Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding
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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.

Miller Place and Rocky Point will host indoor forums, Shoreham-Wading River is undecided

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In the aftermath of the most recent mass shooting, students across the nation are planning to rise up and walk out — a movement that is being handled very differently across local school districts.

On March 14, exactly one month after gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and faculty members dead, students plan to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m. — both in honor of the Parkland victims and as a call for legislative action to help put an end to deadly shootings. The nationwide protest, the seeds of which have spread across social media with the hashtag #ENOUGH, was launched by the activist group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, whose members are demanding Congress do more than “tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence” and that “students and staff have the right to teach in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms,” according to the group’s website.

The movement was initiated by Parkland survivors, whose outcry against guns following the shooting has reverberated throughout each and every state. An impassioned speech given by senior Emma González Feb. 17 went viral by stating that she and her fellow classmates would change the law in the country so that her high school would be the location of America’s last mass shooting.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating. There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions.”

— Keri Rooney

Across the North Shore, school districts have begun addressing how they will handle the localized version of the movement, with Miller Place and Rocky Point firmly opposed to letting their students leave the building — echoing widely shared concerns over safety. Mount Sinai is on board with letting students participate in the national movement, while Shoreham-Wading River is still weighing the situation.

Miller Place

During a board of education meeting Feb. 28, where Superintendent Marianne Cartisano outlined for parents the district’s enhanced security measures, including the newly assigned four armed guards for its four buildings, she addressed the walkout.

“We are looking to see how we’re going to manage it here to allow students to have a voice, but I can tell you right now — there is no way that I’m going to have students walk outside at 10 o’clock in the morning,” Cartisano said to applause in the room. “The reason is that if everybody knows that children are walking outside at 10 o’clock in the morning, then who are the obvious victims? And that may or may not happen in our nation — and I pray every night that it doesn’t — but what I can tell you is that’s not going to happen here.”

She explained to residents that she and other administrators want students to have a voice, but in a way that doesn’t create a health and safety issue, or turn into “a political movement.”

“Our students’ voices do have to be heard about ending school violence and returning schools to the safe havens that they once were,” the superintendent said. “We’re spending a tremendous amount of time talking about student demonstrations and how we can provide students with a voice against school violence while also recognizing those who have lost their lives.”

She said students will be able to participate in a safer alternative inside the building March 14. Senior Jake Angelo, student representative on the board, later suggested the indoor event could involve an anti-bullying sentiment and a flower sale to raise money for those in Parkland.

Students in Miller Place will host in-school reflections during the national walkout March 14. Photo by Kevin Redding

Amanda Cohen-Stein, a parent in the district, said later in a community Facebook post that while she originally supported the walkout, she changed her mind following Cartisano’s comments.

“It is best they not leave school grounds,” Cohen-Stein said.

Keri Rooney, a Sound Beach resident with ties to Miller Place, said she didn’t feel comfortable about the walkout.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating,” Rooney said. “There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions. Walking out of school is not the answer and leaves them as an easy target.”

Rocky Point

Michael Ring, superintendent of the Rocky Point district, recently sent a letter to parents in which he said that organized, student-run walkouts “are not a viable option for our schools,” and that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school, will be “subject to administrative action.” He did not specify what the specific consequence would be.

“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. “Any student found to have left school without appropriate permission on any school day during the year will be subject to administrative action in accordance with the district’s code of conduct.”

He made it clear that this decision was based on heightened attention to school safety and security, and that, despite not being allowed to leave the grounds, students wishing to participate in the movement March 14 can do so through districtwide activities planned for the day by administration and staff.

“Many in our schools have expressed interest in engaging in activities aimed at not only honoring the lives lost in this national tragedy, but also giving voice to the hope that a similar event does not happen again,” Ring said.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises.”

—Michael Ring

For high school students, these include a moment of silence and the viewing of a tribute to the 17 lives lost in Parkland; a discussion led by teachers encouraging students to participate in 17 acts of kindness during the day in order to “increase positive interactions within the school community”; and opportunities
during social studies classes to voice their opinions on ways to better enhance safety and security in the school; and write letters either to elected officials or the survivors and family members of victims in Parkland.

Although this is considered a high school initiative, Ring said that there will be similar activities, including the letter writing, in the middle school and a moment of silence and kindness-geared activities in both Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School.

Mount Sinai

After Principal Robert Grable met with 20 members of the student government last Friday to gauge student’s perspectives on the walkout, it was decided — in correspondence with Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board of education — that Mount Sinai students who wish to participate can do so March 14.

The students will stand outside on the high school’s athletic field for 17 minutes, school officials said, during which time the campus is expected to be shut down with tightened security by the entrances on the North Country Road and 25A sides of the property, which will be closed and locked.

Grable said in speaking with student leaders he made it clear that he wanted the walkout to be structured, safe and well supervised.

“I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that.”

