Food Fight Among Parents, Increases in Student Success Highlighted at Malverne BOE Meeting

A ban on baked goods and programs to motivate students were discussed at Tuesday's meeting of Malverne Board of Ed.

A food fight among parents and members of the Malverne Board of Education, turned what was meant to be a brief meeting on basic school business Tuesday night into an emotionally-charged debate about cupcakes, cookies and kids' birthday parties.

Here's a recap of the Jan. 11 meeting.

The monthly business meeting for January commenced in the library almost exactly at 8p.m, just 10 minutes before the snow started falling outside. Aware of the hazardous conditions drivers could be facing if the meeting ran for several hours, Board President Patrick Coonan did his best to ensure it began on time and was as brief as possible.

After approving the minutes from last month's meeting and hearing the Treasurer's Report, he turned the microphone over to Dr. James Hunderfund, Malverne's Superintendent, to give his report.

Superintendent's Report: Increases in Student Performance and Enrollment 

Hunderfund cut right to the chase and introduced Deputy Superintendent Richard Banyon and District Coordinate Kathy Varol, who breezed through a slideshow about the results of a program that had been implemented in all four schools to improve students' social and academic performance. The SUCCESS (Students Under Continuous Care Expect Success)Program was first introduced in the high school about two years ago, but the district decided to expand it to include all grades, K through 12. It aims at improving the performance of all students, but especially targets those at risk .

Using a combination of tactics that included guidance counselors, mentors, progress reports, mandatory extra help, parent meetings and recognizing student achievements and positive behaviors too, the district was happy to announce that their efforts paid off. An analysis of data, including academic and disciplinary records, showed that the district's SUCCESS program led to an increase in the number of students earning honor roll and high honors, and a decline in suspensions and absenteeism. In Herber Middle School, for example, the number of eighth graders making the honor roll for the first marking period increased from 28 percent in 2008 to 49 percent in 2010. For seniors at Malverne High School, this number rose from 34 to 40 percent.

The presentation included some quick input from the principals of Davison Avenue School, Maurice W. Downing School and Howard T. Herber School. Downing Principal Margaret McDaid said that in addition to the efforts being done in the classroom, simply recognizing students for achieving certain goals has helped improve overall performance in her school.

"We use achievement boards and hold assemblies," she said.

Davison Avenue Principal Edward Tallon added that in his school, "We do a lot of celebrating success...and building confidence across the board.This helps academically and socially."

At Howard T. Herber, there was also a drop in the number of failures among students in Grades 5 though 8, and making honor roll has become cool.

"The kids are talking about how they can get on honor roll or move up to high honors," Herber Principal Steven Gilhuley said. 

In the middle school and high school, students earning honors are recognized at assemblies and photographed for large "honor posters" that hang in the hallways.

Varol added,"Students who were failing in October are not in January because of the support system."

Hunderfund also mentioned an interesting statistic that appeared in a newspaper article recently, which showed that among 54 school districts in Long Island, only 16 saw their enrollments increase in the past few years and Malverne was part of this minority. School District 12 was ranked sixth on the list of schools who have seen an increase in their student body, going up 3.37 percent.

"We're running against the trend, which is why the bond is going to help," Hunderfund said. "We're getting some more move-ins."

Important Upcoming Dates

Dr. Hunderfund reminded everyone about some important events taking place in January and February.

  • More than 250 students and 40 local Boy and Girl Scouts will be perform in the district-wide Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration on Friday.
  • The Friendship games will continue at Nassau Community College on Jan. 17.
  • The initial budget will be unveiled in February.

The "Cupcake War"

Although not listed on the printed agenda, Dr. Coonan asked the district's Business Administrator, Thomas McDaid, Jr., to give a recap on where the Wellness Policy stands.

"At the discretion of the board, [the Wellness Committee] looked at the Wellness Policy," McDaid said, explaining that the members have proposed two modifications to the current language.

The amended policy permits the selling of baked goods on school property only during after-school events that are intended specifically for parents when it can be assumed that students will not be attending. 

"You must also have a healthy option at the sale," he explained. "Still no candy or soda can be sold during school hours."

The other modification addressed celebrations during school hours.

"A lot of parents want to continue to acknowledge their child's birthday," McDaid said. Presently, the way the current policy reads no birthday celebration of any kind is permitted in the classroom.

This amendment would allow a "party" to be held in the classroom at the end of each month during snack time to recognize all the student's born that month at once. Still, parents would not be permitted to bring food into the classroom for all of the students to commemorate their child's birthday. 

"During snack time, teachers will acknowledge the student's birthday and individual students can bring their own food in," McDaid explained. "Parents can't bring in a cake."

Basically, parents will be allowed to supply a treat for their child, but nothing to share with his or her classmates.

For multi-cultural celebrations, parents will be permitted to bring in a food dish, but they are required to include a full ingredient list or it will not be service. 

"If [the dish] requires refrigeration, it will not be accepted if brought an hour before [the event starts,]" McDaid added, also explaining that parents will be responsible for monitoring the size of the portions they serve to the students. Lastly, he said that the district will continue to encourage parents to send in healthy food items. He advised those in attendance to view the district's Web site to get ideas on healthy snacks and alternative fundraisers that don't require food at all.

Board member Gina Genti, who also serves on the Wellness Committee, asked McDaid to clarify a few points including whether it was necessary to include safety standards for serving hot food. Genti was prepared to talk about the policy further, but Coonan said, "Bring [the policy] back in its final format before we discuss."

Explaining that the policy has already been discussed on three separate occasions among the Wellness Committee, Genti questioned Coonan's decision to keep it off the table.

"It has to be put into writing," he explained, gesturing to the few parents in the audience who came to the meeting, who he said do not even have a copy of the policy in question.

