Education

The use of Narcan is demonstrated on a dummy during a training class. File photo by Elana Glowatz

At Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine, a new generation of doctors and dentists are involved in a novel approach to managing the opioid epidemic. The training includes instruction from reformed narcotic users, who act as teachers.

A 25-year-old woman recently explained to the first-year students how she became addicted to opioids at the age of 15, when a friend came over with Vicodin prescribed by a dentist after a tooth extraction.

Addiction, she said, is like having a deep itch inside that desperately needs to be scratched.

“There was nothing that could stand between me and getting high,” said the young woman, who wants to remain anonymous. “Most of the time it was my only goal for the day. At $40 a pill, I quickly switched to heroin which costs $10.” 

The university’s Assistant Dean for Clinical Education Dr. Lisa Strano-Paul, who helped coordinate the session, said that “patients as teachers” is widely practiced in medical education. This is the first year reformed narcotic users are participating in the program.

“People’s stories will stick with these medical students for the rest of their lives,” she said. “Seeing such an articulate woman describe her experiences was impactful.”

Gerard Fischer, a doctor of dental surgery candidate from St. James, took part in the patient-as-teacher session on narcotics.

“You learn empathy, a quality people want to see in someone practicing medicine,“ Fischer said. “People don’t choose to become addicted to narcotics. So, you want to understand.”

After working in dental offices over the last several years, he’s noticed that habits for prescribing painkillers are changing.

“Dental pain is notoriously uncomfortable because it’s in your face and head,” he said. “No one wants a patient to suffer.” Pain management, though, requires walking a fine line, he added, saying, “Patient awareness is increasing, so many of them now prefer to take ibuprofen and acetaminophen rather than a prescription narcotic, which could be a reasonable approach.”

Hearing the young woman tell her story, he said, will undoubtedly influence his decision-making when he becomes a practicing dentist. 

An estimated 180 medical and dental students attended the training last month. Overall, Strano-Paul said she’s getting positive feedback from the medical students about the session. 

The woman who overcame addiction and shared her insights with the medical professionals, also found the experience rewarding. 

We respect her request to remain anonymous and are grateful that she has decided to share her story with TBR News Media. For the rest of this article, we shall refer to her as “Claire.” 

Faith, hope and charity

“I told the doctors that recovery has nothing to do with science,” Claire said. “They just looked at me.”

Claire was addicted to drugs and alcohol for seven years and went to rehab 10 times over the course of five years. 

“I did some crazy things, I jumped out of a car while it was moving,” Claire said, shaking her head in profound disbelief.

She leapt from the vehicle, she said, the moment she learned that her family was on their way to a rehab facility. Fortunately, she was unharmed and has now been off pain pills and drugs for close to six years. She no longer drinks alcohol.

“Yes, it is possible to recover from addiction,” Claire said. 

People with addiction issues feel empty inside, Claire explained, while gently planting her fist in her sternum. She said that once her counselor convinced her to pray for help and guidance, she was able to recover.

“Somehow praying opens you up,” she said. 

Claire was raised Catholic and attended Catholic high school but says that she’s not a religious person. 

“I said to my counselor, “How do I pray, if I don’t believe or know if there’s a God?” 

She came to terms with her spirituality by appreciating the awe of nature. She now prays regularly. Recovery, she said, is miraculous.

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step regimen, first published in 1939 in the post-Depression era, outlines coping strategies for better managing life. Claire swears by the “big book,” as it’s commonly called. She carefully read the first 165 pages with a counselor and has highlighted passages that taught her how to overcome addictions to opioids and alcohol. Being honest, foregoing selfishness, praying regularly and finding ways to help others have become reliable sources of her strength.

Spirituality is the common thread Claire finds among the many people she now knows who have recovered from addiction.

The traditional methods of Alcohol Anonymous are helping people overcome addiction to opioids.

Medication-assisted therapy

Personally, Claire recommends abstinence over treating addiction medically with prescription drugs such as buprenorphine. The drug, approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration since 2002, is a slow-release opioid that suppresses symptoms of withdrawal. When combined with behavior therapy, the federal government recommends it as treatment for addiction. Medication alone, though, is not viewed as sufficient. The ultimate goal of medication-assisted therapy, as described on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website on the topic, is a holistic approach to full recovery, which includes the ability to live a self-directed life.

