Authors Posts by Andrea Moore Paldy

Andrea Moore Paldy

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Andrea Paldy, a writer for The Village Times Herald, is co-author of the book, Exploring Motion Graphics. She is a lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University.

Members of Ward Melville's Iron Patriots introduce one of their robots at the Oct. 3 Three Village school board meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

High school isn’t just for kids these days.

In attendance at the most recent Three Village school board meeting was a student-built robot and some of the Ward Melville High School students who built it.

What began as an extracurricular offering in 2005, has evolved into a yearlong, honors robotics course at the high school. The Ward Melville Iron Patriots —  robotics students and teachers Steve Rogers, John Williams and Mark Suesser — presented their work to the school board after the course’s inaugural year.

Rogers said students in the robotics class built two robots. The first is a generic one built from a kit and programmed to complete various tasks. The second robot is one that students design and build from scratch to solve a specific problem.

Last spring the Iron Patriots took part in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University, where they competed against 55 other teams from Long Island and around the world. With a 13th place overall finish, the Ward Melville team brought home the highest rookie seed award for having the highest ranking of a first-year team. The district’s young engineers are no strangers to competition; the club team won the regional Botball championships in 2014 and 2015.

A robot built by the Ward Melville Iron Patriots in their robotics class. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The Botball robot competition requires that the robots  pick up ping pong balls, transport them and then hit a target. For the FIRST Robotics Competition, which Rogers calls “a football game on steroids,” larger robots have to complete even more specialized tasks. Designed and built from scratch in six weeks, these 150-pound robot contestants must pick up gears and place them on propellers, among other challenges.

In addition to the work of building and programming the robots, members of the team also work on fundraising and build websites to get the word out about their project. They also take part in community outreach visits to elementary schools to introduce students to robotics and to local organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans.

Students who attended the meeting spoke of their interests and how the class offered the opportunity to apply certain scientific principles, develop problem-solving skills and explore interests in aerospace and mechanical engineering.

Noor Kamal, a student with an interest in math and computer science, said she went into the class not having much building experience.

“Those six weeks every single day after school designing the robot from scratch and building it exposed me to all these different things I want to do in the future,” she said.

Rogers said with the expanded role that robots will have in the future, “Our work force now has to retool to train to be able to run the robots and program the robots.”

Ward Melville High School, above, and other schools in the Three Village school district may benefit from security upgrades in the near future. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As another school year drew to a close, the final Three Village school board meeting of 2016-17 brought news of security enhancements and the district’s third phase of spending for its Smart Schools Bond allocation.

The Smart Schools Bond, an initiative approved by New York voters in 2014, allocated $2 billion to public schools across the state for education technology, preschool classrooms and security.

Three Village received $3.39 million from the fund, which is being spent on hardware, equipment and infrastructure. Speaking at the district’s final meeting for the school year, safety and security coordinator Jack Blaum said that the final phase of spending — about $1 million — will include an upgrade to security cameras, digital video recorder storage and card key access devices.

The district will convert cameras it already has on its properties from analogue to digital, Blaum said. Besides those cameras, located both in the interior and on the exterior of district buildings, officials plan additional digital security cameras at each school and will install wireless cameras at the two junior high schools to monitor the athletic fields. There is already a surveillance system for the fields at the high school.

To accommodate all of the new cameras, new DVR units will be purchased for the district’s schools. Blaum said the upgrades will also boost the number of key card readers at doors for faculty and staff at all schools, the North Country Administration Building and the old administration building on Nicolls Road. He said that there will also be additional ID scanners in building vestibules to produce visitor badges.

He discussed turning the old administration building into a command center where cameras and security vehicles could be monitored.

For Phase 1 of the Smart Schools Bond, money, about $1.2 million, has been budgeted for upgrading network infrastructure. Phase 2, recently outlined in April, will see the district spending about $1 million on classroom technology and on the district’s one-to-one device program that will provide notebook computers to junior high students.

The plan was posted to the district’s website for a 30-day period to allow residents to comment. The 30-day comment period has now passed, and the district is currently in the process of submitting the plan to the New York State Education Department for approval.

