Times of Huntington-Northport

East Northport lawmaker says responsibility of new role to include rebuilding public trust

John Flanagan and former state education commissioner John King at a Common Core forum. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Suffolk County’s own state Sen. John Flanagan has been elected to serve as temporary president and state Senate majority leader after former head Dean G. Skelos resigned from the post on Monday.

The Republican-led chamber appointed Flanagan (R-East Northport) as its new leader amid the arrest of Sen. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) last week on federal corruption charges. The change in leadership comes after several Senate members pressured Skelos, a Long Islander who touts a more than 30-year tenure, to resign from his position.

Flanagan has been appointed the temporary position of president and State Senate majority leader for the remainder of the 2015-16 term, according to a video from his swearing-in.

“I am proud and humbled to have been chosen as temporary president and majority leader of the New York State Senate,” Flanagan said in a statement. “I thank my colleagues for the confidence they have placed in me. With this job comes a responsibility to lead and to listen, and to rebuild the public’s trust.”

Flanagan, 54, has held the position of senator since 2002. Prior to joining the Senate, he was a member of the New York State Assembly for 15 years.

State Sen. John A. DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), who was vying for the majority position, spoke to Flanagan’s appointment on Monday and said there were no hard feelings.

“I know he is not only a great senator, he’s a great man and I’m proud to move his nomination,” DeFrancisco said.

Flanagan’s colleague, State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also lauded the move.

“It gives me great joy, great pride to second the nomination of John Flanagan as our temporary president,” LaValle said. “John Flanagan has great intellect, great energy and he has a wonderful, wonderful demeanor that brings people together.”

Many of Flanagan’s colleagues spoke highly of the new majority leader prior to his swearing-in ceremony that took place in Albany following the 32 ayes he received out of 63 senators present.

“The Senate made the right decision by voting Sen. John Flanagan as the newest majority leader,” Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Melville) said in a statement. “Flanagan has a track record for getting things done in the Senate and working with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.”

After his swearing in, Flanagan thanked Skelos for his decades of service and accomplishing the enactment of Megan’s Law, a law that publicizes the whereabouts of sex offenders.

“I have now had the good fortune of being in the Legislature for 29 years and I am proud to be in public service,” Flanagan said in a video from his swearing-in ceremony. “I spent 16 years in the Assembly in the minority, I’m now in my 13th year in the Senate, two of which [were] in the minority and I learned a lot being in both venues.”

Commack, Kings Park, Smithtown districts’ numbers dip while Huntington reports increase in students last year

Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Enrollment numbers are in flux for western North Shore school districts like Commack, Huntington, Kings Park and Smithtown, but superintendents are planning accordingly for the future.

A Western Suffolk BOCES report released in March pegged an overall 6.9 percent decline in enrollment numbers of elementary and middle school students from 89,532 in 2008 to 83,336 in 2014. Some of the districts suffering the larger numbers of enrollment dips included Commack, Kings Park and Smithtown — the largest district under the Western Suffolk BOCES region — but Huntington’s district, however, was named one of only three districts to see an enrollment increase over the last few years.

Overall regional enrollment is projected to decline by 5,396 students, or 6.5 percent, over the next three years, as elementary and middle school enrollment figures progress through the system, according to the report.

“The number of births in Suffolk County declined from 21,252 in 1990 to 15,521 in 2013 (preliminary data),” the report said. “Smaller kindergarten classes replaced larger exiting twelfth-grade classes each year since 2008. As these smaller cohorts continue to move through the system, losses are projected in elementary, middle and secondary grade enrollment from 2014 to 2017.”

Commack and Kings Park each suffered a little more than 13 percent dips in enrollment between 2008 and 2014, the report said — the greatest losses of any Western Suffolk BOCES district during that time. But Timothy Eagen, superintendent of schools for the Kings Park Central School District, said there was no need for panic.

Eagen said his district hit historical enrollment numbers back in 2006 at 4,192 students and then saw that figure slowly drop over the following years to 3,511 this year. Looking ahead, Kings Park projected 3,391 enrollment by the coming September.

