Education

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Eastern Suffolk BOCES CEO Julie Lutz speaks to residents. Photo by Kyle Barr

Who would be Port Jefferson’s perfect superintendent?

It’s a question of priorities, according to Eastern Suffolk BOCES CEO Julie Lutz, who hosted a public meeting Jan. 3 at the Port Jefferson High School asking residents what they would like to see in a new PJ superintendent once Paul Casciano, the district’s current superintendent, vacates his position July 1. 

“A superintendent’s job is to work at the direction of the board, and to organize his or her cabinet to implement the business and instructional practices of the district,” Lutz said. “He’s or she’s the voice of the district to the community, he’s basically responsible for everything that happens.”

‘We need to keep us as a school district of excellence, not cutting programs or anything like that.’

— Arnold Lustig

Twenty-four people applied for the superintendent position through the month of December while the position was being advertised, according to Lutz. BOCES and the Port Jeff school district are still currently screening interviews. All candidates require a School District Leader state-level certificate, and while around half of all superintendents in the Eastern BOCES area have doctorates, it is not required for the job.

Lutz guided a conversation among around 20 Port Jeff residents who came to the meeting about what residents wanted from a superintendent from the perspective of personality and professionalism.

Longtime Port Jeff resident Arnold Lustig said he is currently satisfied with how Casciano has handled the district as of late, and he wants the new superintendent to continue in that.

“We need to keep us as a school district of excellence, not cutting programs or anything like that,” Lustig said.

Karen Sullivan, the president of the Port Jefferson Special Education Parent Teacher Association, said the district is different than other schools across Long Island due to its small class size and its large amount of retirees who live within the district. She said she would want a superintendent willing to reach out to the different segments of the village population.

“We’re an anomaly,” Sullivan said. “If that person can meet with all the stakeholders besides just the parents in the district we would be better for it.”

Leza DiBella, the president elect of the PJSEPTA, said the district is well known in the area for taking special education to heart, and she hopes that will continue with a new superintendent. Other community members agreed a new superintendent should not pay sole attention to high achieving students or students who need the most assistance, but those students in the middle of the pack could also use that consideration.

“This is a district handpicked by residents known for being inclusive and welcoming,” DiBella said.

‘If that person can meet with all the stakeholders besides just the parents in the district we would be better for it.’

— Karen Sullivan

Some in the meeting said they wanted the new superintendent to have had classroom experience, while others asked that he or she should have a strong business sense to handle the district’s finances.

Port Jeff resident Bob Gross, whose child is currently enrolled in the district, said he would want continuous improvement in the school district, whether it’s renovating some of the aging school buildings or building upon current programming, though he was concerned if the district will be able to finance these improvements or pass its budget due to recent events at the end of 2018.

The Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jeff settled a lawsuit with the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson power station’s tax assessment. The effects of the lawsuit will reduce the $32.6 million tax assessment by 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year. 

The school district is still analyzing what the overall impact on the community could be, but Casciano said at the time residents should expect a tax increase, and the decreased funds the district will receive from LIPA could result in programming being slashed.

Lustig said while many in the district remain concerned over how the LIPA decision might impact them, it’s time to move forward.

“The LIPA issue is done, in fact, it’s no longer an issue,” he said. “The tax rate will go up, and we may be comparatively taxed compared to other local districts. We have to decide what we are going to do to keep the school moving along.”

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Commack HIgh School. Photo from Google Maps

A teacher is suing the Commack school district stating it has fostered an atmosphere of racial harassment and discrimination against her for more than 17 years.

Andrea Bryan, of Bay Shore, filed a lawsuit Dec. 19 in the U.S. District Court of Eastern New York against Commack Union Free School District saying administrators “exhibited a deliberate indifference” when she reported her fellow faculty and students were racially harassing her, according to the lawsuit.

Bryan, who is described only as a “black female of Caribbean descent” in the lawsuit, has worked as English teacher at Commack High School since 2002. She alleges the racial harassment began prior to 2015, when a faculty colleague first told her a bag of peanuts was “for whites only.” The teacher said she reported a complaint with her supervisor, according to court records.

“The Commack school district takes any allegation of discrimination seriously and, as a matter of policy and practice, acts swiftly in response to any claim,” district spokeswoman Brenda Lentsch said.

Bryan alleges that the racial discrimination against her, as “the only black teacher in the entire school district,” has only escalated since then.

We can say that all of her claims were investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed.”

— Brenda Lentsch

In the lawsuit, she details an alleged incident where she was asked to “translate slave talk” by the same co-worker while English students were studying Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” which features a character named Tituba who is an enslaved black woman.

Bryan also claims to have received a bottle of hand sanitizer during a Secret Santa gift giving between co-workers with a $50 spending limit, that she took indicated the co-worker thought she was “dirty” due to her race.