While the district still awaits approval of the first two phases of spending, he anticipates that many of the security requests will be “fast-tracked.”

Coordinating security within the district is like running a small city, Blaum said.

“All the infrastructure is great but, again, the support of all the staff and all the students are crucial,” he said.

Debuting gender-neutral green gowns, accented with gold stoles, Ward Melville High School’s graduating seniors took their places in front of the school’s clock tower Sunday.

A satisfying cap to the Three Village school district’s 50th year, more than 600 students received diplomas at the commencement ceremony.

Ward Melville’s principal Dr. Alan Baum reminded those in the class of 2017 that they come from a 50-year tradition of greatness and will continue the tradition because they are “unbounded and unlimited.”

Salutatorian Isabelle Scott and Valedictorian Kirti Nath celebrated the individual gifts of their classmates.

“There is no person here without accomplishment today,” Scott said. “Parents, faculty, our victory is yours, too.”

The salutatorian urged her classmates to be true to themselves.

“I hope, if nothing else, that you do the things to make yourself proud,” she said. “Your life deserves nothing less.”

Nath encouraged her classmates to look on their mistakes as opportunities to move forward or gain strength.

“We don’t have to pretend that everything in high school is easy, because that’s what makes today so uniquely special,” she said. “And even though you may not have realized it at the moment, every fall was indeed a fall forward, moving us closer to success — and, if not success, then strength.”

The class gift — additional picnic tables for the football field — was presented by Brandon Cea, student government president.

Three Village school board president, William F. Connors, had advice for the soon-to-be graduates.

“I urge you to work hard, work to your potential and believe in yourself,” Connors said.

Incumbents Irene Gische, Jeff Kerman and Inger Germano are running unopposed for their seats back on the Three Village board of education.

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village residents have overwhelmingly approved the school district’s proposed $204.4 million budget for the coming year.

At the polls Tuesday, 1,708 voted for the budget, while 719 voted against.

Incumbents Dr. Jeffrey Kerman, Irene Gische and Inger Germano, who all ran unopposed, will retain their seats.

The 2017-18 budget, a 2.77 percent increase over the previous year, covers academic enhancements, staffing changes and maintenance projects at the district’s buildings. The most notable additions are the free prekindergarten program for four-year-olds, a drug and alcohol counselor to work with students and their families, and a supervisor of technology and information systems to help oversee next year’s initiative to provide all junior high students with notebook computers.

The three board trustees, each going into a third three-year term, acknowledged the challenges of the cap on the tax levy and the controversy over Common Core in the past few years, but look to the future with optimism.

Kerman has said that in the next three years he wants to “continue to have our district advance and to educate all of our students — the entire range, from special education students to Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists.”

“All in all,” Gische said at a previous meeting, “the district is thriving in spite of the tax cap.”

She cited the addition of the free preschool and the drug and alcohol counselor as continued signs of progress, and said she will continue to support the prekindergarten and additional program and curriculum enhancements.

Germano also cited the preschool — as well as the Three Village Academy, which opened in 2013 — as recent district successes and pointed out that the Academy is a source of revenue through tuition from non-district students. She will “continue to ensure that Three Village maintains academic excellence” while staying fiscally responsible and “putting the needs of the children first,” she added in an email.

This year, because of safety concerns, voting took place at the three secondary schools instead of the elementary schools. Though voter turnout was lower than in past years, district officials interpreted it as a sign of residents’ satisfaction. The absence of additional propositions, like last year’s for transportation, and an uncontested school board election, may also have contributed to the lower turnout, they said. 

However, with 70 percent voting in favor of the budget, the message from residents was still clear.

“The community has shown their approval and support and we couldn’t be more pleased,” Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said.

The May 3 board meeting gave Three Village residents another chance to learn about the 2017-2018 school district’s budget before heading to the polls April 16. Along with the budget, they will also vote on three school board trustees; all are incumbents who are running unopposed.

The board trustees on the ballot are Dr. Jeffrey Kerman, current board Vice President Irene Gische and Inger Germano. This will be the third three-year term for each since joining the board in 2011.