“Medication-assisted therapy should not be discounted,” Strano-Paul said. “It improves the outcome and enables people to hold jobs and addresses criminal behavior tendencies.”

While the assistant dean is not involved with that aspect of the curriculum, the topic is covered somewhat in the clerkship phase of medical education during sessions on pain management and when medical students are involved in more advanced work in the medical training, she said. 

The field, though, is specialized.

The federal government requires additional certification before a medical practitioner can prescribe buprenorphine. Once certified, doctors and their medical offices are further restricted to initially prescribe the medicine to only 30 patients annually. Critics say no other medications have government-mandated patient limits on lifesaving treatment. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, considers the therapy to be “misunderstood” and “greatly underused.” 

In New York state, 111,391 medical practitioners are registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe opioids and narcotics. Only 6,908 New York practitioners to date are permitted to prescribe opioids for addiction treatment as at Aug. 31.

Strano-Paul for instance, pointed out that she can prescribe opioids, but is prohibited from prescribing the opioid-based drug used for addiction therapy. 

The narcotics education program is still evolving, Strano-Paul said. 

New medical student training now also includes certification for Narcan, the nasal spray antidote that revives opioid overdose victims. 

“It saves lives,” Strano-Paul said. 

In Suffolk County in 2017, 424 people died from an opioid overdose, which was 41 percent higher than the state average, according to a study titled “The Staggering Cost of Long Island’s Opioid Crisis.” The county is aware of 238 potentially lifesaving overdose reversals as of June 30 attributed to Narcan this year alone. Since 2012, Narcan has helped to save the lives of 3,864 people in the county. 

As for Claire, now a mother, she delivered her children through C-section. In the hospital, she was offered prescription opioids for pain. 

“No one will ever see me again, if you give me those pills,” she said.                

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Board of education listens to pleas to let students begin school later in the day

Parents, including Barbara Rosati, who organized residents, talked to the Three Village board of ed about the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day. Many wore stickers that read, “It’s about time.” Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

It’s about time. That’s what a group of parents told the Three Village school district board and administrators last week when they asked for later start times for the district’s three secondary schools at the Sept. 4 board of education meeting.

They wore their conviction on stickers that said, “It’s about time: Three Village parents for a later start time,” and filled rows in the board room to show their support for the cause.

School board members and administrators listened, with board president William Connors promising that the discussion would continue.

Parents, including Barbara Rosati, talk to the Three Village board of ed about the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day. Many wore stickers that read, “It’s about time.” Photo by Andrea Paldy

Parents, fortified with research and statistics to illustrate the consensus within the medical community, spoke about the toll sleep deprivation takes on the physical, emotional and mental well-being of adolescents.  

“Unlike other districts that have nonetheless successfully implemented the shift, you have our full support,” said Barbara Rosati, research assistant professor in physiology and biophysics at Stony Brook University.

The mother of a P.J. Gelinas eighth-grader and founder of the recent movement in the Three Village district, Rosati went on to say, “We encourage you to reexamine this issue today in a different socioeconomic context and with the renewed attitude of asking, not whether this can be done … but how this will be done here.”

Since first bringing the issue to the board in June, Rosati has organized two parent information sessions and launched an online petition that went live this week and gathered over 500 signatures in the first 24 hours. In addition to her request for a later start time, she has also asked the district to sponsor sessions with sleep experts for the school community and to include sleep hygiene in its health curriculum.

Marlo Dombroff, the mother of two secondary students and a clinical assistant professor and chief physician assistant in the division of gynecologic oncology at Stony Brook University, reiterated the dangers of sleep deprivation in young people, which she said, “negatively impacts their ability to learn, weakens the immune systems, leading to more missed school days, causes anxiety and depression, which leads to increased risk of suicide, increases accidents … and later in life, causes increased risk of hypertension, diabetes and obesity.”

Research shows that changes in adolescents’ circadian rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. This is one of the reasons that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Academy and American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later, so that students can get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep their bodies need.

During a phone interview, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich agreed that the “research is 100 percent valid.” She added, though, that there are many variables to consider when it comes to shifting the school schedule.

“This is not that black and white, and, of course, students’ health and well-being are critical to us,” she said. “We’ve increased our clinical staff throughout the district. When people were making cuts, we never touched our clinical staff because we do believe our students’ mental health is critical.”

The last time the district looked at changing the 7:05 a.m. and 7:35 a.m. high school and junior high start times, a number of issues presented themselves, said Pedisich, who was co-chair of the committee that discussed the issue in 2010 and into 2012. Both elementary and secondary parents were on the committee, which discovered among its findings that parents of elementary school children were against the idea of having their young children home at 1:30 p.m., Pedisich said.

Additional considerations were transportation, scheduling for athletics, BOCES and the elementary music program. 

Last week’s speakers noted that many secondary students don’t ride the bus because of the early start times and suggested that a time change could be an opportunity to make district transportation more efficient and cost-effective.

“You are not alone. We can and we will help you,” Rosati said, offering access to experts who could help ease the transition.

While she would be willing to hear from those experts, Pedisich said the district’s transportation needs are special, in part, because the district buses all of its students unlike other districts. She also pointed to topographical issues with the layout and square mileage of the district -— 22.5 — which present their own challenges and require the knowledge of the district’s own transportation experts. 

Three Village’s staggered bus schedule, possible because of four different start times, won the district a state Management Efficiency Grant in 2013 and saves the district $1.5 million a year, said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services. The largest run uses about 50 buses, he said after last week’s meeting. If the junior high and the high school buses were to run at the same time to accommodate later start times, the district could pay more for buses.

Pedisich discussed other challenges, such as the nine-period high school day, which is specific to Three Village. A later start time could eat into instructional time at the high school and could also affect the ability of students to attend afternoon BOCES classes, she said.

Rosati referred to other districts like Jericho that have made the shift to a later start time and continue to have strong music and athletic programs, suggesting that the tension between athletics and scheduling can be overcome.

To Pedisich, who notes that Three Village has a particularly “robust” and competitive program, the decision is based on balancing the needs of all students. “It’s hard to say that maybe we can’t offer the same level of programs,” she said, which could be the case with a shift. For many students, athletics is their “lifeline” and connection to the school and community and is a source of self-esteem and confidence, she added.

Because many of the coaches and club advisers are teachers in the district, they too would need to be polled to see if they are willing to extend their days, the superintendent said.

Pedisich said the board would discuss the issue in a private session before bringing it back to an open meeting. Even if a task force were approved by the board, it would take a minimum of two years to reach a decision because of all of the logistics involved.

“I’m not opposed to it,” Pedisich said of a later start time. “I want to do what’s right for kids — but it can’t be for one group of kids. It has to be what’s right for all kids.”

Dombroff, who acknowledged that she like many moved to Three Village because of its reputation, said, “If it’s good now, imagine how good it would be if we let our kids get adequate sleep.”

When the applause died down, she added, “Let them function at the top of their abilities, leading to the ultimate goal of happier, healthier students.”

 

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Just a day after the unofficial last day of summer, on Sept. 3, elementary, junior high and high school students in the Three Village district were off and running toward a new academic year.

Selden residents lay out candles to spell Jenna’s name on the Newfield High School football field. Photo by Kyle Barr

On the green turf football field at Newfield High School, the Selden community, also swaddled in different shades of green, laid out candles in the grass. The crowd came together like a tide. As they stepped back, the candles spelled out the name “Jenna.” Underneath her name, the flickering yellow and green electric candles and tealights also framed a heart.

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Jenna Perez, 17, a Selden resident who worked at the Five Guys in Port Jefferson Station was killed Aug. 24 while crossing Route 347 southbound at around 9:25 p.m. She crossed around 300 feet west of Terryville Road, police said. The driver who hit her sped off, and police said they are still searching for that person.

“She was one incredible kid from the day I met her,” said Scott Graviano, the Newfield High School principal. “A very quiet spirit, but always with a smile on her face, always saying hello. And with that sweet, soft quiet personality, she gained the love of support and respect of this entire community.”