“The reason for the enrollment decline is fairly simple,” Eagen said. “The incoming kindergarten class has been smaller than the graduating twelfth-grade class of the previous year since 2007.”

Eagen said enrollment numbers should stabilize in the not-too-distant future, as the district moves forward with a staff-neutral budget that allows for reductions in class sizes.

“Class sizes are finally moving in a good direction, and I have received some very positive feedback from the community on this,” he said.

The Commack School District, which did not return requests for comment, saw its enrollment figures drop from 7,830 in 2008 to 6,778 in 2014.

Smithtown’s numbers started at 10,844 in 2008 and dropped about 250 students per year to 9,704 by 2014, the report said, and school Superintendent James J. Grossane said the Smithtown Board of Education was working diligently to prepare for the shift. The superintendent said the district is bracing for an ongoing dip through the year 2023, when he projects a total enrollment of 7,316.

The BOCES report said Smithtown saw a 26 percent drop in housing sales between 2007 and 2012 but did note sales went up between 2012 and 2013 by 36.2 percent, showing a generally stabilizing market.

Meanwhile, Smithtown’s BOE convened a housing committee in April 2014 comprised of a broad cross section of school community members as well as members of the Smithtown community at large to analyze the district’s future housing needs in light of a continuous decline in enrollment, Grossane said. That committee made various recommendations to the BOE back in March, including closing one elementary school no sooner than the 2016-17 school year but did not specify which one. It also suggested the BOE considered a potential middle school closure for the 2022-23 school year if enrollment continues to decline at its current rate, pending a study from the BOE’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing.

The Huntington school district, which did not return requests for comment, was one of three districts to record enrollment increases between 2013 and 2014 at 1.8 percent alongside Copiague and Wyandanch, bringing its 2014 number up to 4,446 from 4,384 in 2008.

The same could not be said, however, for its neighboring school district in Northport-East Northport, where numbers declined from 6,410 in 2008 to 5,686 in 2014.

Late sculptor planted the love of art in the hearts of many

LT Cherokee works with art student Michael D. Kitakis, 12, at the Spirit of Huntington Art Center. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center

By Rita J. Egan

When prolific sculptor and avid motorcycle rider LT Cherokee passed away last year at the age of 58 due to complications from an accident, he left behind his love of art and life. To honor this legacy, the Spirit of Huntington Art Center presents an exhibit titled Seeds starting May 15.

The center, dedicated to working with veterans and special needs children in an artistic environment, is the ideal venue to display the work of the sculptor who for the last few years of his life taught sculpting to the children at the facility. The teaching venture began when, through his uncle who owns L&L Camera in Huntington, Cherokee met Spirit of Huntington founder Erich Preis, according to the center’s director Michael Kitakis.

LT Cherokee’s last work, ‘Faces of Eve,’ in bronze, plaster and plaster recast. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center
LT Cherokee’s last work, ‘Faces of Eve,’ in bronze, plaster and plaster recast. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center

“LT was amazing. He was just so calm and connected. I guess that was why he worked so well with children with special needs. He had this calm presence, and he just let you really be free and creative. He wasn’t into the sky had to be blue and the grass green. He was let it be what you think it is, and feel and express it, and the children kind of thrived on that. They really got it,” Kitakis said.

The director said the exhibit will include 38 pieces of Cherokee’s that have been on display in galleries and private collections all over the United States and Canada. The sculptor, who first starting working with wood that he collected during his motorcycle rides, later worked with bronze castings. Kitakis is looking forward to the public viewing and interpreting the work, which the director said he himself doesn’t like to label as any one genre.

“When you see it, you just see all the energy and the abstract coming together. I mean that’s really what I think; it was more about that duality. I don’t think it was just abstract or just impressionistic. It’s kind of just both blending in together, and that gave that whole perception of what he was seeing as his human nature and as his life, and what he was seeing when he was exploring the road and life,” the director said.

