Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding
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Heritage Trust and community members say if a cell tower were to come to Mount Sinai, they’d prefer to see it behind the Heritage Center at the park. Photo by Tom Carbone

A beloved local park is gauging the reception of a potential development.

Members of Heritage Trust in Mount Sinai are currently evaluating a proposal made by a Verizon representative last month to build a cellphone tower on the property.

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage.”

— Lori Baldassare

According to Lori Baldassare, the nonprofit’s president, the group was contacted by Verizon Wireless consultant, Robert Monteleone, a few weeks before the trust’s annual meeting in early February.

Without a design or any specific plan yet in place, Baldassare said Verizon’s bare-bones pitch is to install a tower somewhere on a 0.7-acre stretch of property at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road to help eliminate a cellular “dead zone” in the area, where weak signals and dropped calls can create safety issues. More and more cell towers have popped up across the state in recent years as less residents hold onto their landlines, instead relying almost completely on their cellphones. Phone carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, are required to make sure dangerous coverage gaps are filled.

Baldassare said she and other Heritage members requested more information from Monteleone as to how obtrusive the proposed tower would be and exactly where the structure might be located on the scenic site, which features a playground, baseball field, walking path, gardens, a plant maze and mini-golf course.

“Do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

— Ann Becker

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage,” Baldassare said, hoping that the tower be built behind the Heritage Center building, where there are already tall poles and transformers installed. “We certainly don’t want it in front of our building.”

But a cell tower at Heritage would come with an added benefit, Baldassare said.

“Part of the reason we’re considering it is that the income generated from the cell tower — roughly between $2,500 and $3,500 a month — would go directly to Heritage Trust to help support our programs, activities and efforts at the park,” she said. “It would certainly be a help to us as we don’t get taxpayer money, and rely on donations.”

She said she was “cautiously pursuing” the idea.

“We’re trying to weigh out the pros and cons based on what comes back to us from Verizon,” Baldassare said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”

The topic came up during a March 5 Mount Sinai Civic Association meeting. Civic Association President Ann Becker led the discussion, raising questions and making clear to the public that no application for the cellphone tower has been submitted.

“Nothing has happened yet, but it’s now on our radar,” Becker said. “I guess the downside is, do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

“This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community.”

— John Leonard

Vice President Brad Arrington said there are alternative models and size options available when it comes to towers.“Would there be room on a cellphone tower to share and cooperate with other providers?” asked park volunteer Fred Drewes, referring to the service of not just Verizon customers.

Becker said there is.

“If Verizon builds it and, say, Sprint rents from Verizon by paying an additional fee, there would be that additional benefit,” she said. “One tower, more money, less construction.”

Mount Sinai resident John Leonard said via Facebook that he would support the cell tower as long as the revenue went to the Heritage Trust, which he commended for being a 100 percent volunteer board.

“They have done amazing things,” Leonard said. “This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community. It’ll help this group continue doing great things for our region.”

But not all residents seem to be on board.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Robyn Blumstein said. “What an eyesore for a beautiful park.”

Mose Allison
Evening will honor the music of longtime Smithtown resident

By Kevin Redding

Mose Allison. Photo by Michael Wilson

A reporter once asked the late jazz and blues pianist and singer Mose Allison — regarded among musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Pete Townshend and Van Morrison as “one of the finest songwriters in 20th century blues” — why he wasn’t more famous.

“Mose, you were a social critic before Bob Dylan, satirical long before Randy Newman and rude before Mick Jagger,” the reporter said. “How come you’re not a big star?” Allison, who was born in Mississippi and moved from New York City to Smithtown in the mid-1960s to raise a family and spent much of his time walking in the local woods and swimming in the Long Island Sound, responded: “Just lucky, I guess.”

On Saturday, March 24, The Long Island Museum, in partnership with WUSB-FM’s Sunday Street Concert Series and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, will give the 2006 Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee his proper due with The Word From Mose: A Celebration of the Music of Mose Allison, a tribute concert in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room at 7 p.m.

Jack Licitra

The concert, following the tradition of other Sunday Street Series shows organized by Charlie Backfish, Stony Brook University history lecturer and host of the university’s weekly radio program “Sunday Street,” will feature local and outside musicians, who will strum and sing through decades of Allison’s breakthrough material, including his more well-known tracks “Your Mind Is on Vacation,” “Everybody’s Crying Mercy” and “I Don’t Worry About a Thing.”

Allison, who died Nov. 15, 2016, just four days before turning 89, was a four-time Grammy nominee and frequent collaborator with jazz greats Zoot Sims and Stan Getz whose songs spanned more than 30 albums — The Rolling Stones, Diana Krall, The Who, The Pixies and Elvis Costello are among those who have recorded Allison’s songs.

Pete Kennedy

The lineup includes “Sunday Street” regular and New York-based singer-songwriter Pete Kennedy; Pat Wictor, electric and slide guitarist of the group Brother Sun; Jack Licitra, a Sayville-based keyboardist and guitarist as well as the founder of the music-teaching studio South Bay Arts in Bayport; and Abbie Gardner, an acclaimed Dobro player who has toured for many years as part of the trio Red Molly. Some members of Allison’s family, including his daughter and singer-songwriter Amy Allison, will also be in attendance.

