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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Teacher and Coach Steve DeCaro is Re-Assigned From His Duties in Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, Leading To Mass Public Protest

 Yes, there are rubber rooms outside of New York City. Steve DeCaro, a beloved teacher and coach in the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, was suddenly reassigned during the week of October 7, 2018, and no one is happy.....except some secret accuser, somewhere.
This process still makes no sense to me, 16 years after I started studying it.

Mattituck-Cutchogue board approves new physics teacher


Mattituck-Cutchoque parent Chris McDonald

Mattituck-Cutchogue board approves new physics teacher


Despite the approval of physics and AP Physics teacher Tom Tomaszewski at the Mattituck-Cutchogue board meeting, seven parents, students and alumni returned to the microphone Thursday to voice continued concerns about teacher and coach Steve DeCaro.

Mr. DeCaro was placed on administrative leave the week of Oct. 7 for unspecified reasons. As a result, October’s board meeting brought about 200 community members to show their support for Mr. DeCaro and express their frustrations to the board. A month later, the reason for his leave has still not been disclosed.

Roughly fifty people attended the meeting Thursday evening, filling most of the library seats. A lawyer representing the district, Christopher Venator, was also present. Vice President Marylynn Hoeg told community members that the board recognizes the community’s frustrations regarding “ongoing teacher concerns” and is listening to their comments.

“We are legally bound to confidentiality constraints,” she said. “We have received many emails from people on all sides of these issues. We want you to know that we read every email, we read the posts on social media, as well as the articles in the local paper. We do hear you, and acknowledge as well as appreciate, your concern.”

Of the seven people who spoke at the meeting, four were familiar faces — returning to the microphone since last month’s meeting.

This included Lauren Gilbert, who has two boys in Cutchogue-East. She said that Donna Finnigan, a previous fourth-grade teacher in the district, was placed on administrative leave last August, also for an undisclosed reason. Ms. Finnigan was brought back to the classroom last Wednesday as a math AIS instructor, a teacher that offers extra help to struggling students. Ms. Gilbert said this position doesn’t reflect Ms. Finnigan’s experience.

“Her position within this school district is less than desirable,” she said. “Less than desirable for her, the teachers and the students who should be receiving her amazing skillset in a classroom setting.”

Ms. Gilbert also said she’s frustrated she’s paying for Mr. Tomaszewski, the new teacher, and Mr. DeCaro, whose paid through administrative leave. She said she spoke with Superintendent Jill Gierasch about Mr. DeCaro.

“Ms. Gierasch made me aware that these things take time, which I can understand, but at what cost?” she said. “The cost is our tax money going to two teacher salaries, one who is proven to be successful in our district, being forced to stay home, and one who has been brought in as his leave replacement. The cost is the student’s education which has basically been put on hold for over a month.”

Senior student Madison Schmidt, who said she’s taken five AP courses over the course of her high school career, said her AP Physics grades are suffering as a result of having no teacher in the classroom for roughly a month.

“I signed up for this course with the knowledge of who my teacher was going to be,” she said. “For about a month, we have essentially been left on our own. Most of that time was spent having a class-wide ping-pong tournament.”

Ms. Schmidt also said the class has not completed a single AP Physics lab thus far. According to the College Board website, teachers are required to spend 25 percent of class time on hands-on labs to engage in the seven AP science practices for the course.

As a result, some parents in the district have asked the district to consider modifying AP Physics grades as a result of Mr. DeCaro’s absence.

“As the students grades have been glaringly and negatively affected by this fiasco, is the administration willing to change last quarter’s grade for affected students to a pass-fail?” Chris McDonald, who has a senior student at Mattituck, asked the board.

Laural Olsen, whose senior son is taking AP Physics, also agreed she’s concerned with children’s education after the class had no teacher for a month.

“Honestly, there did not appear to be a plan in place. The replacement for that teacher was approved on tonight’s board agenda, but he has been out of that classroom for over a month.” Ms. Olsen said. “Are we considering a plan for addressing the gap in our children’s education with the college’s they’re applying to?”

After hearing both complaints, Ms. Hoeg said she understands their frustrations since her daughter is a senior student in Physics.

“We will look into the pass-fail option and we will continue to work on this,” she said.

Tom Farrell, the president of the Mattituck-Cutchogue Teachers Association, was the last to speak. While he said he understands the personnel issue, he’s concerned for the union, and requested that the board offers specific guidelines to teachers in the district.