Kitakis said Cherokee wasn’t the type to be locked in his studio all the time. For inspiration, he would get out in the world to explore, especially on his motorcycle. The director admired the artist not only for his artistic ability but also as a teacher who easily identified with the children with special needs at the center. “That takes a gift. You kind of have it or you don’t, and he really did have it. That was really what was so beautiful about his work, that here he is this sculptor who is getting $30,000 to $40,000 a sculpture and then coming in and hanging out with the kids,” Kitakis said.

After his passing last year, Cherokee’s mother, Tina Ambrosio, said all of those who offered their condolences, and knowing her son’s teachings positively affected his students comforted her. She said the artist, who was single and had no children of his own, “was married to his motorcycle and his art.”

His mother said that Cherokee, whose birth name was Leonard Totoro, picked his art moniker because even though he wasn’t Native American he always had an interest in Native American history. As a youngster, the future artist also would dream of becoming a forest ranger or doing missionary work. “Luxury to my son meant nothing. He was down to earth,” Ambrosio said.

‘Eve and Adam,’ in bronze by LT Cherokee. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center
‘Eve and Adam,’ in bronze by LT Cherokee. Photo from Spirit of Huntington Art Center

Eventually Cherokee’s main career influence was one of his uncles, a pharmacist who painted and sculpted on the side, according to his mother. Later as a young man, the artist would lend his artistic talents while laying and refinishing floors with his father, who was a carpenter and floor finisher. Ambrosio said whenever a customer would ask for a design to be added to the floor, her son could easily create it.

As Cherokee became more involved with sculpting, his work, with names such as “Reach,” “Contemplation,” “The Gate” and “Eye of the Storm,” began to sell. In addition to his work being displayed in galleries and private collections, larger pieces were featured at places such as John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson as well as the transportation area of the Consulate General of the United States in Montreal, Canada.

Kitakis said some of Cherokee’s students are currently working on a collaborative piece that will replicate the artist’s Consulate General sculpture and will debut at the May 15 opening of the exhibit. The original piece features various heads along a train track, and in the students’ version, each child has his or her own person to sculpt. Other works by Cherokee’s students and apprentices will also be on display at the exhibit.

Kitakis said the title of the show, Seeds, seemed appropriate because of the way Cherokee lived his life. The director said the artist always wanted to give back to people and share his art and saw it as spreading seeds.

“He always believed in spreading ‘seeds’, planting them, getting them going. He did a lot of that,” Kitakis said.

The director hopes that visitors to the exhibit will get a feel of how much Cherokee loved creating and sharing his sculptures. “I’m hoping when people walk away they feel that inspiration as well — to get a little more understanding or love of art and then it kind of spreads on,” Kitakis said.

Besides enjoying Cherokee’s work, exhibit-goers will have the opportunity to purchase many of the pieces on display where a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to the center. The Spirit of Huntington Art Center is located at 2 Melville Road North in Huntington Station. The Seeds exhibit will open on May 15 with a reception at 6 p.m. and will run through July 15. For more information, call 631-470-9620 or visit www.spiritofhuntingtonartcenter.com.

Superintendent Jim Polansky and newly appointed high school principal Brenden Cusack at a school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. Photo by Jim Hoops

Huntington High School has a new leader at its helm.

The school board promoted Assistant Principal Brenden Cusack on Monday evening to replace longtime Principal Carmela Leonardi, who is retiring this year. Cusack’s appointment is effective July 1.

Cusack, a Babylon resident entering his 20th year in education, has been employed at the district for three years. He was seated in the audience at the school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, and upon his appointment, members of the audience, including his family, cheered and clapped — some offering a standing ovation.

In an interview after the meeting, Cusack said he was eager to continue working on improving academics in the Huntington school district. He also wants to offer more opportunities for students to step up and would like to “try to develop and increased sense of caring” within the community, he said.

“Huntington High School is an amazing school,” Cusack said. “And I think you can see from a distance, [from] the outpouring of help to others, and things like that, and that’s something I want to build on.”

In a statement on the school’s website, Superintendent Jim Polansky lauded Cusack’s appointment.

