Tags Posts tagged with "Board of Education"

Board of Education

by -
0 392

As we sit crunching numbers for 2018-19 proposed school budgets, we can’t help but wonder how many parents and taxpayers are paying attention. We already know the answer — not enough.

School taxes make up more than 60 percent of the average homeowner’s property taxes in Suffolk County, according to a 2017 analysis done by ATTOM Data Solutions, a real-estate information firm. Despite this fact, voter turnout for school budgets remains dreadfully low year after year.

In May 2017, the ballots cast by a mere 412 people determined how Port Jefferson School District would spend its more than $43 million to educate about 1,000 enrolled students. Now, its taxpayers face coming to terms with a settlement of Long Island Power Authority’s lawsuit over the tax assessment of the power plant and what it might mean for their wallets.

To cast an educated vote May 15 on your district’s proposed 2018-19 school budget is a test of every Long Island taxpayer. There’s a little more than a week left, so start studying.

Ever since the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting Feb. 14, this year has been marked by tense debates between students, parents and school administrators over school safety. On March 14, Rocky Point High School students participated in the National School Walkout despite knowing they would face in-school suspension. These students brought their dissension to the board of education trustees. Elections for these vital positions are held annually during the budget vote. Unfortunately, only 909 people in Rocky Point voted in 2017 on who would be determining if the students’ punishment was fair.

The most direct way to make changes in a school district’s policy is to vote and become involved. The elected trustees on a board of education participate in the lowest form of government, smaller than the town or county government, but that shouldn’t reflect on the importance of the job. By running and winning a seat on the board, one can propose changes to a school district’s security measures or educational policies. This civic involvement is vital to bringing about change.

Yet all too often board of education races have little to no contest. The board of education trustee races tend to have even fewer ballots cast than the annual budget.

If Long Islanders want to be a force of change behind the factors creating high property taxes and have a say on poignant issues like school security, get out and vote. Ask questions of your board of education candidates to find out where they stand. Attend budget presentations to see exactly how your tax dollars are being spent. The polls will be open Tuesday, May 15. Take five minutes while dropping off or picking up your child from school to cast your ballot. It can make a difference in their education, and then you too can say you’ve done your homework.

Rocky Point board of education trustee Ed Caswell, on left, is running for re-election. Newcomer Gregory Amendola, on right, is also running following the step-down of Vice President Scott Reh. File photos

Two candidates are running for two open Rocky Point board of education seats this May.

Following the news of Vice President Scott Reh choosing to step down,incumbent Ed Casswell is choosing to run again, while newcomer Gregory Amendola chose to throw his hat in the ring for the open seat.

Reh, Mount Sinai’s athletic director, said he felt it was time to step down after nine years on the board.

“I did it for three terms, but it was very time consuming,” Reh said. “I think the board’s doing a great job. I think I’m leaving it in very good hands. I was honored and privileged to serve on it. I wish everyone the best of luck.”

Casswell, a 26-year Rocky Point resident, is serving his third year on the board.

“I’m hoping to continue serving to help oversee the operations of the district, specifically our charge to be fiscally responsible, provide opportunities for students — for college and career — and to strengthen safety protocols districtwide,” Casswell said.

“I did it for three terms, but it was very time consuming. I think the board’s doing a great job. I think I’m leaving it in very good hands. I was honored and privileged to serve on it.”

— Scott Reh

The trustee has been a member of the North Shore Little League for 10 years and is currently the principal of Center Moriches High School.

“I feel it is important to be an active member of a community,” he said. “High levels of altruism and service among citizens help create vibrant communities. This has always been my driving force and calling. I believe in these notions and love serving.”

Gregory Amendola is a 13-year resident who said he’s running to try and get the community more involved and informed on how the school district makes decisions.

“I wanted to be a voice for the kids in the district — I want to make sure every kid in the district is spoken for,” Amendola said. “I’m big on communication, and I still feel like there’s people in the dark who don’t even know we have board meetings. I feel the district for the most part is doing well, but I just want people to be more informed about what’s going on.”

Amendola works as a dental ceramist, making prosthetics like crowns, bridges and other implants. He was vice president for the Long Island Sharks football team board, has previously run St. Anthony’s CYO soccer club and has been parent liaison for the junior varsity and varsity Rocky Point Wrestling teams.

“My grandparents lived in Rocky Point before I moved here with my wife, so I always had a connection to the town,” he said. “It still has that small-town feel.”