— Rob Grable

“It’s a very hot topic right now,” Grable said. “I think everybody is emotional about it, including the student body, and I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that. I don’t think it will be that major of a distraction and it will accommodate both parties — the administration as well as the students who wish to demonstrate their support of this initiative.”

Student Council President Joe Kelly, a senior, said he and his peers believe the event should be focused on reflection.

“I talked to a lot of students and we think the walkout should be more for remembering the 17 lives lost with a moment of silence rather than bringing up anything political,” he said. “I talked to many people, all of whom have differing political opinions, and they all wanted it to not be political. They only wanted to do the walk if it was in respect for those in Florida.”

Available teachers, administrators, aides and the district’s school resource officer will be asked to monitor the students. While Brosdal said currently there is the potential for all 800 students to be out there, he predicts there will be many who wish not to be involved. Those students will be able to remain in their classrooms with their teachers.

The superintendent said he supports the students’ rights to take part in this national movement if they choose to.

“I guess we’re getting to the point where enough is enough, not just in terms of the horror of the shootings and the kinds of people that come in, but how unsafe schools are now,” Brosdal said. “I believe truly, in a student’s heart, if they want to experience this and reflect and commemorate this tragic event, they should be permitted to do it. I don’t anticipate misbehavior. I believe in our kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River

“The district is currently discussing this matter, and once a decision is made it will be communicated with our parents and students,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email March 6.

“It will make the students walking targets.”

— Chris Albinski Simion

On a closed Shoreham-Wading River community Facebook page, parent opinions on the walkout ranged from adamant support to heated opposition.

“Definitely against it,” Chris Albinski Simione wrote. “It will make the students walking targets. Every wacko in the country will know when and what time these kids will be outside the schools.”

Another resident, Linda Kelly, asked, “And a walkout will accomplish what exactly? No need to do this on school time.”

But Judy Shaffer Noonan said it will, and always will, be young people who make the biggest changes in society.

“The adults failed,” she said. “Historically, the young have impacted change. The young are the future. I don’t think these kids are doing this out of a sense of entitlement … I’m very proud of the Parkland students who are standing up and demanding change.”

Tyler Holmes, a district graduate, said it will be a historic day.

“I’ll do my part to engage in any positive and well-represented protest instead of sitting home,” he said.

Ben Model at the historic Wonder Morton Theatre Pipe Organ at The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in 2014. Photo by Steve Friedman

By Kevin Redding

As a film production major at New York University in 1982, Ben Model sat in a film history class and watched a series of silent movies with his peers. The early 16mm prints had no sound tracks backing them and Model felt the disinterest of his classmates.

“It really bothered me that these movies were bombing in front of film students every week,” said Model, 55, who grew up enchanted by three things: silent movies, the art of filmmaking and music, having started piano lessons when he was 5. “So I figured, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it’s got to be better than nothing.”

Photo by Larry Smith
Ben Model at the Library of Congress Packard Preservation Campus Theater. Photo by Larry Smith

So he approached his professor and offered to play piano during the screenings to liven the experience for the audience — an idea the professor loved. From then on, until he graduated two years later, Model (pronounced Moe-del) served as the maestro for two to three film screenings per week in the basic cinema history class as well as a film historian’s class — providing the music for many of the earliest movies ever made, from Auguste and Louis Lumière’s 50-second-long actuality films depicting military events and everyday scenes to Thomas Edison’s studio films to the works of pioneer filmmakers D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein.

Through his new gig, he met and befriended renowned silent film accompanist Lee Erwin, who was an organist in theaters during the 1920s and was, at the time, playing the giant Wurlitzer organ at Carnegie Hall Cinema in Manhattan, one of the few repertory theaters back then. Erwin served as Model’s mentor, someone whose brain the young college student often picked, learning what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what not to do.

While Model only started doing this to engage his peers in early films, he wound up turning it into a career spanning more than 30 years. He currently serves as one of the leading silent film accompanists and most well-respected silent film historians, traveling around the world in a wide variety of venues presenting silent films and providing unforgettable live scores for hundreds of them.

Ben Model at the Egyptian Theatre, Boise Idaho. Photo by Paul Collins

Model has been a resident silent film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art since 1984; the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre since 2009; the Silent Film Days in Tromsø portion of the Tromsø International Film Festival in Norway, home to Verdensteatret, Norway’s oldest cinema in use, dating back to 1916, for 12 years; the historic Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho, where he performs scores with a full orchestra; recently played in theaters in Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio and frequently performs at museums and schools; will be playing at the Turner Classic Movies film festival next month; and, since 2006, can be seen locally at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington once a month during the theater’s Anything But Silent program.

Model is also a lecturer, film programmer and visiting professor of film studies at Wesleyan  University in Connecticut, as well as the creator of New York City’s Silent Clowns Film Series, launched in 1997 as the premiere, regularly scheduled showcase for silent film comedy, from Buster Keaton to Laurel & Hardy. 

