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Public presentations help Easthampton students; school reorganization debated

EASTHAMPTON - When Easthampton High School sophomore Tom Beyer learned that he would be making a public presentation in lieu of a final exam in last semester’s honors biology class, “it seemed like a big task,” he said.

Beyer was one of 20 students in Susan Markush’s class who presented their research findings in January to an audience of parents, peers and school leaders.

Superintendent Nancy Follansbee was among those who asked questions after Beyer and his research partner, Sean Rose — also a sophomore — presented findings comparing the chemical content of bottled water to tap water.

“That was pretty heart-stopping,” Rose said, with a smile.

The pair learned a lot from the experience. “The public speaking was the main thing for me,” Beyer said. “Doing this let us explore more and use our imagination.”

Classmate Devon Kasper, who did a project on the effects of product testing on animals, agreed. “We learned more about something that’s real, that’s current,” she said. “I was less anxious than an exam because tests are scary.”

Although she’s not fond of public speaking, Kasper said she and her research partner practiced with index cards until they felt comfortable. They also came up with a catchy title for their Powerpoint presentation: “Testing, Testing, 123.”

Markush, who is in her first year of teaching at EHS, said she was impressed by her students’ ability to demonstrate their understanding of the scientific concepts they’d been studying. “They actually taught the adults something. It was inspiring,” she said.

Even one very shy student, who had been dreading the public experience, presented her project with the help of some classmates, Markush said.

The presentations were harder to grade than a traditional final exam, she added. “But it gave kids a chance to express their ideas and opinions and show off their hard work,” Markush said.

Students in this semester’s biology class will be presenting their final projects in May.

Elementary school plan

A proposed elementary school reorganization is on the agenda for the School Committee’s March 12 meeting and administrators are encouraging parents to attend if they have questions or concerns.

The board is reviewing a proposal to place all elementary students in the same grade at the same school starting next fall. Under the current system, students in grades K-4 are enrolled at both Maple and Center/Pepin schools.

A public forum on the reorganization last week at Pepin drew more than 60 parents, many of whom expressed concern that a decision not be made too quickly.

“To make such a big decision without community information and just one public forum?” said Wendy Bloomenthal, the parent of a rising kindergartner. “Please, please, please don’t just go to the next School Committee meeting and vote on this.”

School leaders explained that the idea for the reorganization first arose four years ago and was revived as a way to better coordinate curriculum and cut down on annual transfers of students between the two elementary schools to balance class sizes.

“We did a lot of research on this back in 2009 and we do believe the model has merit,” said Superintendent Nancy Follansbee — one of three administrators and several school board members at the forum. “This is definitely not a done deal.”

Katusich resigns

School Committee member Bonnie L. Katusich has resigned her seat on the board, citing family demands.

“I do not feel I can both be an effective committee member and be an effective parent at this moment,” she said in a Feb. 21 letter to the school board. “And clearly my family must come first.”

Katusich, who has children in elementary school, middle school and high school in Easthampton, added that she hopes to run for the school board again, “once I feel I am able to dedicate the time I feel is necessary tobe a truly effective member.”

The School Committee and City Council will appoint a replacement to serve on the board for the remainder of the calendar year. The deadline for applications was Wednesday. Compensation will be $750, according to a posting at school department headquarters.

Katusich, who had been elected to a second term on the School Committee in 2011, won praise from school officials.

“She was a very active and involved member and she was very supportive of the schools,” said Superintendent Nancy Follansbee. “We’re pleased she is interested in resuming her place on the committee once she can devote the appropriate amount of time.

Barbara Solow can be reached at BSolow@gazettenet.com.

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