The evening will also include a screening of a short BBC documentary on Allison called “Ever Since the World Ended,” featuring interviews with Costello, Morrison, Raitt and Loudon Wainwright III and footage of Allison performing.

“Not only is he such an important artist, Mose Allison was someone who lived in this area for many decades and we thought it was time to do something like this for him,” Backfish said of the decision to honor the musician. “When he wasn’t on tour, which was quite often, he would be back in the area and playing shows at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University or jazz clubs in Port Jefferson.”

Pat Wictor. Photo by John Mazlish

Backfish said he also had the opportunity to interview Allison on his radio program many years ago. “He had such an incredibly rich catalog in so many ways and these artists are going to get together and play both well-known songs of his and the deep tracks,” he said. “I would hope that if people aren’t aware of Mose, they’ll suddenly find someone they will check out and listen to, and for those who know him, this will be a great way to celebrate his music and listen to artists reinterpret his songs.”

Wictor, a longtime Allison fan who, with his band, recorded a version of “Everybody’s Crying Mercy,” said Backfish approached him to participate in the concert for his “affinity” for the man’s work. “I love Mose partly because he cannot be categorized easily,” Wictor said. “He sort of mixed jazz and blues, and social commentary, in a way that nobody else did. And I like his sense of humor in his lyrics, which were always a little sardonic and mischievous. He comes across as a person that doesn’t suffer fools gladly and that’s always enjoyable to me. The songs themselves are very musically interesting, too — blues-based but they always have a unique musical and lyrical quality unlike anything else.”

Abbie Gardner

Kennedy said Allison was unusual among jazz musicians in his time because he wrote a lot of songs with lyrics, while others primarily stuck to instrumental compositions. “Allison actually wrote songs that he sang and that’s what we’re focusing on during the concert,” said Kennedy, who noted that he’s had a lot of fun examining Allison’s songs more closely and learning them in anticipation of the show. “His songs sound totally modern to me now, even the old ones from the 1950s and ’60s. The writing is really clever, really humorous and had a little bit of social commentary to it, but not in a negative way.”

Licitra, too, expressed his excitement over his involvement, calling Allison’s music “the thinking man’s blues.” “I’m really looking forward to giving people a taste of his style of intellectualism and humor,” he said. “And for me, this is all about the group of performers on the bill. I’m a big fan of all of them and so I’m excited about playing with them and seeing how they each interpret Mose’s [work].”

The jazz legend’s son John Allison, who grew up in Smithtown, said while his father was a true “musician’s musician” and beloved in many artist’s circles, he was as low profile as could be at home. “There he was, living in Smithtown, so unassuming that even our neighbors, for 15 years, didn’t know what he did until they saw him on TV with Bonnie Raitt for a PBS concert at Wolf Trap,” John Allison said, laughing. “He just wanted to do his thing. He read books and played music. I’d come home from high school and he’d be listening to some weird Chinese, classical music and just laughing and loving it … [and] sometimes he did tai chi in the living room.”

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Advance tickets to the tribute show are $25 through Friday, March 23 at www.sundaystreet.org with tickets at the door for $30 (cash only). Beer, wine and cider will be available for purchase. For more information, please call 631-751-0066.

Rocky Point students were give one day of in-school suspension for walking out. The students attended the March 19 board of education meeting to debate the decision. File photo by Kevin Reding

They were articulate. They were passionate. And they wanted answers. A week after they walked out and were punished by the district for it, a group of Rocky Point students stood before their administrators and spoke up.

About a dozen of the high schoolers who lined up to address the board of education March 19 were among the more than 30 district students who participated in the national school walkout five days earlier. The students, many of them AP scholars, student council members and star athletes, had each been issued one day of in-school suspension, and were banned from extracurricular activities for three days following their choice to stand behind the front gates of the high school for 17 minutes March 14. Those middle school and high school students joined young people across the country in holding up signs and demanding stricter gun legislation to help put an end to school violence, one month after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 dead.

Rocky Point students who both did and didn’t walk out March 14 attended the March 19 board of education meeting supporting those who did. Photo by Kevin Redding

While the students said during the meeting they anticipated and accepted consequences, based on a letter the district sent to parents a week prior to the protest declaring that all participants would be “subject to administrative action,” they told board members they found the ruling of suspension to be “unnecessarily harsh” and a violation of the district’s own code of conduct as well as New York state law.

Many cited Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) March 15 letter defending all students’ rights to peacefully express their views on controversial issues, stating that “any attempts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of students and faculty to free speech.”