“Over the past several years, Mr. Cusack has become an integral part of a successful high school team,” he said. “He has earned the respect of his students, staff and colleagues. He brings a wealth of administrative and teaching experience to the position. The achievement and well-being of his students have always been his foremost priorities.”

Cusack is a 1995 graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a bachelor’s in education, according to the statement.

Cusack earned a master’s at CUNY-Queens College in 2002 in adolescent education/English 7-12.

He obtained a professional diploma in school administration and supervision at CUNY-Queens College in 2005. He recently participated in school leadership training at Harvard College.

A Northport man was killed Monday morning when he drove into a tree during rush hour.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, 42-year-old Gregory Kelly was driving a 2013 Honda Civic south on Old Commack Road in Commack at 7 a.m. He lost control of the car just south of Old Northport Road and struck a tree.

A physician assistant from the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office pronounced Kelly dead at the scene, police said.

Police impounded the Honda for a safety check and detectives from the SCPD’s 4th Squad are investigating the one-car crash.

Anyone with information about the crash is asked to call detectives at 631-854-8452.

Couple and young twins uninjured

Firefighters spray water to put out a blaze that engulfed a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning. Photo by Steve Silverman
Firefighters work hard to put out a blaze that engulfed a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning. Photo by Steve Silverman
Firefighters work hard to put out a blaze that engulfed a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning. Photo by Steve Silverman

An East Northport couple and their four-month old boy-and-girl twins escaped unharmed after their home went up in flames on Sunday morning.

The East Northport Fire Department responded to the Cordell Place blaze on Mother’s Day at about 10 a.m. and found the attached garage of a single-family home engulfed in flames, according to a press release from Steve Silverman, public information officer for the Town of Huntington Fire Chiefs Council.

Three propane tanks outside the garage ignited and fueled the fire that spread to the kitchen and living room.

Firefighters check the roof of a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning after a fire destroyed the garage and living room. Photo by Steve Silverman
Firefighters check the roof of a Cordell Place home in East Northport early Sunday morning after a fire destroyed the garage and living room. Photo by Steve Silverman

More than 50 firefighters from East Northport, Commack and Kings Park fire departments and seven trucks worked to get the fire under control within 20 minutes, led by East Northport Chief Wayne Kaifler Jr. and First Assistant Chief Dan Heffernan. The East Northport Rescue Squad had three ambulances and paramedic unit on the scene for EMS support.

The garage, living room and kitchen were destroyed. and the rest of the home sustained smoke damage.

The Suffolk County Police Arson Squad and Huntington Town fire marshal are investigating the fire, according to the press release.

Bipinkumar Patel mugshot from SCPD

A man allegedly offered four children money to show him their underwear and privates when they walked into a convenience store on Friday night.

Suffolk County police said the store clerk at Huntington’s Jericho Convenience on Route 25, 35-year-old Bipinkumar Patel, confronted the four kids when they walked into the store around 7:20 p.m. Patel allegedly asked the two girls and two boys, all between 11 and 14 years old, if they were wearing underwear and when they answered, he allegedly offered money if they would show him the underwear and their genitals.

Police said patrol officers Robert Mahady and Michael Yonelunas from the 2nd Precinct responded to the scene and arrested Patel, a Huntington resident. He was charged with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

Attorney information for Patel was not immediately available and he could not be reached for comment.

Police said the suspect was released and is scheduled to appear in court on July 7.

A scene from a previous “I Did The Grid” event in East Northport. Photo from Megan Scherer

By Julianne Cuba

This Memorial Day weekend, for the eighth year in a row, the streets of East Northport will be filled with joggers and walkers honoring the lives of fallen soldiers.

On May 23, the Cpl. Christopher G. Scherer memorial “I Did the Grid” four-mile competitive run, one-mile fun run and four-mile recreational run/walk honors the life of Chris Scherer and all men and women who gave their lives to serve the U.S. The run will begin at Pulaski Road Elementary in East Northport.