The district’s spokesperson said that the school’s administration have been made aware of the incidents alleged by Bryan over recent years.

“We can say that all of her claims were investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed,” Lentsch said in a statement. “Several of these allegations were first raised many years ago and were resolved at that time. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit are false.”

While unwilling to discuss specific details citing privacy requirements, the district’s spokeswoman said Bryan’s claim that she is the only black teacher in Commack school district is “incorrect.”

But the English teacher said the racially motivated insults and harassment she experienced went beyond the faculty and administration, and began to trickle down to students in her classroom. Bryan alleges a student once came to school in blackface makeup dressed as Aunt Jemima, a caricature of “a devoted and submissive plantation slave” depicted on a line of pancake syrup and breakfast foods put out by The Quaker Oats Company. For several years, the teacher claims students have called her Aunt Jemima in the school’s classrooms, hallways and cafeteria causing her to be “greatly humiliated, embarrassed and degraded.”

Commack school district’s Code of Conduct states that “intimidation or abuse based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (identity or expression), or sex” will not be tolerated, according to Lentsch.

Through the lawsuit, Bryan is seeking monetary damages from the district for the racial
discrimination, though the documents don’t specify a dollar amount. Her attorney, Peter Romero of Hauppauge, said he had no comment given the matter is currently pending litigation. A jury trial has been demanded.

Huntington High School graduate Landary Rivas Argueta steps forward to speak about the GoFundMe for Alex at the Jan. 7 meeting. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Among the outpouring of emotions by Huntington residents Monday night, were tears and calls on the community to come to the aid of Alex, the Huntington High School student who was deported to his native Honduras in July 2018.

Landary Rivas Argueta, a 2016 graduate of Huntington High School, said he and his fellow Latino community members made a GoFundMe account titled “Justice for Alex” after reading the New York Times Magazine article published Dec. 27.

“I’ve been working closely with Alex’s family and brother, as me and my friends have made a GoFundMe to help the family given everything that’s happened,” he said.

This family is very hard working and have done all they can to try to protect their son.”

—Justice for Alex GoFundMe page

Alex’s family has racked up approximately $25,000 in bills since their son’s plight began between legal fees, transportation costs, loss of wages and providing for him while living in Honduras, according to the GoFundMe site.

“This family is very hard working and have done all they can to try to protect their son,” the GoFundMe page read.

While admitting he didn’t know Alex when he was living in Huntington, Rivas Argueta said he’s gotten involved simply as it’s the right thing to do.

Several other Huntington residents pleaded with Huntington school district administrators to take what actions they can to help Alex.

“Huntington High School must get rid of Operation Matador, reunite Alex with his family, close the detention centers and treat all people of color  with respect,” Huntington resident Susan Widerman said.

Huntington board of education trustee Xavier Palacios said he’s received dozens of emails, phone calls and text messages from alumni ranging from San Diego to New Jersey  asking how they can be of help.

“Few times do I see the outpouring of compassion that I’ve seen in Alex’s case,” he said.

The GoFundMe has raised $1,500 of its $10,000 goal as of 8 p.m. Jan. 8. The page can be found at www.gofundme.com/rehbs-justice-for-alex. Social media updates are being posted under #justiceforalex and #justiciaparaalex.d

Huntington High School. File Photo

An outpouring of anger, tears and frustration rocked Huntington Monday night as hundreds of residents expressed concern about an article published by The New York Times Magazine during the school’s holiday break.

There was standing-room only inside the auditorium of Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School Jan. 7 as parents, teachers and students lined up to address Huntington school district’s board of education in reaction to the Dec. 27 publication of the article, “How a crackdown on MS-13 caught up innocent high school students,” written by ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier.

The Times article focused on the experience of an immigrant teenager at Huntington High School, named Alex, who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in June 2017 for suspected MS-13 gang affiliation. The story alleges Huntington school district’s school resource officer, Suffolk County police officer Andrew Fiorello, provided information and school documents to ICE that led to the student’s deportation in July 2018.

“The issue is very clear: Our classmates are being accused of participating in gang activity on evidence that does not prove their involvement beyond a reasonable doubt,” Steve Yeh, Huntington’s Class of 2017 valedictorian said. “Our school failed to protect our classmate.”

The facts questioned

Brenden Cusack, principal of Huntington High School, was the first to step forward Monday night to refute the magazine piece he claims “mischaracterizes” events portrayed.

“It is a clear misrepresentation of our school and of me, both personally and professionally,” he said. “The story as published is not the full story.”

In the article, Cusack reportedly wrote up Alex for allegedly defacing school property — a calculator — with gang symbols. The article states he informed the student it would be reported to the school resource officer.