Jeff Kerman. Photo by Deanna Bavinka

Kerman, a dentist with practices in Mount Sinai and New York City, is the father of two Ward Melville graduates and served previously as the board’s president, in addition to a six-year term from 1999 to 2005. He currently sits on the board’s audit and facilities committees.

Well known for sewing costumes for the district’s theater productions, Gische is also a parent of Ward Melville graduates and grandmother of current Three Village students. She was head teacher at Stony Brook University’s preschool for 25 years. Prior to her current service on the board, Gische was a board trustee from 1983 to 1995, during which she was president for two years. Gische currently chairs the board’s policy committee.

Germano, the mother of two Three Village students, is president of medical management and billing company Universal Medical Billing, Corp. A Three Village resident since 2005, she also served on the North Shore Montessori School board and owns Global Alliance Realty with her husband. Germano sits on the board’s policy committee.

At the May 3 board meeting, Jeffrey Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, addressed the issue of the $204.4 million budget that stays within the 3.4 percent cap on the allowable tax levy increase.

Carlson announced that the district will receive a $715,000 increase in state aid, up from the governor’s original proposal of $247,000. There will be no cuts to programs or services to stay within the cap, he said. In fact, the new school year will bring new programs.

As residents go to the polls, one of the most discussed additions is the free, district-run preschool for four-year-olds. The prekindergarten will replace the district’s current fee-based preschool, run by Scope Education Services. The district will now offer morning and afternoon sessions that run two and a half hours, five days a week, at Nassakeag Elementary School. 

Inger Germano. Photo from Germano

Some residents have questioned the district’s decision to subsidize a free preschool. Gloria Casano, who said her taxes have increased by $13,000 since purchasing her home in 1994, raised the matter at the meeting.

“I would like to know when you can give taxpayers a break,” she said. “With continuing enrollment decreases, you’re instituting a free pre-K?”    

Board president Bill Connors responded that the preschool and other new programs were not “frills” but lay the foundation for the district’s students. 

“We are very concerned about costs because they affect all of us in our community,” he said, adding, however, that the board is also concerned about maintaining the quality of educational programs.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said the preschool and the additional programs would give students “the opportunity to be successful.” Also, she said, preschool is shown to save money in special services that would be needed later. 

“Early intervention is priceless,” she said.

Carlson said that it is estimated that the cost of the preschool will add about $20 to the average tax bill.

Other new academic offerings will include fourth-grade chorus and daily band and orchestra for ninth-graders, as well as additional secondary level electives, an expansion of the high school writing center and the introduction of math centers at the junior high schools. 

The budget covers small increases in staffing at the elementary level — up to 4.2 full-time equivalent positions (FTEs), Carlson said. The preschool will be staffed by three FTE elementary positions that will be reassigned to the preschool because of declining elementary enrollment. If the preschool reaches its capacity of 200 students, the district will hire two more teachers.  As of last week’s meeting, enrollment was at 111, requiring 3.5 FTEs, Carlson said. 

Irene Gische. Photo by Deanna Bavinka

With more students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), 2.2 FTEs will go toward elementary special education, health and physical education. The secondary level will see an increase in staffing of 1.15 FTEs, Carlson said.

Three Village will also hire a drug and alcohol counselor to work with students and their families. Additionally, the district will add a supervisor of technology and information systems to help pilot its one-to-one device program, an initiative to provide junior high students with notebook computers. Two FTEs will be added to the grounds and maintenance staff.

The district’s capital projects, which are reimbursed by the state at a rate of 66 percent, will include the installation of generators at the elementary schools and field renovations at Ward Melville High School and P.J. Gelinas Junior High. Also planned are building repairs at Ward Melville and Gelinas, as well as district-wide plumbing and bathroom renovations.

Voting for the budget and trustees will take place on Tuesday, May 16 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Residents zoned to vote at Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Mount Elementary School will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High and those zoned for Setauket Elementary School will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High.

Soon-to-be graduate proudly displays high school diploma at Ward Melville High School’s commencement on June 26, 2016. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

They came with cameras, air horns and even a graduate’s photo held high on sticks. These were the proud families and friends who came to celebrate the 618 students who graduated from Ward Melville High School on Sunday.