“There’s something so immersive about the experience of silent films, especially when you see it with live music,” Model said. “It’s ironic that because of what’s missing from the film, you’re actually much more involved and engaged, because the imagination is filling in everything: the sound, the colors, pieces of the story, the gags. You’re assembling them in your head, in a group setting. You can get lost in it; you feel like you’re almost part of what’s going on — it’s like a trance.”

A trance, he said, he’s long been in. “When I started doing this, I realized that throughout my life, anything surrounding silent film kind of just worked out for me,” he said.

It all started with Charlie Chaplin. While some little kids were obsessed with dinosaurs and others with trains and trucks, young Model gravitated toward The Tramp, consuming all his films he could find and reading biographies and film books on his craft. That paved the way for Chaplin’s contemporaries like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

When he was 12, Model, who grew up in Larchmont in Westchester County, received a book called “The Silent Clowns” written by Walter Kerr, a New York Times theater critic in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and silent film fanatic himself, which became something of a sacred text to the young boy. Because Kerr lived close by, and had amassed a huge collection of these movies he wrote about, Model’s parents encouraged him to reach out to the author.

“So I wrote him a letter telling him I was interested in seeing more silent films,” Model said, explaining that, in the mid-70s, he had to wait for them to show up on television and there was a lot of movies he read about that he just couldn’t find. “Walter Kerr called me four days later. Over the next 15 to 20 years, a few times a year, I’d go over and he’d say, ‘So, what do you want to see?’ So I grew up going to the guy who literally wrote the book on silent film comedy.”

Model said in terms of his performances, he’s primarily an improviser — relying on his background as a silent film devourer and improv comedian in college to let things come to him naturally, he said, like musicians do in jazz. But if he hasn’t seen the film before, he’ll watch it in advance to take note of different story and action beats in order to stay ahead of the movie and provide certain underscores when needed.

“Ben is creating a virtual time machine of the original movie-going experience and transporting our audiences to another era,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for Cinema Arts Centre, adding that audiences during Anything But Silent nights are always fully engrossed: laughing, shrieking and hooting and hollering. “There’s an undeniable respect for Ben’s choice of film, his vast historical knowledge, and the commitment to giving the best performance to each film. He’s a rock star in his own right.”

Model said he loves performing at Cinema Arts Centre because of its monthly embrace of these old films.“You’d be hard-pressed to find a suburban art cinema that thinks silent movies are worth showing,” Model said. “At Cinema Arts Centre, they recognize that sound is only part of the film landscape.”

He encourages people of all ages to come and experience a silent film. He recalled the impact a screening of Keaton’s 1928 film “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” from 10 years ago had on an 8-year-old girl, whose father later told Model that the film, its presentation and her experience that night was the subject of her college essay.

“Everyone involved with these films is dead, but even one from 100 years ago is just as entertaining as it was when it was first released,” Model said. “Silents are able to make the trip across several decades sometimes better than sound movies. It’s just so rewarding to be able to help these films live again, and build the next audience for them.”

Republican Party candidate for 10th Assembly District talks about her experience, Huntington's issues

Above left, Janet Smitelli is the Republican candidate for the 10th state Assembly District. Photo from Janet Smitelli

Janet Smitelli says she has a reputation for getting things done. The longtime Huntington native has developed youth programs in Costa Rica; been a park ranger at the Grand Canyon; served as an assistant Scoutmaster for local Boy Scout Troops; taught Sunday school; and, for more than 30 years, fought to protect residents as a civil litigator. This April, she hopes to add to that list New York State Assemblywoman of the 10th District.

“This is kind of a leap for me, but in a way it isn’t because I’ve been progressing my whole life towards this,” Smitelli said.

She was recently chosen by the Suffolk County Republican Committee to run for the assembly seat Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) left vacant in the April 24  special election.

Janet Smitelli. File photo

“I’ve become politically involved because I’m getting pretty sick of what’s going on and I know I can use my talents and experience to make some type of difference, to help and be part of the fight,” she said.

Growing up in Oceanside, Smitelli said her parents, Bernard and Maria Heller, instilled in her the importance of serving the community, especially her mother, who was heavily involved in the chamber of commerce and local politics and was known as “Miss Oceanside.”

“From seeing that as my example from a very early age, I was involved in everything from day one,” Smitelli said.

A graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh with degrees in environmental science, late American studies and Spanish, Smitelli wound up taking her altruism to Central America for six months when she was 19. A few years later, after developing an interest in law, Smitelli went to law school at night and became a trial attorney in 1987. It was around this time that she married her husband and became a Huntington resident.

As a lawyer, she has represented those filing lawsuits and those on the receiving end of them, motor vehicle collisions, slip-and-falls and, predominantly over the last 10 years, construction accidents. She spends her free time actively volunteering in the Huntington community.

“Janet’s the kind of person you can call and say ‘I need your help’ and she’s there and ready to do what needs to be done,” Huntington resident Dennis Garetano said. “She’s there for the community, she gets things done and really cares about this neighborhood. She’s who we need to get elected.”