Scherer, who was a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, was born and raised in East Northport. He lost his life while serving in the province of Al Anbar in Iraq on July 21, 2007.

The late U.S. Marine Cpl. Chris Scherer. Photo from Megan Scherer
The late U.S. Marine Cpl. Chris Scherer. Photo from Megan Scherer

In his memory, the Scherer family started the Cpl. Christopher G. Scherer Semper Fi Fund, and on Memorial Day in 2008, held the first annual run to honor their son and all fallen warriors.

“Put your personal achievements away for the day and come to honor them [fallen soldiers] because it is Memorial Day weekend and that’s what we should be doing … take a little time to think about the men and women who have died serving our country and the families they left behind,” Scherer’s father Tim Scherer said.

Scherer said that his son was a great kid who loved life and wanted to help his fellow Marines. In their final phone call before his death, Scherer said his son asked him to send lighter boot socks that wouldn’t make him sweat as much. Just before he hung up, his son asked if he would be able to send socks for other Marines, too, because many didn’t have families.

The father said he sent out an email asking for contributions.

“It was just an email, I never thought I’d get anything, but in four days I had $2,500 to buy supplies for the troops, so we sent over 100 packages but he never got one of them … it was just heartbreaking.”

It was through his son’s own desire to help his fellow Marines that the Scherer family got the idea for the fund and run, he said.

Scherer said his son’s greatest quality was his loyalty for everything he loved — his family, his friends, his lacrosse team and the U.S. Marines.

“This is not just about Chris,” his father said. “The race is named after him but we run for over 6,800 fallen warriors … no service person is left behind. Everyone who has given their life is represented on Memorial Day, because that’s what Memorial Day is.”

Scherer said that instead of giving out awards, the run asks participants to look up the names of the four fallen soldiers on their bibs, from either Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. The bibs are given out before the run. Upon completion, each participant will ring a bell to signify that no fallen warrior would be forgotten, he said.

Meghan Scherer, the late Cpl. Scherer’s sister, also said that each year, they alternate giving out either a coin or pint glass, which were two of her brother’s favorite things.

“Challenge coins in the military are usually given when someone does something extraordinary, so we feel that they should receive a coin, because they’re doing something amazing by remembering these men and women,” she said.

His sister said she and her other siblings — an older brother, Tim, and twin sister, Kaitlin — were all always so close.

“Nobody ever picked on my sister or me because they knew Chris would always have our backs,” she said. “Chris would pick on us but it was never anybody else. We were always protected from the start and that’s what he did, he protected us as a Marine.”

Matt Baudier, 34, from Northport, was an Eagle Scout with Scherer and was his mentor for a few years, he said.

“As his mentor, he always looked up to me, but the day that he deployed, he became my hero,” he said.

Baudier said the run is a good way to honor Scherer and all fallen soldiers.

“One of our taglines is, ‘We run for those who stood for us,’” he said.

A view of the Demerec Laboratory, slated to house a proposed Center for Therapeutics Research. The laboratory, completed in 1953, needs an upgrade. Photo from CSHL

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a research center that has produced eight Nobel Prize winners and is stocked with first-class scientists generating reams of data every year, shared some numbers earlier this week on its economic impact on Long Island.

The facility brought in about $140 million in revenue in 2013 to Long Island from federal grants, private philanthropy, numerous scientific educational programs and the commercialization of technology its scientists have developed, according to a report, “Shaping Long Island’s Bioeconomy: The Economic Impact of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory,” compiled by Appleseed, a private consulting firm.

At the same time the lab tackles diseases like cancer, autism and Parkinson’s, and employs 1,106 people with 90 percent working full time and 987 living on Long Island.

“We are recognized as being one of the top research institutions throughout the world,” Bruce Stillman, the president and CEO of CSHL said in an interview. The economic impact may help Long Islanders become “aware that such a prestigious institution exists in their backyard.”

Stillman highlighted programs that benefit the community, including public lectures, concerts and the school of education, which includes the DNA Learning Center, a tool to build a greater understanding of genetics.
The financial benefit to the economy extends well beyond Long Island, too.

