Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

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Rob Catlin will be the new principal of Mount Sinai Elementary School. Photo from Rob Catlin

Mount Sinai Elementary School has a new principal in Rob Catlin — a passionate administrator from New York City who, like his predecessor, puts kids first.

Catlin, 36, principal of River East Elementary School in Harlem from 2011 to 2016, was appointed by the board of education during its May 9 meeting, effective in July. The appointment came just months after longtime principal John Gentilcore, who served the district for a total 30 years, announced he would be retiring at the end of the school year.

Prior to his five-year principal gig, Catlin, a Babylon native, taught first grade and served as a math coach and staff developer at PS 11 in Chelsea, Manhattan. He’s since worked in the New York City Department of Education Central Offices.

Rob Catlin reads a book with his son Ben. Photo from Rob Catlin

He and his wife, Michele, after years of living in the city, look forward to settling down on Long Island with their three-year-old son, Ben.  Mount Sinai, Catlin said, was a perfect fit.

“What drew me here was the warm, tight-knit, small community — it was the kind of place I could see myself in,” Catlin said. “As a principal, I’m very involved with the kids and try to build strong relationships with the families and students. To me, it’s important to build trust. I want to make sure parents know they can come to me, send an email, stop by my office.”

As principal, Catlin added, he likes to empower teachers to make decisions and kids to be independent thinkers.

“Coming into a new setting, I’m looking forward to spending lots of time in the classrooms, listening to concerns, listening to what people hold dear and love about the community, maybe some things we could do better,” he said. “And use that to really drive the vision of the school.”

Catlin, who graduated from New York University with a degree in elementary education and then Hunter College with a master’s degree in literacy, beat out seven other candidates screened by the district’s school-based organizations, staff, administrators and board following Gentilcore’s February announcement.

“[Rob] Catlin emerged as the favorite after impressing many members of each committee,” wrote Superintendent Gordon Brosdal in a statement on the district’s website.

Catlin said the school’s commitment to the arts, recent integration of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project — with which he has plenty of experience — and overall climate made him feel right at home during the interview process.

Following in Gentilcore’s footsteps, Catlin said he’s also not the kind of principal to hide behind closed doors and be seen as an intimidating authority figure. Even if he’s in a meeting and a student peeks his head in the door, Catlin laughs, he’ll invite them in.

Rob Catlin with former student Orion Edgington. Edgington dressed up like his former principal for Halloween. Photo from Jessica Davis

“I always want to be accessible to the kids and want them to see my office as a place to just come talk, or tell me about concerns they [might] have,” said Catlin, recalling a River East student he used to bond with as principal. “I would talk to him, spend time with him whenever he was having a bad day … and if I was having a bad day, I would go talk to him. I get as much out of these relationships as the students do.”

Jessica Davis, the mother of one of Catlin’s River East students, Orion, regarded him as “a great and attentive leader,” who would stand outside the school to greet the kids as they got off the bus every morning.

“He always kept time open to greet children and parents and converse with them — he knew many of them, if not all of them, by name,” Davis said. “He has a very good spirit — one time [for Halloween], my son dressed up as Mr. Catlin and pretended to be the principal. Mr. Catlin took him around the school with him.”

River East Principal Mike Panetta, who served as assistant principal under Catlin, said Catlin is easy to get along with, sets clear expectations and has good interpersonal relationships with teachers and students.

“I think [Rob] is going to be successful wherever he goes — he really cares about kids and wants to do what’s best for them and the school,” Panetta said. Catlin, he added, “brought a lot of socio-emotional programs and clubs for kids and expertise in math” to River East.

Stating “Gentilcore is the kind of principal I aspire to be,” Catlin said he looks forward to getting advice from the veteran administrator this summer before he bids farewell.

In an email, Gentilcore wrote: “I would like to extend my congratulations to Mr. Catlin and wish him the very best in the years ahead.”

 

Elected officials, religious leaders, volunteers and residents gathered at the Long Island State Veterans Home on the campus of Stony Brook University May 26 to give thanks to a roomful of United States military veterans. The annual ceremony, which includes a color guard, firing detail and wreath laying, honors the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country — whose brothers and sisters in arms reside at the home on campus.

