Seaford Schools Superintendent Dr. Adele Pecora may be from Massapequa, but she projects Seaford Pride. A thoroughgoing professional with nearly 30 years of experience, she has only the highest praise for the district and the community and communicates a determination to do well by both.
Pecora, 52, is beginning her second year as superintendent of the Seaford Union Free School district after having served as assistant superintendent for instruction and curriculum in the Commack district. Before that, she was director of instruction, curriculum and technology in the neighboring Island Trees district.
Pecora was chosen to head the Seaford district after a months-long search in which the Board of Education worked with District Wise Consultants to review the field of potential candidates to succeed Brian Conboy, who retired after 33 years of service. “I’m very pleased that the district was able to attract a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience,” Conboy said after Pecora’s selection.
Pecora herself could hardly be more enthusiastic about her learning community. “When people use the term Seaford Pride, they’re more than just words,” she said. “There’s a deep sense of loyalty, commitment and tradition that’s intrinsic to the community.”
After being named, Pecora began by setting up a process she called Listen to Learn, in which she interviewed more than 100 stakeholders, including students. “I asked them five questions,” she said. “What is working well in Seaford Schools? What is working but needs to be tweaked? What is not working and should be abandoned? What traditions and values must we preserve as we move forward? And what advice do you have for the new superintendent?”
Pecora gathered the responses into a public presentation. “One thing people mentioned was a stronger use of technology,” she said, adding emphatically, “We are extremely engaged with technology.”
Choosing the hardware
Last year, Seaford formed a District Technology Steering Committee. “That group did a lot of the heavy lifting as to how to use technology to enhance instruction,” she said. The group was tasked with determining the design of the program and selecting its technology platform. Pecora wanted to determine what a successful program might look like.
She also stressed the importance of selecting the right computer. “Our goal was to select a device that would be powerful enough to do what we wanted it to do, yet still be affordable — not cost-prohibitive.” The district tested one device that wasn’t robust enough before settling on a Hewlett Packard laptop. “It’s small, it has a touch screen and it has a stylus,” she said.
The device itself was only the first step. “Our focus has been on adopting the SAMR Instructional Model,” Pecora said. “We want to be able to use the technology to awaken and foster inquiry, as well as to be able to synthesize information and yield greater learning. It isn’t a new-age pencil or a paperweight.”
The model is most often referred to as one-to-one, but the district’s term is Personalized Digital Learning, or PDL.
SAMR stands for substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition. Substitution is the replacement of one device with another, with no modification. Pecora used the example of note-taking with a pencil versus note-taking with a laptop — essentially a one-to-one substitution. In the second instance, augmentation, one device replaces another, but with functional or mechanical improvements. For example, note-taking with a laptop could enable the user to include formatting options not available with a pencil.
The third step, modification, entails a redesign of the task itself. In that case, note-taking could evolve into an interactive sharing via social media. Finally, redefinition — essentially a transformation of the entire process — could enable students to forgo note-taking entirely and record the session while providing multi-media enhancements.
The district began piloting the program last spring, giving devices to students in one Advanced Placement Capstone Seminar class and one science research class, Pecora said. “They pushed the limits,” she said, “and they gave us some real-time feedback as to what was working and what wasn’t.”
In June, the district gave devices to sixth- and ninth-graders to use during the summer, as well as to every high school teacher. This year’s sixth- and ninth-grades have recently gotten them as well.
The A.P. Capstone program is in its second year at Seaford High School and its third since being rolled out by College Board 2016. It is divided into two yearlong modules. The first, called Capstone Seminar, teaches students how to do college-level research projects. In the second year, called Capstone Research, they select a topic to research in detail and write a thesis on it, which they are required to defend before a panel of teachers.
“Capstone doesn’t only focus on a series of tests,” Pecora said. “It’s also about doing in-depth research. The Capstone Program has an inquiry-based approach to instruction, and I believe strongly that it serves children well in whatever post-secondary experience they’re going to have, be it college or career.”
Students who successfully complete the course receive a special notation on their diplomas.
A focus on security
Pecora didn’t want to talk too specifically about security procedures in the district, but in common with other local schools, Seaford has focused on both the security of the physical plant and students’ mental health.
The district has hardened school entrances, and now has driver’s license readers. Middle and high school students wear color-coded lanyards according to their year, and teachers must display IDs at all times. Security guards have been added, and all but one member of the security staff are former law-enforcement officers.
“We work very closely with Nassau County’s SRO — school resource officer,” Pecora said. “He has done walk-throughs of all the buildings with us. He’s given us suggestions for enhancements, and we have regular dialogue with him.”
The district has also added the Lions Quest curriculum as part of its focus on social and emotional learning. The program got its name from the Lions Clubs International, which provided much
of the funding for the program’s deve-lopment.
The program is part of the character education common to many districts. Units might focus on values such as self-confidence. A lesson for fifth-graders, for example, used a quote from Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
Pecora has clearly found a second home in Seaford. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a more civic-minded community,” she said. “We have a toy drive in December, and it’s an awesome experience — just the giving nature of the community,” she added. “We’re never at a loss for
students, faculty members or community members that are willing to give of themselves.”