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IMPORTANT DATES   IN THE NEWS                                                                      MARCH 2019
March 1
General Membership Meetings

March 21
Executive Board Meeting

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March in History
ROBS HISTORY PROJECT - John M. Sherin
IN MEMORIAM
Why did we do it?
     What was our purpose in taking on such an open ended “History Project”; for which we evolved a script of questions and got answers from over 150 subjects for two decades?
     We couldn’t answer the question in 1994 when people would ask “What are you going to do with the interviews?” All we could say was that for educational purposes we had to document our record now or lose the chance to preserve so many poignant accounts, funny stories and touching tales told by exemplary educators. We knew these dedicated public servants might shortly, for reasons yet unknown, be leaving Brentwood for good.
     So, we decided to let time sort out the details. We began scheduling appointments. W
e asked questions and listened saving for generations the essence of what it meant to have been an educator or employed, in this large public school system during the second half of the 20th century. Brentwood remains an exemplar to all others; a diverse microcosm of America reflecting 124 districts on Long Island while simultaneously resembling thousands across the U.S. We’ve accomplished something here to be proud of. Whether we were interviewed or not, ours is a claim of service that few professionals in the State of New York or elsewhere have positioned themselves to share in the way we have.
     INITIALLY the practice of sitting with a subject for an hour and giving them a hundred percent focused attention seemed somewhat daunting to a number of friends and colleagues. So much so in fact that many declined our repeated invitations to speak with us as they left careers or retired from full employment. Despite all assurances that we were not about investigative journalism or invading privacy, they deferred. Now, twenty years after we began, some are saying they may be ready. “Better late than never” we say. However, to all among you who were willing to share not only your classroom experiences and personal stories, but precious memories from your lives along with your fondest hopes for the future, we say “Thanks”. Thanks for allowing us to continue the process by paying it forward as we share these interviews with the Brentwood community and countless professionals and researchers near and far. Through an acceptance of ROBS offer of collaboration with Archivist Dr. Geri Solomon and The Long Island Studies Institute at Hofstra University our History Project lives on in academia as well as in the collection of the Brentwood Public Library, thanks to Director, Thomas A. Tarantowicz.
   You can enjoy unlimited visits to www.robsny.org where you can watch and listen to segments from featured Interviews in the ROBS History Project Section on our Announcements Page each month. Return here to listen and learn again and again.