The Long Island State Veterans Home is dedicated to serving the more than 250,000 veterans who live on Long Island. Opened 26 years ago, the facility’s relationship with Stony Brook University’s medical department has been a winning combination for the care of veterans — providing skilled nursing services that many veterans wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Veterans who fought in Vietnam, Korea and even World War II sat together in the home’s Multipurpose Room, some of them tearful as singer Lee Ann Brill performed moving renditions of “Amazing Grace” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Marine Corps veteran Edward Kiernan read “In Flanders Fields,” a famous war memorial poem written during World War I. Korean War veteran Richard Seybold was honorary bearer of the wreath.

“Every minute, of every hour, of every day, Americans enjoy the blessings of a peace-loving nation — blessings protected by the selfless service of men and women in uniform,” Fred Sganga, executive director of the veterans home, said to the crowd. “The America we know would not be the same were it not for the men and women we honor on Memorial Day … a single day during which we honor the spirit of all those who died in service to our nation, but whom we continue to remember and honor in our hearts.”

Stressing the holiday means much more than a three-day weekend, Sganga recognized the collective shift in thinking when it comes to Memorial Day.

“In recent years,” he said, “a new awareness of the sacrifices our military members are making is emerging, becoming an ingrained part of our American experience.”

U.S. State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who delivered the keynote address, read excerpts from President Ronald Reagan’s (R) 1984 address commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day. LaValle prefaced by saying, “Whether you served in the second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War or Gulf War, these words apply to you.”

“President Reagan said, ‘Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here … you were young the day you took these cliffs, some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? … It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love. All of you loved liberty, all of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew people of your countries were behind you.’”

LaValle ended his address by thanking the veterans in attendance for their service.

“On behalf of the Senate and majority leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), we really appreciate what you do and we try each and every day to make sure this veterans home is everything that you would want it to be,” LaValle said. “We all say thank you.”

To learn more about the Long Island State Veterans Home, visit www.listateveteranshome.org.

Attendees of the first North Brookhaven Scholastic Film Festival cheer on filmmakers at Comsewogue High School May 22. Photo by Kevin Redding

Comsewogue High School students with an eye for filmmaking got the Hollywood treatment Monday, May 22, as they walked the red carpet, screened their short films for family and friends, and received awards.

The first annual North Brookhaven Scholastic Film Festival, sponsored by Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and the Comsewogue school district, gave students, grades nine through 12, the opportunity to showcase their original films, each projected before an audience on the big screen in a mini-lecture hall.

The 18 films, submitted mostly by video production students, were no longer than five minutes and included public service announcements on the dangers of texting and driving and cyberbullying; a documentary on the friendship formed between two foreign exchange students; and a series of narratives, ranging from comedy to romance to horror.

“I think it’s important we create opportunities for people to express themselves, and they are so talented, clearly, from all the ambition that came out of today,” said Cartwright, who handed out individual certificates to the participating filmmakers after the screening.

Attendees of the first North Brookhaven Scholastic Film Festival cheer on filmmakers at Comsewogue High School May 22. Photo by Kevin Redding

The councilwoman got involved after Lou Antoniello, of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, approached her with the idea to make a  film festival for students as a way to bring more culture to the area.

“I said, ‘why not have one here for Northern Brookhaven?’ as I never heard of a scholastic film festival,” Antoniello said. He said he hopes down the line, as the event grows, scouts from bigger festivals like Stony Brook and the Hamptons will be in the audience and pluck student-produced films to screen.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said.

Antoniello said the festival was open to all school districts within Brookhaven and he hopes more will participate in the next one in September.

Kayla Jones, a 17-year-old senior at Comsewogue, produced two of the night’s entries, the texting and driving PSA, and “Distance,” a black-and-white silent film about a long-distance couple.

“It was really great to have this — I didn’t expect it was going to be as big as it ended up being,” Jones said. “It felt really good to have people see the things I created and like my ideas. It’s such a great experience to see something that was in your mind, on screen.”

Cassavete Porta, a senior classmate of Jones’ who plans to study film in college, directed a music video based on the song “Survive” by The Moog.