Huntington parents and community members give a standing ovation after high school Principal Brendan Cusack’s speech. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The high school principal did not address the facts behind the immigrant teen’s case before the crowd gathered, citing student privacy laws.

“While it would be simple to argue statements and context in numerous places within the article, it does not change the fact that the events, as presented, are beyond upsetting,” read a Dec. 28 letter issued by the school district in response to the article. “We deeply regret the harm faced by any family in our community who has been separated from a child.”

This sentiment was echoed again by Huntington’s Superintendent of Schools James Polansky Monday night.

“There are many things about it that are deeply upsetting,” he said.

Huntington school district’s staff is not the only source used in the magazine article upset with the portrayals in the piece. Joanne Adam, director of Huntington Public Library, said the article claims its head of security banned students who have been suspended from school for suspected gang activity is untrue.

“It’s not our policy to ban people simply because they might be suspected of being in a gang,” Adam said.

Both library branches, Huntington and Huntington Station, are staffed by in-house security personnel and do not have any specific policies with regards to handling gang violence, according to Adam. In the last four years, she said she could not recall any incidents where Suffolk County Police Department was contacted for any related gang activity.

“If someone is suspected of being in a gang and using the library, they are just as welcome to use it as the next person,” Adam said. “So long as they are coming in and using a library as they should be.”

 

Immigrant students voice fears

Huntington High School students decried the current atmosphere and actions they’ve seen made by school officials in their interactions with immigrants and students of racial minorities.

“I know what it’s like to be a Latino in Huntington,” Landary Rivas Argueta, a 2016 Huntington graduate said. “It’s not welcoming, it’s not safe, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.”

More than a dozen recent high school graduates, collaborating as the Concerned Alumni for Protecting Our Classmates, say regardless of the factual truths in the Times article they have concerns over the adequacy of services provided for immigrant students and the district’s treatment of racial minorities.

“I know what it’s like to be a Latino in Huntington. It’s not welcoming, it’s not safe, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.”

—Landary Rivas Argueta

“We believe the school administration is responsible for providing a safe environment for all students to learn and grown,” read a Jan. 7 written statement to Huntington’s school board. “We were appalled to discover that not all of our peers felt a shared sense of safety.”

Savannah Richardson is a 2016 graduate who was enrolled in the district’s dual-language program as a Mexican immigrant whose picture hangs on a banner over Jack Abram’s auditorium.

“For years, I believed the [school resource officer] was placed there to protect us,” Richardson said. “I was never aware information shared with the SRO would end up in the hands of ICE.”

Xavier Palacios, a Huntington school trustee who privately practices as an immigration attorney, was quoted in the Times article. He said the information sharing was between the district’s school resource officer and ICE was not done with purposeful intent to harm.

“What happened to Alex was an unfortunate series of events of unintended consequences — I don’t think anyone meant to harm him,” Palacios said. “The truth is procedures failed Alex and possibly other students and we must change that.”

But Huntington parent Josh Dubnau said he first reached out to Huntington’s administration via email with concerns about the relationship between Suffolk’s school resource officer program and ICE over the summer, following a PBS “Frontline” documentary titled “The Gang Crackdown,” regarding treatment of immigrants and suspected MS-13 members, that ran in February 2018.

After several email exchanges with Polansky, Dubnau said he was reassured the district’s students safety was protected without a loss of rights.

“My trust in you [Polansky] at that time is something I deeply regret,” Dubnau said. “This school board and administration needs to re-earn our trust and it will be a challenge for you to do so.”

 

Suffolk’s SRO program

Polansky said Huntington school district has been involved in the county police department’s school resource officer program for more than 15 years. The program places uniformed police officers inside public school buildings to serve as points of contact between the school district, its staff and students, and other law enforcement officials in order to increase school safety.

“I think the role of law enforcement in schools in today’s political climate is open to considerable debate.”

— James Polansky

“I think the role of law enforcement in schools in today’s political climate is open to considerable debate,” the superintendent said.

Polansky sits on the executive board of Suffolk County Schools Superintendents Association, an organization of school administrators representing the county’s 69 school districts. The association has repeatedly called on the police department to further expand the SRO program, most recently as part of its blueprint for enhancing school safety.

“Part of our mission is to keep schools and campuses safe,” Elwood Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said in a phone interview. Bossert is president of the county schools superintendents association. “Having a strong collaborative relationship with the police force and having officers present in the building who are familiar with the campus, familiar with emergency response plans, familiar with faculty and students, go a long way to ensure the safety of our students.”

School resource officers are employees of the police department, not the school district, and there is no formal agreement as to the position’s duties and responsibilities, according to Bossert.