Before receiving their diplomas, graduating seniors listened to final pieces of advice from their peers, their principal Dr. Alan Baum and school board president William Connors.

Class salutatorian Ariel Long urged her classmates to take their experiences at Ward Melville and “look on new beginnings with excitement and not fear.” Jeffrey Michel, the class valedictorian, reminded them to not limit themselves to one talent or interest.

“Change starts with you,” said Dr. Baum, who quoted a number of artists, including Shakira, to remind students that failure is a part of life and a way to learn. He told the graduates to “challenge obstacles,” try again and move forward.

The Three Village school district discusses its scientific success. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

In what has become a tradition, the Three Village Board of Education celebrated the success of its three Science Olympiad teams at the regional, state and national competitions.

While some might point to the junior high and high school teams’ dominance as proof of the district’s commitment to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, a presentation at the board’s recent meeting outlining the district’s inaugural year of the elementary STEM program could seal the deal.

The two junior high schools, P.J. Gelinas and R.C. Murphy, placed first and second, respectively, in the regional Science Olympiad competition. Gelinas went on to become New York State champions and finished 10th at the national competition. Ward Melville finished first in the Eastern Long Island regionals, second in New York State and is ranked 24th in the country. The Ward Melville team also won a first-place medal in Experimental Design and one for fifth place for Write It/Do It.

The recognition served as the ideal introduction to the evening’s report about the new STEM education program for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The Three Village school district discusses its scientific success. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
The Three Village school district discusses its scientific success. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

STEM at Three Village introduces elementary school children to computer science and gives them the opportunity to apply engineering and design challenges to real-world issues. Colleen Maier, STEM teacher at Nassakeag Elementary School, said that while units of study vary, all grades are exposed to coding through Code.org, a nonprofit organization that offers a free web-based curriculum. 

Gretchen Tranchino, STEM teacher at W.S. Mount, said the first step for all grades is learning about algorithms — a list of steps to complete a task. While older students followed algorithms for making paper airplanes, younger children used them to plant seeds. Eventually, the process of writing algorithms was translated to writing code on computers, she said.   

The focus varies by grade level after the initial introduction to coding, Maier said. For example, students in kindergarten through second grade focus on the “living environment,” learning about vertical growing towers, which don’t need soil and can grow year-round indoors.

While working on the projects, students learn about greenhouses, plant needs and also learn the differences between geoponics — growing plants in soil — and aeroponics — growing plants in the air, said Brianna Rovegno, who teaches STEM at Arrowhead Elementary School.   

Second-graders designed the water sources for their towers and got inspiration from plants and animals, while also considering materials and time constraints, Rovegno said. Some harvests included lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and peppers. 

Rovegno said that in order to reinforce early coding concepts, third- and fourth-grade students transition from writing code on paper to programming small robots, called Ozobots. This helps students develop logical reasoning and teaches them to embrace failure, Rovegno said, adding that writing code, working to debug a program and find errors within the code aid students in becoming more perseverant. 

“They really had to stick with it,” Tranchino said. “We felt that this was a skill that was easily transferrable and really important in their educational journey.”

Though there were a variety of design challenges for fifth- and sixth-graders — they learned about computer-aided design with the application Tinkercad — all of the students had the opportunity to see their designs realized with a 3-D printer. With each lesson, said Sean Dowling, Minnesauke Elementary School’s STEM teacher, teachers presented the children with a real-world application.

Students designing shells for hermit crabs learned about the shortage of hermit crab shells in Bermuda and had to incorporate the measurements of actual hermit crabs in their design. Other students designed rectangular prism sculptures following mathematical guidelines that reinforced math concepts related to the volume of prisms. Meanwhile, another group of students designed organ transport containers that applied their knowledge of the transport of thermal energy in order to preserve ice.

Moving forward, the five STEM teachers who have been working and collaborating with the general education teachers, will continue to develop the curriculum. They will continue to review, revise and enhance the program over the summer.

Three candidates are vying for two seats on the Three Village school board.

Incumbent Jonathan Kornreich, who has been on the board since 2008, will try to hold on to one of the at-large seats. Newcomer Angelique Ragolia, 46, and Andrea Fusco-Winslow, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2012, are joining Kornreich in a bid for the two, 3-year positions.

Jonathan Kornreich Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

A handful of residents showed up at Ward Melville High School Monday for the PTA-sponsored Meet the Candidates Night, at which the candidates for board trustees fielded prepared questions from the audience. Pitching their strengths, each highlighted qualities they said make them uniquely suited for the board.

Fusco-Winslow, an anesthesiologist with ProHEALTH Care Associates, said that, as a former business owner, she understands budgets and the importance of the bottom line. As a “fresh face” to the board, “I may see things differently,” she said, which could help the board ask the right questions and “change things that need to be changed.”

“I want to do the best for the community that has taken such good care of me,” said Fusco-Winslow, a 1988 Ward Melville High School graduate.

Kornreich, 46, chair of the board’s audit committee and a member of its legislative committee, said his background in investment management and as a legal consultant gives him a good sense of what tomorrow’s businesses want. That makes him an effective advocate for programs that will give Three Village students the right skills.

“There are certain very special things about this school district that make it desirable,” Kornreich said. “The size of our district allows us to run a wide variety of programs and allows every child to find that special thing about school that they really enjoy.”

He added that he has demonstrated a commitment “to the kids of our community and the community at large.”

Angelique Ragolia file photo
Angelique Ragolia file photo

“I would love to be someone who advocates for all of our children,” said Ragolia, who taught speech for seven years in Brooklyn before moving to East Setauket more than a decade ago. She works as a positive behavior intervention specialist with people suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

Now at the end of her second year as president of the Three Village Council of PTAs, Ragolia said she has a good working relationship with district administration and the board.

Asked about the district’s greatest weakness, the former Minnesauke Elementary PTA president answered that there wasn’t one. She praised the school board for restoring several student programs while presenting a “fiscally responsible” budget within the cap.

“I see all good,” Ragolia said. “I see room for growth always, but that’s with everybody, everywhere.”

Fusco-Winslow, 46, said she’s pleased with the education her daughters are receiving at Nassakeag Elementary and P.J. Gelinas Junior High, but sees areas that can be improved.

The 13-year East Setauket resident touched on the need to increase technology and student safety. Specifically, Fusco-Winslow said she wants to move voting, like the April 19 primary, out of the district’s schools. In addition, she wants to ensure that student athletes have the most appropriate safety equipment — particularly for sports such as football and lacrosse, and that the additional $6 million from the state goes toward student programs like art and music.

“There are things that need to be improved, and we have the money to do it,” she said.

Andrea_Fusco_wKornreich mentioned the restoration of high school business classes, the expansion of secondary level computer science and the elementary STEM program as examples of the current board’s budget priorities.

Not only is next year’s budget below the cap, he said, “It enhances programs to the maximum extent possible for our kids.”

The district’s greatest weakness, he said, is the loss of local control.

“No one knows better than us how we want to educate our students,” he said. Kornreich added that being “force-fed” state assessments infringes on the district’s ability to “control parts of our own destiny.”

Both Ragolia, who spoke at the 2013 Ward Melville forum with then Education Commissioner John King, and Fusco-Winslow, whose platform includes opting out of state tests, believe the standardized tests are developmentally inappropriate. In interviews before Monday’s event, each said the tests were not helpful to students, teachers or parents in determining how well students are doing.

The vote for school board trustees and the budget will take place on Tuesday, May 17, at the elementary schools. Those who usually vote at W.S. Mount Elementary will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High, and Arrowhead Elementary voters will go to Ward Melville High School. The order on the ballot, determined by a drawing required by law, will be Kornreich, Ragolia and Fusco.

The candidate with the most votes will complete Susanne Mendelson’s term, which ends on June 30.

Cheryl Pedisich speaks at the podium after receiving the first-ever Administrator of the Year award from the New York State School Counselor Association. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Bolstered by a $6.6 million bump in aid from the state, Three Village adopted April 13 a $198.8 million budget for the upcoming school year that school administrators say will enhance the district’s programs. There is also a plan to add transportation options for students not previously not included.