“I was raised by two film geeks so basically any song I listen to, I have a scene in my head to go with it,” Porta said on his entry. “It’s a good feeling because everyone clapped and had a good time. When you have an audience, you can tell if your movie is good or bad.”

Karen Verdisco teaches the school’s video production class, wherein students learn basic editing techniques on Final Cut Pro, video editing software, as well as how to work with a green screen. She encouraged her class to participate in the festival.

“I helped them with their story lines, basically guiding them through the process and critiquing their films to help them get better,” Verdisco said. “Just to watch the movies in a crowd and to hear everybody laughing and reacting, it made me feel unbelievably proud.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini testifies before the U.S. Senate committee May 24. Image from Department of Homeland Security website

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini took his crusade against MS-13 gangs to Capitol Hill this morning, calling on the federal government to further join in the fight.

Sini testified May 24 before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in Washington D.C. regarding the impact of MS-13 gang activity on local communities in a hearing entitled “Border Insecurity: The Rise of MS-13 and Other Transnational Criminal Organizations.”

Despite historic reductions in crimes in Suffolk County since last year, Sini said, there’s been an increase in gang violence connected to MS-13.

According to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), chairman of the committee, the mission of the hearing was “to highlight these problems within our government agency, within our government laws and procedures, to make the public aware [and] lay out a reality so we can actually enact public policy to combat it and keep this homeland safe.”

Suffolk County has gained national attention after high profile murder investigations connected to the gang and a visit from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) to speak on the topic earlier in May.

Sini, speaking alongside Det. Scott Conley of the Chelsea Police Gang Unit in Massachusetts and Chief J. Thomas Manger of Montgomery County Police in Maryland, outlined ways in which the federal government could assist local governments and better stamp out the escalation of gang activity. Some of Sini’s notable quotes from the testimony are below:

  • More federal prosecutors should be provided to arraign RICO cases, designed to combat organized crime in the United States, against Ms-13 gang members. “If the Suffolk County Police department could launch a pilot program in collaboration with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office whereby every MS-13 arrest could be screened for possible federal prosecution — taking dangerous individuals off our streets, and generate incentives for defendants who cooperate with law enforcement.”
  • Intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies throughout the country should be improved. “A singular database with information relating to identified MS-13 gang members would encourage multi-jurisdictional operations and allow departments to be more proactive in targeting MS-13 gang members in our communities.”
  • Additional funding for community-based gang prevention and intervention programs tied directly to the number of unaccompanied children from other countries, who are most susceptible to gang recruitment, in local communities.
  • Improvements should be made to the unaccompanied children program, including increased screening and monitoring of sponsors and post-placement services.

Since January 2016, Sini explained to committee members Johnson and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), out of the 45 homicides in Suffolk County, 17 of those are believed to be linked to MS-13 gangs and approximately 400 identified MS-13 gang members are active in the county.

The commissioner has rolled out aggressive gang eradication strategies within the police department since becoming commissioner in 2016 to target particular communities where the gang is most active, like Brentwood, and stamp out the activities of its members. The strategy has led to 200 MS-13 arrests, Sini said.

In March, in collaboration with the FBI’s Long Island Safe Streets Task Force, the department arrested four gang members tied to the killings of Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, Brentwood High School students beaten to death for “disrespecting the gang.” But, Sini said, it’s not enough.

“We recognize that our targeted enforcement and enhanced patrols will not alone lead to the eradication of gangs from our neighborhoods — MS-13 preys on our most vulnerable and if we do not provide the structure for these young people, MS-13 will,” Sini said.

The commissioner said the gang members in Suffolk County are predominantly male, between the ages 16 and 29, many of whom hold wage-paying jobs, differentiating themselves from other gangs.

“MS-13 often engages in violence for the sake of violence to increase notoriety of the gang and cause communities to fear the gang and its members,” Sini said.

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

Smithtown is moving ahead with plans to beautify its downtowns, this time with St. James.

The town board voted May 9 to amend the 2017 capital projects plan and budget to add a $2 million reconstruction to enhance the St. James business
district.