“By suspending any student who participated in this peaceful nationwide movement, the administration is effectively discouraging students to have their voices heard in society,” said senior Jade Pinkenburg, who helped organized the March 14 gathering. “This is an overreaction, and we need to find a more suitable compromise … Although I believe that students should not be punished for speaking their minds in a peaceful, nondisruptive protest, we would all have happily accepted three days of detention as a consequence for cutting class [as dictated in the code of conduct] … we didn’t walk out to just flout the school’s policies or denounce the administration, but we did this because it’s our lives on the line.”

Sophomore Emily Farrell reminded board members that many schools across the country and on Long Island, including Ward Melville and Mount Sinai, ultimately did not punish students for walking out, even after forbidding students from exiting school buildings.

“So why couldn’t you support us?” Farrell asked. “All that needed to be done was to send out an adult to escort the students and provide them appropriate permission to temporarily walk outside the school building — not leave school grounds, but just go outside. The students that walked out are good kids. … It’s disappointing that our administration suppressed our First Amendment rights by not supporting the walkout.”

“The students that walked out are good kids. … It’s disappointing that our administration suppressed our First Amendment rights.”

— Emily Farrell

One student called the district’s handling of the walkout “unpatriotic” and another asked, “At what point does our educational curriculum tell us that peaceful protest is wrong?”

Senior Nicki Tavares, a national honor society member, stepped up to the microphone to address the punishment.

“This is a blatant overextension of power that disregards rules and regulations set forth by the administration themselves,” he said.

Another senior, Jo Herman, urged administrators to remove the suspensions from their school records permanently.

“Our punishment contradicted the code of conduct,” Herman said. “When we got suspended we were informed that as long as there were no further disciplinary actions against us, they wouldn’t go on our records.”

According to the students, nowhere in the district’s code of conduct, which was officially adopted in 2011, does it state any specific way to handle a situation like this, suggesting that administrators “took matters into their own hands” and enforced a rule that didn’t exist. Students called into question why a “peaceful” protest warranted a suspension, which is considered “a severe penalty” in the code — imposed on those who are “insubordinate, disorderly, violent or disruptive, or whose conduct otherwise endangers the safety, morals, health or welfare of others.”

In the code of conduct it is stated under “prohibited student conduct” that “Students may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including suspension from school, when they … engage in any willful act that disrupts the normal operation of the school community” and “The superintendent retains his/her authority to suspend students, but places primary responsibility for the suspension of students with the building principal.”

Pinkenburg said the students had done none of the prohibited actions in the code.

Students like sophomore Emily Farrell addressed the administrator’s mishandling of the event. Photo by Kevin Redding

“While the school claims that the walkout endangered the safety of those involved, we have not compromised the safety of other students, not ourselves, and we understood the risk involved,” he said. “We [also] did not disrupt the day at all, as all the students were watching tribute videos in the auditorium and gymnasium.”

According to the code of conduct, a student is to be given “due process” before a suspension is authorized. And, for any short-term suspension, as mandated by New York State Education Department policy section 3214 (3)(b), the school must notify parents in writing within 24 hours of their child’s suspension via “personal delivery, express mail delivery or some other means that is reasonably calculated to assure receipt of the notice within 24 hours of the decision to propose suspension at the last known address for the parents.” An opportunity for an informal conference is also encouraged.

But none of these procedures took place, according to the students and their parents.

“I have seen these students’ reputations be dragged through the mud for no other reason than they felt strongly about doing something about the ongoing violence and bullying here, and in schools across the nation,” said Brian Botticelli, whose daughter in the middle school was issued her unexpected suspension, as well as some hate texts from her peers because of her involvement. “It is my opinion that [Superintendent Michael Ring] overstepped his authority by issuing arbitrary and extreme punishments based on his ideological opinion instead of what is best for the student body … I ask that the board conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations that this was negligently mishandled.”

Botticelli explained that the students who walked out scheduled a meeting with Ring to better understand the penalties of their involvement March 13, which turned out to be a snow day. The parent said the meeting was canceled by Ring and never rescheduled.

In response to this, Ring said, “The students did send an email that evening [Tuesday, March 13], but we didn’t get it until the following morning … I was not available then. But it was my intention for that meeting to take place.”

Nicolette Green, a senior, said while she didn’t participate in the walkout, she still stands for those who did, and encouraged administrators to do the same.

“I have seen these students’ reputations be dragged through the mud for no other reason than they felt strongly about doing something about the ongoing violence and bullying here.”

— Brian Botticelli

“It is our right as students to speak about problems we have — not only within our schools but within our country,” she said. “Fighting against gun violence shouldn’t just be a student cause and, as members of the school, you should stand with us. We are calling for change.”

Green also addressed the district’s “heightened interest of safety and security,” as stated in the letter sent to parents as the main reason the walkout was prohibited and “not a viable option for our schools.” But, she said, that was proven to not be the case last week, referring to a PTA meeting in the school district March 14 in which a man pulled out a closed pocketknife while face-to-face with Pinkenburg, making a point that security is needed in rapidly escalating situations. Green said, although a security guard was present during that meeting, nothing was done to stop the man in an urgent manner. (See story on page A6.)