Included in the $46.5 million aid package is a $2.9 million increase in building aid to defray costs for payments on the bond, which are due in the coming year. The aid contributes to the tax levy increase — 2.3 percent — being lower than the budget increase, 4.85 percent, said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services.

The end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which took money from school aid to supplement the state budget, has brought a $3.3 million windfall to the district. Since its inception during the 2009-10 school year, Three Village has lost $32.4 million, Carlson said.

Carlson said the district will not need to reduce services to stay within the 2.41 percent tax cap — the allowable amount by which the tax levy can increase.

Residents, though, will vote on a separate proposition that could raise the tax levy to the cap. The proposal is to eliminate the minimum distance students must live to get bus transportation. If the measure passes, all junior high and high school students, who currently live too close to their schools to be eligible, will get transportation. The cost will be $160,000 for two additional buses, which will raise the tax levy increase to 2.41 percent.

While the overall budget would increase to $198.9 million, the district will get an additional $70,000 from the state for transportation. Carlson said that providing bus transportation for all students would address safety concerns about crossing busy streets such as Nicolls Road and walking along narrow, sidewalk-less roads, such as Christian Avenue and Quaker Path.

Not only will the district not need to cut programs to remain within the cap, the administration is recommending that positions be added — or reinstated — to enhance existing programs. In addition to the increased aid from the state, a decrease in payments to the employee retirement systems by $1.1 million, as well as declining enrollment, will help to make this feasible.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said there will be a decrease in the number of elementary students in the district by about 120 to 125 children next year. She recommended the reassignment of 3.0 full-time equivalent teaching positions to academic intervention services at the elementary level instead of laying off staff. Additionally, some of the restored GEA money would go toward two more positions so that each of the five elementary schools would have its own AIS specialist. This would put the district in compliance with AIS and response to intervention mandates, as well as provide the “kind of support that our students need in terms of their mathematical studies,” Pedisich said.

The superintendent’s recommendations also include adding 1.6 FTEs at the secondary level to rebuild Ward Melville’s business department into a “robust” program, with offerings such as virtual enterprise and web and app design; a 0.4 FTE increase to American Sign Language, which has been extended to the junior highs; and a 0.8 FTE increase to expand the high school writing center and to start writing centers at both junior high schools.

Pedisich also noted that there would be a new computer science course at the two junior highs to bridge the elementary STEM program and the reinstated AP computer science class offered at the high school. No additional staff will be needed for this program, she said.

The new budget also covers a second technology lead to provide professional development to faculty and a mentor/behavioral consultant for special education, the largest department in the district, Pedisich said.

Three Village will also bring back assistant coaches for safety, supervision and instruction and will add a “floating” nurse, an assistant director of facilities and an additional 2.0 FTEs for clerical staff in the music and instructional technology departments.

Pedisich assured the school board that all positions are sustainable. “The last thing we want to do is add something and then pull it away two years later,” she said.

The district, which is reimbursed for 66 percent of the cost of its capital projects, has planned a number of upgrades. The projects include reconfiguring the Setauket Elementary School bus loop for better traffic flow, adding air conditioners to the elementary school auditoriums and junior high cafeterias, and adding a generator at W.S. Mount Elementary School. Also proposed are a career and technology education classroom at the North Country administration building, and plumbing repairs and asbestos abatement throughout the district.

The public will vote on the budget and two board seats on May 17. Voting will take place at local elementary schools. This year, for security reasons, people who usually vote at Arrowhead Elementary will go to Ward Melville High School, and those who normally vote at W.S. Mount Elementary will do so at Murphy Junior High. The change comes because the layout of the schools requires voters to walk through the buildings to get to the polling stations, and security is not allowed to ask for identification.

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Greg Crimmins, CEO, co-founder and scientist at Remedy Plan

Say what you will about Gen-Xers, but the founders of Remedy Plan could just change the world.

Greg Crimmins, CEO and co-founder of Remedy Plan, is a molecular and cell biologist, working on a way to stop the spread of cancer.

