Editorial: In response to the Port Times

On Oct. 27, the Port Washington Times published an editorial entitled “Port Schools Flunks Siemens Contest,” written by Joel Katz.  Aside from this article’s condescending tone, it was extremely misinformed and was largely based on conjecture.

The basis of this highly opinionated article was that because Schreiber produced no Siemens semifinalists this year, the school must be ignorant and is ostensibly not devoting enough attention to STEM education.

Success in one research competition does not reflect the quality of the research itself. Schreiber has three research programs that each focus on a different subject: math, science, and social science. To get into the highly competitive research program, students must take a series of tests at the end of their freshman year. In the end, only 10 students get into each research class out of the dozens that apply, making it Schreiber’s most selective programs.

Furthermore, Siemens is not the only STEM competition that research students compete in. Last year, Schreiber had 6 Regeneron semifinalists: two from social science, three from science, and one from math. Moreover, Schreiber boasted 3 Siemens semifinalists, 4 ISWEEEP semifinalists, and an impressive record in several local and regional competitions last year.

In his ill-informed article, Katz posed a series of hypotheticals about what the Superintendent of Schools or members of the Board of Education might say about the situation.

“If you had the opportunity to speak to the president of our school board, she would tell you don’t focus on ‘statistics’ in Port Washington, like the winning of a science competition, but instead, we focus on trying to produce well adjusted children, free from too much stress and anxiety and with happy, smiling faces,” wrote Katz.

Guesswork doesn’t produce results, as members of Schreiber’s award-winning research programs are well aware. In order to more accurately gauge the Board of Education’s view of the situation, The Schreiber Times reached out to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Mooney for a comment. Katz repeatedly criticized Dr. Mooney and the BOE for prioritizing the “whole student” rather than achievements in STEM.

“Perhaps, we have to worry less about our children’s self esteem levels and more about their proficiency in subjects that matter a great deal, in life,” wrote Katz.

Sound mental health and academic success are by no means incompatible. How can students be expected to excel if they’re suffering under the burden of anxiety and academically induced stress? Schreiber students have proved their skills in STEM time and time again, and a humanitarian approach to learning does nothing to threaten those accomplishments.

It is completely fallacious to attribute Port’s absence in one research competition to Schreiber’s emphasis on well-roundedness and mental health.

“The knowledge and experience gained by participating at such advanced levels of competition will teach them lessons they will remember throughout their entire lives and set them on a path to make a real difference in the lives of others,” said Dr. Mooney.

Portraying speculation as fact is highly unprofessional. Katz’s lengthy list of “ifs” is wholly unsubstantiated, and his issue could have easily been remedied had he actually contacted BOE members instead of molding ideas to fit his own personal beliefs.

“…We do know that in our school district, girls softball, girls volleyball, girls tennis and girls badminton, for instance, are high priority programs, that we devote substantial resources to. Our superintendent will probably tell you that these fun programs are essential to educating the ‘whole child’, while focusing on participation in a STEM competition, is not essential,” said Katz.

There are several issues with this statement.  First of all, participation in athletics and intelligence or interest in STEM are not mutually exclusive. Several studies have indicated that teenagers stand to gain many important life skills from participating in a school team. In fact, a research project conducted last year by a current Schreiber senior found that students who participate in school sports tend to be more high-achieving and productive during their sports season.

She was a member of the girls volleyball team and received honorable mention for this research project at the prestigious MIT Inspire competition. Clearly, her participation in sports has not held her back as a researcher, and her findings were considered significant enough to be honored by MIT, arguably the world’s top STEM institution.

In addition, Katz specifically targets only girls sports teams as “fun” programs that detract from the STEM budget.  Schreiber’s girls teams have been extremely successful, especially the girls tennis and volleyball teams, and it seems strange that Katz only mentioned girls teams.  Are boys teams considered “serious” programs worthy of a portion of the district’s budget?

Katz is entirely incorrect in his assumption that the district does not allocate sufficient resources to its STEM department. Recently, Schreiber has expanded its curriculum to include more STEM courses, such as Engineering, Intro to STEM, and Robotics I and II.  In addition to these courses, 10 out of 26 of the AP classes that Schreiber offers are dedicated to STEM, and Schreiber has allocated a significant portion of its budget to support the school’s research programs in science, math, and social science.