For the hundreds of community members looking for ways to heal, remembering Perez as the loving and outgoing high schooler was the best way to deal with their pain. Wearing green, Perez’s favorite color, friends, family, faculty and more from the community held glowing electric candles while the sky slowly darkened Aug. 31. Several friends spoke for her, talking and remembering her fun-loving personality.

“She lived a short life but clearly left a significant imprint,” said Asia Austin to the crowd gathered at the vigil. “As someone who has been grieving recently, I want those to understand that we should not follow down that road in thinking we have no purpose … with support from family and friends, you will find yourself and you will be OK.”

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Donna Austin was her guardian for the past three years, taking care of Perez and her twin sister Janell in Selden. She had met the twins in 2008 when they were 8 years old living in the Bronx as she went there to take care of one of their relatives. Austin would eventually run a community center out of the building where the Perez family lived, and the twins would always be there to decorate her offices for whatever holiday came up. When their grandmother died, she took both sisters in to live with her back in her hometown of Selden.

“Jenna’s face would have lit up, and she would have been smiling, looking at all of her friends who had come to her like this,” Austin said.

Their caretaker said Jenna thrived in Selden, making innumerable friends and rising higher at Five Guys. She was set to take up her first supervisor training sessions at Five Guys on her birthday Sept. 6. Austin said she had been extremely excited and proud. 

Naziyah Dash, one of Perez’s high school friends, said she has been heartbroken since she learned of her friends death.

“Your story will always be cherished,” she said. “I will keep you alive in my heart.” 

The community is helping monetarily with three separate GoFundMe pages that have been set up in  Perez’s name. The first, which is donating funds to twin sister Janell, has reached close to $9,500. The other two GoFundMe pages are for funeral expenses.

Newfield High School Principal Scott Graviano speaks at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The Newfield community is an amazing place — deep rooted, full of love and support, and that’s evident here tonight,” said the principal. “Janell, we love you very much as a community, I hope you know that. We will continue to love and support you.”

An additional memorial service will be held Sept. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Church on the Sound, 335 Oxhead Road in Stony Brook.

A funeral for Perez will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home, 524 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx Sept. 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. Burial will be at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx Sept. 12 with a time still to be determined.

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

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Left, new HS Principal Eric Haruthunian; right, new pre-K-8 Assistant Principal Amy Laverty. Photo from PJSD Facebook

The Port Jefferson School District announced new faces will be standing by the doors of school buildings come September as other district personnel move up through the ranks.

Eric Haruthunian was named principal at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, while Amy Laverty has been named pre-K-8 assistant principal.

Before joining the Port Jefferson School District, Haruthunian most recently served as the assistant principal at John F. Kennedy High School in the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District, where he served since 2015. Prior to that position, he served as supervisor of discipline at Wantagh High School. His professional background also includes eight years of teaching experience in mathematics at the middle and high school level in the Freeport School District.

Port Jefferson High School Principal Christine Austen. File photo

The new high school principal earned a master’s of science degree in educational leadership from the College of New Rochelle and a master’s of science in elementary education from LIU Post. He holds a bachelor’s of arts in secondary math education, also from LIU Post, and permanent certification as a school administrator/supervisor, school district administrator and in 7-12 mathematics.

Haruthunian comes in to replace now Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christine Austen, the previous principal, after a several-month search for a replacement.

Laverty joins Port Jeff from the Northport-East Northport School District, where she served a dual role as the summer reading program principal and the instructional curriculum coordinator. Before that, she was a classroom teacher at various elementary levels in the district’s Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

She earned a master’s of arts in liberal studies from Stony Brook University and a bachelor’s of arts in child study and students with disabilities from St. Joseph’s College. She holds initial certification in school building leadership and professional certifications in early childhood/childhood and students with disabilities. She also received an educational leadership advanced certificate from LIU Post.

In her new role, Laverty will work with Port Jefferson Middle School Principal Robert Neidig and Edna Louise Spear Elementary School Principal Thomas Meehan.

“The educational experiences of both Mr. Haruthunian and Ms. Laverty will help us continue to guide our students in the stimulating learning environment of our schools,” said incoming Superintendent Jessica Schmettan on a post to the district’s Facebook page. She will be replacing current Superintendent Paul Casciano come the end of October. 