The project, adopted in a 3-2 vote, will renovate approximately 4,300 feet of Lake Avenue, from Moriches Road to Woodlawn Avenue, by restoring its sidewalks and putting in new street trees, street lighting, curbs, concrete gutters and crosswalks, driveway aprons, asphalt, driveway aprons, benches and other decorative amenities.

The project, spearheaded by Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) in collaboration with the traffic, engineering, highway and planning departments, aims to make Lake Avenue the focal point of the St. James community, improve business activity in the downtown area, and encourage private investment in adjacent properties.

“It’s about time we step up to the plate, swing the bat, and make St. James Village and all our other villages the light of Suffolk County,” McCarthy said to the board during the work session Tuesday morning. “We have the best budget of all towns in the county and some of the most affluent people in the county … and I think we have to lead the way for the community to fix our infrastructure that’s aged and decrepit and if we don’t, then shame on us.”

According to Town Planning Director David Flynn, Lake Avenue was last reconstructed with a crown and base and street trees, concrete curbs, sidewalks and gutters in the 1930s. The work done at the time served the hamlet well for many years but new surfacing is desperately needed today, Flynn explained to the board.

“The sidewalks in St. James today would be rated the lowest in terms of walkability, smoothness, and crookedness, and the trees have been cropped severely by utilities to the point where they are more like weeds,” Flynn said. “The vacancy rate in the business district has increased the past few years and our approach is to bring downtown back to what it was, add amenities, put some trees back, rebuild what’s there … restore the pavement and make the pedestrian environment better, safe and more attractive.”

To further improve the aesthetic of the streetscape, according to the project proposal, the species and locations of street trees will be selected based on overhead wires, underground utilities and other urban conditions.

When asked by Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) why St. James should be the first of the hamlets to be worked on, as opposed to Kings Park and Smithtown, Flynn said it is the only one not sitting on a state highway, so state approval wouldn’t be necessary. The state of repair is also better in other hamlets, he added.

Nowick said during the work session she was in agreement with the project.

“We need to take care of our downtowns, whether it’s Smithtown or Kings Park or St. James,” she said. “There is no foot traffic in St. James … it’s a little sad.”

According to Superintendent of Highways Robert Murphy (R), renovations to Lake Avenue will begin as soon as possible, in coordination with schools and local businesses.

The cost estimate total of $1,994,836.60 — for asphalt, concrete, trees, amenities, surveying, drainage and lighting — will come out of the town’s general fund balance and will not be bonded.

“It’s a great project and we’re moving in the right direction,” McCarthy said.

During the vote, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R), McCarthy and Nowick said yes. Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) and Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R), saying they support the project but request it be tabled for a couple weeks, voted no. The two opposed said they wanted more time to review the plan in its entirety.

The Kennedys will return for their ninth Dylan birthday celebration on May 21. Photo by Jeremy Lebled

By Kevin Redding

The times may be a changin’ but the songs of Bob Dylan continue to be sung. On Sunday, May 21, in celebration of the Nobel Laureate’s 76th birthday, The Long Island Museum, in partnership with WUSB-FM’s Sunday Street Concert Series and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, will host the 12th annual Dylan tribute concert in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room at 7 p.m.

Several local and outside musicians — including concert staples Pete and Maura Kennedy, whose covers include guitars, sitars and ukuleles, Rod MacDonald of the revered tribute band Big Brass Bed, and Russ Seeger of Levon Helm’s Last Hombres, who will perform Dylan deep tracks like “Foot of Pride” — will strum and sing through decades of material, from 1965’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” to 1997’s “Love Sick.”

Much of the setlist will feature songs from two touchstone albums celebrating anniversaries this year — 1967’s “John Wesley Harding,” Dylan’s return to his acoustic roots after three albums of going electric, turns 50, and 1997’s “Time Out of Mind,” his Grammy-Award-winning comeback album, turns 20.

“Every year the show takes on a different dimension … it’s always different and never stale,” said Charlie Backfish, host of the long-running, weekly Stony Brook University radio program “Sunday Street” from which the series stemmed. “We have unique interpretations of Dylan’s songs and we don’t just do the greatest hits; we really go through the catalog and try to play songs you don’t hear often, making it very different than the usual Dylan tribute show.”