Amendola said that he’s excited to be working with the rest of the board.

“I don’t have anything that I want to change right out of the gate,” Amendola said. “I want to get involved, find my place, find my rhythm, then as we go further I want to make my voice heard.”

The trustees vote will take place along with the budget vote May 15, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Rocky Point High School gym, located at 82 Rocky Point-Yaphank Road in Rocky Point. In July, at the board’s organizational meeting where the elected members from May will assume their trustee positions, the board will elect a president and vice president.

by -
0 848

The district is hosting a meet the candidates night May 2

Mount Sinai School District's budget and trustee vote is May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Mount Sinai Elementary School, located at 118 North Country Rd. in Mount Sinai. File photo

By Kyle Barr

Two are running for two open seats on Mount Sinai’s board of education this month, with eight-year board veteran and president Lynn Capobianco stepping down.

Capobianco said she will not be seeking re-election, saying she believes it’s time for different community members to lend their voices to the discussion.

Lynn Capobianco. File photo

“All my children are through school, my youngest is now a freshman in college and I think it’s time for new faces and new voices to come in,” she said.

Incumbent trustee Michael Riggio is running for a second term and newcomer Steve Koepper is running first time. Both are running unopposed.

Riggio, the board’s vice president, is a 12-year resident of Mount Sinai finishing out his first three-year term. He has a 12-year-old daughter enrolled in the district.

Riggio is a retired officer of the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism unit who now provides security consulting. He said Mount Sinai’s push toward new security measures is something he has advocated for since he first arrived to the board.

“That’s one of the things I ran on three years ago,” Riggio said. “The new security’s working out, and it’s great to see it finally taking shape.”

Riggio said his focus is on making smart financial decisions to make sure school programs don’t get cut.

“Let’s say for example you have a senior and you have a kid in eighth grade,” Riggio said. “The senior was exposed to all these special programs and had great teachers, then, when the eighth-grader gets here, you want him to have the same things as the senior. You don’t want to tell the eighth-grader, ‘oh, we cut this program,’ and this is all gone because we have fiscal problems.”

Michael Riggio. File photo

Koepper and his family moved into their Mount Sinai home in 2000. He has previously volunteered on the district’s bond committee. The father of two said he understands the financial part of schools well, as he’s currently the superintendent of buildings and grounds for the Sayville school district.

“I have been involved with the community as a firefighter for over 15 years,” Koepper said in an email. “I felt now was a good time to offer more of my volunteer time in service to educational process to help shape the future of Mount Sinai schools. There are problems like declining enrollment that need to be looked at, and I’m here so that we can work together and move forward.”

He also has a 12-year-old daughter and a 3-and-a-half-year-old son in the district. Capobianco endorsed Koepper for the open seat.

“[Koepper] did a great job on the bond committee, so I think he will be a nice fit for school board,” she said.

Mount Sinai School District is hosting a meet the candidates night May 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the Mount Sinai Middle School auditorium. The school is located at 114 North Country Road in Mount Sinai.

Dr. Jason Kronberg during a meet the candidates event at Port Jefferson High School April 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson School District board of education candidate has agreed to pay a settlement to resolve a legal issue pertaining to his day job.

A pediatrics practice with several Long Island locations, including one in Port Jefferson, and its current and former partner physicians agreed to pay $750,000 to settle claims of improper Medicaid billing practices, according to an April 25 announcement by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. One of the partners of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the practice named in the press release, is Dr. Jason Kronberg, a Port Jefferson resident running for one of the school district’s three board of education seats up for election May 15. The practice operates as a limited liability partnership under the name Freed, Kleinberg, Nussbaum, Festa & Kronberg M.D. The legal action was brought about by a whistleblower, and the case was pursued under the federal False Claims Act and the New York State False Claims Act jointly by federal and state investigators.

“The practice corrected the problem on our own in 2011, and we have had no issues since that point.”

— Jason Kronberg

According to the release, the practice billed the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to millions of Americans including eligible low-income adults, children, people with disabilities and others and is jointly funded by state and federal governments, for services provided by physicians who were not enrolled in the program. Between July 2004 and December 2010, the practice and its partners employed a number of physicians who were not enrolled in the Medicaid program yet still provided care to Medicaid patients, the government’s investigation revealed. The defendants sought reimbursement from Medicaid for services provided by non-Medicaid enrolled physicians and did so by misrepresenting the identities of the individuals actually providing the treatment, the release said.