“This behavior should not be tolerated, and the event should not have happened,” Green said. “This man was told to leave by other parents, but he was not escorted out of the building. How was I or anyone else in that room supposed to blindly trust this guy? I don’t know this man or his background. Something should have been done.”

Ring interjected, assuring Green and the rest of the room that the district has since banned that individual from school property.

But not all speakers were against the district’s handling of the walkout.

“I would like to say that what the school district did with the walkout was appropriate,” eighth-grader Quentin Palifka said. “There was an email that was sent, and it did say that we were allowed to write letters to Congress, Senate and the Parkland victims … if you wanted to be heard, I think that you should’ve written a letter.”

Board Trustee Ed Casswell, who remembered being a history teacher the day the Columbine shootings occurred and how “numb” it left him, thanked all the students for weighing in.

“Someone said you’re all good students … you’re not good students, you’re great students,” Casswell said, turning his attention to parents in the room. “There have been 24 shootings in a K-12 institute since 1999, 10 since Sandy Hook. When is it going to be enough? We’re all united under the umbrella of health and safety for our kids. What I ask is rather than turn on each other, that we move forward locking arms.”

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

By Kevin Redding

Michelle Salz, the mother of Rocky Point Middle School student Isadora Luce — an eighth-grader who participated in the walkout March 14 — said she and a group of parents are in the process of contacting the American Civil Liberties Union in hopes of fighting their children’s suspensions legally.

According to Salz, in suspending her daughter, who is the president of the student council and National Junior Honor Society, and was one of eight middle schoolers involved, the administration violated its code of conduct by denying her the right to due process, foregoing an informal conference and not issuing a written notification within 24 hours of the authorized suspension.

Michelle Salz is disappointed the district chose to give her daughter in-school suspension for participating in the National School Walkout, and is contemplating taking legal action. Photo from Michelle Salz

Salz said when she requested information regarding consequences in the code of conduct for cutting class, Principal Scott O’Brien said there was nothing listed. It was O’Brien, she said, who ultimately made the decision to issue Isadora a suspension over a detention — a penalty Salz felt should be reserved for “violent or bad kids … not for cutting class.”

“She was surprised and dismayed,” Salz said. “She’s lost respect for her principal, and she also realizes how mishandled the whole situation is. … As educators, I think the district could’ve made this an empowering event that the kids would’ve never forgotten. They could’ve helped make signs, talked to them about laws, the tradition of protests and civil liberties. Instead, they chose to do this.”

O’Brien and Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring did not return requests for comment.

Isadora herself said, although this was predominantly a high school movement, she was inspired to participate from seeing the Parkland survivors take initiative, and because she said she’s passionate when it comes to gun control.

“I knew there would be punishment, but I’m very disappointed the school didn’t reward us at all for taking leadership,” Isadora said. “I wish they would respect that we’re doing this as a nationwide thing, rather than saying ‘Oh, it’s a risk to safety.’ They knew about this way ahead of time.”

A fellow eighth-grader who participated in the walkout with Isadora agreed that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

“I feel like the superintendent used his own opinions to make a quick decision rather than take his time to see what would be best for everyone,” 14-year-old Ella Botticelli said. “I feel that this was wrong on his part and he should admit to that.”

“She realizes how mishandled the whole situation is. … As educators, I think the district could’ve made this an empowering event.”

— Michelle Salz

Salz said she and a group of parents who met through Facebook are waiting for a response to an email sent to New York Civil Liberties Union-Suffolk Chapter Director Irma Solis last week. Salz has also been in contact with attorneys from the area.

According to the ACLU website, while the law allows school districts to discipline students for missing class, “even if they’re doing so to participate in a protest” or to express themselves, a school can’t “discipline students more harshly because they are walking out to express a political view or because school administrators don’t support the views behind the protest.”

“We hope those schools recognize that even when they are within their right to discipline students for protests, that doesn’t always mean they should,” wrote ACLU member Vera Eidelman in a Feb. 22 article. “[The students’] activism inspires confidence in the future of our democracy and their schools should be proud of them.”

Salz said while she knows lawsuits will be a costly endeavor, she and the fellow parents are currently drumming up ideas on how to go about it.

“I don’t know how we’re going to afford it right now,” the mother said. “But this is the only way this school district is going to be made to change.”

Longtime trustee Damon McMullan running uncontested for village mayor

Northport Village Hall. File photo

By Kevin Redding

Three candidates — an incumbent and two challengers — are vying for two open seats within the Northport Village Board of Trustees, hoping to tackle financial, safety and quality of life issues within the town. The trustee candidates who receive the most votes March 20 will each serve a four-year term.

Thomas Kehoe

Kehoe is no stranger to the village board, having served as trustee for two terms from 2006 to 2014. He was the commissioner of commerce, police and sanitation.

Thomas Kehoe. Photo from Thomas Kehoe.

While a board member, he wrote the village’s outdoor dining code, created the Northport Business Development Committee, and said he routinely helped members of the local business community, professionals and merchants with any business-related issues in the village. If elected, he hopes to
reinstate that committee and assume the police commissioner responsibilities again.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on the board,” Kehoe said. “I’ve always enjoyed public service and giving back to my community. And plus, I understand business and know how to make things happen.”

As the owner and operator of East Northport-based K&B Seafood for more than 30 years, Kehoe has traveled extensively throughout China, Japan and Russia, importing and exporting seafood and opening up markets. But he said he will focus his time and energy on the local front as trustee. He wants to make sure the Suffolk County Police Department doesn’t take over the village’s police force, preserve Northport’s status as “one of the 50 safest places to live in New York state” as ruled by the National Council for Home Safety and Security and keep the village in the 21st century.

“We want to always be evolving,” he said. “Northport Village is a very unique place. It’s a real melting pot of different ethnic, religious and political groups and there’s a great tolerance and respect here for others.”

Ian Milligan

Milligan, 48, a Northport native and the owner of Harbor Electric Inc. on Willis Street, became a trustee in 2014 after regularly attending zoning and board meetings. He often voiced ideas on how to better the Northport Village Dock.

Ian Milligan. Photo from Ian Milligan.

Upon election, the lifelong boater was appointed commissioner of docks and waterways. He proposed new fees for the dock, which successfully brought more boaters to the area during dinner hours, helped boost downtown businesses and discouraged boaters from docking all day.

He said by talking to hundreds of local boaters, shopkeepers and residents during that process, it prepared him well for his day-to-day tasks as a trustee.

“What I did there is consistent with all issues in the village,” said Milligan, who also served as the board’s commissioner of sanitation. “I always strive to talk to as many people as I can and understand all sides of an issue, then take all the information and share it with the rest of the board, so we can make a decision in the best interest of the residents.”

If re-elected, Milligan said he wants to continue making Northport a safe and healthy environment for residents, keep a line on taxes and roll out new projects — among his most anticipated is the implementation of a rain garden into the village to absorb rainwater runoff and keep the waterfront clean.

“I have enjoyed this work and there is more work to be done,” he said.

Joseph Sabia

Sabia, 62, is a former member of the Northport Police Department, Northport-East Northport school board and owner of Sabia’s Car Care on Fort Salonga Road since 1977. He  said he’s an advocate for the village and wants to work for the taxpayers within it. He believes in transparency, commitment to community, respect and courtesy, and fiscal discipline.

Joseph Sabia. File photo.

“While on the board of education for three years, I watched our tax money and never voted to raise our tax dollars,” Sabia said. “So, I’m very interested in our finances and want to see where our money is going.”

Sabia said besides keeping taxes at bay, he hopes to be able to restore the village’s crumbling roads and sidewalks, bring a full-time paramedic to the village’s firehouse, oversee the upcoming sewer plant project in Northport Bay Estates, and update the village’s antiquated zoning codes and building department.

“We have to move forward and be business-friendly,” he said. “We need people to be able to get building permits in a timely manner.”

Sabia previously ran unsuccessfully twice — against outgoing Mayor George Doll in 2014 and for a trustee seat in 2016. He points to those experiences, as well as his years as a successful business owner and school board member, as building blocks for this election.

“I have skin in the game here, I own a business here, I’m in the village 24/7 and have never left,” he said.

The Vote

The polls will be open March 20, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Northport Village Hall on 224 Main Street in Northport.

Dawnwood Middle School's boys basketball and cheerleading teams. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

Seventh-grader Chris Buzaid may be the smallest kid on the basketball court at 4-10, but when it comes to drive, hustle and spirit, there’s nobody bigger.

During a midseason game against Brentwood North this past December, the 12-year-old guard for Centereach’s Dawnwood Middle School dove onto a loose ball with some physically imposing players from the other team. He ended up with the ball, and a bloody lip. But when his coach, Tim Dowler, tried to take him off the court, worried about the injury, Chris begged to be allowed to keep playing.

Dawnwood Middle School student Chris Buzaid with current New York Knicks NBA player Joakim Noah. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

“I ended up having to take Chris out for a bit, and then, when he eventually went back in, he just took the game over,” Dowler said.

Within a couple minutes Buzaid had three steals in a row and hit three jumpshots to lead Dawnwood to victory. The team of seventh- and eighth-graders would end the season in January undefeated for the first time in school history since 1974 — a feat Dowler said Chris contributed largely to.

“He just went right back out there and faced the same bigger kids, showing no fear,” the coach said. “It would be very easy for someone like him to want to play a little softer and feel a little afraid, but that isn’t him.”

Chris isn’t just a star athlete — he started playing travel basketball in fourth grade, has been on three of the best Amateur Athletic Union boys teams in the New York metropolitan area and is an accomplished cross-country runner. He is also among Dawnwood Middle School’s brightest students; he’s currently in the National Honor Society and has a 99.5 GPA, with a particular interest in science and history, and a tendency to help fellow students who may be struggling in certain subjects.

“He’s an amazing student and such a good Dawnwood citizen — Chris always does what’s right,” Dawnwood Middle School Principal Kristi Leonard said of the district’s former student of the month. “He’s definitely a natural leader and just has a great inner confidence. Chris has so many commitments in and out of school, balances clubs and sport activities while maintaining near-perfect grades.”

Chris Buzaid Photo from Cindy Buzaid

So it makes sense that Chris has been chosen as one of six finalists in a special competition presented by the Brooklyn Nets All-Star Awards recognizing junior high school basketball players within the tristate area that “demonstrate grit, determination and a desire to succeed both on the court and in the classroom.” His mother and coach nominated him in the fall and he was announced as a finalist in January, with Dowler saying he “was the perfect person to represent Dawnwood.”

Chris and the other five finalists, some from Brooklyn and Nassau County and others from Connecticut, will be attending the Brooklyn Nets Summer Basketball Clinic and a Brooklyn Nets v. Chicago Bulls NBA game in April. The finalist with the most votes will be announced during that contest, and win a $3,000 grant for their school’s athletic program.

“Chris is such a hardworking, competitive person and always tries to be the best that he can,” said mother Cindy Buzaid. “And now, I think he’s just in the competitive mode of wanting to win this for his school. He really wants to be able to say, ‘I was able to win this for Dawnwood.’ He loves his basketball coach, he loves Dawnwood and he’s really excited.”

Cindy Buzaid said she felt her son exhibited all the required traits of a stellar scholar-athlete when she put his name in the ring — grit, dedication, character, academics and teamwork. In her nomination letter to the organization, she wrote of her son’s maturity and strength through tough situations. Between the ages of 3 and 6, Chris witnessed his father, Jim Buzaid, be diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin
lymphoma. While his father is now in remission, Chris carried a lot of those early memories with him as he grew up.

“Chris knew what cancer was before any kid should,” his mother said. “It made him a tough kid — made him grow up a little faster than others. Chris is such a fun-loving kid, but I believe the whole thing made him a more serious person and learn not to take things for granted. He was always very protective of me at that time and worried a lot about me getting sick, too.”

Jackie and Chris Buzaid. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

She said it makes sense that her son fell into basketball, as his older sister, Jackie Buzaid has spent most of her life playing the sport.

A Centereach High School graduate, Jackie Buzaid played basketball throughout her adolescence and currently plays as a senior at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland.

She remembers her brother always tagging along with her for pickup games at the park and watching her play from the sidelines at school. It also didn’t take long for him to develop his own competitive spirit, she said.

“Christopher doesn’t settle for mediocrity,” Jackie Buzaid said. “I remember when we would go shoot at our local park, he would always have to make three 3-pointers before he could leave. My brother’s determination to constantly improve and excel are what make him stand out from others. But he’s also kind and generous, and has a way of making people smile.”

It’s still up in the air as to what exactly the grant money will go toward within the athletic department, but whatever it is, Chris said he just hopes it will help the school.

“I’m really happy that I might have a chance to win money for Dawnwood, because I really want my coaches and friends and all the other kids in my school to be able to have something new,” he said. “Being a good student and athlete is important to me because I get to be healthy, active, one of the top kids in my class and I really like to help others who need help.”

To vote for Chris visit the Brooklyn Nets website www.nba.com/nets/community/2017-18/allstarawards.

In just its first year, debate team members qualify for state competition

Shoreham-Wading River High School’s new debate team sees three members qualify to compete in the state championship at Hofstra University this April. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

There’s no arguing that Shoreham-Wading River High School’s new, student-formed debate team is already a huge success. Just ask juniors Andrew Honold and Mahdi Rashidzada.

The two students, along with freshman Jalal Sawas, won the majority of their debates during a qualifying competition at Jericho High School Feb. 10 to advance to the New York State Forensic League championship tournament at Hofstra University in April.

“It was just kind of like throwing myself into cold water. It was really tense, but I could feel myself adapting better, and overall, it was really fun.”

— Andrew Honold

Among the roughly 20 teams represented within the league, Shoreham-Wading River will be one of only three school districts from Suffolk County.

“Going in, I was terrified — I didn’t know what to expect,” said Honold, who ended up in first place in the junior varsity division by winning all four of his debate sat Jericho, each on the topic of plea bargaining. “That was actually my first debate, too. It was just kind of like throwing myself into cold water. It was really tense, but I could feel myself adapting better, and overall, it was really fun.”

Rashidzada, who won three of four debates, said the club has been a great asset to him and his eight teammates.

“It gives us kids an outlet to really understand the world around us,” said Rashidzada, whose prior experience in debate outside of the district has helped steer the team. “It allows us to express ourselves and our views, to research and to improve our speaking skills. It’s just been a great experience and I’m really excited to be going to states this year with my friends.”

It was about a year ago, in March 2017, that two then-sophomores — club co-captains Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick — proposed the idea of a debate team to the board of education. It was quickly and unanimously approved for the 2017-18 school year based on their presentation, where they outlined a plan for their first “pilot” year: They would assemble the team, hold weekly meetings with adviser and English teacher Brenna Gilroy, compete in practice debates and prepare for competition with other schools “by their senior year.” All but the last portion of their plan has been consistent, having gotten a head start on the competing part.

“I’m very happy and grateful that we were given the opportunity to work hard and achieve the goal of creating this team.”

— Declan Beran

“I’m very happy and grateful that we were given the opportunity to work hard and achieve the goal of creating this team,” said Beran, a lacrosse player and vice president of his class, who added he’s wanted to form a debate club since his freshman year. “Just seeing members of our team compete is really
special. It’s our first year and we’re going to states — it’s exciting. We encourage every grade level of our high school to get involved.”

Beran said the club typically meets two days a week and members review different points for each side of a topic, practice counterarguments, and in the week leading up to a debate, face off against each other. Based on that practice run, other students will evaluate their presentation and suggest ways to improve it. The students said they learn analytical and public-speaking skills, hone their speech-writing abilities and have a chance to regularly practice teamwork and collaboration.

In December, the team’s topic was on whether developing countries should provide developmental assistance to other developing countries. The teams get one to two months to fully research topics before debating. For the state competition, the students will research and discuss universal basic income, typically described as a new kind of welfare regime in which all citizens of a country receive a regular, livable and unconditional sum of money, from the government.

“That was something I knew absolutely nothing about,” Honold said. “And I’m still learning, but it’s a really interesting topic. It’s great to know about and debate, because it’s something that’s probably going to affect us in the future.”

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

“Books not bullets!” “We want change!”

A group of nearly 30 students shouted these words from behind the front gates of Rocky Point High School between 10 a.m. and 10:17 a.m. March 14, demanding stricter gun legislation to help put an end to school violence one month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting left 17 students and faculty members dead.

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point high schoolers were among thousands across the country who took part in the school walkout demonstration during the time frame.

The district issued a letter to parents last week that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school will be “subject to administrative action.” Requests for what the repercussions might be were not immediately returned.

Students waved signs that read “Our voices deserve to be heard,” “I will not be a statistic” and “School is for learning, not target practice” as passing cars honked in support.

“We want legislators to take action against all assault weapons,” said senior Jade Pinkenburg, one of the organizers of the event. “We don’t want guns in our schools and want to feel safe within our schools. That’s what we’re doing this for.”

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

Senior Bernard Sanchez said students should be allowed to have more of a voice.

“You can’t sacrifice the First Amendment to try to protect the Second,” Sanchez said. “Court cases have proven time and time again that we don’t give away every choice we have when we enter a school.”

Jade Pinkenburg’s father Chris said that the students involved in the protest attempted to meet with Superintendent Michael Ring at the start of the week but “nothing happened.”

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote in last week’s letter.

Chris Pinkenburg stood by and said he supports the students despite the district’s disapproval.

“I think it’s a very good thing,” his father said. “Obviously the adults don’t have any solutions, so I hope this will bring about great change. It’s time.”

Commack Superintendent Donald James presented the district's 2018-19 budget draft. File photo by Greg Catalano

Status quo will reign in Commack, with a few new programs.

Commack Superintendent Donald James unveiled the first part of his proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year during a March 9 board of education meeting, which would maintain all existing instructional programs intact across each school.

The preliminary budget of $193,222,797 is roughly 1.61 percent higher than the current year’s budget, which was adopted at $190,163,464. The first budget workshop focused on general administration support and instructional spending — which, combined, make up a total 57 percent of the entire budget.

Budget highlights:
  • 2018-19 proposed budget 1.61 percent higher than current year
  • All instructional programs rolled over from current year, with several additions
  • Tax levy increase to be between 2.51 percent and 2.91 percent, though cap won’t need to be pierced
  • Total budget proposed for 2018-19 stands at $193,222,797 currently

The district plans on keeping programs such as Movement in the Arts, an exercise-educational program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade that was introduced last year. New curriculum would include more art and technology class options for sixth-graders, like digital animation and 3D printing; TerraNova learning assessment for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade; and Investigations in the Humanities, principles of engineering, American sign language, horticulture and school and community leadership for high school students.

“Our aim in Commack is to prepare every student for whatever they want and need to achieve at their next level of learning while simultaneously maintaining and enhancing the educational program and academic achievement, as we define it, that Commack is known for and the community expects,” James said at the top of the presentation.

The budget is expected to stay within the tax levy increase cap, according to Laura Newman, assistant superintendent for business and operations. The projected tax levy increase in the budget draft is currently 2.51 percent, with a tax-cap increase of no more than 2.91 percent.

“I say that because there are sometimes budgetary decisions that are made that will change the tax cap formula and calculation,” Newman said of the wide-ranging projection.

Moving forward, district officials said they hope to deal with “the misperception” that the tax levy increase cap is two percent and make clear a 2.51 percent increase for Commack does not constitute piercing the cap.

“I don’t know any district in the Huntington-Smithtown cluster that has the two-percent number,” James said. “While Newsday’s and [Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s] perception is that it’s two, it’s not two.”

The 2018-19 budget’s slight increase over last year’s adopted budget is based primarily on instruction costs — more staffing, contractual increases and changes, a plan for a renewed enrollment projection report, districtwide technology upgrades and special education program enhancements. There is also a proposed hike in guidance, psychological and health services due to contractual changes. The total instruction budget will be $4,626,905 more than last year’s, up to $110,535,346.

The overall general support, which represents 11 percent of the budget and includes an increase in insurance and public information and services, is increasing by $499,873.

“We’ve worked very hard to come up with a budget that will keep us within tax cap but maintain our programs, which is, luckily, what we’ve been able to do,” Amy Ryan, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, assessment and student support services, said. “It’s sort of a boring budget in the sense that there are no big enhancements and, happily, no cuts. We have a very supportive community so it should be good.”

The school board will meet for its second budget workshop March 15, to discuss athletics, facilities, security, transportation, technology, staffing and undistributed costs, like retirement. The public will vote on the budget May 15.

Parents also speak of concerns of notification of recent school threat

Shoreham-Wading River High School is located at 250A Route 25A in Shoreham. File photo by Kevin Redding

At Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education meeting March 6, 11th grader Sarah Acerra took to the podium and spoke up in light of the recent Florida tragedy.

Shoreham-Wading River junior Sarah Acerra took to the podium during a recent board of education meeting to voice her concerns over school safety. Photo by Kevin Redding

“What is being done to make us students feel more safe?” Acerra asked board members.

The junior said she recalled a threat made by a student last year — Thursday, March 16, 2017 — via text message that “something might occur” at the high school. The student who sent the text was quickly identified and dealt with by the district and plans were put in place for locker and school bag searches the following school day. But Acerra, who said many of her peers stayed home upon hearing about the threat, did not feel safe when she arrived back at the high school the next day.

“I walked into school a little before 7 that morning — I remember it perfectly because nobody checked my bag and none of my friends’ bags were checked either,” she said. “So the rest of the day was very uneasy for all of us because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Even though the kid had been caught, there was no guarantee that there wasn’t anybody else involved with the threat.”

Another high school junior, Kathleen Loscalzo, spoke of her anxiety when it comes to who is able to enter the buildings. Loscalzo said she saw a former student, who moved to another state in seventh grade, in one of her classes this year. When asked if she recently moved back to Shoreham, the former student said, “No, I was visiting and they just let me in.”

“If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

— Kathleen Loscalzo

Loscalzo raised concerns over the student’s identification cards, which she said are not especially needed for anything except buying lunch in the cafeteria.

“I know many other schools have IDs they have to wear like a lanyard,” Loscalzo said. “If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

On the subject of social media threats, Jennifer Donnelly, a mother of a ninth-grader in the district, addressed a vague email sent out to parents by Poole on March 4 regarding a threat, which, according to the letter, was “investigated with the support of law enforcement who deemed the threat to not be criminal” and appropriate disciplinary actions were made.

“A lot of people, myself included, were really uncomfortable sending my kids to school after that,” Donnelly said asking for more clarification in these emergency emails. “There was nothing about who this threat was from, what the threat was, what the level of the threat was, what was done … And, with security being put in place, I feel like, ‘Well, what’s going to happen immediately tomorrow if someone comes through the door?’”

Superintendent Gerard Poole thanked both students and Donnelly for weighing in and assured them that the district has been reviewing and working toward strengthening its security and safety measures since before the Parkland, Florida shooting.

Shoreham-Wading River high school junior Kathleen Loscalzo said a former student was able to enter the building and visit a class of hers without being asked who she was upon entering the highs school. Photo by Kevin Redding

Frequent evacuation, lockdown and lockout drills currently take place throughout the year, and a combined $2 million investment over the past few has included security hardware additions and infrastructure improvements, like burglar alarm systems, enhanced video monitoring, elementary vestibules and School Active Violence Emergency (SAVE) hotlines installed in each building. Poole outlined to parents and students in attendance future projects to beef up security. These include:

  • Adding security guards in the high school; the district’s security supervisor said of arming them, “I think there’s a long laundry list of items that should be discussed in detail surrounding that — a legal piece, a training piece, a tactical piece. I know there’s an urgency to do something, but there’s a lot that needs to be done first.”
  • The construction of a high school vestibule to begin this spring with projected completion in summer 2020; the middle school vestibule will be completed this summer.
  • The installation of a Raptor Visitor Management System in all buildings this spring, a web-based monitoring software designed to track visitors and electronically check them against public databases.
  • The implementation of ballistic security film designed to prevent glass from shattering on impact and delay an intruder’s entry.
  • The consideration of metal detectors in the schools.

The district also recently completed a security audit and developed a “multi-pronged plan” for strong enhancement and has in place a recently-hired security consultant firm — Covert Operations — to enhance its plans, drills and overall preparedness in an emergency situation. The firm regularly reviews and improves security and safety measures.

“We are certainly in a strong position to ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors,” Poole said.

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