Education

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

Port Jefferson School District will be looking for new leadership following the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Paul Casciano announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year, effective July 1, 2019, during an Aug. 29 board of education meeting.

“As we had discussed with the board in the fall of 2016, I was willing to complete the 2016-17 school year and two additional school years as your superintendent,” Casciano wrote in a letter dated Aug. 28, which was released publicly by the district in the aftermath of the meeting.

Casciano was hired during the summer of 2016, initially under an interim designation that was removed in Dec. 2016, effectively making him the permanent superintendent. Casciano took over for outgoing Ken Bossert, who transferred to a position leading the Elwood school district.

“Having the opportunity to serve the Port Jefferson School District is truly an honor and privilege of which I am extremely grateful,”Casciano wrote. “We have amazing students who attend our schools and the sky is the limit to what they can and will achieve. I am proud of what we have accomplished so far during my tenure.”

BOE President Kathleen Brennan said the board regretfully accepted Casciano’s resignation.

“I would like to thank Dr. Casciano for his service to Port Jefferson,” she said. “I had the opportunity to speak to the staff at the opening of school and shared with them that Dr. Casciano did not come looking for Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson went looking for Dr. Casciano when we were looking for an interim superintendent and he agreed to stay beyond the one-year interim that we had initially discussed. In fact, the board of education, the night he was interviewed, asked when he left the room, ‘Can he stay?’”

Casciano, a Stony Brook resident, had previously served as superintendent in William Floyd school district. He retired from the position about a year prior to starting with Port Jeff on an interim basis.

The board will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the next steps to search for a new superintendent of schools, according to a district press release. Casciano said in his letter he is willing to assist in the transition to a new superintendent’s tenure beyond his set retirement date.

“When Dr. Casciano was interviewed he said, ‘I have two speeds, go and stop, and what you see is what you get — I’m not going to come in and tread water,’” Brennan said. “The board was very happy to hear that and very happy that he didn’t tread water … So on behalf of the board, I would like to thank Dr. Casciano for his service to Port Jefferson.”

Trustee Adam DeWitt resigned from Port Jeff's BOE. File photo by Elana Glowatz

If you were out enjoying the last drop of summer at the beach or on vacation you might have missed it. Port Jefferson’s board of education appointed a new member at an Aug. 29 meeting following the Aug. 1 resignation of Adam DeWitt, who was elected to a third term in May 2017.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of appointing Port Jeff resident Ryan Biedenkapp, one of six candidates who ran to fill three open seats in the May 2018 election and placed fourth. New trustee Ryan Walker was the lone vote in opposition of the appointment. He said he wanted to take more time to discuss other options, like opening up the process to interested applicants to be interviewed and selected from by the board, or holding a special election within 90 days of DeWitt’s resignation. René Tidwell, another newly minted member of the board, abstained citing similar reasons to Walker, with whom she campaigned in May.

“I think we’ve had time to discuss it, to bring up our feelings about it,” BOE President Kathleen Brennan said prior to the Aug. 29 vote, referencing a similar discussion at an Aug. 14 meeting, at which the board’s options to fill the vacancy were laid out. “I don’t think that we are rushing this. I think Mr. DeWitt resigned Aug. 1. It’s now the end of the month.”

The board’s options included leaving the seat vacant until the May 2019 vote, holding a special election at a cost of about $10,000, or appointing someone to fill the seat. Members Brennan, David Keegan, Tracy Zamek and Ellen Boehm voted in support of option three to appoint Biedenkapp based on how previous boards handled surprise vacancies in the past.

2018 BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. File photo by Alex Petroski

“I think we’ve got someone in the community who’s committed to doing it, who’s done the thoughtful work of making the commitment,” Keegan said.

Biedenkapp received nearly 500 votes in May, falling a little more than 100 votes short of Zamek, securing her the third trustee seat.
“I feel like it’s just a no brainer in my opinion,” Zamek said, who had campaigned with Biedenkapp.

The newly appointed trustee could not  immediately be reached  for comment. Although, the board president said she had been in contact with Biedenkapp and he was interested in the position. Brennan said, at the request of the board following the Aug. 14 meeting, she also reached out to trustees who recently stepped down or did not seek re-election to gauge their interest. Both declined.

Tidwell argued the board was in the unique position to appoint someone with qualifications that could be an asset to the board. She supported the idea of doing due diligence to find a new member by conducting interviews and further discussion amongst the BOE.