“There’s 130 of us, and there’s a real sense of the ground shifting under our feet and union members not knowing, literally, where they stand,” Mr. Farrell said. “We need guidance. We need people to step up and tell us what they want from us, and some real clear expectations.”

Photo caption: Chris McDonald, who has a senior student at Mattituck, question how students’ grades would be impacted. (Kate Nalepinski photo)

by Kate Nalepinski, 10/19/18
 “Can I have a show of hands of who is here tonight in support of the high school teacher currently under suspension?”

A sea of about 200 students, parents, alumni, and members of the Mattituck baseball program raised their hands after Lauren Gilbert, the mother of two boys at Cutchogue East Elementary School, asked the question at the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education meeting Thursday night. A total of 26 other people approached the microphone during the more than two-hour meeting to address concerns with the absence of longtime physics teacher and Mattituck baseball coach, Steve DeCaro, and describe what they feel is a changing culture in the district

“I recognize why many of you are here — it regards Mr. DeCaro,” Board president Charles Anderson said at the beginning of the meeting.

Mr. Anderson announced that the administration is currently investigating the situation and solely the board will determine the future of Mr. DeCaro, who was removed from the classroom last week, according to an Oct. 12 email sent to parents by high school principal Shawn Petretti. Mr. Anderson did not announce the status of Mr. DeCaro’s absence, saying it’s a “confidential matter.”

Superintendent Jill Gierasch emphasized that a replacement teacher, set to begin Oct. 29, is qualified, and another teacher will be available for extra help on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

“This individual has taught physics and AP physics for over nine years,” Ms. Gierasch said. “We are confident he has personal and instructional skills needed to support success.”

But some parents said waiting nearly a month for a full-time replacement teacher wouldn’t cut it.

“To go without one month of properly learning about AP Physics is unacceptable,” said Katie Thomas, who has two sons, one of whom is a current senior. “I don’t know how a new teacher will be perceived by the students, but if it’s like the way it’s working right now, it’ll be a while before the kids can actually learn in that class.”

Ms. Gilbert added: “I have lost faith in this administration.”

Six current members of the Mattituck varsity baseball team spoke during the meeting. They said Mr. DeCaro has not only led the team to success, but they excel academically because of him.

“He pushes us to be the best … Whether it’s in the weight room, whether it’s at practice when we’re going over fundamentals,” said Tyler C. Olsen, a varsity player and AP physics student.

The audience gave the boys a standing ovation after they had all finished speaking.

Sean McDonald, a current AP physics student and member of the varsity baseball team, said he started an internal petition to support his teacher. He received 200 signatures in four days, representing a large percentage of the current high school enrollment.

“With their signatures, these students would depict that they support my physics teacher, and that they disagree with your choice to remove him,” he said. “You represent us, as a community — don’t let us down.”

Jon Lisowy, a current varsity baseball player and student, said he and a classmate compiled a video of 37 alumni and current students defending Mr. DeCaro. He asked the board to present it at the board meeting, but they respectfully declined. Mr. Anderson answered him directly and reassured Jon that all board members would view his video individually.

Kathy Perivolaris, whose son Marcos was a captain on the 2015 state championship team, read a letter her son had written, where he asked that if Mr. DeCaro doesn’t return, the championship banners from their year be removed out of respect for the coach that led them to victory.

Some parents in attendance described the board’s decision as an attack on teachers. Bridget Marine, who has four kids in the district, said the choice to stand up for Mr. DeCaro represents a fight for all teachers.

“We are fighting for all teachers, not just our favorite,” Ms. Marine said. “But he deserves the best.”

Kathleen Delaney, a grandmother of two boys at Cutchogue East, said: “Many of us do not know the facts. We as parents have a right to know.”

Other students spoke about having Mr. DeCaro as a teacher, and said a lot of his “wacky” and “memorable” quirks would be lost if they don’t bring him back to the district.

“He made me look forward to school,” said 2018 graduate Cassidy Bertolas. “Seniors need him to make memories.”

Another student described Mr. DeCaro as “a Mattituck tradition.”

Marguerite Kitz, a longtime teacher at Wading River Elementary School, said removing Mr. DeCaro has jeopardized the quality of the community. Her son, Jack, who was a student at Mattituck, she said, loved Mr. DeCaro.

“He has this sense of community that we moved here for,” she said. “It would be so sad to lose our incredible sense of community … I am proud to say that I live in Mattituck. I don’t want that to change.”

Top photo caption: From left, Christopher Nicholson, Bridget Marine and Lauren Gilbert were among the speakers at Thursday’s meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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