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Board of Education

The Miller Place board of education incumbent Keith Frank is running unopposed to maintain the position he’s held for the last three years.

The trustee has been a Miller Place resident since 2003, and currently works as a labor and employment attorney for the Silverman Acampora law firm based in Jericho. He moved to Miller Place to raise his kids in what he saw as a good school district and kid-friendly area.

Keith Frank is running for his second term. File photo

Two of his three kids are currently enrolled in the district. His oldest child graduated from last year. While his kids matured he coached North Shore Little League soccer, softball and baseball.

When Frank ran in 2015 he said he wanted to meet the needs of his own children as well as the rest of the students in the district.

“I got a lot of fulfillment and satisfaction working on the board,” Frank said. “I want to continue that with the great team we have here.”

He said he believes that the main focus of the board should be offering programs for all students with different interests.

“We’re trying to balance the needs and the wishes of everyone, whether it’s arts, athletics or music — whatever the kids want to do,” Frank said. “Not all kids have the same interests. For example, with my kids, one’s athletic, one is interested in the arts. It’s about making sure we can properly fund those and support any of those activities.”

Frank said that technology, science and math focused courses should be a staple in the school’s curriculum to deal with a developing world.

“Kids should be able to go out and properly tackle the world,” he said.

Board president Johanna Testa said she was happy to see Frank put in an application for a second term.

“We’re looking forward to the next couple of years with him here,” she said. “What I find with our current board is we may not all agree with each other all the time, but we work well together and we work toward the common good of the district. [Keith Frank] is an attorney and he’s had experience dealing with contract negotiations and things of that nature. That’s been a benefit to us and the district.”

Last March Miller Place School District hired one armed security guard for each of the four school buildings in the district.

Frank would not go into detail on continuing those services or putting more effort and funds in new security upgrades, but he said options will be reviewed again going into the next school year.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Frank said. “We have approved [the security guards] through the end of this year, then we will take up that issue and review it again.”

Board elections will take place with the budget vote Tuesday, May 15 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the North Country Road Middle School gym, at 191 North Country Rd. in Miller Place.

This version was updated to correctly identify at what time and where the budget and trustee vote will take place.

Trustee Michael Yanucci not seeking a second term

Shoreham-Wading River board of education president Robert Rose, on left, and second-time candidate James Smith, are running for two open trustee seats. File photos

By Kyle Barr

Two trustee seats are up for grabs on Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education, and running for them are a veteran and a newcomer.

Current board President Robert Rose is seeking another term and second-time candidate James Smith is  seeking election to the board following the stepping down of current trustee Michael Yannucci.
Both candidates are running unopposed.

Yannucci said he decided to not run for re-election so he can spend more time with his young children.

“Despite the fact that we have an uncontested board election this year, residents should continue to stay engaged and attend board meetings,” Yannucci said. His advice to the rest of the board upon leaving is that they should look to engage and communicate with district residents. “Even if they don’t have kids in school, their taxes are still affected by our decisions.”

Rose is running for his third three-year term on the board.

“I decided to run for re-election because I think I add a lot to the board with my experience,” Rose said. “I also really enjoy giving back to my community.”

“Despite the fact that we have an uncontested board election this year, residents should continue to stay engaged and attend board meetings.”

— Michael Yanucci

The board president said he knows his way around schools with his more-than 20 years of experience as an educator. He’s been the assistant principal at Smithtown High School East for the past 12.

“I would like to continue to play a role in making Shoreham-Wading River an outstanding district by working collaboratively with the administration and teachers to develop policies and programs that support student learning and help our students become career and college ready,” Rose said.

Smith, who ran last year unsuccessfully, has been a Shoreham resident for the past six years and in that time has not hesitated to get involved in the community. The father of four enrolled in the district, joined the PTA and became its vice president. He has worked with kids as a coach through Sound Beach Soccer Club and Father Joe’s Soccer. Smith said he wants to push for greater psychological and emotional resources for students.

“I just wanted to have greater input in the district,” he said. “I think the district has made great strides over the last couple [of] years, but I definitely want to see more resources dedicated, especially now in
today’s environment, toward the mental and physical well-being of our students.”

Shoreham Wading-River is including a provision in its adopted budget for hiring an additional psychologist to help with the current workload. There is presently one at the high school, one at the middle school and three shared between the two elementary school buildings. 

Smith said he believes there need to be even more psychologists and social workers engaged with students in school.

“I definitely feel the district needs to shift more toward emotional intelligence,” Smith said. “We’re stretched very thin. We need this emphasis on mental health, especially with all the school shootings we’ve seen over the past few years.”

Board elections will take place with the budget vote Tuesday, May 15 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Shoreham-Wading River High School auxiliary gym, located at 250A Route 25A in Shoreham.

This version corrects how many psychologists there are presently at the elementary schools. 

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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.

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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.

2018 BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. File 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.”

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