“I think those folks who right now have some real concerns about the presence of police officers don’t necessarily have an understanding of that job,” he said. “If they did have a better understanding of the role and responsibilities of an SRO it would help alleviate some of the concerns being expressed in my neighboring community.”

The superintendents association has called for formal written document of an SRO officer’s “role and responsibility” dating back to a May 2018 letter sent out to Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) and the police department. Still, nothing concrete has been developed as to date.

“We need clarity and guidelines. If we can’t get those, I am not comfortable having those officers in our buildings going forward.”

— Jennifer Hebert

“We need clarity and guidelines,” Huntington trustee Jennifer Hebert said. “If we can’t get those, I am not comfortable having those officers in our buildings going forward.”

There is no law mandating that school districts participate in the SRO program, according to Bossert, but he is not aware of any district that has voiced opposition to being a participant.

“I urge this board to carefully consider any decisions and weigh the long-term consequences  against the perceived short-term benefits,” said James Graber, president of the Associated Teachers of Huntington. “A year ago, there were calls for more security in this school district because of the incident in Parkland [Florida]. To move in the other direction would be a mistake.”

 

Future of SRO program in Huntington

Huntington school administrators said they’ve seen the immediate need to review its existing policies and procedures, particularly when it comes to the role of its school
resource officer.

“In light of current national and local concerns, however, we believe that we must advocate for an additional layer of organization addressing the relationship between school districts and the police department,” read the Dec. 28 letter to the community. “This can be accomplished through formulation of a memorandum of understanding.”

Huntington parents and community members came to the meeting Jan. 7 armed with a detailed list of suggestions of what should be in the proposed agreement between the school district and Suffolk’s police department.

Diana Weaving, of Huntington, presented school trustees with detailed suggestions from a concerned citizens group regarding the treatment of immigrant students and the duties of the SRO officers. It suggested the memorandum of understanding includes extensive data collection including the number of times law enforcement is called to Huntington schools, number of arrests, which arrests were school-related offense, the location and date of offense and note of the involved student’s age, race, ethnicity, gender and English language learner status.

In light of current national and local concerns, however, we believe that we must advocate for an additional layer of organization addressing the relationship between school districts and the police department.”

— Huntington school district Dec. 28 letter

Weaving requested the district provides SROs, security guards and school staff with more extensive training in cultural competency, racial bias and prejudice, and restorative justice.

Aidan Forbes, Huntington’s Class of 2018 valedictorian and member of Concerned Alumni for Protecting Our Classmates, called for more in-depth investigation of a student’s character before they are reported to an SRO along with changes to the district’s suspension policies. Zach McGinniss, also a 2018 graduate, demanded more cultural training for SROs and issued a request the school district not share student’s information with third parties — including ICE — without court order or consent of a student’s parents.

All involved called for a written contract, or memorandum of understanding, to be drafted as soon as possible. The superintendent said it will necessitate a process involving community input to draft an agreement, and it will require both Suffolk police department and the school district to come to the table. He cited some Nassau County school districts which have documents that can be used as examples, but each must be uniquely catered to each individual district.

Polansky said he envisions the proposed document could be used as a template that could be used by other Suffolk schools. Trustee Hebert agreed, saying Huntington must make every possible effort to transform the SRO system into a better program.

“I see us as being given the mandate of having to figure this out for everyone else,” Hebert said. “And we will.”

Huntington school board will further discuss the SCPD’s SRO program at their upcoming February meeting.

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Comsewogue School District approved the appointment of the new superintendent and other staff Jan. 7. From left: Susan Casali, Jennifer Polychronakos, Michael Mosca, Joseph Coniglione and Jennifer Quinn. Photo from David Luces

By David Luces

Come the start of the 2019-20 school year, a number of new positions will be filled by well-known faces. Meanwhile many school officials are still dreading the day when Superintendent Joe Rella will step down as the district’s head.

The Comsewogue board of education approved new positions at its district board meeting on Jan. 7. 

Joseph Coniglione, who previously served as Comsewogue High School principal, was appointed assistant superintendent for staff and student services on a four-year probationary appointment from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2023. 

‘This school district prides itself on being a family.’

— Joseph Coniglione

Coniglione has been an educator for nearly 23 years, but before he came to Comsewogue he taught special education in the Brentwood school district for 10 years. He has served the Comsewogue district for the past 12 years and during his time there became the assistant principal and ultimately principal at Comsewogue High School. 

The new assistant superintendent said he is looking forward to continuing to make the school district the best place for its students. 

“Academics is a huge part [of our school],” Coniglione said. “But also, this school district prides itself on being a family.” 

Jennifer Quinn, who has been named the incoming superintendent of Comsewogue School District at the start of the next school year, said she is excited to be working with Coniglione and new principal of the high school, Michael Mosca. 