Patricia Wingfield, a resident whose son was a Cub Scout under Smitelli’s leadership, called her a natural leader.

“She led like a trooper — went on camping trips no other parent wanted to go on and was always such an advocate for all the kids to receive their badges,” Wingfield said. “She’s fair, she’s just, she’s effective. I aspire to be her.”

Lupinacci also voiced his support for her.

“I think she’s an excellent choice to fight for us in the state Legislature,” he said. “She’s very involved in the community and has a great background in terms of public service. She has the background, the fortitude and the skills needed to represent the 10th Assembly District.”

If elected, Smitelli said she wants to tackle what she believes are the major challenges facing Huntington. This includes pledging to eliminate excessive taxation, receive funds to preserve and protect waterways and our drinking water, increase funding for K-12 extracurricular programs and veer young people away from gangs and opioids by keeping them involved in community programs.

She also said she wants to strengthen the transparency between government and residents by making it easier to access information and calling for reform.

“If you look at my background, you’ll see I’m not doing this for any other reason than I really, really want to serve,” Smitelli said. “I think my talents, my experience and my life thus far, has been a pathway to this.

Retired NYPD officers with pistols are stationed outside district schools following the Parkland, Florida school shooting

Miller Place School District parents and students gathered inside the high school library Feb. 28 to voice concerns and support for allowing armed guards outside schools in the district. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Coming back from mid-Winter recess, one armed guard stood outside each of the four schools in the Miller Place district, sparking controversy Monday.

The decision to station retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School, Andrew Muller Primary School, North Country Road Middle School and Miller Place High School was made Sunday evening, and an email about the decision was sent out around 9 p.m. stating temporary “increased security measures” would be in place.

Miller Place parent Amber Buscemi is concerned about allowing armed guards to be stationed outside schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

Some residents praised the district for taking quick, drastic action in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 students and faculty members dead Feb. 14. Others raised concerns that the school’s decision was unnecessary and dangerous, sharing their feelings at a board of education meeting Feb. 28.

“Adding armed guards to our schools is not a solution to the problem of school shootings,” said Nina Thompson, the parent of a fifth-grader and a kindergarten student in the district who pleaded with the board not to make this a permanent implementation. “The school in Florida had one, but it didn’t prevent or minimize devastation. Kids should not have to grow up with guns in school. Period.”

But Lou Gallo, a retired teacher in Longwood, said in the immediate sense, armed security is crucial.

“We have to get rid of this notion that our lovely little schools are fuzzy, wuzzy wonderlands, because they’re not anymore — we have to raise our consciousness to the extent that our school is now a potential killing ground,” he told the board. “The criminal mind preys on defenselessness, weakness and vulnerability.”

Superintendent Marianne Cartisano explained to residents during the meeting that the board’s assignment of armed security was done so urgently to ensure that all precautionary measures were being taken.

“You send me your children in the morning and you expect me to send them home to you in the afternoon. There are 14 parents in Florida right now that don’t have that expectation.”

— Marianne Cartisano

“I just don’t want it to be me,” an emotional Cartisano told the residents packed inside the high school library. “I am responsible for 2,800 children and nearly 500 staff members every single day, and you, as parents, have reasonable expectations of me. You send me your children in the morning and you expect me to send them home to you in the afternoon. There are 14 parents in Florida right now that don’t have that expectation. And I can’t tell you how much that nauseates me, saddens me and frightens me.”

The Florida shooting occurred just days before the school district closed for its mid-winter recess, and Cartisano said she and other board of education members spent the break in constant communication. They ultimately met in person at central offices at 4 p.m. Sunday to gather information accumulated in the past week, evaluate the concerns coming from students and faculty members and weigh their options. After meticulously reviewing the pros and cons of each security suggestion, from installing metal detectors in each building to enforcing strict bans on parent drop-offs and pickups, the conversation ultimately led to armed guards.

“We know that we fit the perfect active shooter profile as an upper-middle-class, basically white-community that doesn’t think it’s going to happen here — that makes us a target,” Cartisano said. “Questions kept coming up — are we doing enough? There was a real community fear that we were feeling.”

Cartisano said, in total this week, the guards cost the district $5,750, and, moving forward with enhanced security, the new hires will not financially affect any athletic or extracurricular program, educational course or faculty and custodial staff members.

“The purpose of this was to reduce crisis response time and open up the conversation with law enforcement,” the supervisor said.

Roughly a dozen residents made their voices heard at the meeting.

Lou Gallo talks at the board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

“There is no evidence that an armed guard with a handgun will, or even can stop a shooter with an AR-15,” said Miller Place mother Amber Buscemi, referring to the style of assault rifle that has become the weapon of choice of mass shooters, including the suspect in Parkland’s massacre. “It is illogical. And, now, you have hired an armed officer to be suspicious of all students who attend our schools as they look for potential shooters. … It’s an unnecessary risk.”