Speaking of deep tracks, Seeger is expected to perform “Foot of Pride,” a song Dylan wrote and recorded in 1983 but never released on an album.

Backfish said he chose Dylan as the focus of the tribute concert because of the singer-songwriter’s incredibly prolific career. “He has been at home in a variety of different musical settings over the years, starting out in a folk direction and moving toward rock and then into a country sound and then in a gospel direction later in his career — he’s moved in fascinating ways, his songs are incredible and it [really] opens up the possibilities of using the lyrics and melodies and taking them in different directions and there’s a lot of room to move with Dylan songs. It’s terribly interesting and it’s quite a rich catalog we have to go with,” he said.

The Sunday Street Series started in 2004 at the University Cafe at Stony Brook University when Backfish put on concerts featuring the singer-songwriters he’d interviewed and played on his radio program. In 2014, he was in need of a different venue to host the concerts and turned to The Long Island Museum, which took it over a year later.

“We were wanting to do a singer-songwriter concert series at the museum when Charlie approached us,” Neil Watson, the museum’s executive director, said. Since Backfish came aboard, the museum has hosted more than 20 concerts featuring an ever-changing roster of artists. “It’s activated our performance space on a regular basis like nothing can. People who would never have come to the museum are now being introduced to it in a different way.”

Watson, who noted “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” as his favorite Dylan song, said he was thrilled to be hosting this particular event.

“This concert series sells out very fast and I think it’s because Dylan’s music has touched so many people for different reasons,” Watson said. “What these musicians do with the material is critical and when you hear their interpretations of his songs, they take on a new life. The [concert] captures the spirit of Bob Dylan. It will be a rollicking good time.”

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.sundaystreet.org through Friday, May 19 for $30. If available, tickets may be purchased at the door for $35 (cash only). Please call the museum at 631-751-0066 the day of the show to confirm ticket availability.

Melissa Firmes, at center, the founder of Kids Need More, with her husband John, at the Kids Need paint night fundraising event. Photo by Kevin Redding

Locals unleashed their inner artists this week to ensure a fun summer for local kids coping with cancer.

At the Paint Pallet Party for Kids Need More, hosted at Recipe Seven in Miller Place May 16, families, friends and complete strangers bonded for a night of painting and fundraising to benefit the nonprofit’s six-week summer camp at Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island. The proceeds will help cover the expensive costs of transporting kids from their home to the camp.

North Shore residents attended a paint party at Recipe Seven in Miller Place to help support nonprofit Kids Need More. Photo by Kevin Redding

The camp, which kicks off June 26 and runs until July 28, is a fun-filled program where kids with life-threatening illnesses and special challenges overcome their obstacles through horseback riding and other equine-assisted activities. It’s one of several selfless events put on by the volunteers at Kids Need More, a nonprofit organization started in 2013 to enhance the lives of kids between 4 and 14 and their families.

So when Kayla Vigorito and Lula Lukasiewicz, members of the Bohemia-based accounting firm Cerini & Associates, were on the lookout to recognize and help out charitable companies in the area that are making a difference in their community, it didn’t take long to hit the ground running with a fundraiser for the organization.

“Kids Need More is basically Make-A-Wish on steroids,” Lukasiewicz said. “They do so much for the kids, they’re a family to them, and we wanted to help as much as we could. Kayla thought up the idea of a painting fundraiser — it’s all for a good cause and we definitely want to do it again.”

Vigorito said she was thankful so many people came out in support of the cause.

“Every day, we see the kids struggling and they’re sick and we wanted to do our part to help them experience things that the rest of us experience,” Vigorito said. “It’s very exciting that it all came together.”

North Shore residents attended a paint party at Recipe Seven in Miller Place to help support nonprofit Kids Need More and Bohemia accounting firm members and helpers Lula Lukasiewicz and Kayla Vigorito, above. Photo by Kevin Redding

Forty-five painters, all from towns across the North Shore, signed up with an entry fee of $30 to $50, which went toward painting materials supplied by JL Designs and for Kids Need More — and could choose from seven inspirational sayings to paint on either a wooden pallet or mason jars in a flower box. Some of the sayings included “this is us” and “begin each day with a grateful heart.”