“The things we were able to do at the high school was amazing,” Quinn said. “We are so proud of that work.” 

Mosca was approved on a three-year appointment from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022, and he has previously served as the principal for Islip High School starting in 2014. Before that he served as executive assistant principal in the Comsewogue School District. 

“We worked together many years ago and now I’m re-joining the team,” Mosca said. “I’m excited to be back and we’re going to do some great things.” 

Mosca said his focus is for his students at Comsewogue High School to be ready for the next step whether it be college or straight into their career. He also wants to revamp the school’s business department. 

‘It’s going to be exciting to see how everything transitions to the next level.’

— Jennifer Quinn

Quinn said another focus for the high school will be increasing results of the district’s Problem-Based Learning program, which is a student-centered teaching method in which students learn about a subject through the experience of solving open-ended problems that are often based in real-life examples, for example, figuring out what might be wrong with the sediment in a teacher’s garden.

Additionally at the board meeting, Susan Casali was appointed assistant superintendent for business and Jennifer Polychronakos was named the district’s new assistant superintendent for instruction. 

While those appointed said they are excited to start in their new positions come July, many said they will miss Rella, who announced he would be stepping down back in November 2018.

“We are following the foundation that (former superintendent) Dr. Rella laid for us,” Quinn said. “It’s going to be exciting to see how everything transitions to the next level.” 

Tom Judge, center, stands with his family. Photo from JoAnna Judge

By Rich Acritelli

“Every kid should have one Tom Judge as their teacher and coach within their lifetime.”

These words were recently stated by Comsewogue School District Superintendent Joseph Rella on the educational and coaching legacy of Tom Judge who is finally being recognized by the district after decades of working for the school and community. On Jan. 10, his name will adorn the high school wrestling room.

As a kid, the longtime resident of Mount Sinai lived in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. Judge’s father was a New York State police trooper and a veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart as a Navy gunner in the Pacific during World War II. After living in government housing that was provided to veterans, Judge’s father moved a family of nine children to a Levitt house in Hicksville. From his earliest years as a kid, Judge supported himself by working jobs as a roofer and pumping gas at a local Shell station.

Judge’s true athletic passion was displayed through his iron will to play baseball, football and wrestling. At Hicksville High School, Judge was a respected team leader who excelled at being a linebacker and halfback. While it was many decades since he played for the Comets, with a big smile, Judge has recalled how his football team defeated rival Farmingdale to win their conference. In the winter months, Judge was a devoted wrestler who competed at 167 and 191 pounds. In order to help his team win matches, Judge wrestled at a heavier weight, where he made a name for himself by placing in several tournaments.

Tom Judge in his college football days at Yankton college 1968. Photo from JoAnna Judge

After taking a year off after high school, Judge had a unique opportunity to attend college. Football coaches from South Dakota’s Yankton College held a recruiting picnic at Belmont State Park in Babylon. This school was interested in accepting Judge due to his reputation for being a competitive football player. Judge received an athletic scholarship and grant funding that was offered to him by this school. At Yankton, this kid from Nassau County demonstrated his versatility as a football player and a wrestler. Attending college with him was Robin Winkel, a native of Hicksville and a strong wrestler, who later proved to be an incredibly successful wrestling coach at the Rocky Point school district. Both men drove together from Hicksville to the wide-open lands of South Dakota where they met members of the Sioux tribe.

At Yankton, Judge was a leading wing back who was able to run the ball and block against the large defensive linemen. He also played with fellow Nassau County native Lyle Alzado. This aggressive and wild football player had a distinguished career with the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders. Judge’s team won the tri-state football championship comprised of teams from Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, but the training conditions were not ideal, and he seriously hurt his ankle playing on a practice field that was formerly a cow pasture. 

Judge’s youngest daughter, JoAnna, marveled at the concentration that her father had to play both football and wrestling at an extremely competitive level and still maintain his grades. JoAnna said her father has “firmly lead by example, and his energy is contagious during every endeavor.” While he was at this school to play sports, Judge has said he is immensely proud of his opportunity to earn a college degree that saw him major in physical education and sociology and minor in psychology. 

As a kid, Judge was only a short train ride away from New York City, and as a college senior he completed his student teaching in a school that only had 200 children. He recalled most of these kids were farmers who had to endure the late winter flooding of the tributary waterways that flowed into the Missouri River. Judge has long enjoyed the finer aspects of the outdoors and he was able to hike through the beauty of the Black Hills near Yankton. Judge’s oldest daughter, Amanda, fondly remembered the family nature walks that were led by her father to “look for fox and deer in the fields by their house, and this respect of the outdoors has stayed with me ever since.”