Yes, you read that correctly. A way to stop cancer. That’s huge.

Though they’re not there yet, the plan is very much in place — “Stop the spread of cancer without stopping your life.”

With Vice President Joe Biden chairing the first meeting of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force in February, we are all reminded of the toll the deadly disease takes on its victims, their families and their friends. And any new perspectives are welcome in the battle to end the disease’s tyranny.

Departing from the traditional approach to cancer treatment, Remedy Plan won’t kill cancer cells. Crimmins said it will contain them so that they can’t spread.

Cancer cells, he explained, are actually cells that have regressed to an embryonic state and hold properties that are only present in the very early stages of human development.

“We’re not attaching molecular atomic bombs to try to kill any cells at all,” he said.

“We are targeting embryonic properties of cells which are not present in any healthy cells.”

Traditional cancer treatment. Image courtesy of Remedy Plan.
Traditional cancer treatment. Image courtesy of Remedy Plan.

Based on co-founder Ron Parchem’s research in embryonic stem cell biology and Crimmins’ background creating phenotypic screens, the former University of California, Berkeley classmates were able to develop a tool to easily identify the most dangerous cancer cells and to “measure quickly and effectively which drugs can remove the metastatic properties of cancer cells,” Crimmins said.

He talked about what it was like when he and his friend realized that they were on to something big.

“It was that moment where this sort of light gets flicked on, and everything that was dark all of a sudden, you can see it for a moment….” Crimmins said.

“The potential was so big, and the science was solid.”

Remedy Plan approach to cancer treatment. Image courtesy of Remedy Plan.
Remedy Plan approach to cancer treatment. Image courtesy of Remedy Plan.

So big and so solid, in fact, that Crimmins, 35, turned down a tenure-track position at the University of Maryland to pursue Remedy Plan and to begin screening drugs to determine the initial group of potential candidates.

While his wife Allison, an environmental scientist, started a new job at the Environmental Protection Agency in D.C., Crimmins spent about three months — and his savings — sleeping on a friend’s couch in San Francisco getting the project off the ground.

Crimmins and Parchem, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine, assembled an advisory team of scientists from Tufts School of Medicine, University of California, Berkeley and University of California, San Francisco Helen Diller Cancer Center.

To raise seed money for the project, the founders developed a business plan before going to investors, applying for grants and even launching an Indiegogo campaign.

While most people don’t exactly associate crowdfunding with a for-profit biotech start-up, the $102,925 the campaign raised was crucial to Crimmins being able to test 1,000 FDA-approved drugs.

Remedy plan technology uses fluorescent markers that change colors when certain parts of the DNA are “turned on” in a cell. Red marks the area in the cell where embryonic properties are present. This indicates how metastatic a cell is. When testing for potential drug candidates, a change from red to green or blue means the drug is reducing or “turning off” the metastatic properties. Courtesy Remedy Plan.
Remedy plan technology uses fluorescent markers that change colors when certain parts of the DNA are “turned on” in a cell. Red marks the area in the cell where embryonic properties are present. This indicates how metastatic a cell is. When testing for potential drug candidates, a change from red to green or blue means the drug is reducing or “turning off” the metastatic properties. Courtesy Remedy Plan.

“Part of doing a crowdfunding campaign is you’re pulling all of these people in. You’re letting them be a part of science,” said Allison Crimmins, who also functions as director of strategy for Remedy Plan.

“You have a responsibility too — you’ve got to maintain these updates or blog or something that lets them be a part of your successes and failures along the way,” she said.

Their more than 280 contributors helped them surpass their $100,000 goal and made it possible for Crimmins to leave his “day” job — he was a research fellow at the Food and Drug Administration — to open his lab in Rockville, MD earlier this winter.

Ultimately, they will need about $1.5 million and are continuing to approach angel investors. The funds will go toward hiring additional staff and testing drugs for safety and their ability to stop metastatic cancer in animal models. It will also go toward optimizing the chemistry of the drug candidates that are most likely to make the cut for clinical trials.

Though this could take a few years, Crimmins is in it for the long haul.

“This is something that could change the system of cancer treatment if we’re successful,” he said.

 

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