THIS MONTH'S FEATURED HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEW:
Milton K. Siler, Jr.
H.S. Social Studies Teacher
Interviewed 12/20/06
   Born Milton Kirkpatrick Siler Jr., in Cambridge MA February 28, 1933, he divides his time between home at the Park Royal on West 53rd St. Manhattan across from the Dakota and his current alternate residence in Philadelphia’s Historic District where he is updating an original Trinity House on a Mid19th Century cobblestone street, a short walk from where Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. It had been a laborer’s dwelling and its name derived from its’ modest three rooms -Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It retains all the original features and architecture; such as red pine flooring, handmade nails and pie steps. Near the curb remains a metal means by which horse manure was scraped from gentlemen’s boots. Milt’s love of history speaks to his voracious appetite for reading and his personal family ancestry. His mother traced her Cook family name to the Mayflower’s arrival in Massachusetts from England in 1620.
   Milton Kirkpatrick Siler Sr’s middle name was given to his son honoring a respected physician from a Southern State. Initially moving to Canada and establishing themselves as productive citizens of that country their members included a Head Postmaster, a ship’s Captain, owners of a lobster factory temporarily sharing joint ownership of Mouton Island in Nova Scotia until moving to Troy, a neighboring city to the capital in Albany, NY in the United States where they formalized citizenship of their adopted country. Milt’s maternal grandmother was a teacher. She wore a fashionable bustle and her daughter, Milt’s mother, aspired during her early life to become a dress maker and clothing designer. Her maiden name was Froehlich and she attended the Latin School in Boston. His mother became a loyal American and insisted upon acquiring citizenship in this country.
   Milt’s father and namesake was an engineer, inventor, designer and builder whose application for citizenship identified him as a “soda jerk”. It was the depression and his job description afforded him the advantage of taking milk home from work for his infant son. He had a strong work ethic and proved to be a doting father who never failed to support his only child in whatsoever interest he expressed. When still in primary school Milt asked his father to help him start his own business. His father at that time had a relative who owned a produce business. Milt thought he would like to try his hand at it. The business idea quickly became successful and grew so fast that his father intervened realizing it had become less like fun and more like work and Milt had lost interest. His father thought it was time to let it go when the Principal of his school owed Milt money for his unpaid balance every month. His father asked him instead if he would like to become an engineer. Knowing such work would require a lot of math and believing at the time that he didn’t enjoy math, Milt said no. At first his interest was in the biological sciences and pre-med intending to pursue medicine. He soon changed his mind again to major in History. He attended classes in Troy NY and later attended State University in Albany where he matriculated first for a BA in the Biological Sciences and ultimately pursuing a Masters degree in History. Years later in his fifties he added pursuit of a Masters Degree in Math to his previous accomplishments while he attended City College in NYC. It had once been the premier school offering Mathematics during the years of the Manhattan Project when the staff from City College filled the ranks of those working on development of the atom bomb at Los Alamos. Only recently have they begun to reclaim their rank among premier schools of mathematics in the United States
  Milt remembers his father having a number of heart attacks. We learned he worked constantly even when confined to an oxygen tent he would still be focused upon solving problems. At one point in their lives the family moved to Cincinnati where working for G.E. his father designed a massive turbine generator. On another occasion when they lived in Troy, Milt asked his father to join the Fire Department. Always ready to please and given his community connections his father became active in the Department. He did whatever Milt asked. He became active in the Boy Scouts of America in further support of Milt’s interest. Whether it was overwork or undue stress, or the state of cardiac medicine at the time, his father’s heart ultimately failed and he died shortly after retiring in his fifties. His parents were living on Park Avenue in Manhattan. It was about then that Milt began teaching in Brentwood. He moved his mother from NYC to be closer to her. She lived in a Brentwood condominium community near East Junior High until she was about 65 years of age when she passed away at a relatively young age much as her husband had before her. Milt didn’t remember how old his grandfather had been when he died, but he did tell us that he had been a sea captain who died of tuberculosis.
  As a youngster, Milt favored individual sports like gymnastics, canoeing, lifeguarding and winter sledding. During World War II he remembered the conservation drives in school to collect tin and aluminum piled in mountains of scrap metal deposited on the suburban lawns of the school. One angry sign in particular stands out in memory; It was addressed to Emperor Hirohito and it read – “Some Junk, You Skunk.” He also recalled Mrs. Smith a teacher he deeply admired, going around the classroom smashing all the Japanese consumer goods she could find after War was declared by Congress in Dec 1941.There were also two other teachers he admired. They were sisters and both were strong women who taught Geometry; definitions, postulates and theorems now long forgotten.
   When he came of age, even though he might have avoided military service due to his certification as a teacher of Biology he chose instead to volunteer for the draft believing it to be his patriotic duty. He was sent to Korea and stationed at the 38th Parallel where he faced North Koreans similarly assigned. He remembered the extreme poverty of the people of both North and South Korea and recalled one instance where his intervention as a military officer had saved a young boys’ life. Tensions on the demilitarized zone expressed themselves in another account originally shared with members of our History department. It involved an attempt at communication between American and North Korean enlisted men intended to demonstrate how our individual freedoms were superior to those of the Korean soldiers. An American soldier had drawn a representation of the American flag in the snow with a stick. He then proceeded to urinate on it. Not a very nice or respectful thing to do but it was done anyway, because our First Amendment allowed it The American soldier then invited any of the North Koreans to do the same thing with their flag. They couldn’t even imagine doing it, and lacking freedom of expression couldn’t even fathom the meaning of the demonstration in relative terms.
   Milt was hired by the district in 1955 when he was interviewed by Eugene Hoyt, District Superintendent. He was given a tour, of what he believed to be Brentwood but was actually Bay Shore. The first person he met when he arrived in the Ross Building for the first time was the Assistant High School Principal, Beryl Knott.
  I asked him how he envisioned his mission upon accepting the position in Brentwood. He said he believed completely in what he was doing by affording each and every student for whom he was responsible, the opportunity to obtain the best public education possible. Brentwood would have been described in the late fifties as a middle class mostly white suburban bedroom community that had changed greatly since it had been known as a summer playground of the rich upper class few who sought to breathe deeply of the healthy pine scented fresh air not easily available to residents of New York City who might have preferred seasonal relief from the oppressive urban heat and discomfort from which the Long Island Railroad might have delivered them to a land of tall white pines, peace and quiet. We knew then as we do now, that in a democracy you need an educated public. It appears that one of the reasons we have a serious problem in society today is because we no longer know what our purpose is. It doesn’t mean that all students will automatically graduate. Some will fail as they should in order to learn what they need to take away from their education. All students must be given and take away enough information to survive in a democracy. Every student needs to learn how to read a prescription, to take care of his or her family and not to kill their children. Milt expressed his disapproval and anger over the manipulation of statistics to make educational systems look good. He was fully aware of how that process had manifested in Brentwood and took on a new meaning for him when he resigned from the Brentwood School District in 1980, took some time off from the classroom to recharge his battery before returning to work for the New York City School System as a teacher of Math and pursued a third Masters Degree from CCNY which he fell just short of attaining. He was promoted from classroom teacher in the 3,500 student Martin Luther King H.S. at Lincoln Center to System Security Coordinator, until a serious disagreement with his black Principal over the manipulation of statistics and a concern for student safety caused him to resign his position believing the entire system was falling apart following his reading of Freakonomics . When the Union got behind him, and the Principal was defeated, Milt became more closely aligned with the Union. Eventually when his concerns were ignored an incident he had predicted, occurred when a student was shot in the hallway of the school. The threat from neighborhood gangs was real and unless the system responded by providing adequate resources with regard to requested numbers of Deans to enforce school policies, a security breakdown would only be a matter of time.