“The settlement related to billing practices from over eight years ago, a period when, for the most part, I was just an employee of the practice,” Kronberg said in an email, adding that the settlement shouldn’t interfere with his school board candidacy. “The practice corrected the problem on our own in 2011, and we have had no issues since that point. Given the extraordinarily complex nature of Medicaid billing rules, settlements like this are quite common – the government enters into thousands of them every year. We cooperated fully with the government investigation of this matter and we resolved the case with the government amicably.”

According to the complaint by the whistleblower’s attorneys accessed after Kronberg’s initial statement, he was a partner “at all relevant times herein.”

“I was a partner starting July 2009,” Kronberg said. “The complaint was 2005 to 2010. The statement said ‘for the most part’ — which is accurate.”

A request for comment sent to Kronberg’s defense attorney Christopher Fenlon was not returned, nor was a request sent to district Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“Today’s settlement reflects this office’s commitment to safeguarding taxpayer programs like Medicaid by vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in False Claims Act cases.”

— Richard Donoghue

According to Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Board’s Association, an organization that provides support for school boards in the state, the settlement will have no impact on Kronberg’s bid for Port Jeff’s board. Worona said anyone qualified to vote is eligible to run for a board of education position in New York, with a felony conviction being the only disqualifier, adding that it will be up to the voters to decide.

“Providers serving Medicaid beneficiaries must be properly credentialed and thoroughly vetted to ensure that proper care is provided and to preserve the integrity of the Medicaid Program, which serves our neediest citizens,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement. “Today’s settlement reflects this office’s commitment to safeguarding taxpayer programs like Medicaid by vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in False Claims Act cases.”

As part of the settlement, New York’s Medicaid program will receive $450,000 of the $750,000 payment, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office’s press release on the matter.

Kronberg said during a meet the candidates event at the high school April 24 he was seeking a seat on the board to lend his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate and weigh in impartially. He is one of six candidates running to fill three seats.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said in a personal statement. “I believe I will bring to the board a fiscally conservative yet socially liberal viewpoint.”

This post was updated May 1 with information from the complaint filed by the whistleblower and a second comment from Jason Kronberg.

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

Six candidates have come forward to run for three vacant seats on the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education.

The three-year terms of trustees Tracy Zamek, Mark Doyle and Vincent Ruggiero expire this year, though only Zamek is seeking another term. She joined five other community members at the Port Jefferson High School auditorium April 24 for a meet-the-candidates event, hosted by the district’s three parent-teacher associations.

Doyle, who ran a write-in campaign when he was re-elected in 2015, said in an interview he will not seek a fourth term, citing growing professional obligations and a desire to have his seat filled by someone more able to offer up their time. Ruggiero did not respond to a request for comment sent to his school district email.

The candidates were asked six questions about relevant issues to the district — including the potential for lost revenue as Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village hammer out settlements with the Long Island Power Authority over an assessment dispute on its Port Jeff power plant — and education more broadly, and were allowed opening and closing statements. Each candidate also submitted personal bios to the administrators of the event, which were publicly distributed.

Meet the candidates

Tracy Zamek: She was first elected to the board in 2015. Zamek has lived in the district since 1996 and currently has two teens attending local schools. She is currently a fifth-grade teacher in the Hauppauge school district. She cited her desire for fiscal responsibility and to advocate for students as her reasons for running again.

“I believe every single student who attends Port Jefferson schools deserves a premier education,” she said. “Now more than ever, the people in this village and school community need to work together as one, in regards to the LIPA/National Grid gorilla staring us in the face.”

Ryan Walker: He moved to the district in 2010 and also has two children attending Port Jeff schools. Walker spent 10 years as a New York State police sergeant, followed by three years as a security guard in local schools. He was one of New York’s first nationally certified school resource officers in 2002.

He said his experience in law enforcement “will be an asset regarding the safety of the students in our schools.”

“I will work to balance the concerns of the residents with a common sense fiscal management plan to address our overall district funding needs,” he said.

René Tidwell: She has a daughter in sixth grade, and a long work history in banking and financial services. Tidwell currently works as a special education teacher’s aide. She is running because she wants to lend her
expertise in financial planning to help the community plan long term for the possibility of less annual property tax revenue, citing a need for not only student advocacy, but for taxpayers.

“With over 20 years of experience in banking and financial services, I will focus on data-driven research, analysis and long-term planning to develop solutions for our district’s funding requirements,” she said.