“I believe our board should also consider all other community members who expressed an interest in serving on the board as well as those who have served previously,” Tidwell said. “I think if this board is going to take the first steps in bridging the divide that has existed in our community, then pursing a transparent and equitable process for filling this vacancy is a first step in the right direction.”

Tidwell’s reference to a community divide was a harkening back to a Dec. 2017 $30 million bond referendum that was overwhelmingly voted down by the community. It sparked a heated community debate based on the items included in the list of proposed projects.

Walker said, in part, he was opposing Biedenkapp’s appointment because the appointee had previously been in favor of adding lights to the athletic fields on Scraggy Hill Road and it would be a betrayal of  Walker’s campaign message. The elected trustee added he would work with the new member if the majority were in favor, a point Tidwell also reiterated.

DeWitt said he was proud of his time on the board, adding that he learned a lot and appreciated his fellow members’ desire to better the community. He also wished his former colleagues well.

“It became increasingly more challenging to attend the meetings because of my work schedule,” DeWitt said.
He is employed as a school principal at a seventh- and eighth-grade building by Longwood school district.
“I don’t like to do anything if I can’t commit fully, it’s not fair to the community,” DeWitt said. “I wish I could continue to make the commitment.”

Biedenkapp’s appointment will run through May 2019.

Graffiti, broken windows discovered on the property Aug. 27

Shoreham-Wading River School District is preparing to seek proposals for the sale or lease of the Briarcliff Elementary School building. Photo by Kyle Barr

Shoreham-Wading River School District has announced it’s in the final stages of exploring a sale of the vacant Briarcliff Elementary School building and property after it was vandalized with graffiti and windows were broken Aug. 26.

The school district posted a notice to its website Aug. 29 saying it had started the process of publicizing a request for proposals about a sale or lease of the property and that it will be submitted to the board at its Sept. 25 meeting.

Graffiti found on the vacant Briarcliff Elementary School building Aug. 27. Photo by Kyle Barr

“As a follow up to the feedback received during the public workshops the district held last winter and spring, the board of education is in the early stages of exploring the possible lease or sale of the facility with the help of a specialized real estate agent identified through a RFP process,” the district said in a statement. “No final decision on this matter has been made to this date as an RFP is in the development stages.”

Briarcliff Elementary School closed its doors in 2014. It was built in 1907. Since its closure, the district has had to pay for ongoing operating costs — approximately $95,000 annually, according to the district.

In April, district officials sat down with residents in round-table discussions about possible options for the Briarcliff property located on Briarcliff Road in Shoreham. While many residents said they would like to keep the property in the district’s hands, such as moving either the library or district offices to that location, officials stated there was very little they could use the building for. The school board voted to create an RFP on a sale of the property at its June 26 meeting.

Graffiti found on the vacant Briarcliff Elementary School building Aug. 27. Photo by Kyle Barr

The announcement of the intent to sell comes a few days after the property was vandalized. A member of the Shoreham/Wading River Community Facebook group posted photos at about noon Aug. 26 showing graffiti along the rear end of the property closest to the field and playground. One door labeled “16” had been pulled open and two windows right next to it had been smashed.

The graffiti was largely random, some showing expletives. One message read “make out hill,” and another said “Hallow (sic) Point,” most likely misspelling “hollow point.” The windows that were broken had already been boarded up with metal plates and the door relocked by Aug. 29.

The school district called the police at approximately 1:30 p.m. the same day, a spokesperson for Suffolk County police said. Later that afternoon the district put a notice on its website saying it was working with law enforcement in an ongoing investigation.

“The District takes matters of safety and security very seriously,” district officials said in a statement. “Briarcliff, like each of our schools, is monitored through video surveillance, by members of our district staff and through the use of an alarm system. The district is cooperating with members of law enforcement to the fullest extent possible.”

Graffiti found on the vacant Briarcliff Elementary School building Aug. 27. Photo by Kyle Barr

The building already has a number of security cameras along its facade. One is located on the main entrance, another at the entrance to the trailers on the northern part of the property and another behind the property. Though there are also flood lights located on the roof of the property facing the back field.

Shoreham resident Lisa Geraghty has been following the ongoing Briarcliff story for more than a year, and she said she understands the tough decisions the school board had to make on the property.