  By the time he had finished Milt would have taught for a total of forty-five years, the first twenty five of them being on Long Island in Brentwood. That was where we met in the Social Studies Department, and given the choices we faced at the time in 1972 decided to go all in by collaborating with a small group of educators. We co-founded a school that we began to conceive of in 1973 as methodically we worked non-stop for that entire year, visiting other districts, researching developments around the country and talking with famous authors, visiting colleges and consulting with professors. We named the proposed school The Maslow-Toffler School of Futuristic Education after futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler and humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow who had recently died. We wrote to his widow requesting permission to use his name only to be refused permission by Mrs. Maslow. We decided to use it anyway. Alvin Toffler was honored to be so acknowledged and said so in writing.
   Milt acknowledged the school was unique in that it was organized around an academic core. It was approved by district leaders because there had always been a conservative cognitive strictness in Brentwood, to the extent that it wasn’t uncommon for a controversial book to be removed from a shelf of the school library without administrative approval. When MT opened to students in 1974 it was with several courses (English, Psychology and Sociology) offering 6 credits each through Syracuse University transferable anywhere in the United States. The other thing he claimed made it unique was how everyone in the school spoke the same language. Yes, our language was English, but we also made sure we had had the same experience and therefore understood exactly what we meant when we used a word in our conversation. This was true for every student and every staff member.
   There were district approved courses of study for students that were available nowhere else in the District. Milt introduced a popular course in Semantics and another in Humanistic Psychology. The Performing Arts Center (PAC) directed by Ken Moss provided an important outlet for students to explore themselves as well as to discover heretofore latent abilities and talents that some would be discovering for the first time.
   The school offered a Work Experience option within its requirements that made it possible for students to gain graduation credit toward graduation while earning income through part time employment. Increasingly pulled in the direction of community service he was encouraged to run for Trustee on the Board of Education during that politically contentious period. Although he lost the election he gained profound insights and receiving support from parents of students who came together as Friends of M-T saw it evolve into a positive educational force. He became a community merchant and opened a book store and a florist in town across from the old railroad station at a time when flowers were not yet being sold in neighboring supermarkets.
   He was aware that the philosophy and purpose underpinning the school was intimately connected in the works of Alvin and Heidi Toffler in Future Shock, George T. Lock Land in Transformation Theory; Grow or Die, and Abraham Maslow’s The Farthest Reaches of Human Nature. We were all encouraged to reach for our highest potential while navigating the increasing and ever accelerating rate of change in our lives and our culture. Trusting in the creative capacity of our brains we learned how to grow applying Transformation Theory as we moved to the future one day at a time. He resigned from the Brentwood School District in 1980.
   Milt consistently stressed the importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. As a new teacher you had better love what you’re doing. Students have to trust what you say as well as what you do to demonstrate concern for what you intend them to learn. He tells the story of a father with two daughters standing at an intersection when he perceived a threat to the well being of his girls and how he reacted assertively to the perceived danger. Also one of his Principal colleagues at MLK High School who was working on September 11th when the towers suddenly came down and how he reacted to a matter of life and death.
   Poverty continues to be a major problem in our country; one made worse by the disparity of rich and poor among us. Nowhere more than in the public schools is this disparity more obviously reflected than in patterns of social bonding and group interaction than through the process of unfettered group affiliation and selection than through the lifelong friendships that are made, reinforced, and modeled for others to emulate. Change occurs slowly. Time hopefully, is on our side. History and societies own growing emotional intelligence will ultimately be the judge of how our public educational system will fare going forward.


    You can also view any of the past interviews by visiting History Project Interview Archives


View May 8, 2015 History Project Celebration Photo Album

View History Project Slide Show on YouTube



View the In Memoriam page with the list of our Brentwood colleagues who have passed away. This list will be updated on a yearly basis.
NYSUT NEWS
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RC21 EVENTS
March 19
General Membership Meetings

RC 21 Website: http://rc21.ny.aft.org

MEMBER WEBSITES
Sheila & Letty Sustrin
Children's Books Authors
www.sustrinbooks.com

John M. Sherin
Local /Regional
(Jigsaw Maps)600
Geography Manipulatives
www.mapzzles.org
Complete Team Building Kits
Teaching Cooperation/ Collaboration
Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
www.cooperationsquares.com

Alida Thorpe
Island Vision Photography, Inc.
www.pbase.com/alidasphotos


Rick Mundy
Watercolor Prints of L.I., Adirondacks, NYC...
www.RickMundyWatercolors.com

Gloria Hannemann
Hardwood Flooring and
Home Improvement
www.Servi-all.com


Elmon Kazandjian
NYC Art Gallery
www.woodwardgallery.net


Rose Marie Brousseau
Brentwood Rotary Club
http://brentwoodrotary.com

Ronda Brooks
Children's Social Skills Groups
www.KidHelp.org