Tuesday, April 11, 2023
On March 10-12, 2023, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Nassau Regional Office held a leadership conference in Tarrytown, NY. The theme of the conference was the impact of shifting demographics on public education on Long Island. The conference was attended by public school union leaders from across Nassau County, including leaders from our own Levittown United Teachers (LUT).
In the photo above from the conference are (top row left to right): LUT Recording Secretary, Jen Gorske, LUT Vice-President-Middle Schools, Lee Gardner, LUT Treasurer, Nancy LiVolsi, (bottom row left to right) LUT President, John Caulfield, Abbey Lane Building Representative, Mirna Hughes, LUT Corresponding Secretary, Joe Romano and LUT Health and Safety Coordinator, Joe Sparaco.
At the start of the conference, union leaders were presented with data that highlighted the dramatic transformation in demographics that has occurred in several Long Island school districts over the past twenty years. In our district of Levittown, for example, the changes have been considerable.
Changes like those shown on the charts above have certainly not been exclusive to the Levittown School District. Overall, school districts across Long Island over the past twenty years have seen student populations transition from more than 70% predominantly white to nearly 80% racially diverse or majority non-white.
Teachers know that each student comes to school with very different experiences, cultural backgrounds, financial circumstances, and social and emotional needs. Through this conference, NYSUT is hoping to raise awareness of the growing challenges facing all Long Island school districts in meeting the expanding diversity that now exists in our classrooms. Making sure every student in our schools has the same opportunities for success means recognizing the specific needs of students of different cultural backgrounds and fighting for the resources necessary to address those needs.
So often, the discourse in education funding involves fighting over how to divide the pie, as it were, of the funding provided to public education. As our educational landscape on Long Island expands in scale and complexity, the focus may need to be not on how to divide up the pie, but, instead, how to advocate for a larger pie sufficient to provide every student the same educational experience.
In some instances, additional resources may be needed to bridge language barriers between students and teachers and staff. In some instances, a heightened awareness of important cultural events may need to take place. In the Levittown District, for example, we have seen considerable recognition of our Muslim community by the adding important Muslim holiday, Eid Al-Fitr, to our school calendar and recognition of our Hindu community by adding the important Hindu holiday of Diwali to our school calendar.
Everyone in the school community, from parents, to teachers, to students and staff, has an opportunity to benefit from learning and exploring the traditions and practices of different cultures. At the leadership conference, strategies were discussed in terms of how we can welcome the changing needs of our school community and provide necessary services and support, while also making sure to not compromise the existing successful programs within our schools. There was a focus on having a rising tide lift all the boats and making sure public education on Long Island continues to not just survive but thrive.
In response to some of the data regarding demographic changes in our schools, not just on Long Island, but, across our state, NYSUT has launched, “Many Threads, One Fabric,” a series of virtual town halls which explore a lot of the issues discussed at the Nassau Regional Leadership Conference.