Coonan motioned to approve the remaining items on the agenda, which did pass, and was prepared to omit the public participation portion of the meeting, but a few parents protested.

"You have five minutes and then I'm ending this meeting," Coonan said as one parent, Danielle Henshaw, approached the microphone.

"I'm saddened and disheartened," Henshaw told the board regarding their decision to review the Wellness Policy again. "I thought the district was being progressive."

Henshaw said that with so many fundraising options out there that do not involve food, she was "perplexed" as to why the board had not eliminated bake sales altogether. 

"There's so much strife and waste of time arguing over a cookie or cupcake," she added. 

Coonan interjected to tell Henshaw that her time for addressing the board was almost up, which sparked outrage among Henshaw, Genti and other parents in the audience. He explained that as president of the board, policy dictates that he is responsible for setting the length of time that public participation will be allowed during the meeting.

Henshaw continued, explaining how Dever Elementary School in Valley Stream holds a multi-cultural celebration yet doesn't use food at all. It celebrates diverse cultures through the arts instead, she said.

Another parent, Margaret Delligatti, also approached the board with a different stance on the issue. 

"Let them be children. Let them have fun," she said. "Let them have birthday celebrations."

A mother of two students in the district, Delligatti told Patch that her daughter is now coming home from school saying she can't eat some of the foods her mother serves for dinner such as pizza, because they're "not healthy."

"It's going to make my child too much obsessed about what she eats," Delligatti said, concerned about eating disorders which are common among young girls such as anorexia. "I believe everything should be in moderation."

Delligatti said to the board members that if the district is concerned about student allergies, then they should make it "a peanut-free district."

Delligatti also questioned why the Wellness Committee meetings are currently being held at 2p.m., a time she finds to be inconvenient for herself and possibly other parents who need to pick up their children. (During the 2008-2009 school year, they met at 3p.m.) She also said that she learned that Genti had sent out an e-mail to parents in the district voicing her opinion about the unhealthy food served at one of the school events. 

"I don't think a board member should send out e-mails about these things," Delligatti said. 

"I'm a parent, a taxpayer, a member of the Wellness Committee and a board member," Genti responded. "I'm not just a board member."

Coonan told Genti, "You are held to your highest position. You are always a board member and not just a parent."

After everyone settled down, Genti asked to read a statement.

"I will begin by saying I have no understanding of what brings us here tonight discussing this policy," she read. "I have no recollection of a vote by this [board] affirming this policy review and ask to be furnished with minutes reflecting a board consensus and additionally, this [board] has not received either verbally or in writing a request by any formal organization or broad group in this district to do so."

Genti explained that she and the other volunteers on the state-mandated wellness committee, which includes physical education teachers, nurses, PTA members, students and administrators, had met throughout last school year and "struggled at every meeting to come up with revisions as required periodically by New York State to promote a healthy lifestyle..."

"There was intense debate and every decision made was done so with the knowledge that we would be targets for anger and resentment from some parents and teachers should we accomplish our task," she said.

She explained that in addition to promoting a healthier school environment, the policy also satisfies those parents with concerns about allergies, portion control, dietary restriction and processed foods. 

"Nowhere in the current policy are a parents right to feed their own child infringed upon," Genti said.

Some parents argued otherwise. Carol Brancato said her twin 10-year-old daughters now come home from school obsessed about counting carbs and calories and worried about their weight, because of the programs the district has implemented.

"I send my kids to school for education, not Weight Watchers," Brancato said.

Another mom expressed her disappointment over not being able to bring cupcakes into school for her 5-year-old's birthday recently.

Janine Rodriguez, who also has a son around the same age, said that she was happy that the school has banned food from birthday celebrations in the classroom. For her son's 6th birthday, the teacher invited her into the classroom to read a story, her son received a crown and the teacher made a big deal over him for the day.

"I don't think I need to celebrate my kids birthday with a giant cupcake," she said.

An active member of the PTA, Rodriguez also said she was at Back to School Night this fall, when the bake sale was cancelled for the first time in years, and didn't get the impression that anyone missed it.

She said,"I'm confident we can come up with creative ways to [fundraise]."

Genti suggested that instead of revising the policy, the board should first work on carrying out the one that is currently in place. According to her, it is not being adhered to, so she finds it difficult to judge the effectiveness of it and the response all those involved would have to it if it has not been enforced.

"Speaking from my experience with the primary and secondary buildings, food was and still is the primary method of celebration, reward, fundraising and outright bribery," she said. "I am strongly suggesting that this policy currently in place be implemented in its entirety with follow through and auditing for the balance of this school year and quite possibly next before this board consider changes."

Maria Obiol, the co-founder of Project Enroll Now, said that she would respect whatever the board decides, but thinks the rules have to be clear cut.

Also an educator, Obiol said that in the school she teaches at in Queens, she has moved toward celebrating student birthdays in the classroom without food.

"This is the direction schools are going in. It's a different world. Children are more stagnant. People are more concerned about healthy eating," she said. 

In her first grade class in Queens, she noticed that the students don't seem to miss the cupcakes. She said its the parents who grew up with this tradition and want to do the same for their kids that are making the fuss.

"I think this is more of a parent issue," she said.

Once the policy is finalized it will be put before the board, for the members to vote (in front of the public) during one of the monthly business meetings. Patch will continue to follow this story.

Gina Genti January 15, 2011 at 02:45 PM
It's important to correct what was misrepresented at the meeting. In no way are birthday celebrations in Malverne SD banned. Children have been celebrating their birthdays all year without food sharing in many different ways as evidenced by Ms. Rodriquez. Mr. McDaids statement that birthday celebrations are not permitted was incorrect. The committee intent was to provide a healthier environment. We're not party poopers.


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