“The nearly $100,000 annual cost to maintain the building with just enough winter heat to prevent the pipes from freezing and occasional mowing and security checks could never cover the amount of work the building needs,” Geraghty said. “The six-figure maintenance cost isn’t enough to cover steady security.”

The district will be hosting its next school board meeting Sept. 4.

Setauket Elementary School students were ready for the first day of classes, Sept. 5. 2017. File photo by Rita J. Egan

It’s back to school time, and we want to help you commemorate the occasion. If your child attends one of the following school districts and you’d like to submit a photo of their first day of school attire, them boarding or arriving home on the school bus, or waiting at the bus stop, we may publish it in the Sept. 6 issues of Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Just include their name, district and a photo credit, and send them by 12 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5 with the subject line “Back to school,” and then be sure to check Thursday’s paper.

Email The Village Times Herald and The Times of Middle Country editor Rita J. Egan at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Three Village School District
  • Middle Country School District

Email The Times of Huntington & Northports and The Times of Smithtown editor Sara-Megan Walsh at sara@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Huntington School District
  • Northport-East Northport School District
  • Harborfields School District
  • Elwood School District
  • Smithtown School District
  • Commack School District
  • Kings Park School District

Email The Port Times Record and The Village Beacon Record editor Alex Petroski at alex@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Port Jefferson School District
  • Comsewogue School District
  • Miller Place School District
  • Mount Sinai School District
  • Shoreham-Wading River School District
  • Rocky Point School District

Happy back to school!

by -
0 544
Summer construction at Kings Park High School. Photo by Amanda Perelli

As Kings Park students return to school next week, the children and their parents may notice buildings across the district have gotten a face-lift.

Kings Park school district has utilized the summer to make progress on some of the more than $41 million in capital improvements approved under the December 2015 bond. 

At Kings Park High School, community members will find a newly resurfaced parking lot in the back of the building. New LED lighting and several dry wells have been installed to alleviate drainage issues to better accommodate students and staff, according to Superintendent Timothy Eagen.

The Kingsmen Kafe. Photo by Amanda Perelli

“The actual parking footprint or square footage will be about the same,” Eagen said. “We anticipate either about the same or a few additional spots, but not a substantial change.”                

On the athletic fields, the former Kingsmen Kafe has been demolished to make way for a modernized concession stand with bathrooms.

Over at William T. Rogers Middle School, both the boys and girls locker rooms have been fully renovated with clean and functional lockers. The district’s staff has also undertaken installation of a new irrigation system, that covers the football, lacrosse, soccer and ball fields to encourage softer, greener and more consistent grass coverage in the future, Eagen wrote in a community update letter.

The district was hoping to replace the entire roof of the middle school this summer, according to the superintendent, but construction was halted when asbestos tar was found under the upper portion of the building. Eagen said this caused the roof replacement to be pushed to next summer to allow for further planning and construction at a time without any students in the building. The roof of the lower portion of the building has been completed for the 2018-19 school year.

R.J.O. Intermediate School has had new fencing installed along the track and field area, in addition to the parking lot.

The R.J.O. track has been an issue for several years, and this grant will allow us to finally make
this area usable and safer for students and the community.”

— Timothy Eagen

The district has been awarded a $100,000 grant through the New York State Municipal Facilities Program, which they applied for last summer after learning about it from state Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), according to Eagen. This money will help fund plans to resurface the intermediate school’s track next summer.

“The R.J.O. track has been an issue for several years, and this grant will allow us to finally make
this area usable and safer for students and the community,” Eagen said.

The building’s current cinder track will be replaced with an asphalt surface with lane lines The district anticipates that walkers will use this area more after it’s renovated.   

School officials are pressing forward with improvements to the district’s security including plans for security vestibules at each building. In order to bypass a lengthy six to 12 month review process, Eagen said the district will classify the vestibules as maintenance work or repairs, and construct them inside the existing buildings rather than as an exterior add-on feature. The district has set aside $100,000 for this work,
according to the superintendent, and the vestibules are expected to be completed this fall at both the high school and middle school.

District’s environmental consultants took 26 samples earlier this week; results to be reviewed by New York State Department of Health

Northport-East Northport school officials and parents are awaiting the results of the latest
Middle School K-wing air quality samples prior to the school’s reopening next week.

The district’s environmental consultant firm J.C. Broderick & Associates Inc. took 26 air samples throughout the K-Wing of Northport Middle School earlier this week to see if issues with gasoline fumes have been fully resolved after extensive summer renovations.