Anybody not interested in painting could attend for free with an option to donate to the nonprofit at the door; raffle tickets, a 50/50 and a door prize were given out.

Kristen Pondini, of Wading River, got involved as soon as she heard where the money was going.

“I just like supporting anything that has to do with cancer awareness,” Pondini said. “I think everyone is personally affected by cancer, in one way or another, and I just always like to support those who need it.”

Mount Sinai resident Carol Dunne said she loved the combination of art and donation.

“I just love doing stuff like this,” Dunne said as she made brush strokes to a flower-box. “And doing something for a great cause is always fun. I love getting together and making a difference.”

Melissa Firmes, who founded Kids Need More with her husband John, said the organization runs on small grants and individual donations, so she’s grateful for what Vigorito and Lukasiewicz have done.

North Shore residents, like Michael Carnes, above, attended a paint party at Recipe Seven in Miller Place, on right, to help support children with cancer through the nonprofit Kids Need More. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s really overwhelming and it really came from their hearts,” said Firmes, who was recently diagnosed with cancer herself. “It also makes me feel that I’m around the right people, and really good people. That’s the reason I do what I do … there’s a lot of wonderful people out there who want to do good and sometimes you just need to find an opportunity to do it.”

She said the ideal fund goal for transportation and activities for the kids would be $20,000.

Miller Place resident Fariba Pallas, whose son Jesse was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 when he was  4 and is currently in remission, said the nonprofit makes the kids forget the pain they’re going through.

“My son calls them his family,” Pallas said. “This is not just an organization … they’re involved, they came to visit my son in the hospital day after day. These volunteers that never get paid, who all have jobs or go to school, still find time to get involved with the families and kids. They’ll come to your house if they need to, they’ll dress up in costumes if they need to … these people are amazing.”

Michael Carnes, of Corrective Chiropractic in Miller Place, and his niece Ashley Leung were there as honorary guests for their work in personally delivering Christmas gifts to kids battling life-threatening illnesses. Carnes, who said many of his patients have cancer, assumes the role of Santa for the annual gift drop-off.

“I think it’s important to help children that are in need, that are hurting and struggling,” Carnes said, “and try to make a difference in their lives.”

Pindar Wine Shop. Photo by Kevin Redding
East End Shirt Company. Photo by Kevin Redding

This past Saturday, May 13, a total of 19 businesses throughout the Port Jefferson Village, north of the Long Island Railroad tracks, participated in the second annual “Port Jefferson On Sale!” shopping crawl. Coinciding with Mother’s Day weekend, this year’s crawl was part of an ongoing initiative by the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce to help boost traffic for local retailers.

Participating stores, including The Amazing Olive, Sea Creations, Knitting Cove & Yarn Shop, Max & Millie, Pindar Wine, Crazy Fish Bar & Grill and Yogo Delish, offered 10 and 20 percent off sales and free items for customers.

The Knitting Cove & Yarn Shop. Photo by Kevin Redding

The crawl started with a free cup of coffee at Starbucks and anybody who made three purchases at three different businesses in the village could bring their receipts to Tommy’s Place for a free drink. A “Spring Thing Raffle” offered $200 worth of local merchants’ gift certificates.

Although Saturday’s heavy rain kept many shoppers at home, chamber director of operations Barbara Ransome said it’s an initiative worth continuing.

“It’s one of those events you have to keep doing to gain momentum,” she said. “We want to get people out there and familiar with the stores. We’re actively involved to help promote the [businesses] because that’s important…we’re really working hard, I was out on Saturday with my umbrella handing out cards and going into businesses.”

Mary Joy Pipe, the owner of East End Shirt Company, offered customers who spent $75 at her store a free $20 hoodie.

East End Shirt Company. Photo by Kevin Redding

“The chamber asked for our input as retailers as to what would help us,” Pipe said. “It encourages people to walk the village and experience new stores that maybe they’ve never gone into before. Being a retailer, you’ve got to keep trying and trying.”