Jason Kronberg: Dr. Kronberg is a pediatrician with two children in district schools. He moved to Port Jeff in 2003 from Queens and cited his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate along with being “fiscally conservative,” yet “socially liberal” as assets he’ll bring to the district if elected.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said.

Mia Farina: She is a NYPD officer with a 6-year-old son in the elementary school. Farina said her philosophy if elected would be “if it’s important to your child it’s important to me.” She said her experience as a police
officer makes her uniquely qualified to address security concerns within schools.

“I would bring all my knowledge and assist the schools in every way to help keep our children stay safe at school and educate them in every possible way I know how,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp: He has a daughter and twin sons, and said an autism diagnosis for one of the twins precipitated their move to Port Jeff from Oceanside. He has experience as an occupational therapist and currently works in pharmaceutical sales.

“I see a need to increase communication among all stakeholders, while staying focused on the needs of all students,” he said about his reasons for running. “By increasing communication among all community stakeholders, building a stronger sense of community among students and staying focused on fiscal responsibilities, Port Jefferson will remain a school district we can all be proud of.”

The budget vote and trustee elections are on Tuesday, May 15.

Three Village elementary students learn coding with Bee-Bots. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

Whether it is a demonstration from the high school robotics team or honoring 2018 Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars, recent school board meetings have been a venue to showcase the vast strides the Three Village School District continues to make in science, technology, engineering and math instruction and enrichment.

In recent months, the district’s teachers and information specialists have given presentations explaining how they are helping to prepare students from elementary through high school for the brave new world that’s theirs.

The spotlight is put on the elementary STEM curriculum and the district’s library services. These demonstrate the way Three Village integrates technology into the curriculum as a unit of study, while also using it as a tool for research and growth in other academic disciplines.

Three Village embarked on the first year of its elementary STEM program in the fall of 2015, just as President Barack Obama (D) was signing the STEM Education Act into law. The curriculum, which introduces elementary-aged students to concepts such as aeroponics, coding and robotics, also teaches them about engineering and design.

Speaking at a school board meeting in November, Setauket Elementary’s STEM teacher Gina Varacchi explained how design challenges are embedded into the program to teach students about the design process. Students are given a design goal along with guidelines and constraints, she said. Similar to the scientific method, students must follow certain steps as part of the process. After determining “the problem” and conducting research, they can begin to design, but most important is that students experiment with their design through old-fashioned trial and error. Varacchi said that not only do they learn problem-solving skills, they also learn persistence.

Three Village students learn coding with Bee-Bots. Photo from Three Village Central School District

Design projects range from physical construction of marble tracks and bridges to using the online program Tinkercad to design 3D sculptures and containers for 3D printing. Students also learn coding for robots — Bee-Bots for kindergarten through second grade, and Ozobots for third and fourth grade. Additional STEM units include building with littleBits circuits, as well as coding with Scratch.

The district goes further in supporting students’ technological literacy. R.C. Murphy Junior High School information specialist and district library head Betsy Knox said at January’s meeting that the library departments put an emphasis “on teaching information and inquiry skills to students and collaborating with teachers on planning appropriate lessons on research.”

To achieve this mission, the libraries offer Lightbox, a web-based system that provides supplementary lessons in English language arts, science and social studies. It also includes supporting materials such as videos, primary documents, interviews and articles, Knox said. The district has 74 different units that are also accessible to students at home.

Additionally, media specialists help to design curriculum that includes research projects with suggested resources or team-teach lessons on developing thesis statements and providing research-based evidence for support. Nicole Connelly, information specialist at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, said this helps to give students the skills they need to navigate systems to “make informed decisions and become critical thinkers.”

In addition to providing maker spaces and experiences with virtual reality, the district’s libraries, or “information centers,” teach internet safety and provide instruction in online behavior from kindergarten to 12th grade. Ward Melville’s information specialist April Hatcher said the curriculum on “digital citizenship” for grades six through 12 was recently updated and covers cyberbullying, copyrights and plagiarism, social responsibility and identity protection. Lessons on hate speech are also addressed in the high school curriculum, she said.

The district’s media specialists not only support educators with research and curriculum, but also with technology. The library service department has recently submitted grant applications for drones, digital cameras and an outdoor classroom.

But, said Allyson Konczynin information specialist at W.S. Mount Elementary School, even with growing focus on technology, emphasis is still being placed on book selection and literature appreciation.

“Nothing beats seeing a student light up with excitement when they find a book they love,” she said.

Miler Place Girl Scout Troop 227 members make a presentation to the board of education about energy efficiency. Photo by Kevin Redding

Miller Place High School has the potential to save large sums of money and energy this year thanks to the environmental efforts of a group of middle school Girl Scouts.

Sixth- and seventh-grade members of Cadette Girl Scout Troop 227 urged the board of education during the Sept. 27 meeting to consider replacing the 120 fluorescent lights in the high school cafeteria with more energy-efficient LED lights. This installation could save the district approximately $1,044 in the cafeteria alone over the course of the 180-day school year, the Girl Scouts said.

“Switching to LED lights would allow the district to focus that money on education,” 11-year-old Lilah Lindemann said.

Analynn Bisiani, a sixth-grader, informed board members 180-degree LED lights release significantly less heat energy than tube-shaped, 360-degree fluorescent lights, making them safer.

“They do not contain dangerous chemicals and will project light only down instead of 360 degrees,” Analynn said. “A lot of energy is wasted when light is projected upwards.”

Girl Scout Lindsey Galligan speaks at the Miller Place board of education meeting about the importance of energy efficiency and the ways in which the Girl Scouts project could help the district. Photo by Kevin Redding

The troop’s presentation was based on an energy audit of the high school cafeteria the girls conducted in May with the help of a PSEG Long Island representative as part of their Girl Scout Journey project — a long-term initiative to find a solution to a local environmental problem.

One of the requirements for the project was to focus on conserving energy, so troop leaders and members decided to conduct an audit of a public building, specifically the high school cafeteria, where the group holds its meetings twice a month.

With the help of Scout mom Kim Soreil, a PSEG Long Island manager of customer operations, the girls studied different forms of energy, made circuit cards and calculated the energy savings of switching to LED lights by counting all 120 lights in the cafeteria. The girls figured out
approximately 17.5 cents per kilowatt hour could be saved, which, assuming a 14-hour school day with extracurricular activities, equates to $5.88 in savings per day and $1,044 a year.

“They picked up on everything very quickly and just took off with it,” Soreil said of the troop’s excitement about the project. The girls, including Soreil’s daughter Lauren, also learned about phantom energy and the benefits of unplugging electrical appliances even after they’ve been turned off.

“They were peering through windows to try and see if lights were left on in the offices in the back and trying to turn off the lights on the vending machines so the school could conserve
energy,” she said.

During the presentation, Girl Scout Sarah DiPersio offered the board another environmentally-based solution in the cafeteria.

“Although it is not an electrical energy savings, we also noticed there is a traditional water fountain in the cafeteria, instead of a bottle refill fountain,” Sarah said.

Troop co-leader Candace Lindemann, who guides the girls alongside Morgan Caufield, said while she was impressed by the research and work her Scouts took part in, she wasn’t too surprised.

“We can definitely learn to use energy more efficiently because that’s one of the only ways we’re going to be able to continue living well on Earth.”

— Lilah Lindemann

“We have a very environmentally concerned and diligent group of girls,” Lindemann said, noting their other environment-based initiatives include beach cleanups and water health studies. “I think growing up near the beach definitely encourages an interest in the health of the environment for them.”

Her daughter Lilah said she has been passionate about the environment for a long time and hopes to be an engineer one day.

“We can definitely learn to use energy more efficiently because that’s one of the only ways we’re going to be able to continue living well on Earth,” the 11-year-old said. “And helping the environment and the community is what the Girl Scouts are about.”

Girl Scout Lindsey Galligan said she hopes by saving money through this proposal, the school district could afford to provide more art programs.

At the end of the board of education meeting, Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano presented each Scout with a certificate and thanked them for their presentation.

“That was very comprehensive,” Cartisano said. “We’re very grateful you did this and we’ll certainly be taking your recommendations and findings into consideration.”

The school district is currently in the process of bringing more energy efficiency to its buildings by installing solar panels on top of its high school and Andrew Muller Primary School.

Members of Cadette Girl Scout Troop 227 that participated in the audit are Sara Bally, Analynn Bisiani, Molly Caufield, Sarah DiPersio, Mary Cait Duffy, Lindsey Galligan, Lilah Lindemann, Maris Lynch, Ceili McNicholas, Madelyn Miller, and Lauren Soreil.

