At the annual Baldwin Council of PTAs Legislative Forum on Oct. 10, local and state elected officials and their representatives addressed concerns, including a lack of a pre-kindergarten program in the Baldwin School District, a need for more crossing guards to keep an eye on school streets and mental health resources for students.
“The true mission of PTA is advocacy,” Council of PTAs President Doris McKeon said to a room of a couple dozen people in the high school cafeteria, including school administrators, Board of Education trustees, parents and community members. “It’s important that we, as a community, share our concerns with our legislators and invited guests about education, funding and community issues.”
Board of Education Trustee Karyn Reid inquired about the school district’s lack of a pre-kindergarten program. “Baldwin has no pre-kindergarten program and it’s ineligible based on the application criteria,” Reid said. “So how can we ensure equity across all districts for a pre-K program for all?”
Schools Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi added that schools in New York City not only have pre-K for 4-year-olds, but they also now offer 3-K for 3-year-olds. “I would wonder how New York City is being funded for 3-year-olds when all of Long Island is not yet funded for 4-year-olds,” Camhi said to applause.
“We understand it’s an issue, and I can definitely bring that back to the senator,” said Fendi Linan, representing New York State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, who could not attend the forum. “And I’m sure Assemblywoman Judy Griffin would also. They could maybe have a conversation about this, and this is something that could be brought up in the new legislative session that starts in January.”
Trustee Sue Cools asked about the lack of crossing guards and resource officers watching over the streets around the schools in Baldwin, referring to it as a “very severe issue.” Parents have brought up the issue at previous public meetings.
“I know that here in Baldwin we were promised at least one more crossing guard that we have not gotten, and many school districts are saying the same,” she said. “Word on the street is that we cannot get crossing guards to apply for the jobs because the county is offering such poor pay for people to take the job, so instead, we have police officers making police officer salaries regulating crossing guard duty, and that is unacceptable.”
“The good news is we were successful in bumping up the salary,” responded Nassau County Legislator Kevan Abrahams, a Democrat from Freeport. “We went from $18, roughly, to $25 an hour. So that was the good news, and with that good news of getting bumped up to $25 an hour, since the summertime — since we did the bump-up — we’ve been able to hire 50 to 60 additional crossing guards.”
Abrahams said that while there are now more crossing guards, there have been “shaky” days because guards get sick or injured, and then police officers must take their places.
“Our goal is to get that number up even higher to well over 150, closer to 200 some odd crossing guards,” he said. “That’s our goal, but we’re already off to a fast start just by bumping up the salary by itself.”
Cools brought up another safety issue on streets around the schools. “These communities were designed to be walking communities around the schools, and everybody drives their kids to school now,” Cools said. “Any parent knows it’s a disaster. We need more one-way streets, we need more regulation, and we need more safety things put into place, but first and foremost, we need our resource officers back, and we need more crossing guards.”
Abrahams said he would have to defer to Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat, because most of the streets are likely in the town’s jurisdiction.
Board of Education Trustee Tom Smyth, the parent of a 16-year-old student at the high school, said his daughter last year had to face the suicide of a girl on her field hockey team.
“I’d like to see the high school be able to offer more resources to us,” Smyth said, “and I ask the county folks here: Are there resources that the county has that they can share with the high school, maybe to staff a mental health clinic or have more professional folks here available to speak to the kids?”
“I do think you guys could help us with this,” Camhi added, addressing the elected officials and their representatives. “There is a partnership brewing between school districts in this quadrant of the Island and Northwell Health, but we have to pay for it, and it’s to open up a mental health clinic with limited hours in Rockville Centre that we would have access to. I can tell you that I was approached by some folks associated with Nassau University Medical Center because they asked if we would be interested in having a wellness center in our high school.”
Camhi said NUMC representatives said the center would be funded and built by NUMC, but when leadership changed at the hospital, the offer was rescinded.
“I’m not sure I understand that, and so to the extent that anyone here can help release those funds so that we can actually have a wellness center help out with our kids…” Camhi said. “And I would be misrepresenting Baldwin if I made it sound like we’re the only ones that have that problem. It’s a crisis — it’s a crisis across the country, so we are affected as everybody else is.”
Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, said she would reach out to the hospital.
“I feel like the whole issue with mental health is not what resources we have, but how to use it,” Baldwin High School senior Nicolette Carrion said, “because I feel like Baldwin High School has so many resources, so many psychologists, but no one knows who they are. And I think a big problem is that psychologists end up being more reactive than proactive, because not everyone is comfortable just to talk to someone they don’t know. Most of the time they always wait until a problem happens and you can’t fix it.”
Carrion said a conversation is more effective when a staff member is familiar with a student. “I feel like what we should really be pushing now is more intercommunication between psychologists and social workers,” she said. “High school is hard, and kids get really stressed out, and there’s so much going on — you have no idea what someone brings with them when they go to school. I think it’s very important to make sure that people talk to each other, and it’s more like a building process together. I think that’s what you guys should really focus on.”