For three years after his graduation in 1969, Judge taught physical education at the Tuckahoe School in Southampton. Around the same time Judge was hired as an assistant wrestling coach at Long Island University. In 1973, he was employed as a gym teacher at Comsewogue and he later earned his certificate to teach health from Stony Brook University.

Judge, top right of picture, stands with Comsewogue wrestling team 1985. Photo from JoAnna Judge

Judge’s son, Brenden, identified how he constantly meets his father’s wrestlers out in the world, and they always mention the “positive lessons” that were taught by his father. Through his 23 years as a varsity wrestling coach, Judge constantly preached a team first mentality. Brenden said his father was a stickler in ensuring his team did not disrespect the colors of the school and that his athletes were expected to conduct themselves as “gentlemen.” As a superintendent and friend, Rella praised Judge’s genuine approach in “absolutely refusing to allow any kid to fail and teach them life lessons in education and sports.” Up until he was 55 years old, Judge could be seen running, doing calisthenics, staying active and otherwise being a model for the students around him. 

Judge had the opportunity to coach and mentor one of the finest wrestlers and football players ever to be produced on Long Island. Adam Mariano was a two-time New York State champion who was also a Hanson Award winner in football. In this school year, Judge has come out of retirement to coach the junior varsity team at Comsewogue, and his current athletes have been curious to see his coaching presence around Mariano in YouTube videos that still show the strength of this legendary competitor. While wrestling is extremely difficult and grueling, the big smile, laugh and kind demeanor of Judge always made the rigors of this sport easier to handle for his athletes over the years. The character of Judge has been instrumental in turning out graduates who have been productive within all aspects of society. Because of his work within the school community, the Comsewogue wrestling team will name its room after coach Tom Judge Jan. 10 with a plaque listing all of the league, county and state winners from this school.

According to his children, Judge always pronounces his love for his wife Barbara and the success that she has achieved as a gymnastics coach at Mount Sinai School District. The Judges enjoy watching their grandson, Jaden, who is also the third generation of this family to learn how to wrestle. Armed with a warm personality, Judge practically glows about the accomplishments of his children, and he said he is elated Brenden just completed his training to become an occupational therapist. Over the last five years, he has watched JoAnna, a former state champion and respected gymnast at the University of Rhode Island, to teach and move on to coach gymnastics at Commack School District.  

Judge has never lost his love of nature and to this day enjoys visiting his daughter, Amanda, a social studies teacher at Wappinger Falls, where they continue their pursuit to discover the natural wonders of upstate New York.  

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Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano addresses the Class of 2018 during graduation June 22. File photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District has a lot on its plate, and whoever ends up sitting in the captain’s chair is going to need a strong character to deal with it all.

In August Paul Casciano, the district’s current superintendent, announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year. By July 1, 2019, a new superintendent will have to fill the position.

“The most important decision a school board makes is who they hire as a superintendent, because that’s basically your CEO,” Casciano said. 

While the board still has to interview candidates in January and February of next year, come May 2019, board President Kathleen Brennan said she expects the board will make its final choice.

“Different people interact with the superintendent differently.”

—Kathleen Brennan

In the meantime, the Port Jefferson school board is looking for community feedback on what they would most like from a superintendent. Working with Eastern Suffolk BOCES, the board released an online survey to community members asking them to judge what best qualities they wanted from the head of their school district. Some of the questions ask residents to rate how important a prospective superintendent’s knowledge of finance and business is or how important is their background in education.

While a superhuman superintendent would exhibit five stars in all these qualities, Brennan said the questions are there to gauge how important one quality is compared to another. She added people who work in education might place a greater emphasis on the new superintendent’s educational knowledge versus a local business owner placing more significance on the financial health of the district.

“Different people interact with the superintendent differently,” Brennan said.

A superintendent makes the day-to-day decisions for the entire school district, often trying to keep to the vision of the school board, including spending, staffing, facilities and school programs. 

However, the next superintendent of Port Jeff will have to find ways to handle the situation involving the local National Grid-owned power plant. LIPA has alleged the plants in both Port Jefferson and Northport have been overassessed in its payment of millions of dollars in annual property taxes, though Dec. 14 the Town of Brookhaven announced it had reached a settlement with LIPA, promising to reduce the Port Jeff plant’s assessments by around 50 percent over nine years.

The fallout of whatever ends up happening with LIPA has the possibility of directly impacting residents property taxes as well as school funding. Casciano said it will be important in the future to make sure the fallout of LIPA does not fall too much on either the district’s head or on residents.

“The next superintendent is going to need to take a balanced approach,” Casciano said. “We don’t just represent the residents who have children, it affects their taxes and we’re cognizant of that. … On the other hand, our core mission is teaching and learning — our real clients are children — we can’t turn our back on that and call ourselves educators.”

The Port Jeff school district is of much smaller size compared to neighboring districts, though the current superintendent said they enjoy small class sizes and specialized programs. Should a final LIPA decision impact the district negatively, the next superintendent would have to make hard choices on which specialized education programs to prioritize if the economic situation gets any more complicated.

Based on that looming potential crisis, Casciano said a new superintendent is going to need a strong backbone.

“No matter which way you go, you never satisfy everyone with a decision,” he said. “When it comes to schools which has taxes and kids involved with it, there is a lot greater passion attached to those voices.”

“No matter which way you go, you never satisfy everyone with a decision.”

—Paul Casciano

Brennan said she expects the incoming superintendent should use the current district administration, which has been cultivated to provide a good support structure to whoever steps into the position.

“We’re not overstaffed administratively, by any means,” the board president said. 

Casciano said while he expects a new superintendent to bring their own ideas and creative solutions to problems, he doesn’t expect them to overhaul on current staff.

“It’s a successful school district, and to come in and think there’s major changes to be made says you don’t really know the district,” he said.

The school board will be hosting a public meeting Jan 3. with Julie Davis Lutz, COO of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, to allow residents to express their thoughts on the necessary skills for the next superintendent. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

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The Port Jefferson Free Library is at the corner of Thompson and East Main streets. File photo

Two spots for trustee on at the Port Jefferson Free Library are coming up for vote in January and five community members are asking library cardholders for their vote.

While current library trustee Christian Neubert is running again for the same spot, trustee Lisa Ballou has decided not to run again for her seat.

Those who wish to vote for the trustees must be a Port Jefferson Village resident and be a cardholder “in good standing,” meaning voters cannot have more than $5 outstanding on their library cards. The vote will be held 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Jan. 9, 2019, at the library.

Christian Neubert. Photo by Kyle Barr

Christian Neubert

As the incumbent, Christian Neubert said he feels he has become intimate with the qualities and the issues of the library over his six-year tenure.

“It’s important to not lose sight of the day-to-day processes we have going on here,” Neubert said.

Neubert said the library is missing out on the demographics of fourth- or fifth-graders as well as young professionals. He said if he were elected, he would work toward reaching out to those groups in conjunction with the library and is thinking of integrating the teen center with the main library building.

Lynn Hallarman. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lynn Hallarman

Dr. Lynn Hallarman, the director of Palliative Medicine Services at Stony Brook University Hospital said she is throwing her hat into the ring based on her unique background looking strategically at programs and institutions, as well as with urban planning, development and programming. Hallarman said the biggest changes will come to the library through urbanization, traffic, an aging population and higher taxes.

“The board has to be extremely forward thinking and out of the box in thinking about how a small-town library will survive,” she said.

Nancy Loddigs. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nancy Loddigs

Nancy Loddigs has been a resident of Port Jefferson for more than 30 years and boasts of her experience working in the libraries at Comsewogue School District and both Port Jefferson and Comsewogue public libraries.

The longtime Port Jeff resident said the library has already done a good job in its programming, with various adult programs being the most popular. She said she hopes those programs continue, but that the library will keep up with changing technology in order to stay current.

“I am interested in seeing how the library would be physically changed by incorporating all of these things,” Loddigs said. 

Wailin Ng

Wailin Ng, an engineer at Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been a Port Jefferson resident for a year, but she has been a patron of the library for close to a decade before that. 

Wailin Ng. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ng said there is potential for growth in the number of educational programs the library provides,

especially those that could get kids interested in STEM.

“We can increase the focus on introducing children to science,” Ng said. “We are in a very diverse community, and we have many people from other districts coming here. We need to assess where our needs are for educational programs.”

Joseph Orofino. Photo by Kyle Barr

Joseph Orofino

Joseph Orofino is a lifelong Port Jefferson resident with two kids currently in the Port Jeff school district. As a person who has worked in finance for 25 years, in both an upper management and on a voluntary basis with several local community organizations, he said he would work to make sure the library stays on top of its finances.

“My contribution could be making sure the library stays fiscally solvent,” he said.

When it comes to renovating the library’s currently owned properties, Orofino said the board should look at it from a long-term point of view.

“We need to weigh in on the existing plans and look at how financially they fit into the library on a long-term basis,” Orofino said.

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Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

Businesspeople are lending a hand in the Three Village Central School District to help students figure out the career path that’s the best fit for them.

Local businesses have partnered with the school district to form the Three Village Industry Advisory Board. Its first initiative is hosting the Ignite Your Career … Discover Your Opportunities career fair Jan. 9, which will give junior and senior high school students the opportunity to learn about potential career paths.

According to a press release from the school district, before the fair, students in grades seven through 12 will take a “career DNA” analysis called the Holland Code. The evaluation reveals career paths that correspond with a student’s personality which is denoted by different colors.

Michael Ardolino, owner of Realty Connect USA/Team Ardolino and co-chair of the advisory board, said the students who sit on the advisory board have contributed many exciting ideas.

He added all the businesses at the career fair will have a table marked with a color from the Holland Code corresponding with the personality that dominates its field, with minor colors that show other types that may be involved in the business.

Businesses are always looking for quality people, Ardolino said, and students can discover interesting information at the event about various fields of industry. One example is how the role of mechanics has changed to where computers are now widely used. Several businesses will also incorporate videos to educate attendees about their selected field.

Ardolino said the school district made the right move in opening the career fair to junior high school students.

“Let’s invite them all here so we can begin to enlighten them to the opportunities of what they can be doing with their lives,” he said.

The event could also be helpful for students to choose elective courses based on their interests and find clarity when it comes to college majors, according to the press release.

“We can learn much from our community partners on what businesses and postsecondary schools need most in terms of the skills that drive their success,” said Alan Baum, executive director of secondary, curriculum and human resources in the school district. “By collaborating with our partners we can learn from them to better inform our own instructional practices. By keeping our eyes open and listening to the business community and our postsecondary colleagues, we hope Three Village remains at the forefront of providing our students with a meaningful education, authentic experiences and equip them with the skills they need for future inquiry and success.”

The career fair will include more than three dozen businesses from across Long Island, including trades and crafts that are in high demand. Local companies participating include Competition Automotive Group, PPS Advisors, Gold Coast Bank, Atlantic Businesses Systems, Camco Services of NY, K&M Truck and Auto Repair, Journey Martial Arts, Equity First Foundation, Realty Connect USA/Team Ardolino, Stafford Associates, Vision World, ProSysCon Computer Technologies, Alternatives For Children, Stony Brook Child Care Services, Bagel Express, Holiday Inn Express, H2M Architects + Engineers, The Meadow Club, The Curry Club, The Meridian Financial Co., Jesco Brick & Concrete, Rossman Tax Service and Bliss restaurant.

The career fair will start at 7 p.m. Jan. 9 in the Ward Melville High School cafeteria.

Stony Brook’s iGem team pose with Randy Rettberg, president of the iGem Foundation, at the event. Photo from SBU

Stony Brook’s University’s 2018 team for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition took home the university’s first gold medal during the four-day iGEM Giant Jamboree held at Hynes Convention Center in Boston in October. 

Since 2014, Stony Brook’s iGEM teams have competed at this annual event, previously receiving bronze and silver medals for their student-designed synthetic biology projects. This year’s competition involved 343 teams from around the world, including 60 from different colleges and universities in the U.S. Stony Brook was one of only seven collegiate teams from the U.S. to earn a gold medal.

Stony Brook’s iGem team pose with Randy Rettberg, president of the iGem Foundation, at the event. Photo from SBU

Led by sophomores Priya Aggarwal and Matthew Mullin, the 14-member team’s project, The Sucrose Factory, focused on the use of cyanobacteria to economically sink carbon dioxide by simultaneously producing sucrose that can be used to produce biofuels and bioplastics. Their project proposal was the only one to win all three open competitions offered by the iGEM sponsors Genscript, Opentrons and Promega. 

The iGEM competition promotes the advancement of synthetic biology through education and a competition aimed at developing an open and collaborative community of young scientists. Synthetic biology projects developed by previous SBU iGEM teams have ranged from a search for innovative treatments for diabetes and pancreatic cancer to lowering the cost of vaccine preservation. At Stony Brook, new teams are recruited each year, and members are mentored by students from previous teams and advised by Peter Gergen, director of undergraduate biology and a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. 

“The Jamboree was a great experience for the 14 students on the team, and I think there may actually be some long-term potential in the ideas behind their project,” said Gergen, who said he is very proud of this interdisciplinary and talented group of students. 

In addition to Aggarwal, a human evolutionary biology major, and Mullin, a mechanical engineering major, members of Stony Brook’s 2018 iGEM team are Stephanie Budhan ’21, chemistry; Woody Chiang ’19, biochemistry and psychology double major; Dominika Kwasniak ’20, biochemistry; Karthik Ledalla ’21, biomedical engineering; Matthew Lee ’21, biology; Natalie Lo ’21, biology; Lin Yu Pan ’20, health science; Jennifer Rakhimov ’21, biology; Robert Ruzic ’19, biomedical engineering; Manvi Shah ’21, psychology; Lukas Velikov ’21, computer science; and Sarah Vincent ’19, biology.

More details on the team’s project are available at http://2018.igem.org/Team:Stony_Brook/Team.

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