Sound Beach resident and Miller Place graduate Patrick O’Hanlon said he doesn’t believe the armed guards would be effective against an active shooter.

“I don’t believe any of you should allow someone with a gun in here,” he said. “They’re not going to protect your children with a pistol in the lobby.”

Despite admitting he was not a gun advocate, Pete Conelli said he was in support of the armed guards. For him, he explained, the Parkland tragedy wasn’t just a story in the news. His wife’s closest friend lives in the Florida town, and her son is a freshman at the high school where the shooting occurred.

“He’s going to live with the mental scar for the rest of his life,” Conelli said, recounting the student sending his parents “I love you” texts from underneath a desk in a classroom while the shooter was in the hallway. “I’ve read a lot of school shooting statistics and one I read reported that 18 percent of shooters are shot by police … and I’ll give my kid the extra 18 percent any day of the year.”

Drug dealers are designing and manufacturing fentanyl-laced drugs to resemble name-brand prescriptions. Stock photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) took a firm stand against the spread of fentanyl earlier this month, proposing legislation to add 11 variations of the highly addictive and dangerous synthetic opioid drug to the state’s scheduled controlled substances list. If enacted, this law would help close a current loophole in New York that makes it easier for narcotics dealers to distribute deadly drugs and skirt felony charges by designing and manufacturing them to resemble name-brand prescriptions.

The governor pushed the proposal Feb. 5 as part of a 30-day state budget amendment, with the hopes of the budget passing the senate in April.

Fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine. Stock photo

“These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable and helping ensure that our laws are able to keep pace with this evolving public health crisis,” Cuomo said. “Make no mistake: Fentanyl is potent, dangerous and its abuse is increasingly fueling the misery of the opioid epidemic.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine and even more so than heroin — the lethal dose of heroin is about 30 milligrams, while the lethal dose of fentanyl is 3mg. It is also not commonly reversed by Narcan, the lifesaving drug that combats heroin overdoses. Cuomo said the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the state increased by nearly 160 percent in 2016, a statistic that led him to evaluate what’s missing from the controlled substances list.

His push is resonating across Suffolk County.

“I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this important step toward closing this dangerous loophole that shields drug dealers from justice and continues to tear our communities apart,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in response to the governor’s statement. “I urge the state senate and assembly to include this proposal in their respective budget bills. We need to utilize every resource available to deter individuals who create and sell these deadly drugs.”

Over at the county correctional facility, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., who regularly visits school district across Suffolk to speak with students about the dangers of opioid use, also approved of Cuomo’s actions.

“These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable…”

— Andrew Cuomo

“I applaud [Cuomo] for proposing strong regulations on fentanyl analogs because it gives law enforcement another avenue to crack down on drug traffickers and dealers pushing these dangerous and lethal substances into our communities,” he said.

Tracey Farrell, a Rocky Point resident and the president of nonprofits North Shore Drug Awareness and On Kevin’s Wings, knows firsthand the devastation these opioids cause. Her son, Kevin, died of an overdose in 2012 and her daughter Breanna is currently three years in recovery.

Farrell said because there are so many different chemical makeups of fentanyl, “too often this ties the hands of our law enforcement” to enact stricter penalties.

“My son was one of 83 who passed in Suffolk County in 2012 when fentanyl wasn’t really on the radar, but five years later, that number is over 500 with a very large percentage of those deaths being caused by fentanyl,” she said. “We must take any and all steps possible to get the sale of this drug to impose the maximum sentences and potentially save lives.”

Sal Vetro, a pharmacist at Echo Pharmacy in Miller Place, said this would be a major step in the right direction toward saving lives.

“I think Cuomo’s on the right track,” Vetro said. “We’re trying to fight this epidemic and the people who need fentanyl should have fentanyl, but if it’s being used illegally, sold illegally, or causing damage illegally, those people should certainly be punished. We have to stop ignoring the problem, and this is a start.”

James Snider earned 33 merit badges and built a memorial garden at Port Jefferson Emergency Medical Service to earn his Eagle Scout award. Photo from Kim Snider

Within Boy Scout Troop 1776, adults and Scouts alike have always turned to Mount Sinai High School senior James Snider to lead the way. Whether it’s making sure his fellow Scouts have their tents set up and food prepared before monthly camping trips or energizing the troop with a rousing speech in meetings, the 17-year-old, who started as a Cub Scout in first grade, has served as an exemplary take-charge member.

“He’s always been very mature and served as a great teacher,” troop Scoutmaster Greg Muroff said. “His peers naturally gravitate toward him and he has the respect of everybody in the group.”

Mount Sinai Troop 1776 member James Snider became the first of his group to become an Eagle Scout. Photo from James Snider

So it makes sense that Snider recently became the first member of Troop 1776, which formed in 2013, to earn the coveted Eagle Scout Award, the highest rank a Scout can receive, which has been achieved by a small percentage of Scouts since 1912, according to the National Eagle Scout Associations. To become Eagle Scout, not only did he have to earn 21 merit badges — Snider collected a total of 33, including a bronze and gold Eagle palm — but also complete a year-long community service project. After the death of two members of Port Jefferson Emergency Medical Services on Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai in 2016, Snider committed himself to creating a memorial garden and sitting area on the department’s property. Between September 2016 and October 2017, when the garden was made official during a dedication ceremony, he installed a stepping stone path, tables, chairs and rose bushes, and built two wooden benches around a small tree on a stretch of empty open space through a donation provided by one of his troop leaders.

“It feels really good, and was definitely worth the time,” Snider said of his project’s impact. “I’m glad I made it to the end of the journey without giving up. I hope to be the example for future troop members.”

His mother, Kim Snider, a Suffolk County correction officer, said her son has already done that.

“A fire has been ignited by James — he’s definitely motivated others through this,” she said. “He’s probably the most determined human being I can possibly imagine. He always wants to do what’s right for the community and prides himself in leadership. He’s a very quiet boy, but has the ability to change an atmosphere. That’s just him — he naturally has good in his heart.”

Matthew Callen, a Mount Sinai junior and Snider’s scouting peer since fourth grade, said he is among those inspired.

“I really think it has impacted everybody in the troop,” said Callen, of his friend being named the first Eagle Scout from the troop. “Seeing him achieve Eagle opened my eyes to something I really wanted and gave me a lot of initiative to get focused and achieve this rank myself.”

“Seeing him achieve Eagle opened my eyes to something I really wanted and gave me a lot of initiative to get focused and achieve this rank myself.”

— Matthew Callen

Brian Callen, the Scout’s father, who is a committee chair member within Troop 1776, said when the idea came up to found the group, designed as a boy-led program that started with 20 members, it was decided to make Snider the second senior patrol leader at just 13. A year later, he was promoted.

“He quickly became comfortable speaking in front of large groups and conducting awards distributions,” Callen said. “The adults are really only there as supervisors. The boys do the planning, run the meetings and the camping trips, and he fell right into the role of leader. He’s never been the type of kid you ever had to correct.”

Snider has participated in the Great Brookhaven Cleanup, placed flags at Calverton Cemetery leading up to Memorial Day and, for the past four years, volunteered at a local veterans home.

During a ceremony held in honor of Snider’s accomplishment at Mount Sinai High School last month, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) called his persistence  a “vital asset to the community.”

“Through his hard work, dedication and commitment to scouting, James has proven himself to be an extraordinary leader,” Anker said. “His Eagle Scout accomplishment will set an example for the younger scouts in Troop 1776. I congratulate him and wish him continued success in his future endeavors.”

Snider will be attending Sacred Heart University in Connecticut in the fall in pursuit of a degree in business finance.

“In the future I’d like to be head of a company, and Boy Scouts has helped me become a leader,” Snider said. “I’ve learned to treat others with respect, make sure everyone around me is happy and everything is dealt with correctly.”

Politicians, coaches, veterans, police officers, firefighters and volunteers reflect on Black History Month

Former Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Kevin Redding

African-American figures, leaders and movers and shakers across Suffolk County reflected on their lives and accomplishments to commemorate Black History Month.

David Lewis, Smithtown volunteer firefighter/retired NYPD officer

When David Lewis and his family moved to Smithtown from Hollis, Queens, in 1977, he said they were one of just two black families in the community. He was 7 years old and said he immediately saw the effect their skin color had on residents in his new hometown. Their property was often damaged, there was name calling, and he said his parents received lots of phone calls from neighbors warning not to send their children to the school district.

“The N-word was a big part of our childhoods, we were told we didn’t belong,” Lewis said. “But I
remember my dad saying, ‘You belong here. I don’t care what they say, I’m sending you to school.’”

David Lewis

Lewis said his father’s ability to hold his ground lit a fire in him.

“In the back of my mind, I remember thinking that I’ve got to prove to everyone in Smithtown that I belong here,” he said.

Lewis, who grew up in and around the kitchen as the son of a professional chef, started a chocolate and candy business out of his house as a ninth-grader, encouraged greatly by his high school cooking teacher as well as business instructor, who loaned him $100 to buy a mini-refrigerator. He hired local kids to help out and his budding entrepreneurship made headlines in the newspapers. Around that time, Lewis also began a private mentoring program for struggling kids in the neighborhood, many of whom came from broken or single-parent homes.

After graduating from Smithtown High School West, he attended the Culinary Institute of America, became a certified chef and spent a few years working in the industry until he decided to switch gears to pursue a full-time career helping people. Already a volunteer with the Smithtown Fire Department, Lewis joined the New York Police Department, determined to bridge the gap between youth and police. During his 25-year career on the force, Lewis regularly watched over neighborhood youth, encouraging students to do their homework and steering them away from trouble while offering mentorship to youths in Smithtown, Queens and Brooklyn. He received the Commendation Medal from the NYPD in 2000 and eventually retired out of the 104th Precinct.