“The research we do has an enormous impact on the development by others of therapeutics and plant science in agriculture,” Stillman said.

Indeed, Pfizer recently received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for a breast cancer drug called Ibrance that is expected to produce $5 billion in annual sales by 2020. The research that helped lead to that drug was conducted at CSHL in 1994.

In its 125-year history, this is the first time the laboratory has provided a breakdown of its financial benefit.
The impetus for this report occurred a few years ago, when Stillman met with Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr. and Sam Aronson, who was then the CEO of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“We were talking about promoting further interactions and seeking state support,” Stillman said.

This year, CSHL will bring online a preclinical experimental therapeutics facility that will build out the nonprofit group’s research capabilities.

At the same time, CSHL is awaiting word on a $25 million grant it is seeking from New York State to support a proposed Center for Therapeutics Research.

The center would cost about $75 million in total, with CSHL raising money through philanthropic donations, partnerships with industry and federal aid. The center would “fit in well with our affiliation with North Shore-LIJ [Health System],” Stillman said.

CSHL plans to create the center in the Demerec Laboratory, which was completed in 1953 and needs an upgrade. Named after Milislav Demerec, a previous director at CSHL who mass-produced penicillin that was shipped overseas to American troops during World War II, the building has been home to four Nobel Prize-winning scientists: Barbara McClintock, Alfred Hershey, Rich Roberts and Carol Greider.

The renovated lab would house a broad range of research strengths, with candidates including a number of cancer drugs that are in the early stages of clinical trials; a therapeutic effort for spinal muscular atrophy, which is the leading genetic cause of death among infants; diabetes; and obesity.

The revenue from CSHL, as well as that from BNL, SBU and North Shore-LIJ, Stillman said, all have a “huge economic benefit to the Long Island community.”

Marissa Pastore and her mom, flanked by Disney characters. Photo from Katrina Kurczak

A 14-year-old Huntington Station girl who was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness got the wish of her life on Sunday when her favorite Disney characters came out to celebrate with her.

Marissa Pastore, who has been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on April 20, was treated at the Cohen Children’s Center, but her fragile body was unable to handle the chemotherapy, according to a GoFundMe online fundraising account set up for the family. A few days later, Marissa returned home with her mom Risa, dad Domenick and two brothers Domenick and Ryan, to enjoy their final days together.

Marissa’s mom is an emergency department nurse at Huntington Hospital and her dad is a former Huntington Manor Fire Department chief and a fireman with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), according to the account. Both are volunteers at the Huntington Manor Fire Department, and the account was set up so the family could “concentrate solely on loving Marissa.”

Marissa Pastore, 14, gets the surprise of a lifetime when Disney characters visit her. Photo from Katrina Kurczak
Marissa Pastore, 14, gets the surprise of a lifetime when Disney characters visit her. Photo from Katrina Kurczak

“Please help us support the Pastore family with any donation you can make which will go toward covering their living expenses while they take time off from work to celebrate Marissa’s life together.”

Not only did the account amass more than $55,000 by Wednesday, Marissa got a special surprise when Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Olaf and other characters from popular Disney movies greeted the 14-year-old Disney lover, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

According to Katrina Kurczak, one of Marissa’s wish granters and assistant director of program services for Make-A-Wish, the nonprofit group and the family put together Marissa’s wish quickly. Family and community members contacted them Tuesday, April 28, and the group met with the family Wednesday. On Sunday, her wish came true.

“She was surprised and so happy, she couldn’t believe it,” Kurczak said. The characters rode in on fire trucks and greeted her.

The goal was to bring Disney to her, as Marissa is unable to travel due to her condition. Disney princesses Anna and Elsa from “Frozen” also made a special appearance and sang to the young girl.

“Her dad wanted to do something to make her smile,” Kurczak said.

Many volunteers came together to help make the day as special as possible. The Huntington Manor Fire Department, Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department and the FDNY also helped make Marissa’s wish come true.

To donate to the Pastore family, visit http://www.gofundme.com/sus6z8.

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