Mother urges a switch back to elementary school

Mount Sinai parents have been asking to move fifth-graders from the middle school back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

Students in Mount Sinai are expected to grow up a little faster than those in other districts. While a majority of neighboring towns keep their fifth-graders in the elementary school, Mount Sinai, since the early 1990s, moves its 10- and 11-year-olds up to the middle school.

A mother challenged the concept during an Aug. 23 board of education meeting when she asked administrators to consider making fifth grade part of the elementary school again in the future.

The conversation has been ongoing ever since.

Renee Massari, a mother of two elementary school students, proposed the idea last month, saying she didn’t see the academic or social benefit of having fifth-graders learn under the same roof as eighth-graders. In fact, she believed the drastically different environment negatively affected the young students — who occupy their own wing on the second floor of the building.

“I’ve seen it through many of my friends’ children here — many of them don’t excel.”

Renee Massari

“I’ve seen it through many of my friends’ children here — many of them don’t excel,” Massari said during the meeting. “It’s almost like they feel deflated because it’s difficult for them to handle those responsibilities expected of our fifth-graders. Because [realistically], they aren’t middle schoolers.”

Massari explained to the board that, from her understanding, the fifth-graders’ premature graduation to the middle school was prompted solely by a lack of classroom space in the elementary school. She asked if an administrator could evaluate current classroom space, adding the school has seen a declining enrollment rate over the last few years.

“Ideally, I would love for the fifth-graders in this district to have the same transition that 99 percent of the districts on Long Island have,” Massari said. “We can house them in the elementary school, a building they’re familiar with, and keep the same program where they transition from classroom to classroom and get them exposed to that before going to a whole different building.”

Board Trustee Robert Sweeney agreed with Massari and said the decision decades ago to move the students into the next building had nothing to do with education and everything to do with space and misjudgment. He also urged the board to reevaluate the concept.

“It’s a fallacy to have elementary students up there,” Sweeney said. “I think we have to look at it because there’s no educational benefit [to it].”

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal, an admittedly “old school guy” who said he would even like to see the sixth grade in the elementary school, told Massari her proposal would be explored — but classroom space, or lack thereof, in the district’s smallest building remains an issue. He said it will take a lot more than one available classroom to bring back the fifth-graders to the elementary school and expansions on the building would be costly.

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Trustee Robert Sweeney listen to parents’ concerns at a board meeting. The two are in favor of moving fifth-graders back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

“But in the meantime, what we have to do is make sure the nurturing environment continues in the fifth grade,” Brosdal said.

Teachers, he said, know to treat their students with the same level of care and support elementary school students experience. And although the move up offers a completely new setting, with lockers and classroom changes and multiple teachers during the day, Brosdal sees it as a good transition opportunity.

“Plus, they’re kind of isolated and not mixing with the older grades when they don’t have to,” he said. “At the same time, I understand parents feel their kids are not ready to move up because of maturity and a lot of other reasons, and want them to remain in a nurturing environment.”

In the weeks following the meeting, Brosdal reached out to elementary school principal Rob Catlin, and together they projected six classrooms would be needed in the building to accommodate the roughly 175 students in the current fifth-grade class.

One would be hard-pressed to find three available classrooms, according to Catlin, who is currently in the process of meeting with parents about the issue.

“I’ve heard the same concerns from a couple different people now and I’m reaching out to some parents for some meetings to talk about it,” Catlin said. “As the year goes on, and if the topic continues, I’m more than happy to keep talking. But it’s in an early stage right now.”

Mount Sinai resident Beth Erdmann, whose children are in seventh and 10th grades, said every parent experiences panic in the midst of the elementary and middle school transition but soon realize it’s not a big deal.

“I’ve heard the same concerns from a couple different people now and I’m reaching out to some parents for some meetings to talk about it.”

Rob Catlin

“When it’s your first child, it seems too soon and scary, but they are in their own wing and it’s a nonissue,” Erdmann said. “There were no adverse effects to my children … fifth and sixth grade are still treated as elementary. The location is just in the middle school. I was worried and bothered at the time, [but] my kids were fine.”

Debra Wesolowski agreed, having gone through the transition multiple times with four children.

“Once they were there, I couldn’t imagine them in the elementary school,” Wesolowski said. “Kids are a lot more mature now than years ago … you see how mature and responsible the fourth-graders become as the year goes on [and] by the time they graduate from fourth grade they have outgrown the elementary school and need to advance to the next stage. The middle school does a great job transitioning them.”

But Jennifer Ruger Lazarou, an elementary school teacher, feels the kids are too young.

“I think keeping them in the elementary school one more year is a good idea, and will still make them just as prepared,” Lazarou said. “I teach in a K-through-six building and can’t even imagine the sixth-graders being exposed to middle school any earlier.”

Brosdal said district office and building administrators have begun the exploration of a move.

“It is too early in the process for the board to make a decision one way or another,” Brosdal said. “The expense of such a project would impact the district’s budget and bond proposal.”

Returning board member Michael Yannucci and newcomers Katie Anderson, Erin Hunt and Henry Perez, will replace two incumbents. Photo by Kevin Redding

Shoreham-Wading River voters may have passed the school budget Tuesday night, but residents made it clear they want change.

Katie Anderson

The district’s $74,842,792 budget for 2017-2018 was supported by residents with 1,112 for and 992 against, as was a second proposition to establish a 10-year, $7.5 million capital reserve fund with 1,282 voters in support and 813 in opposition.

With the capital reserve fund secured, the district will be able to fund complete facility renovations across its four schools, such as Americans with Disabilities Act features, upgrading athletic fields, bleachers, auditoriums, computers, energy management systems and gymnasiums, among other projects.

“It’s a great relief,” Neil Lederer, the district’s interim superintendent, said of the budget and capital reserve fund passing. “I’m very appreciative of the community … mistakes were made in the past, [and] we’ve corrected them for the future with this budget they voted on. The individuals who benefit the most from this are our students — we’ve got some very nice programs put in place next year.”

Henry Perez

It was out with the old and in with the new when it came to the seven candidates who ran for four seats on the board of education.

Two incumbents, board president John Zukowski and trustee Jack Costas, were ousted with 524 and 563 votes, respectively, in favor of three school board newcomers — Katie Anderson (1,318), Henry Perez (1,303) and Erin Hunt (1,279) — who will each serve a three-year term.

Michael Yannucci, a former trustee from 2005 to 2008, received the fourth highest number of votes with 1,087, so he will occupy the vacant seat that belonged to longtime trustee Michael Fucito, who resigned in March before his term was up. He will serve a one-year term and was sworn in immediately after the vote.

Candidate James Smith missed the mark with 1,015 votes. Zukowski, who’s served on the board for six years, said he does not intend to run for the board again. Costas, who was up for his fourth term, also won’t run again.

“I did nine years, the community doesn’t want me, that’s it — I’m done,” Costas said. “I get the message. I’m glad the budget passed and I give the best of luck to the new board.”

Smith, however, expressed interest in running for Yannucci’s seat after the one-year term is up next year.

“There’s a very good possibility,” Smith said. “I’m disappointed, but I wish all the candidates well and hope they make the best decisions for the students and district and community.”

The board’s new crop of trustees, who were all smiles after the results came in, said they were excited to help guide the district.

“I’m on a high,” said Perez, a professional engineer. “I’m thankful that people have faith that I can hopefully provide further vision toward taking the school district to the next level. I’m hoping to work collaboratively with everybody.”

Michael Yannucci

Hunt, a former secondary education teacher, echoed Perez’s call for collaboration.

“I think we have a diverse board and I’m thrilled to work with everybody,” Hunt said. “The main thing we can do is change the narrative in the district to a positive one. Shoreham-Wading River is a really great community and I think we can move forward by focusing on building on all the positive we have here. We can also do more to connect our communities.”

Yannucci said there’s a lot of work to be done to be a more transparent district.

“In my run, I think we had a strong message of bringing the community into the process and engaging a lot of people who were not engaged prior to the election,” he said. “There’s been a loss of faith over the last few years and I’m excited to be able to restore the faith and give the community a sense of pride in terms of the decisions and direction of the district.”

Anderson, a mother of two students in the district, is determined to get to work as soon as possible.

“I’m so thankful to the voters for how the vote went,” Anderson said. “I’m ready to serve.”


A student voice

By Kevin Redding

Jack Tressler wanted to try something new at the start of the academic year — so he threw his hat in the ring to be the student member of the Shoreham-Wading River board of education.

Tressler, a senior, was officially sworn in April 18 to sit in on board meetings and represent the student body by weighing in on district-related matters and discussions.

“I’ve learned a lot about how people conduct themselves and how things at the school are done and how people present their ideas,” Tressler said. “I don’t think a lot of people, especially students, know how these things work and now I have some idea. I’ve been able to present myself in front of professionals and act cordially and it’s helped me out in terms of public speaking, [something] I’ve always been weak with.”

Jack Tressler gets sworn in. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

But at his first board meeting, when a group of engineers proposed their plans to renovate the high school’s parking lot, Tressler was quick to speak up.

“They wanted to renovate the lot and most of their renditions would make for less parking spots, and being a student myself, the parking’s already a bad situation — there aren’t always enough spots.”

With just another month as a board member, Tressler, an AP physics and AP environmental science student, said he’d like to implement some change in regards to the school’s environmental standards, like switching to glass bottles in the district.

“In his role as a student board of education member, Jack has proved to be invaluable,” interim Superintendent of Schools Neil Lederer said. “He has provided the board with a unique student perspective that is important to consider when making decisions. I have also been impressed with Jack’s willingness to contribute and self-confidence.”

Tressler will serve on the board until the end of June, when he’ll pass the torch to a new student representative. In the fall, he will be studying physics and engineering at James Madison University in Virginia.

Mount Sinai parents have been asking to move fifth-graders from the middle school back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

The Mount Sinai community sent a clear message May 17 — they’re happy with the trajectory of the district. Three incumbents were re-elected to serve on the board of education and the district’s budget passed with 80 percent support.

Although turnout wasn’t quite what the district expected, the voters who did head to the polls overwhelmingly approved the $59,272,525 budget for the 2017-18 school year, with 1,007 for and 251 against.

“I’m very happy that it passed,” Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “We have great programs here. We can maintain those programs. We made the AP Honor Roll two years in a row, almost every team right now is in the playoffs, our music program is better than ever, so to be able to keep those programs is great, but we’re not resting on that. Now we can get to work on bolstering our elementary reading program, we have a new principal coming in who has high expectations. There are programs we want to put in place that a lot of our kids need in the elementary school.”

He commented on the 200 person drop in voter turnout.

“I’m not happy,” he said. “We have 9,000 eligible voters. I’d like to see 500 to another 1,000 approve it so we have everyone together.”

Incumbents Robert Sweeney (1,013), Edward Law (866) and Peter Van Middelem (860) were all re-elected. Challenger Michael McGuire, who ran last year, nearly doubled his 2016 results, with 597 votes.

“I am honored and humbled that the community decided to re-elect me … to try to do my best for the residents and students,” Law said. “I’m looking to bring back the same stability and fiscal discipline while expanding our programs … to bring students more opportunities.”

For Van Middelem, that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s all for the community,” he said. “First and foremost on all our minds is doing what’s best for the people here.”

Law addressed the challenges the district is facing.

“Whether it’s infrastructure and building repairs, our programs, our class sizes are getting smaller,” he said, noting a shrinking student population. “It’s now about how we maintain or keep on enhancing our programs given our fiscal financial constraints. And that’s what I hope to continue to work on.”

The district will maintain its K-12 programs, including the recently established full-day kindergarten, advanced placement offerings in the high school and its recently established Columbia Writing Program for  2017-18.

The spending plan for next school year includes funds for an academic intervention services teacher in reading, a second security guard, an additional nurse and three new courses — virtual enterprise, college accounting and culinary arts.

Sweeney said he is excited about the new offerings.

“It’s going to be huge,” he said. “Maybe we’ll have neighboring districts who will be interested in sending their students and maybe they have programs we would be interested in.”

He said he’s looking for ways to improve the district.

“We need to start looking at how we can innovate,” he said. “We can’t rely on the state to take care of us.”

He said with teachers and staff who are willing to take on the challenges, he’s proud to see how far the district has come.

“You go back in time, this was a feeder district,” he said. “We had two little schools and we weren’t a big deal. This little district, 2,100 students, leads in AP, in colleges we go to, championships in sports. This district has started to really show how to grow.”

Sweeney said the district is hiring a new elementary school principal with a Columbia Writing Program background, to enhance what already exists, and the Socratic method is used to help students talk through challenges in the high school, and he’s hoping to bring the same system to the middle school level.

“I feel very strongly about this community,” Sweeney said. “I’m very proud and honored to serve. It’s a great school district. It requires real work and smart decisions. The community needs to realize how important it is … this is our town. I live on the other side of the high school and we pick to live here. We didn’t think about this house versus that one, we picked to live here because of this school district. I dare say if you asked many of out community members, that’s what they did.”

Social

9,203FansLike
1,089FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe