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This Month from Cliff

This Month from Cliff

February 19, 2015

State of the State / State of Our Children


Dr. Wood reading to students

Dr. Wood reading to students from the Campus Fun and Learn Center

One of my favorite activities each year is when I am invited by one of Rockland County’s public schools for the annual “Rockland County Read-In.”  On Friday, February 13, I had the opportunity to read to a first grade class at Summit Park Elementary School in East Ramapo.  The school is clean, bright and cheerful, and when I entered at 8:30 AM, there was clearly a high level of energy and enthusiasm for the day’s activities.  I was immediately met by the school’s librarian who led me to a display of books, where I selected one appropriate for first graders.  A poised and well-mannered third grader then escorted me to Cynthia Norman’s classroom.  What I found there were 28 lively first graders, all having breakfast provided by the school district.  I also learned that for 12 of the 28 children, English was not their first language.  It was clear, after a few minutes, that Ms. Norman is a skilled and seasoned teacher who moves about the classroom, actively engaging all the students in the day’s activities.


Andrea Coddett, Dr. Wood, and Kim Hewlett

(L-R) Andrea Coddett, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, East Ramapo School District, Dr. Wood, Kim Hewlett, Principal, Summit Park Elementary School


After I read the book, I got my best present of the day when the children began to sing “Happy Birthday” to me.  When they finished the verse, they then began to sing the traditional “Are you 1?  Are you 2…” and then Ms. Norman interrupted them and said “With Dr. Wood, I think you'd better sing, ‘Are you 10, are you 20…' ” Otherwise, they would have been singing for a very long time.


My next stop of the day was at the Pascack Community Center to hear our Governor discuss the State of the State and his proposed budget.  After my visit to the classroom at Summit Park Elementary with way too many students for a first grade class where all were not native speakers, I understood one of the Governor’s major initiatives, and I support what he calls his “ambitious P-12 agenda.”  What he proposes is a very ambitious $1.5 billion to phase in a full-day pre-K for 4-year-olds.  He also indicates that the state “…will invest another $365 million this year in Pre-K for four-year-olds, but we also want to take the next step and start designing programs – not for four year olds – but for three-year-olds.  All the studies say that the earlier you get them in, the better.”  I agree with Governor Cuomo and this study, and I applaud his efforts to spend significant funds on our youngest students.  While we are all aware of the Governor’s concerns, I am sure his proposal reflects the general concerns of the entire country about public education.  It is the right decision to provide a formal educational experience for very young children.


While I am disappointed that the Governor did not provide an increase for community colleges, I do understand his strategy to solve the problem at the beginning.  That is to say if we are successful in providing universal pre-K, we can be optimistic about the future and can anticipate that in 12 years the students who come to our public community colleges will all be “college ready” and not need the remediation that many of our students now need.


After 48 years in public education, I still firmly believe that the success of our great country is because of the access to and opportunity for quality public education for all of our citizens.  So, I join those who applaud Governor Cuomo’s initiative to fully fund universal pre-K.


An Ideal State

In January, my wife Wylene and I traveled to Florida to celebrate the 7th birthday of our granddaughter Orly Schoolman Wood.  Orly is very fortunate in that she attends a magnet school that is part of the Dade County (Miami) Independent School District.  The school, Sunset Elementary, has received recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.  Students who attend Sunset have an additional hour of instruction each day which includes two hours of a foreign language.  This is the kind of school I wish all students had the opportunity to attend.


During the visit, Orly said, "Grandpa, I want to take you to one of my favorite spots where we went on a field trip."  The field trip was to the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami.  It was a wonderland offering to "explore, explain, and conserve the world of tropical plants."  There are acres and acres of breathtaking blooms and horticultural arrangements, scenic pathways, and educational exhibits.  A special treat was seeing the magnificent Dale Chihuly glass sculptures on display, imaginatively created and thoughtfully installed throughout the park, alongside the sparkling ponds, the luscious plants and tropical creatures like exotic butterflies, lizards and iguanas.  It was a wonderful experience and Orly and I spent a significant amount of time monitoring the frogs in the lagoon and chasing butterflies.

Dr. Wood and his granddaughter

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