“We look forward to their professional commitment to our students, staff and entire school community,” she added.

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School board officially renames high school in honor of Robert Grable

After the devastating loss of Mount Sinai High School principal Robert Grable in July, the school district is looking for ways to move forward.

Principal Robert Grable speaks at the 2019 high school graduation. Photo by Bob Savage

In a letter posted to the district website Superintendent Gordon Brosdal announced the appointment of Middle School Principal Peter Pramataris to the high school principal position. Middle School Assistant Principal Elizabeth Hine will assume his place, while Brian McCarthy, a retired administrator, will assume Hine’s previous position.

“I am very happy to report that all three buildings are going to be fully staffed and ready to greet our students on Wednesday, Sept. 4,” Brosdal wrote in the letter,

McCarthy has been an administrator at several districts including Miller Place and William Floyd. Brosdal said he specializes in elementary schools.

According to Brosdal, the district has conducted a search from an interim principal for the last four weeks, including candidates outside and inside the district.

“Peter Pramataris has been selected to serve as the interim high school principal while the district conducts a thorough search for the right person to permanently sit as high school principal.”

Maureen Poerio, the district clerk, said Mount Sinai will not be starting the process of looking for a permanent high school principal until January 2020.

The interim positions of the administrators will be held for a year, and they are on leave from their previous positions should any wish to return.

At its Aug. 28 meeting, Brosdal said while they looked for an outside interim replacement at the high school, districts have a hard time finding a replacement at such short notice for such an important position. Otherwise, having familiar faces move within the district can help aid the transition through what may be a difficult time for students.

“We feel good about this, we’re ready to go,” Brosdal said.

Pramataris said he spent a while thinking about whether to accept the position or not, but decided based on his desire to help the district in its time of need.

“Rob [Grable] was a great friend, mentor and colleague,” he said. “It’s just a way that I think I can help the community get through this difficult time.”

At the meeting, the board officially voted to rename the high school to the Robert M. Grable Jr. — Mount Sinai High School.

Bryan Frank, new principal at Accompsett Elementary School

Smithtown Central School District has named Bryan Frank as principal of Accompsett Elementary School, effective July 22. He replaces Jeanne Kull-Minarik, who retired at the end of the school year. 

Frank previously served as Smithtown Central School District’s director of social studies since 2017. Prior to that, he worked at Connetquot Central School District and Port Washington School District as director of business and social studies and social studies chairperson, respectively. 

Frank holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Long Island University Post as well as a master’s degree from LIU Post in secondary education. He also holds a master’s degree in liberal studies with a concentration in school administration from Stony Brook University and is currently a doctoral candidate in educational leadership from St. John’s University. 

“My focus as the Accompsett principal is to ensure that we continue to have a rich nurturing environment with programs that develop the whole child,” Frank said. “I look forward to working diligently and collaboratively with the community, faculty and staff of Accompsett to make sure everyone who enters the school is excited to be here.” 

 

Photo from Smithtown Central School District

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The SWR High School parking lot is finally completed as part of the ongoing bond project. The district is looking to see if the fitness center will use extra bond funds. Photo by David Luces

With construction of a new parking lot at the Shoreham-Wading River High School complete, school officials are chomping at the bit to receive the guard booth they already ordered by the start of the school year.

Entering into the new parking lot, drivers are greeted with two routes, one for buses and the other for parking. 

The SWR High School parking lot is finally completed as part of the ongoing bond project. The district is looking to see if the fitness center will use extra bond funds. Photo by David Luces

“The biggest question a person will have to ask is whether I turn right, or I go straight,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “There’s plenty of signage. … It should be very clear.”

Some of the new spaces are designated specifically for student parking, while other spots are designated for library patrons, marked with green lines, of which there are 20. Each space, except for handicapped spots, are numbered, which will correspond to senior student’s assigned parking values. Otherwise there are a number of spots for parents dropping off items or for expected mothers.

The other major piece of the parking lot, however, still has to arrive. Arcuri said they ordered their mobile guard booth, one that is attached with a trailer, after the school budget passed several months ago but has yet to arrive, with the company citing delays. 

Otherwise, the guard booth will be set up at the drive in toward the new parking lot. It will not contain a lowering bar, and instead a security guard will ask each incoming car why they’re there. All North Shore Public Library users will be asked to park in a marked section, while others who are dropping off items will be directed, and the guard will radio they are coming. The booth will be up during school hours, but it may also be used during larger events. A permanent booth could be added using money from the New York State Smart School Bond Act, which the district finalized plans for at the end of 2018.

The mobile booth is a test, the assistant super said, for what may become a permanent booth not just in the high school but in other district buildings.

During school hours, the recreational facilities like the football field and tennis courts, along with the trails to the southwest of the high school, are off limits, Arcuri said.

“It pushes any imminent threat further out, and that’s the goal of the visitors booth,” he added. “We are learning as we’re going.”

Arcuri said the district should be releasing a map of how to navigate the new parking lot sometime before the start of school.

Shoreham-Wading River school district is considering converting the closed fitness center into a wrestling center. Photo by Kyle Barr Photo by Kyle Barr

Robert Badalian once woke up early in the morning on weekdays to make it to the aging Joe Ferreira Fitness Center at the Shoreham-Wading River High School. For close to 20 years, from 6 to 8 a.m. men and woman walked through the door, quickly becoming friends and regulars. Most were older in age and already retired but found a community where they could exercise without judgment.

“I got through cancer thanks to the exercise of the gym.”

— Peggy Loscalzo

More than a year since the fitness center suddenly closed after an engineer’s report showed the floor was not up to code, the fitness center regulars are continuing to shout their support at board meetings for their small group to be able to use a fitness center at their school. Though current plans to move the fitness center into the school building has many of those residents feeling they’re being pushed out, as now the temporary facility is located inside the school in rooms A101 and 102.

“If the fitness center stays where it is or moves to the auxiliary gym, it will remain a single use facility,” Badalian said. “It’s just not logical that you would move a fitness center from an external building, that’s self-contained, and move it into the high school.”

Officials have already floated the idea to move the fitness center into the school building where the current auxiliary gym resides. Though the district had definitive plans to renovate the old fitness center, a proposed plan is to create a wrestling center in that external building where the old gym room sits vacant.

Board Vice President Katie Andersen said much of it has to do with the security issue of having people walk outside the building during school hours to reach the gym. Students also have limited access and could suffer injury outside from adverse weather.

SWR Superintendent Gerard Poole gave a presentation at the Aug. 20 board meeting recommending gym hours be separate from students’ hours, and that if the gym were to be moved into the school it would only be open for outside residents two days a week in the evening hours and Saturday morning. He also offered the idea of a structured community program for fitness education.

Shoreham residents like Jim and Peggy Loscalzo, who had used the old gym for more than a decade before it was shut down, vehemently opposed the idea of limited times to use the gym. They said the only times they could attend gym hours were early in the morning, as later in the day they may be too tired to go to a gym. 

“I got through cancer thanks to the exercise of the gym,” Peggy Loscalzo said.

Poole presented there was an average of 30 weekly resident users of the previous gym, and most were regulars. Of those 30 only eight users exceeded three days a week in attendance.

Badalian vehemently disputed those numbers, calling it closer to 70 paid members.

“The staff was never even questioned about this,” he said.

Some residents questioned why the wrestlers should need their own specific space, though those parents with kids in the wrestling program called it a year-round sport, with training taking place throughout the year.

“We students don’t have the money to buy a gym membership.”

— Connor Blenning

Several residents said they have bought gym memberships in the meantime, but they find it hard to schedule their times, so they could be there with the old compatriots of the old gym.

SWR student Connor Blenning, a wrestler, said lacking a fitness center hurt them last wrestling season, and having a specific space for their sport would be invaluable.

“We didn’t have a gym to do strength training,” he said.

He added that he thought that if the gym is easily accessible to students, who might walk by it multiple times a day, they could be influenced to use the fitness center where they may not have previously.

“We students don’t have the money to buy a gym membership,” he said. “School kids could staff it.”

Board President Michael Lewis said they are still working on the proposals and have not made any final decision yet what will become of the old or a new fitness center.