Outside of the police uniform, he has served as an emergency medical technician; a fire prevention instructor in local communities; a fifth-degree black belt instructor, lending his expertise at Suffolk County PAL Martial Arts; an assistant Scout Master for Cub Scout Pack 340; a volunteer at the Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation; was employed part time as a security official in the Smithtown school district; co-founder of KiDS Need MoRe foundation; and remains an active captain in the fire department. 

Through it all, Lewis said the accomplishment that’s meant the most to him was when he received an award for Greatest Person of Smithtown in 2012.

“That was just tremendous to me,” Lewis said. “I thought back to being 7 years old and being told I didn’t belong in Smithtown. That’s one of the things that’s always motivated me here, and [that honor] proved that I do belong.”

Eric Brown, head baseball coach at Suffolk County Community College

For 30 years, Eric Brown has been a coach, mentor and friend to more than 1,000 student-athletes at Suffolk County Community College, where the Coram native also served as campus coordinator and warehouse and mailroom supervisor. He retired as head coach of the men’s varsity baseball team in 2017. During his leadership tenure, he guided his teams to seven National Junior College Athletic Association World Series; won 685 games; was named Region XV Coach of the Year in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2006; led Suffolk to be named a nine-time winner of the NJCAA Region Umpires Association’s annual sportsmanship award; and was elected into the JUCO Hall of Fame in 2014.

A petition was even created recently calling for the baseball field at Suffolk County Community College Selden campus to be renamed the Coach Eric Brown Field.

Eric Brown

But despite being grateful for all the recognition, Brown, a graduate of the college himself, couldn’t help but laugh about how his career played out. Throughout his years as an athlete at Longwood High School, Brown’s true passions were basketball and soccer — he even went to LIU Post on a soccer scholarship — and baseball was very much an afterthought.

“Baseball was just something I did because everybody else in the neighborhood played it,” Brown said.

He said when he returned to Suffolk, hired as a material control clerk, he was approached by his mentor at the time, who was in charge of the basketball and baseball programs, who brought Brown in as an assistant basketball coach. Through his mentor, Brown learned everything he knew about baseball and soon began coaching the sport himself.

Throughout his career, Brown has been acknowledged for his role as a “player’s coach,” and someone who makes sure the athletes on his team are well-taken care of and successful on and off the field.

“I really care about these kids,” Brown said. “The long and short of it is that they’re more important than the program itself. They are the program.”

Tracey Edwards and Doc Spencer, Huntington elected officials

Former Town of Huntington board member Tracey Edwards, who has served for many years as the Long Island regional director of the NAACP, said while she considers her hometown a great place to live, she
admitted Huntington, and all of Suffolk County, still has a lot to work on when it comes to race relations.

“I would say, as a young person, I had a wonderful experience growing up in the Town of Huntington,” Edwards said. “But as I got older, as I reached adulthood, that’s when bad experiences started to happen. We’re being naive to think there is not still gender, racial and cultural bias where we live, and where everybody else lives.”

Edwards has built a career on trying to make a difference on that front. Since elected by the town in 2014, she has strived to be an exemplary community advocate and public servant — and was especially focused on making Huntington a more inclusive place, regardless of age, race, gender or economics. She has worked to
expand affordable housing legislation for millennials and first-time homebuyers; spearheaded the creation of the Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, a program that offers assistance with résumé preparation and job searches, exploration of career options and access to job training for unemployed and underemployed
residents; and led a strong campaign for Huntington supervisor in 2017, a race she lost to now Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R).

William “Doc” Spencer

“Being a black woman, it was very difficult for her to run for that position as it was portrayed in the results,” her mother, Dolores Thompson, a lifelong civil activist, said in December. “And yet, her experience and background is far better than most, black or white.”

Edwards pointed to her parents and the way they raised her as her main source of strength and inspiration.

“I was raised to believe and to understand that everyone is equal and to treat everyone with respect,” she said.

Just the third African-American elected legislator in Suffolk County history, William “Doc” Spencer (D Centerport), who is also a beloved physician and ordained minister in his community, agreed with Edwards that the region has plenty to overcome, but also sees every day how far it’s come.

“Long Island has certainly had its struggles with division and difficult race relations but I’m optimistic, just evidenced by the fact that I’ve been chosen to lead by an overwhelmingly white population,” Spencer said. “I don’t believe people look at me as a black man, but, hopefully, as a good doctor, representative and humanitarian. As the only black official in the Town of Huntington, I’m a voice of unity, a voice of harmony and I believe it’s incredibly important that we have acceptance.”

Spencer himself grew up in West Virginia in an area still heavily segregated.

“Most blacks lived on one side of town with substantial divides throughout the area,” he said, reflecting on his upbringing. “I would be stopped by police if I was driving in a particular section. I’ve been chased and called names. I experienced all of that in the 1970s and ’80s. We have made great strides.”

Michael Jordan, president of the Visually Impaired Persons of Suffolk

In 2014, Southampton native Michael Jordan’s life became permanently dark. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former Southampton Golf Club employee began losing his eyesight a few years prior in 2011,
so when he went completely blind, he was ready for it, determined to stay active, independent and productive. That same year, he joined the Visually Impaired Persons of Suffolk, a social group designed to empower and self-advocate the blind community with ties to Deer Park and Port Jefferson. As a member, he noticed that the extent of the “social” aspect of the group was sitting together for a cup of coffee and a donut.

Michael Jordan

“I said, ‘We’ve got to start being active here,’ if you want to sit around and drink coffee, I can do that home,” Jordan said.

He took the reins as an orchestrator of outings and activities, from fishing and park trips to dinner functions, bowling nights and fundraisers. Members donated funds to five underprivileged families last year.

Jordan, who pays for a majority of the event’s raffles himself, quickly rose to a vice president position and, in 2017, he was elected president of the group.

“All I want to offer is giving, love and joy,” Jordan said. “I like to help people for a day to help them forget about their problems, and that way, they can see someone in an unfortunate situation spreading joy in life.”

Jordan said it’s important to him that his colleagues in the group recognize their importance in life, despite their disabilities.

“I want to show people of Suffolk County that we are people,” he said. “When you look at us, you should just see a resident. You don’t see that I’m blind, you don’t see that I’m in a wheelchair, you don’t see that I’ve got hearing aids, don’t see that I’m in a walker, or what have you.”

Former Suffolk County legislator running as Democratic candidate for 10th state Assembly district seat

Steve Stern (D). Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

At 19, Steve Stern knocked on doors in the outskirts of Louisiana, urging folks not to let a former Ku Klux Klan leader become a state representative.

It was 1989. David Duke had entered the race for a Louisiana House of Representatives seat on the Republican ticket, despite party members’ denouncement of his candidacy and racist, anti-Semitic past. Stern, a junior at Tulane University in New Orleans at the time, took to the streets for the first time as a political advocate for Duke’s opponent.

“Talk about being in the deep end without a paddle,” Stern said, during an interview with TBR News Media at a Dix Hills diner Feb. 19. “I just tried to persuade the area residents to do what was right and stand up against hate and intolerance. It showed me the importance of meeting people on their doorstep, talking to them face-to-face.”

Duke won. But it didn’t dissuade Stern from later seeking political office himself.

Stern (D) has honed the art of canvassing in his 12 consecutive years as Suffolk County Legislator of the 16th District beginning in 2005, after building a career as a lawyer.

“Our local region doesn’t get our fair share from the state level of government and I know that firsthand.”
— Steve Stern

In the Legislature, Stern sat on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee. He wrote the law that created the state’s first Silver Alert system — which helps locate seniors with Alzheimer’s or cognitive diseases who have gone missing — and initiated the first ban in the nation on the use of the BPA chemical in baby bottles, sippy cups and toys. Stern said he launched the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, as part of a long-term effort to bring an end to veteran homelessness in
Suffolk. Now, he’s running for state office.

Touting this record and a self-proclaimed natural ability to connect with community members, no matter their party affiliations, the 49-year-old family man will run in the April 24 special election to fill Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) vacant seat in the 10th District of the New York State Assembly. He recently won the Democratic nomination and will campaigni against Republican Party candidate and longtime Huntington resident Janet Smitelli.

“I think he’s an excellent candidate,” said Mary Collins, chairwoman of the Huntington Town Democratic Committee. “He was very attentive to constituents and he worked on many issues that were important to his district.”

Stern said he hopes to bring a “very strong, local voice” to Albany.

“Our local region doesn’t get our fair share from the state level of government and I know that firsthand,” he said. “Look at our school districts. Community leaders on our school boards have very little they can do because there are too many state mandates preventing them from making real progress.”

“[Stern] has the ability to turn a concern into an actionable item and achieve a successful healthy change.”
— Karen Miller 

If elected, Stern said he wants to continue local efforts but on a much larger scale, such as combating gang activity, which he has done by helping to get county funding for automatic license plate readers that target criminals. He’s also passionate about protecting the environment and the area’s water quality, having co-sponsored legislation identifying key areas of importance when it came to developing sewer infrastructure. Stern said this legislation plays a key to downtown revitalization of Huntington Station. He said he’s a strong supporter of term limits and bipartisanship.

“Because at the end of the day, I can tell you, people don’t care what the letter is after your name,” he said. “They want to know that you’re putting points up on the board for them and that you’re doing it in a way that’s going to make them proud.

Karen Miller, founder of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, said Stern made her proud when she presented her group’s concerns about the dangers of the BPA chemical, a meeting that ultimately led him to his 2009 ban.

“Steve was an extremely good listener, he took time with me and wrote notes on his yellow pad,” she said. “He has the ability to turn a concern into an actionable item and achieve a successful healthy change. What a coup that would be for New Yorkers to have somebody like that up in Albany.”

Read TBR News Media to learn more about Republican party candidate Janet Smitelli soon.

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