Other participating stores included Port Jeff Liquor, The Crushed Olive, Sue’s Place, and Diva’s Den.

Returning board member Michael Yannucci and newcomers Katie Anderson, Erin Hunt and Henry Perez, will replace two incumbents. Photo by Kevin Redding

Shoreham-Wading River voters may have passed the school budget Tuesday night, but residents made it clear they want change.

Katie Anderson

The district’s $74,842,792 budget for 2017-2018 was supported by residents with 1,112 for and 992 against, as was a second proposition to establish a 10-year, $7.5 million capital reserve fund with 1,282 voters in support and 813 in opposition.

With the capital reserve fund secured, the district will be able to fund complete facility renovations across its four schools, such as Americans with Disabilities Act features, upgrading athletic fields, bleachers, auditoriums, computers, energy management systems and gymnasiums, among other projects.

“It’s a great relief,” Neil Lederer, the district’s interim superintendent, said of the budget and capital reserve fund passing. “I’m very appreciative of the community … mistakes were made in the past, [and] we’ve corrected them for the future with this budget they voted on. The individuals who benefit the most from this are our students — we’ve got some very nice programs put in place next year.”

Henry Perez

It was out with the old and in with the new when it came to the seven candidates who ran for four seats on the board of education.

Two incumbents, board president John Zukowski and trustee Jack Costas, were ousted with 524 and 563 votes, respectively, in favor of three school board newcomers — Katie Anderson (1,318), Henry Perez (1,303) and Erin Hunt (1,279) — who will each serve a three-year term.

Michael Yannucci, a former trustee from 2005 to 2008, received the fourth highest number of votes with 1,087, so he will occupy the vacant seat that belonged to longtime trustee Michael Fucito, who resigned in March before his term was up. He will serve a one-year term and was sworn in immediately after the vote.

Candidate James Smith missed the mark with 1,015 votes. Zukowski, who’s served on the board for six years, said he does not intend to run for the board again. Costas, who was up for his fourth term, also won’t run again.

“I did nine years, the community doesn’t want me, that’s it — I’m done,” Costas said. “I get the message. I’m glad the budget passed and I give the best of luck to the new board.”

Smith, however, expressed interest in running for Yannucci’s seat after the one-year term is up next year.

“There’s a very good possibility,” Smith said. “I’m disappointed, but I wish all the candidates well and hope they make the best decisions for the students and district and community.”

The board’s new crop of trustees, who were all smiles after the results came in, said they were excited to help guide the district.

“I’m on a high,” said Perez, a professional engineer. “I’m thankful that people have faith that I can hopefully provide further vision toward taking the school district to the next level. I’m hoping to work collaboratively with everybody.”

Michael Yannucci

Hunt, a former secondary education teacher, echoed Perez’s call for collaboration.

“I think we have a diverse board and I’m thrilled to work with everybody,” Hunt said. “The main thing we can do is change the narrative in the district to a positive one. Shoreham-Wading River is a really great community and I think we can move forward by focusing on building on all the positive we have here. We can also do more to connect our communities.”

Yannucci said there’s a lot of work to be done to be a more transparent district.

“In my run, I think we had a strong message of bringing the community into the process and engaging a lot of people who were not engaged prior to the election,” he said. “There’s been a loss of faith over the last few years and I’m excited to be able to restore the faith and give the community a sense of pride in terms of the decisions and direction of the district.”

Anderson, a mother of two students in the district, is determined to get to work as soon as possible.

“I’m so thankful to the voters for how the vote went,” Anderson said. “I’m ready to serve.”


A student voice

By Kevin Redding

Jack Tressler wanted to try something new at the start of the academic year — so he threw his hat in the ring to be the student member of the Shoreham-Wading River board of education.

Tressler, a senior, was officially sworn in April 18 to sit in on board meetings and represent the student body by weighing in on district-related matters and discussions.

“I’ve learned a lot about how people conduct themselves and how things at the school are done and how people present their ideas,” Tressler said. “I don’t think a lot of people, especially students, know how these things work and now I have some idea. I’ve been able to present myself in front of professionals and act cordially and it’s helped me out in terms of public speaking, [something] I’ve always been weak with.”