“The question I have been asked is are we going to test before we reopen the K-Wing,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “The answer is yes.”

The question I have been asked is are we going to test before we reopen the K-Wing. The answer is yes.”

— Robert Banzer

Edward McGuire, of J.C. Broderick & Associates, said the testing consisted of placing two air sampling cannisters in every single classroom and office space, two in the hallway, and two in the warehouse space beneath the wing, which was the previous site of chemical storage, to see what level of volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs or fumes, are present. In addition, two cannisters were placed outside the building to represent the ambient air that is brought into the school building via the ventilation systems.

“It is the créme de la créme of VOC sampling,” the consultants said. “There is no better methodology.”

The cannisters were placed at varying heights 3 to 5 feet off the ground in each location, according to McGuire, meant to replicate the typical breathing zone of a seated or standing person within the space. Each room was independently sealed off before air samples were collected for a continuous eight-hour period while the newly installed rooftop ventilation systems ran, McGuire said, meant to replicate “typical occupancy conditions.”

Brandon Weisberg, project superintendent for district contractors Park East Construction, said the K-Wing classrooms were ripped down to the studs this summer. New plumbing was installed, fire stoppers sealed, and a special heavy-duty vapor barrier applied on the concrete subsurface between the underground warehouse storage and K-Wing to prevent any fumes from penetrating into the air, according to Weisberg. The district also had new rooftop heating, air conditioning and ventilation units installed while also sealing the older ground-level passages with concrete.

The environmental consultants said their staff has worked with the district’s contractors to obtain safety data sheets for each material used in renovating the K-Wing this summer, providing a list of any potentially hazardous chemicals contained in each product. McGuire said this data will be used to help analyze the air samples and potentially used to identify the source of any abnormally high fumes or airborne chemicals found during the sampling.

“The sensitivity of the analysis will always find VOCs in the air,” McGuire said. “Our expectations are also a little higher because we know everything is brand new.”

The sensitivity of the analysis will always find VOCs in the air. Our expectations are also a little higher because we know everything is brand new.”

— Edward McGuire

The consultants were asked to explain during a presentation at an Aug. 23 board of education meeting that any smell in the K-Wing could be similar to the odors detected by new car owners when they sit inside the vehicle.

J.C. Broderick said they will be doing a two-part comparison of the air samples taken. The first part will be a report on the ambient levels of each VOC detected, while the second phase will examine the levels found against healthy safety guidelines established by New York State Department of Health. McGuire said the standards being used will be compared against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s dose concentration guidelines, which consider different levels for sensitive populations, such as young children.

The results of the air quality testing were expected to be received within approximately 72 hours of the end of sample collection, or 48 hours after the cannisters were delivered to the laboratory. The final report will be sent to New York State Department of Health for its review prior to the classrooms being reopened to student and staff use.

The results were not yet available as of noon Aug. 29, according to the superintendent.

Banzer assured residents the district has repurposed the old warehouse space as a dry storage for “paper goods” and other such things.

“There are no chemicals stored down there, all that was eliminated last year,” he said.

BOE approved changes in 2017, slow transition to full compliance to continue into ’18-19 school year

A BOE policy is increasing healthy food options in PJ schools. Stock photo from Metro

Port Jefferson School District is looking to become a healthier place.

Students and parents returning this fall should expect to see further changes to foods offered in cafeterias, sold for team and club fundraisers, and even those foods allowed at school celebrations for the 2018-19 year to meet standards set in a May 2017 board of education policy change.

In a July letter addressed to parents from Danielle Turner, the now-departed district director of health, physical education and athletics, the policy was enacted to address nutritional concerns as well as increase students’ physical activity throughout the school day, a move designed to keep the district in line with state and federal regulations.

“Elements of the policy went into effect last year,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said. “We chose a path of gradual compliance starting with last year so our students and advisers could plan accordingly going into the 2018-19 school year.”

Under the policy, school meals in the district now must include fruits, vegetables, salads, whole grains and low-fat items, adherent to federal standards. In addition, food and beverages sold in vending machines and school stores must meet nutrition standards set by federal regulations. Food and beverages sold by clubs and teams for fundraisers, both on school grounds and off, will also be subject to the same regulations. The policy also impacts in school celebrations and parties where food and drinks are provided, saying building principals will “encourage” parents and staff to follow the guidelines, and restricts the use of food “as
an incentive or reward for instructional purposes.”

“As a school community, it is important that we model what we teach about health,” Casciano said.

Student body president and Port Jefferson senior Reid Biondo said clubs and teams were made aware the policy change was coming last year and started to make preparations to adhere to the changes when it comes to fundraising.

“The fundraisers are very important for clubs and teams,” he said. “Not being able to fundraise by selling food is a source of concern but the students at Earl L. Vandermeulen are very creative and are already coming up with solutions. Last year, one of the classes hosted a volleyball tournament in place of a bake sale. There are plenty of alternatives to bake sales but students and teams are going to need to work a little harder for their money.”

Despite the challenges created by the policy, Biondo said he sees the district’s point of view in trying to foster a healthier school environment.

“I think they are right to encourage a more healthy lifestyle and I think it is a step in the right direction,” he said. “Students should have access to healthy eating options and that part of this change in the school district excites me. However, I do not think removing the unhealthy choices entirely is the solution.”

Biondo pointed out that CVS is less than a five-minute walk from the school’s front door, and he suspects many of his peers will go there to purchase an unhealthy after-school snack. This would mean the revenue from bake or candy bar sale would be going to an outside source, while students continue making unhealthy choices. The senior also suggested the district should provide additional education about healthy lifestyle choices and consuming snacks in moderation, to encourage students to lead a healthy lifestyle in and outside of school.

Casciano said the district took the fundraising obstacles for extracurricular organizations into account when crafting the policy and suggested healthier alternatives can still be sold to raise money. He added the district’s hiring of Adam Sherrard to take over for Turner will have no bearing on the implementation of the policy.

The full board wellness policy can be found at www.portjeffschools.org under “Community” tab.

by -
1 286
Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

New York State has issued a glowing report on the state of a local school district’s finances.

The Port Jefferson School District received a “spotless” report from the New York State Comptroller following an audit meant to examine if the school board properly managed its voucher payment system.

Audit vouchers are made on all school expenditures, where either the school board or a designated auditor looks at each claim to determine if each item complies with district policies and whether the amounts are necessary district expenditures before the cost is paid. The comptroller’s audit, which spanned from July 2016 to September 2017, stated Port Jeff’s claims audit process was “adequately designed and that it had been properly implemented.”

“This report reflects proper oversight by the board of education and the stringent controls put in place and carried out by our business office personnel,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “The carefully conducted examination and positive results are a testament to the district’s comprehensive policies and procedures for claims payments.”

The comptroller’s office reviewed one percent of all claims paid by the district during the span, which amounted to 60 general fund claims. These claims totaled close to $300,000, including $2,705 from 10 “extra-classroom activity” claims. The office determined Port Jeff’s system was working as intended, and that the school could support all of its expenditures.

Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said while they don’t have specific numbers on how many schools have problems with their audit voucher systems, Port Jefferson has been more responsible than others.

“These types of audit results are not that common and, as noted in the final report, the district should be commended for their well-designed claims system,” Butry said.

The report said district officials created well working procedures to analyze extra-classroom activities such as clubs, where each has a treasurer and faculty advisor, and that payment orders were supported with fully signed invoices.

“Given that there were no negative findings indicates the district’s claims process has an overall well-designed system,” Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said in a statement. “As our district places a strong emphasis on ensuring tax dollars are spent effectively and efficiently, we are pleased with the outcome of this auditing process, as it reinforces from an external perspective.”

Sea Cadets Kerry Monaghan, Abby Fairchild and Olivia Wilcox arrive back to Mount Sinai Aug. 27. Photo by Alex Petroski

Nine days on the open seas traveling about 800 miles with complete strangers might sound like a punishment to most, but for six teenage young women it was a voyage that fostered personal growth and new friendships, and even blazed a trail for others.

On Aug. 18, six U.S. Naval Sea Cadets — all young women between 14 and 17 years old — set sail from Mount Sinai Harbor on a training voyage aimed at teaching them the rigors of seamanship and leadership. The Naval Sea Cadet Corps was founded in 1958 at the request of the U.S. Navy meant to serve as a youth development program for those interested in pursuing a future in the United States Armed Forces. The cadets were joined on the trip by three adults — officers of the East Moriches-based Theodore Roosevelt Division of the Sea Cadets Lt. Robert Garceau and Lt. j.g. Nereida Gonzalez, as well as Capt. Roger Noakes, whose personal vessel was used for the voyage, as it has been for similar training missions for the last four years. This voyage was unique in one specific way, however: it was the first time it was made with a crew of all female cadets, an idea brought to fruition thanks to one of them.

“I go to different divisions and speak to the cadets about the trainings, and so the chief came to me and said, ‘How come you don’t have an all-female [training journey]?’” said Garceau upon returning to Mount Sinai Yacht Club Aug. 27 following the excursion, referring to Chief Petty Officer Kerry Monaghan, 17, an Islip native who has been in the Sea Cadets program for four years. Garceau explained there were logistical concerns about the tight quarters on Noakes’ 38-foot sailboat — the Nada — and creating enough space for privacy for the female cadets and the male lieutenant and captain who would be on the trip. The lieutenant said he spoke to some of the women in his division, ran the request up the chain of command and eventually got the idea greenlit.

“I love the fact that she came to me and said something, brought it to my attention, and I discussed it with the captain and discussed it with cadets, my female cadets, to see who was interested,” he said. He and Noakes spent the nine days sleeping on the deck of the Nada, exposed to the elements, to ensure the cadets were given proper quarters. “It was rainy, wet, you’re out in the weather, but to make it happen that’s the sacrifices we had to do, and it was very well worth it. We will just expand it from here.”

Noakes, a South Setauket resident, has been offering up his personal vessel and time for this use as part of his nonprofit organization Sailing Nada Adventures, an initiative Garceau referred to as “beyond fantastic.” The Nada has its own interesting history, as it was built by author Nigel Calder, who was renowned as a sailing guru, according to Noakes. Noakes said he found the “missing” boat in Port Jefferson in 2010 with a different name, and through some research determined it was the Nada. After some restoration efforts, the vessel returned to the water to take students on voyages of discovery east from Mount Sinai and north to the Gulf of Maine.

“We wanted to use her for the betterment of anyone who encountered her,” he said of the boat. “We’re particularly focused on adolescent youth, to help build their confidence and take them into an environment which is something completely different than they probably have ever experienced before and show them that not only can they cope with them, but they can thrive.”

“We were just a group of girls who saw this training and we were like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that too,’ and why shouldn’t we? I think that would be great if some girl saw this and said, ‘Yeah I want to be a sailor, I want to join Sea Cadets.’”

— Kerry Monaghan

Mission accomplished, according to the cadets who were on board.

“Being out on this trip was truly an amazing experience, because you got to feel the rough seas, and you also got to feel the nice seas,” said Olivia Wilcox, 15, a Shoreham resident who has been in the program since February. “We got a lot of good lessons from really inspiring people.”

She said she joined the program because she hopes to attend college at either West Point or Annapolis military academies, and one day work in Army Intelligence. Although, she said during one of the five stops on the trip in Provincetown, Massachusetts, after visiting a U.S. Coast Guard Station, several of the cadets decided the Coast Guard might be the way to go.

The trip got off to an inauspicious start, with weather taking a turn for the worse early on, at one point sending the Nada in reverse due to headwinds and rough waves, according to Garceau, a Mount Sinai native who has since relocated to Pennsylvania.

“Right off the bat you’re supposed to be learning everything as we go, and this kind of put a damper on that because everybody was sick,” he said. “It made it difficult that way. They pushed through it, they wanted to continue, and we did.”

Erika Mattschull, 16, of East Northport, said she joined the Sea Cadets because she comes from a military family, making her fifth or sixth generation in her family to purse a life of military service. She reflected on what the all-female cadets trip might do to impact other girls like her.

“It would mean a lot to me if more people found out about the Sea Cadets, especially females, because then more trainings like this would probably open up, so it would really be good,” she said. “It was definitely a great experience, I’ll remember it forever.”

Monaghan, who celebrated her 17th birthday on the voyage, also reflected on the idea of serving as a role model for younger girls.

“I would be honored,” she said. “That’s crazy, I mean, we were just a group of girls who saw this training and we were like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that too,’ and why shouldn’t we? I think that would be great if some girl saw this and said, ‘Yeah I want to be a sailor, I want to join Sea Cadets.’”

Sea Cadets Erika Mattschull, Olivia Zhang and Natalie Puello arrive back to Mount Sinai Aug. 27. Photo by Alex Petroski

Mark Barden, a founder of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, presents violence prevention strategies to a room full of Suffolk lawmakers and school officials during an Aug. 16 event at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue as Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. looks on. Photo by Alex Petroski

On Dec. 14, 2012, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut left more than 20 people dead, mostly first-graders, shocking the world and changing it permanently. Much of that change can be attributed to the efforts of those who were most personally impacted by the tragic events of that day.

Parents from Sandy Hook were invited to St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue Aug. 16 by Suffolk County Sheriff’s office to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools to a room packed with Suffolk County school district superintendents, administrators and lawmakers.

Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization, was founded by parents including Mark Barden, a professional musician originally from Yonkers who had moved to Newtown in 2007 with his wife to raise their three kids. His son, Daniel, was seven years old  when he was killed during the tragedy.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life,” Barden said of his son.

He said Daniel was known for trying to connect with other kids he saw eating alone, for holding doors for strangers in public, and for picking up earthworms from the hot sidewalk and moving them to safety in the grass, among other instinctual acts of kindness he regularly displayed.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life.”

— Mark Barden

“That’s how I’ve chosen to honor his life is through this work,” Barden said.

Sandy Hook Promise’s approach to carrying out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths can be viewed as an extension of Daniel’s legacy of caring for those in need. Barden was joined Aug. 16 by two other members of the organization — Myra Leuci, national account manager, and Marykay Wishneski, national program coordinator — who detailed the initiatives the nonprofit pitches to school districts interested in improving their prevention strategies.

The four strategies , which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk.

Say Something is an anonymous reporting system that teaches kids how to recognize warning signs, especially on social media, and gives them an outlet to get adults involved. Start With Hello is a training program that teaches students how to be more inclusive and connected to peers. Safety Assessment & Intervention program is geared toward adults and aims to teach them how to identify, assess and respond to threats of violence or at-risk behavior prior to a situation developing. The Signs of Suicide program teaches people how to identify and intervene to get help for those displaying signs of depression or suicidal behavior. The nonprofit offers in-person training for each program, though Say Something and Start With Hello are available to be downloaded and self-led by interested districts.

Since assuming office in January, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said he has made improving school safety and developing uniform, countywide approaches a top priority. Just a few weeks into his tenure, the country was rocked by the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed by a lone gunman.

“It’s an obligation that I feel I have as the Suffolk County Sheriff, to work with all of our partners, but I do feel I cannot stand on the sidelines and just watch,” Toulon said. “We really have to be proactive. Everyone from our police departments, our school administrators, everybody’s taking this banner on. Thankfully we’re all working together to really keep our communities and our children safe.”

Toulon has offered free safety assessments on a voluntary basis to interested districts. Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has taken several steps  already to improve schools’ safety including starting an initiative that allows interested districts to grant access to in-school security cameras to the police department, and securing funds for a mobile phone application for municipal workers and school district employees that can be activated and used in the event of an active shooter situation to notify law enforcement. Bellone announced new initiatives to increase police patrols in school buildings, assign additional officers to the SCPD’s Homeland Security Section and establish a text tip line to report troubling activities this month.

“We are educators, so partnering with law enforcement and those with the skilled lens of how to best ensure the safety of our students has been paramount,” said Ken Bossert, president of Suffolk County Superintendents Association who leads Elwood school district. “So the focus and attention that law enforcement has paid on our schools is just greatly appreciated.”

Representatives from districts across the North Shore attended the informational forum and expressed interest in implementing some or all of what Sandy Hook Promise has to offer, including Huntington Superintendent James Polansky and Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents.”

— Kara Hahn

“A lot of what we heard today I’m going to roll out just informationally to my administrative staff,” Polansky said, adding Huntington has taken up Toulon on his offer to assess building safety already. “We’re actually looking to pursue a lot of the initiatives Sandy Hook Promise has to offer.”

Casciano expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a great resource, and we’re very interested in pursuing it,” he said. “We’ll be making our contacts.”

Several attendees commended Toulon for embracing a leadership role on school safety, including Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D), who was among the wide array of lawmakers at the event along with the school officials.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who is a licensed social worker. She called Toulon’s approach incredibly important. “It shows that he has the recognition that when you have a shooter at the door of a school, it’s too late, and this really needs to be about prevention. We cannot police this, we need to prevent this. And that’s what this is about.”

Bossert said superintendents in the county have been working to put together a uniform blueprint for school safety and are planning to roll it out later this month. For more information about Sandy Hook Promise, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.

Social

9,193FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,126FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe