she said.