Jack Tressler gets sworn in. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

But at his first board meeting, when a group of engineers proposed their plans to renovate the high school’s parking lot, Tressler was quick to speak up.

“They wanted to renovate the lot and most of their renditions would make for less parking spots, and being a student myself, the parking’s already a bad situation — there aren’t always enough spots.”

With just another month as a board member, Tressler, an AP physics and AP environmental science student, said he’d like to implement some change in regards to the school’s environmental standards, like switching to glass bottles in the district.

“In his role as a student board of education member, Jack has proved to be invaluable,” interim Superintendent of Schools Neil Lederer said. “He has provided the board with a unique student perspective that is important to consider when making decisions. I have also been impressed with Jack’s willingness to contribute and self-confidence.”

Tressler will serve on the board until the end of June, when he’ll pass the torch to a new student representative. In the fall, he will be studying physics and engineering at James Madison University in Virginia.

The Cumsewogue Historical Society has a ticket to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park from July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

What was once an abandoned and forgotten horse racing track in a stretch of woods in Terryville is now a Brookhaven-designated historic landmark.

The town board voted unanimously during its May 11 meeting to recognize the Gentlemen’s Driving Park, the last Victorian-era harness racing track on Long Island, as an historic landmark and by doing so, solidified the hard work of the local residents and elected officials who helped to make it happen.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Jack Smith, Ed Garboski of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine examine the Gentleman’s Driving Park. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The half-mile track, before it became hidden among trees, was a popular gathering place for bettors in the late 19th century to watch men race around the loop behind horses in carts. It was part of a circuit of tracks in the Northeast — others sat in Smithtown, Setauket and Riverhead — and is the last remaining one.

“I urge you to recognize it,” Barbara Russell, Brookhaven town historian, said before the board made their decision.

Russell played a huge part in providing historical context to the site when Jack Smith, president and founder of the Cumsewogue Historical Society, initially kicked off the project more than a year ago.

She made all resources of her office available to the historical society, including original photographs of the track donated by the historic Davis family and firsthand accounts of these races through old letters.

Smith discovered the faint outline of the horse track from a satellite image on Google Earth upon hearing of its existence off Canal Road, and eventually went to the site with his wife Pam, to examine it more closely. To his delight, he ended up finding pieces of Long Island history scattered throughout the 11-acre site, including a broken pair of Victorian-era field glasses close to where the finish line of the track would’ve been as well as a race day ticket from 1892.

Smith then reached out to former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and other council members about acquiring the site, clearing the overgrown path and restoring it. Rosenfeld, Smith said, saw the value in preserving the site and laid the groundwork to make the project possible.

The Gentlemen’s Driving Park officially opened to the public in October.

“The landmark status recognizes the importance of preserving this colorful and almost forgotten part of Brookhaven Town’s history,” Smith said in a phone interview. “The driving park is now a collective symbol of the many large driving parks that once dotted the Long Island landscape … Long Island being the birthplace of horse racing in America. I’m happy the society as a whole was able to play an integral part in getting this important part of our history preserved.”

Jack Smith takes a closer look at a wrecked car on the Gentlemen’s Driving Park track around the time he first discovered the forgotten historical spot. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Smith said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) picked up where Rosenfeld left off when she was first elected.

“She took it through some difficult negotiations and brought the whole thing to fruition,” he noted. “Her diligence and hard work, tremendous optimism and skill in bringing everything together have culminated in the preservation … .”

Cartright expressed her excitement about the designation in an emailed statement. She described the endeavor as a three-step process — first the town’s acquisition of the park in 2014, then the reopening in 2016, and finally receiving the landmark designation last week.

“During each of these steps, and for several years prior to my taking office, Jack Smith has been at the forefront of the Gentlemen’s Driving Park project,” she said. “The activism, research and unwavering support of Jack and the Historical Society has been an inspiration. The historic landmark status draws additional attention to Gentlemen’s Driving Park and is an honor the rich history of the location and all those who helped preserve it certainly deserve.”

Smith said the town plans to build a Victorian-style gate as an entranceway to the track.

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