Education

Crews looking for Nikola Tesla’s famed "death ray" come up empty

Crews working with Discovery Channel dig under the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham in search of underground tunnels. Photo from Discovery Channel

After detecting something under the surface of the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham using ground-penetrating radar, a duo of explorers asked permission to dig a 16-foot-deep hole on the property.

It was October 2017 and segments of a new Discovery Channel program “Tesla’s Death Ray: A Murder Declassified” were being filmed at the fire station, located just five minutes away from Wardenclyffe —
Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory.

With the go-ahead granted by Rocky Point Fire District Secretary Edwin Brooks, and then the rest of the district’s board, an excavation crew dug out the hole in hopes of finding the remnants of tunnels Tesla was rumored to have built under the grounds of his laboratory that connected to surrounding areas in the early 1900s.

Filming and research was also conducted on the property of the Tesla Science Center
at Wardenclyffe, but digging there was prohibited due to contamination on the site from previous tenants.

Hosts Rob Nelson and Stefan Burns of Science Channel’s Secrets of the Underground look over some findings. Photo from Science Channel

“We were definitely interested in what’s going on, and if there were some tunnels here, we’d like to know about it,” said Brooks, who was also interviewed for the show.

The multi-episode docuseries, which premiered Jan. 2 with new episodes every Tuesday,  follows military investigator Jack Murphy and Tesla historian Cameron Prince on their quest to decode some of the mysteries and urban myths surrounding the Serbian-American inventor. The two aim to track down Tesla’s innovations and research that may have gone missing from his safe after he died in a hotel room in 1943 — including a supposed formula for a particle beam, or “death ray.” Murphy and Prince theorize that designing the fatal weapon could have caused someone to murder Tesla.

“I think that’s really far-fetched, and I don’t believe that’s the case — it’s all very speculative,” said Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn, who, along with other board members, allowed the crew to shoot on their premises last September. “But it’s been an interesting experience.”

Alcorn said the site receives many requests a year from film and television companies, as well as documentarians from all over. In addition to Discovery Channel’s show, the Science Channel also recently shot and aired a two-part episode for its “Secrets of the Underground” show with the subtitle “Tesla’s
Final Secrets,” which similarly tested the ground beneath the laboratory in search of clues for the death ray invention.

Before filming began, Alcorn said both companies had to fill out an application, which the Tesla Science Center board reviewed to ensure its shows met their requirements for science-based content. As the programs featured testing on the grounds using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars, they were allowed to proceed.

“We can’t control what they do with their footage or what they find, but since they’re using this equipment, if they were to find anything, it was important that it is based on science and data,” Alcorn said. “Both shows were very cooperative and we had no problem with them. We had them on-site for a couple days — they would come in the morning, do their filming and testing, and then they would leave. They were also all excellent in terms of hiring good companies, with bonafide technicians that look for voids in the ground as a means to discover whether or not there’s something underground — not just for film projects but mining companies, too.”

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

As for Alcorn’s verdict of the shows themselves: Neither program led to any concrete discoveries, she noted, and both had the air of reality shows with repetitive material and cliffhangers before commercial breaks, which  she “wasn’t crazy about.” But she said she and other board members are grateful that expensive testing was conducted and paid for by an outside company as they themselves had long been curious about what, if anything, was under the site’s surface. Now there’s a body of data that the board can examine if it wishes, she said.

“It was an opportunity for us to save some money and get some information,” Alcorn said.

Response to the shows has been mixed among residents. Some were happy to see Shoreham and its famous scientist represented, while others dismissed the shows as sensationalized and inaccurate.

“It’s great for people to learn who [Tesla] is and bring some knowledge of Wardenclyffe to the public so we can have it turned into a proper museum and erase some of the eyesore that is there,” Wading River resident Erich Kielburger said in a closed Shoreham-Wading River community group page on Facebook.

Amanda Celikors said her 7-year-old son watched the Discovery Channel show and was fascinated by it.

“He’s learned so much about Tesla and his impact on science,” she said. “We joked that the tunnels could lead to our house. I think it’s great.”

But Rob Firriolo was less than impressed.

“Typical reality TV trash,” he wrote on the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Facebook page. “Contrived and melodramatic, with annoying camera work and even more annoying music trying to gin up tension where there obviously is none. … We will get hours of fluff, hype and speculation with a payoff at the end as rewarding as Geraldo [Rivera] in Al Capone’s vault.”

Shoreham resident Nick Renna said in an interview he watched the Science Channel program, and enjoyed it as it shed some light on the historical value of the Wardenclyffe property.

“I thought it was really cool to see our own neighborhood on television,” Renna said. “Exposure is huge for that property. When most people hear Tesla, they think about the car, but in reality, without him, there would be no electricity, remote controls, radio waves — the guy was a historymaker. And that property is an incredible asset that we’re able to call home, to some degree.”

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington school district has started to address the 2018-19 budget early, admitting there may be challenges ahead for the district.

Superintendent James Polansky gave a presentation at the Jan. 9 board of education meeting to outline how the potential impact of newly approved federal tax laws, the state’s budget deficit and the district’s increasing costs could significantly affect Huntington students and parents.

“There are a lot of question marks this year right now, making predicting the budget a little more difficult than it has been in the past,” Polansky said.

Among his top concerns are the impact of President Donald Trump’s (R) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, as homeowners are limited to a $10,000 write off for state and local taxes — which includes property taxes. The superintendent said he believes many homeowners will wind up paying high income taxes due to the new limits on deductions.

“It’s no secret that school budgets make up the bulk of property taxes,” he said. “How will that impact voter consideration with regard to the school budget?”

Complicating matters further, Polansky said Jan. 9 he expected the district to get little to no increase in state aid for the 2018-19 school year given New York has a more than $4.5 billion shortfall.

Contrary to Polansky’s prediction, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled a $168 billion state budget Jan. 15 in which he proposed increasing state aid for elementary and secondary education by 3 percent for the 2018-19 school year. Cuomo’s proposed budget has until April 1 to be adopted by state legislators.

Polansky said Huntington school district is facing a number of factors that could lead to higher operating costs in the next school year, including increasing costs of employees’ contractual salaries and benefits. The district also will be subject to an increasing contribution rate from 9.8 percent up to between 10.5 and 11.8 percent of its payroll to the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System.

“For a district of our size or larger, that’s not an insignificant expense,” the superintendent said. “We are
obligated to pay into it just like every other school district in New York.”

The district’s presentations on the 2018-19 year will kick off Feb. 5 when Polansky said he will walk step-by-step through the process of calculating the district’s tax levy limit. This will include a discussion on growth of the tax base in Huntington, which he noted is a positive factor.

“Huntington for the last couple of years has been well below the tax levy limit,” he said. “I anticipate there is a good chance we will be well below that limit this year.”

In May 2017, voters approved a $126.2 million budget for the 2017-18 school year — with 1,022 ‘yes’ to 148 ‘no’ votes — that featured expanded enrollment for Advanced Placement and high school elective courses, upgrades to facilities, and additional summer enrichment classes.

Proposed budgetary changes for 2018-19 capital projects will be discussed March 12, followed by instructional and staff changes March 26. A full recap of the proposed budget will be given April 9, before expected adoption by the board April 16. 

“My goal is to get as much straightforward, concise and simplistic information out to my residents,” Polansky said.

by -
0 104
Terryville Road Elementary School principal, April Victor, with some of her students. Photo from April Victor

By Sabrina Petroski

Goodbyes are never easy, especially when a school district has to say it to a dedicated, longtime advocate for students.

At the end of the 2017-18 school year, April Victor will be retiring from her position as the principal of Terryville Road Elementary School in the Comsewogue School District. Victor, who began in January 2001, said the past seventeen-and-a-half years have been some of the most rewarding in her life.

She said she made it her mission to turn her school into a family, an effort that has encouraged parents, teachers and students alike to work together to foster a safe and happy community.

“That’s what makes leaving so hard, because I’m leaving a family,” she said.

Victor said her proudest achievement was making the school a place where the children are put first, and the teachers and parents have a say in decision making. Once a month the district’s parent teacher association celebrates students who are seen as outstanding citizens, an initiative inspired by the longtime principal. Nominated by their teachers, each student receives a certificate and their picture is put up in the hallway of the school.

“We have to celebrate them, build the kids up,” she said. “We have to be kind and thoughtful, and care about our school.”

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella praised Victor as being a brilliant educator and leader, with the ability to build a great community. Rella’s grandson attends Terryville Road Elementary School, giving the superintendent multiple reasons to keep a close eye on the school’s goings on, and the district leader beamed when asked about the work Victor has been doing in her school.

“April Victor has such a tremendous impact on the district and school community,” Rella said. “She will be missed beyond words and is a truly wonderful person.”

In 2007, Victor was named a TBR News Media Woman of the Year in education, for her leadership skills and her efforts to make sure her kids got every opportunity to fulfill their potential. Her peers spoke in glowing terms about their departing colleague.

“Ms. Victor has long had a positive effect on all who have had the opportunity to pass through the halls and classrooms of Terryville Elementary School,” said Robert Pearl, principal of Boyle Road Elementary School. “From children to faculty and staff, she has always been a remarkable anchor within the Terryville community. Her educational expertise, ability to understand the needs of her students and her compassion have enabled her to make a difference in the lives of her students each day. Personally, she has been an outstanding role model for me as I transitioned from teacher to principal.  She truly is the epitome of what every administrator strives to be.”

Victor delivered one final message to the Comsewogue community.

“Thank you for the opportunity to be with your kids and to lead them,” she said. “It’s been a blessing and I hope I made a difference. I’ll miss the energy from the children, and being able to witness their hard work and laughter. I will continue to pray for the community, for safety, joy and love.”

Shoreham's Briarcliff Elementary School was the model for the mansion in the “Madeline” children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans, who worked at a tavern on Woodville Road. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Some residents see it as a magical place full of rich history and memories that deserves preservation, others consider it a tax burden that should be sold and disposed of. The future of Briarcliff Elementary School, a shuttered, early-20th century building on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, is currently up in the air as the school district looks to community members to weigh in on potential options.

A dozen voices were heard Jan. 9 during a public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education to decide the fate of the beloved historic school, which has sat vacant for the last three years. The nearly 27,000-square-foot manor was built in 1907, expanded on through 2007 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, pleads his case to the board as to why it should preserve the school building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Administrators made it clear during the meeting that the board has no plans for the property at this time and, due to declining enrollment throughout the district, does not foresee it will be used for instructional use anytime soon — be it a pre-K or BOCES program. Board members said it will determine the best course of action for the building based on input from the community in the coming months.

“The board will not be making any decisions tonight on the future of the Briarcliff elementary school building, we’re only listening to residential statements,” said board president Robert Rose. “We recognize the importance of input from the entire community.”

This year, the annual operating costs for the property are estimated to total $95,000, which are expensed through the district’s general fund and includes building and equipment maintenance; insurance; and utilities, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finances and operations.

A presentation of the pricey upkeep didn’t dissuade several residents from speaking passionately about the school’s place in the history of Shoreham, pleading with the board to neither sell nor redevelop it for condominiums, as one speaker suggested.

“It was such a wonderful place — the children loved the building,” said Bob Korchma, who taught at Briarcliff for a number of years. “To lose such a great part of our community for housing and any other endeavors would be crazy. It has such history and working there was one of the best parts of my life.”

Debbie Lutjen, a physical education teacher at the school for 10 years, echoed the sentiments, calling the building “special,” and encouraged the board to move the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is currently attached to the high school to Briarcliff.

“If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

—Colette Grosso

“The majority of my teaching career in the district was at the high school, and when they put the public library there, I believe it created several security problems where the general public was on school grounds during the school day,” Lutjen said, suggesting that the freed up space at the high school could be used for classrooms, a larger cafeteria, a fitness center and testing rooms.

Residents also pushed the idea to designate the building a historic landmark and pursue grants, potentially from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), to restore it. David Kuck, whose son went to Briarcliff, said on top of making it a historic site, the district should turn it into a STEM center for students across Suffolk County, as it stands in the shadow of inventor Nikola Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, outlined the building’s history for the board — three generations of the prominent Upham family, including a veteran of the Civil War, built and owned the school in three different phases — and urged that covenants be filed on the property that says the building could never be taken down.

“The exterior must be kept in its historic state,” Madigan said. “It’s a very valuable and historical asset for our village. And it’s the most important thing to preserve as a resident.”

Joan Jacobs, a Shoreham resident for 40 years and former teacher, explained to the board how the building was the model for the mansion in the “Madeline” children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans, who worked at a tavern on Woodville Road.

Joan Jacobs gets emotional talking about her connection and history with Shoreham’s Briarcliff Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s so rich and having taught there for 14 years, having a daughter go through there, there’s an awful lot there,” an emotional Jacobs said. “It’s a shame to throw away our history.”

Both Bob Sweet and Barbara Cohen, members of Shoreham Village, advocated that the school be redeveloped as a residence for seniors in the area.

“I care about this building and sorely miss when the school buses coming up the road to drop the grade schoolers off,” Sweet said. “I admonish you don’t sell the property and explore the notion of turning this into condos for retired village members.”

But Colette Grosso, a special education aide at Miller Avenue School, said she hopes the community works toward a solution where the building remains an asset within the district for educational purposes as opposed to housing.

“All-day daycare and aftercare services could be done there, and there are other organizations besides BOCES that would love to use the facility to serve special education, which is an underserved population,” Grosso said. “If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

Further discussions with community members on Briarcliff will occur at the next board of education meeting Feb. 13 in the high school auditorium at 7 p.m.

Superintendent states minimal changes will be made

Rocky Point school district will hold a technology meeting Jan. 26 to gain public input on the preliminary Smart Schools Bond Act spending plan and how to spend leftover funds. File photo by Desirée Keegan

The Rocky Point school district isn’t wasting any time getting its future finances in order, kicking off the new year with a workshop meeting on the proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year.

District Superintendent Michael Ring and board of education members met prior to their regular BOE meeting Jan. 8 to evaluate priorities, expectations and projected figures within the budget, which Ring anticipates will be “a very positive one” for the school and community. Although he said it’s too early in the process to present a total budget — a specific total will be presented in March — Ring stated that the 2018-19 budget will be tax cap compliant, as the 2017-18 budget was, and will maintain the growth in tax levy within the cap. The district also plans on keeping existing instructional and cocurricular programs, as well as performing arts and athletic programs, at all levels.   

Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring. File photo by Erika Karp

“Nothing’s being lost,” Ring said. “That’s always a concern, particularly among members of the community who have children in the schools. That and sticking within the tax cap are things we strive for. I think those are things people in the community want from us, so hopefully that will result in general positive acceptance of this budget.”

In the 2018-19 school year, the second half of bonding for capital projects totaling $16 million, approved by voters in 2016, will take place. The first half of the bond — roughly $7 million — funded projects completed this past summer, including, but not limited to, districtwide asbestos removal, the installation of air conditioning in the high school auditorium and multiple renovations within the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, from making its bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act to replacing boiler, burners and old piping.

The second half of the capital projects list — costing $9 million —  will fund the installation of energy-efficient ceilings and light-emitting diode lights throughout the district’s schools, bathroom renovations in the high school and Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School, modifications to the heating and ventilation systems and replacement of the public address and clock systems districtwide, among other things. The board plans to begin the improvements after school lets out this June, working throughout the summer for a before-fall completion date.

“It’s a lot of little things that need to be done,” Ring said. “[It happens] when facilities reach 30 to 40 years old.”

Greg Hilton, school business official, explained that, because of the bond, total debt service within the preliminary 2018-19 budget is at a peak $4.28 million, compared to $3 million in 2016-17. It won’t stay that way though, he said.

“This is the top,” he said. “And we’re expiring smaller debt in its place.”

“Nothing’s being lost. That’s always a concern, particularly among members of the community who have children in the schools.”

— Michael Ring

A “special recurring item” in the budget is a proposal to hire a full-time equivalent additional teaching assistant at the middle and high school level to support the classrooms that have a high population of students with disabilities, including first-level foreign language classes in the high school.

Ring said due to scheduling, coursework and graduation requirements, certain noncore courses end up having 50 percent or more of its students needing special education. When the ratio of students with disabilities in a classroom reaches 50 percent, the new hire would be utilized to assist the general teacher, modifying instruction and helping those students.

One-time proposals may include a $34,000 purchase of a van to help the district’s maintenance mechanic transport tools and parts efficiently, rather than forcing him to carry items to a job; an $80,000 renovation of the high school’s weight room; $20,000 for a small turf groomer for interim maintenance on the district’s athletic field while utilizing The LandTek Group for the bigger jobs; and $50,000 for upgrades to the high school auditorium speakers and wiring, prompted by resident complaints over the sound quality in that room.

The next budget workshop will be held Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. at Rocky Point High School.

A large nor’easter took form off the coast of Florida and rode up the east coast. Photo from Legislator Kara Hahn's Office

Winter Storm Grayson was touted as a powerful blizzard featuring substantial snowfall and hurricane-force winds, and it has delivered.

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for the area beginning 1 a.m. Jan. 4 through 12 a.m. Friday, Jan. 5. The advisory is associated with a large and powerful nor’easter, which took form off the coast of Florida and rode up the east coast.

While the greatest snowfall amounts are expected to be northeast of Long Island, meteorologists expect that we may see as much as 14 inches of snow combined with high winds exceeding 60 MPH that will cause near blizzard conditions.  This storm poses a risk of coastal flooding in the Western Long Island Sound.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has issued a State of Emergency for all of downstate New York. Cuomo also issued a travel advisory from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.

“It is a combination of snow and wind and frigid temperatures,” Cuomo said. “That is a bad mix. I have been driving around myself this morning looking at the conditions — they are terrible, and only going to deteriorate further throughout the day. The wind is going to pick up, and there’s no doubt there is delays on mass transit, and the roads are going to be in poor condition. They’re forecasting three to six inches in the city, up to 12 inches on long Island and six to nine in Westchester. The roads in Westchester are bad. Roads on the Island are bad, and it’s only going to get worse. So schools are closed. If you don’t have to be on the roads, you really shouldn’t be, because it is going to be ugly.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has also issued a State of Emergency in the Town of Brookhaven effective Jan. 4 at 8 a.m. Vehicles that are parked in the street must be moved to driveways or be subject to towing at the owner’s expense. Any abandoned vehicles obstructing access for snowplows and emergency vehicles may also be removed by the town. All residents are urged to stay off the roads unless there is an emergency or if it is absolutely essential to travel.

“Driving is expected to be extremely hazardous due to heavy snow and wind conditions,” Romaine said. “Town snow removal crews will be working throughout the day and night to clear the roads until all are safe and passable.”

As a result of the predictions, many school districts closed school ahead of time.

There are closings at the following schools:

Alternatives For Children – East Setauket

Alternatives for Children Daycare – East Setauket

B.E.S.T. Learning Center – Smithtown

Building Blocks Developmental Preschool – Commack

Calling All Kids, Too – Huntington

Catholic Charities Outpatient Clinic – Commack

Children of America – Smithtown

Children of America – Port Jefferson Station

Church of St. Gerard Majella – Port Jefferson Station

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Commack School District

Comsewogue Public Library

Comsewogue School District

Coram Child Care

DDI Adult Day Programs – All Locations

DDI Early Childhood Learning Center – Huntington

DDI School Age Program – Huntington

DDI School Age Program – Smithtown

Day Haven Adult Day Services Program – Port Jefferson

East Northport Jewish Center Religious School

Elwood School District

Elwood’s Little Einsteins

Emma S. Clark Library – Setauket

First Presbyterian Church of Port Jefferson

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Centereach

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Huntington

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Rocky Point

Gold Medal Gymnastics Centers Smithtown

Grace Lane Kindergarten – Coram

Happy Time Preschool – Smithtown

Harbor Country Day School – St. James

Harborfields Central School District

Hauppauge Public Library

Hauppauge Public Library

Holy Family Regional School – Commack

Humpty Dumpty Day Nursery – Greenlawn

Huntington Montessori

Huntington Public Library

Huntington School District

Infant Jesus R.C. Church Religious Ed – Port Jefferson

Ivy League School – Smithtown

JKL Montessori School – Commack

Kiddie Academy – East Setauket

Kiddie Academy – Greenlawn

Kiddie Academy of Miller Place

Kiddie Care Early Learning Center – Commack

Kids of Miller Place

Kids of Mount Sinai

Kings Park School District

LI School for the Gifted – Huntington Station

Little Flower Union Free School District – Wading River

Little Rascals Child Care – Miller Place

Long Island Bone & Joint – Port Jefferson

Love of Learning Montessori School – Centerport

Magic Circle Nursery School – East Northport

Marion Kenney Day Care Center – Wading River

Martin C. Barell School- Commack

Messiah Preschool & Day Care – Setauket

Middle Country School District

Miller Place School District

Miss Barbara’s Preschool – Centereach

Miss Dawn’s Child Care Center – Huntington

Miss Mella’s Footsteps to Learning – Coram

NSSA – Adult Services – Commack

Noah’s Ark Day Care Center – Port Jefferson

North Shore Jewish Center – Port Jefferson Station

North Shore Montessori School – Stony Brook

Northport – East Northport Public Library

Northport / East Northport School District

Options for Community Living Inc. – Smithtown

Our Lady of Wisdom Regional – Port Jefferson

Our Savior New American School – Centereach

Planet Kids – Coram

Port Jefferson Free Library

Port Jefferson School District

Primarily 2’s and 3’s – Mount Sinai

Prime Time Preschool – Kings Park

Pumpkin Patch Day Nursery – Commack

Rainbow Chimes – Huntington

Reach for the Stars Pre – School – Ridge

Rocky Point School District

STEP Preschool – Smithtown

Saf-T-Swim – Commack

Saf-T-Swim – Coram

Sappo School – Commack

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Smithtown Central School District

Smithtown Christian Early Learning Center

Smithtown Christian School

Smithtown Special Library District

South Huntington School District

St. Anselm’s Episcopal Nursery School – Shoreham

St. Anthony of Padua Religious Ed – East Northport

St. Anthony’s High School – South Huntington

St. Frances Cabrini Religious Ed – Coram

St. James Lutheran Preschool – St. James

St. James Religious Ed – Setauket

St. Joseph’s Religious Ed – Kings Park

St. Louis de Monfort Religious Education – Sound Beach

St. Louis de Montfort Preschool – Sound Beach

St. Margaret of Scotland Church – Selden

St. Mark’s Religious Formation Program – Shoreham

St. Patrick School – Smithtown

St. Philip Neri Religious Ed – Northport

Step by Step Montessori – Miller Place

Stony Brook Child Care Services

Stony Brook Gynecology & Obstetrics – Rocky Point

Stony Brook Gynecology & Obstetrics – Setauket

Stony Brook Kidney Center – East Setauket

Stony Brook University – Psychological Ctr / Psych B Bldg. – Stony Brook

Stony Brook University

Stony Brook Urology – East Setauket & Commack

Sts. Philip and James Religious Education – St. James

Sts. Philip and James School – St. James

Suffolk County Community College – Selden

Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center – Commack

Sunshine Alternative Education & Prevention Center – Port Jefferson

Temple Beth El Religious School – Huntington

Temple Isaiah Religious School – Stony Brook

Tender Hearts Preschool – Mount Sinai

The Childrens Community HEAD START Program – Port Jefferson

The Day Care Center at Ivy League – Smithtown

The Knox School – St. James

The Laurel Hill School – East Setuket

The Learning Center – Huntington

The Learning Experience – Centereach

The Learning Experience – Mount Sinai

The Learning Experience – Northport

The Learning Experience -Rocky Point

The Learning Experience – Stony Brook

The Village Preschool – Northport

Three Village Church – East Setauket

Three Village Schools – Stony Brook

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church – Rocky Point

Trinity Regional School – East Northport

Tutor Time of Nesconset – Smithtown

UCP – Suffolk – Hauppauge

UCP Suffolk – The Children’s Center – Commack

United Methodist Nursery School – Huntington

Wesleyan School – Smithtown

West Hills Montessori – Huntington

Wisdom Tree Preschool – Miller Place

Work of Heart Preschool – South Huntington

Please monitor local media coverage or the National Weather Service for up-to-date weather forecasts and notifications. For your safety and the safety of emergency responders, please adhere to all travel restrictions and advisories that may be issued.

For you convenience, listed are some important emergency and not-emergency contact numbers to help you get through the storm should you need assistance:

PSEGLI Outages – 800-490-0075

Police Emergency – 911*

Police Non-emergency – (631) 852-2677, (631-852-COPS)

Town of Brookhaven Highway Department – (631) 451-9200**

Suffolk County Department of Public Works – (631) 852-4070***

*Please do not call 911 or other emergency telephone lines unless you are in need of assistance with an immediate physical or medical emergency.

**Responsible for all roads in the district (outside of incorporated villages) except County Road 97 and New York State Routes 112, 25A and 347.

***For emergency issues on county roads such as Nicolls Road (CR 97) only.

Additional information, notifications and details may be posted by Suffolk County’s Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services as the storm develops and impacts the area.  Click here to visit the department’s information page.

Huntington resident Kevin Gersh recognized as innovator of programs for children with special needs

Huntington resident Kevin Gersh, founder of Gersh Academy, is known for his innovative programs designed for children with special needs. Photo from Gersh Academy.

It takes a special person to take care of a child with special needs. Huntington resident Kevin Gersh has proven all it takes is a few innovative ideas and a big heart.

Gersh, founder of Gersh Academy in Huntington, created a series of schools and programs geared toward helping children with autism and special needs. But it’s been his drive to do more philanthropic actions that give back to the community that has made others take notice.

“Kevin Gersh is an innovator in the special needs community,” said Stephanie Gotard, program director of Leadership Huntington, which fosters development of community leaders. “He has dedicated his life to making a difference in the lives of children.”

Gersh founded West Hills Montessori School of Huntington in 1991, where working with one child with special needs made him realize that the method of teaching needed to change. As a result, he started Gersh Academy in 1999 as an education program for children ages 5 to 21 on the autism spectrum.

Over the years, Gersh has expanded his organization to create 11 programs spanning from Long Island to Puerto Rico, for typical children in addition to those with special needs.

I love helping kids. When someone asks me can you help a child, I say ‘yes.’ I don’t hesitate. It’s what gets me going.”

— Kevin Gersh

“It’s what I do for a living, that’s who I am,” he said. “I love helping kids. When someone asks me can you help a child, I say ‘yes.’ I don’t hesitate. It’s what gets me going.”

Others in the Huntington community said they now look to Gersh for advice in meeting the needs of children with autism. Cold Spring Harbor resident Bob Fonti said when he had a friend who was unsure where to get help for his child with special needs,  Gersh’s door was open, and he was more than willing to pick up the phone and make a call.

“He is always willing to advise, advocate and provide hope for special needs parents,” Gotard said.

In addition to his work for special needs children, Gersh has been noted by others for giving back to nonprofits and local communities. In 2015, Gersh Academy students raised funds for the Caroline Wambui Mungai Foundation, an organization whose mission is improving the lives of orphaned and abandoned children throughout Africa. The following year, the Gersh Organization donated money raised for Sunrise Day Camp, a specialized camp for children with cancer and their siblings.

More recently, Gersh donated hundreds of school uniforms to students in Wyandanch school district. He has also created an event, which distributed donated suits to help students heading into college and with job interviews. He recalled fondly watching one football player try on a jacket.

“You should have seen the smile on his face when he looked in the mirror dressed in a $3,000 full-length cashmere coat,” Gersh said. “He didn’t take it off the whole night. That to me, is everything.”

“[Kevin Gersh] is always willing to advise, advocate and provide hope for special needs parents.”

— Stephanie Gotard

This holiday season, Gersh has joined with a friend, Kevin Donnelly of Lido Beach, in an effort to ship 10,000 toys to Puerto Rico for children displaced by Hurricane Maria in time for Three Kings Day, Jan. 6.

“They are living in shelters, the least we can do is give them a Christmas,” Gersh said.

He has asked the 75 employees of Gersh Academy in Puerto Rico to help sort the toys for distribution. The U.S. Marines with Toys for Tots and the toy company, Hasbro, have pitched in and joined the effort.

But he’s already looking forward to his next event, having Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey hold a day in May 2018 specially for children with autism. Gersh said the theme park will close to the public for a day to allow those with special sensory needs to enjoy the park with quieter music and shorter lines alongside their families.

“I anticipate this to be a huge event,” he said. “I get excited about doing things for kids that no one has ever done before.”

Port Jefferson High School Principal Christine Austen. File photo

Being named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education is an achievement that takes a village, but leaders in Port Jefferson School District attribute the designation to one confident, tough yet compassionate woman.

Christine Austen is in her third year as principal at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. In that short period of time, according to her colleagues, she has imposed her strong will, ideas and work ethic on the school and is the person most responsible for the school being recognized on a national level in September with the Blue Ribbon honor.

“The award acknowledges and validates the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in striving for — and attaining — exemplary achievement,” the education department’s website says regarding qualifications for Blue Ribbon distinction. About 300 public schools nationwide were awarded in 2017.

Teachers Eva Grasso and Jesse Rosen accompany Austen to Washington, D.C., as part of receiving the award. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

For helping to earn the prestigious award for Port Jeff and for her tireless efforts to improve the academic, social and emotional well being of all of her students, Times Beacon Record News Media named Austen a 2017 Person of the Year.

“The things that are happening at the high school among the staff, with the students, with the community, you can’t have those things happening without a principal who’s really moving it, is a big part of it, gets involved — she does not look at the clock,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said.

According to Jessica Schmettan, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, Austen’s relentless commitment to analyzing the effectiveness of academic programs and initiatives, and examining results with a critical eye have created quantitative improvements in student performance since she became principal.

“She’s always attuned to the data to help push the academic limits forward, and we definitely see those quantitative results,” Schmettan said. The curriculum and instruction director pointed out Austen’s strengths as a principal are far from limited to fostering academic excellence though. “The principals I’ve worked with always demonstrated a clear strength — who was more of a social and emotional leader, who was more of an instructional leader, who focused more on the community. Everybody that I worked with demonstrated a strength in certain areas, where Chris I think embodies all of those things and that’s really unique.”

Austen and her husband Phil are each products of the Port Jefferson School District and community. She got her start working for the district as a librarian, and eventually served as a kindergarten-through-12th grade assistant principal for her first foray into the administration world. Despite competing against at least one other candidate with experience as a principal, Austen wowed the school board at her interview, which led to her earning the position.

“She came in the room, straightened her back, she sat in the chair and just emitted this confidence that, ‘I’m going to nail this, I’m going to give you my best answers,’” board of education President Kathleen Brennan said. Brennan said Austen’s confidence, without arrogance, stood out during her interview and has translated seamlessly into the position.

Many of her colleagues spoke about Austen’s knack for deftly walking the fine line between holding students accountable without being punitive, while always remaining positive and generally warm.

“If you’re working in this field, and she’s no exception, her ‘put the students first’ mentality is definitely a great strength,” Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier said.

Bernier shared a story about an incident that occurred during a pool party at a student’s home in 2016.

Port Jefferson high school Principal Christine Austen, second from right, and others from the school celebrate its National Blue Ribbon School award. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

A student at the party, who frequently had seizures, was the only person in the pool at one point. Bernier said he noticed something was wrong with the student, and realized he might be having a full seizure in the pool at that moment.

“It only took a second,” Bernier recalled. “I said, ‘Is he OK?’ You saw something and he started to go down and before I even blinked my eyes, [Austen] was in the pool. If he went under he was going to take in water right away, and it was literally before I could even blink my eyes she was in the water.”

Bernier noted, Austen is far from an avid swimmer and the student was much taller than her, making the rescue no simple task.

“It took quite a bit of courage to dive into that pool,” said Edna Louise Spear Elementary School Principal Tom Meehan, who also was at the party.

Middle school Principal Robert Neidig, who started the same year as Austen, said he considers her a mentor. He said she’s great at giving one on one advice, but he also loves to hear her speak publicly because she strikes a perfect tone of humility and warmth accompanied with an unquestionable confidence that creates a perfect mixture for a leader.

“I couldn’t imagine doing the job without having her perspective,” he said.

Casciano summed up some firsthand observations he’s had since Austen took over at the high school.

“You’ll see her in the hallway putting her arm around a child,” he said. “She knows them and knows just from expressions on their faces, she could tell whether or not they’re having a good day, bad day. And if things look like they aren’t going well, she’ll engage the student and try to encourage them.”

by -
0 333
Mean test scores for Port Jefferson School District students in 2016 and 2017 on AP exams in 10 major subjects. Graphic by TBR News Media

The results are in, and Port Jefferson School District teachers, administrators and students have plenty to be proud of.

Jessica Schmettan, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, presented data regarding Port Jeff students scores on Advanced Placement tests taken in May 2017 during a Dec. 12 board of education meeting. AP is a program that offers college-level curriculum and exams to high school students, and college credits are available based on performance in the courses. The College Board, a nonprofit formed to expand access to higher education in North America, created the AP program. The exams are scored from 1 to 5, with scores 3 or higher considered proficient and a minimum standard to be able to earn college credit.

Participation in AP courses and performance on exams overall are trending up in Port Jeff. In 2017, Port Jeff students took 354 AP exams, compared to 280 in 2015. Schmettan said the district was proud to see the increase in the number of students taking the exams and expects that number to increase as more AP offerings are made available to students.

PJSD superintendent, board discuss future after bond fails

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District superintendent, Paul Casciano, and board of education president, Kathleen Brennan, each made public comments Dec. 12 regarding the future of capital improvement projects that would have been addressed by a $30 million bond, a proposal that was voted down by a wide margin by district residents Dec. 5.

Casciano: “Our capital bond proposal was defeated [Dec. 5]. Our board of education and administration are in the process of reviewing what implications there are in the results to determine which steps would be in the best interest of our students. Although we’re disappointed by the outcome, we are grateful that so many residents took the time to vote. Our discussions moving forward will be focused on how best to address the problems that we are facing, namely the health, safety and security of our students and staff; compliance with state and federal regulations; our aging infrastructure; and our overcrowded and overtaxed athletic fields. Hopefully at some point in the future we’ll actually get to plan how to transform our instructional settings into a 21st-century learning environment.”

Brennan: “This is our first board meeting since the vote, so clearly we had no time to discuss the outcome among the board members. I can assure you that we hear you, we heard the vote from the public, and we plan to study that and clearly and carefully and slowly move forward. We certainly will include the public in those plans. So I thank you for your comments and your interest in our district.”

“It is gratifying to see the number of our students [taking AP courses] continuing to grow and the offerings in AP,” board of education member Mark Doyle said during the meeting.

The mean score for Port Jeff students increased when comparing 2016 results to 2017 results on exams in 13 subject areas, including chemistry, environmental science, world history and calculus. In each of those particular subjects, more than 90 percent of students taking the test scored a 3 or better. In addition, the mean Port Jeff 2017 scores in 14 subject areas exceeded the New York State means. In environmental science and chemistry, the Port Jeff means were more than a full percentage point better than New York State means. Schmettan said she was impressed to see the 2017 chemistry scores as the district mean was 4.00, compared to 2.90 across the state and 3.13 in 2016 in Port Jeff.

Average scores in English language and composition, English literature and composition, world history, and U.S. history all went up from 2016 to 2017. However, AP calculus scores skyrocketed in 2017, jumping from 2.57 on average last year to 4.15, which represented the largest increase in any subject.

“We saw a very strong comeback in AP calculus, and we’re proud of that,” Schmettan said.

In another area of mathematics, statistics, 2017 test takers struggled compared to last year. The average 2016 score was 3.92, compared to 3.05 this past May.

“We’re hoping that is a similar event as to what happened in AP calculus last year, that perhaps it is an event not a pattern in the data,” she said.

Port Jeff came in below other New York State test takers on average in five subjects: macroeconomics, biology, Spanish language and culture, music theory and computer science. Biology scores have come down from a mean of 3.19 in 2014 to a 2.92 in 2017.

In total 29 students in Port Jeff were named AP Scholars with Distinction, which is granted to test takers who receive scores of at least 3.50 on all exams taken and scores of 3 or better on five or more exams. Six students were named National AP Scholars for earning a 4 or better on all tests taken and at least a 4 on eight or more exams.

“This is something that we should very much be proud of in Port Jefferson,” Schmettan said.

Visit www.portjeffschools.org to see the full results and click on “Curriculum & Instruction” under the “Departments” tab.

Katlyn Lindahl, above left, and Jillian Dinowitz, above right, were honored for saving the life of Ryan Magill, at center, who was critically injured when he fell off a boat while giving sailing lessons. Photo from Jillian Dinowitz

A senior at Shoreham-Wading River High School was recently recognized as a hero for helping to save the life of her best friend over the summer.

Jillian Dinowitz snapped into action when she heard Ryan Magill screaming.

It was Aug. 9 and Dinowitz, 17, was in a powerboat on Moriches Bay giving sailing lessons to kids, ages 8 to 12, as an instructor at the Moriches Yacht Club. Her lifelong friend Magill, 17, who was instructing kids in another boat, had fallen overboard and was wailing and thrashing in red water. His left arm and pectoral region had been severely cut by the boat’s propeller.

Jillian Dinowitz, on left with Ryan Magill, are best friends and avid boaters since age 7. Photo from Jillian Dinowitz

Dinowitz, joined by another friend and instructor, rushed over to Magill, pulled him out of the water by his life jacket and got to work. As the boat sped back to shore and emergency services were called,  Dinowitz focused on keeping her friend calm and awake while Katlyn Lindahl, 18, made a tourniquet out of a towel and T-shirt. Dinowitz and Lindahl pressed it tightly against his blood-soaked arm.

“I honestly don’t know how I did it — it’s kind of a blur,” said Dinowitz, who admitted to feeling queasy at the sight of blood. “I would’ve done this for anybody in the water but just seeing that it was somebody so close to me, I kind of held myself together and just tried to stay strong for him. He’s the one that needed help at the time.”

Lindahl said while the two of them have had first aid training, their actions were entirely based on instinct.

“This was definitely a fight or flight thing,” she said. “There was no time at all really to think about what to do.”

Once back on land, Magill, a senior at Center Moriches High School, was emergency airlifted off the property to Stony Brook University Hospital. There, he underwent major surgeries. The doctors had to take a nerve out of his leg and transplant it into the damaged part of his shoulder.

They told him that if the girls hadn’t acted as quickly and effectively as they did, there was a good chance he could’ve died from blood loss or, at best, lost his arm.

“The difference they made was the difference between me being here and me not being here,” said Magill, who has since been slowly but steadily on the road to recovery. While he has trouble with menial tasks like tying his shoes and must wear a brace, he said he’s regained 50 percent of movement back in his arm and shoulder. “I’m doing very well, actually, and it’s thanks to Jillian and Katlyn. They literally saved my life and I’m in debt to them forever.”

His mother, Heather Magill, said her son has been incredibly positive throughout the entire experience and can be seen smiling every day no matter how tough things are.

“We’re in awe of him,” she said.

“After the accident, when we went to visit him in the recovery room, he said to my husband and me, ‘I love you guys … I need you to get me my phone, I have to call Jillian and Katlyn and tell them thank you for saving my life.’”

— Heather Magill

Magill’s and Dinowitz’s mothers, who have been best friends since high school, said the two teens have been inseparable since they were born. They joined the yacht club together when they were 7.

“I know in my heart there’s not a thing [Jillian] wouldn’t do for him in this whole world,”Heather Magill said. “It’s a testament to their friendship. We love her like family. After the accident, when we went to visit him in the recovery room, he said to my husband and me, ‘I love you guys … I need you to get me my phone, I have to call Jillian and Katlyn and tell them thank you for saving my life.’”

But for Jillian Dinowitz, it’s all about Ryan Magill getting back to his old self.

“When I visited him the day after the accident, it really hit me that something really serious happened, but it turned out okay and things are going to be better from there,” she said. “It’s amazing that he’s never gotten down about himself through all of this and has always been positive and willing to work hard to be where he was before the accident. It’s so inspiring.”

Nearly four months after the incident, on Nov. 28, the Shoreham-Wading River board of education honored Dinowitz, an Advanced Placement student and member of the school’s varsity tennis team, for her heroism, dedication and courage. As it happened in Center Moriches, Dinowitz said nobody at the school really knew about the incident, but it felt good to be recognized.

“Our true character often shines the brightest when we’re thrust into challenging circumstances,” high school Principal Frank Pugliese said of Dinowitz. “When that happened to Jillian this past summer, she rose to the occasion and helped to save a young man’s life. The entire Shoreham-Wading River community is so incredibly proud of her for her quick thinking and brave actions.”

Social

4,854FansLike
5Subscribers+1
1,015FollowersFollow
19SubscribersSubscribe