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Comsewogue

The pups at Comsewogue Public Library’s inaugural Pet Adoption Fair couldn’t stop wagging their tails on April 25. Community members came out to pet their soft fur and get some kisses on a beautiful spring Saturday.

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John Swenning is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate

Three Comsewogue Board of Education seats are up for election this year, but voters who hit the polls on May 19 won’t have a large selection — with Trustee Ed Barry stepping aside, there are only as many candidates as there are slots available.

Barry, a nine-year veteran, said he wants to give others a chance to fill the position he has loved holding.
“It really has been a great experience,” Barry said. “I may consider running again down the road.”

John Swenning
Board President John Swenning has served since 2002 and is running for another term on the board. The Comsewogue graduate said his time with the board has been great, which is why he is running again.
The father of four — one child at Comsewogue High School and three who have already graduated — said he enjoys working with administrators, teachers, parents and students.
“I just like what I do,” Swenning said. “We’ve really made some serious progress in the first few years and I want to keep it going.”

Rick Rennard is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate
Rick Rennard is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate

One of the things Swenning would like to see through is the accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools that the district applied for last year. The district is undergoing a three-year internal review on the road to receiving the nonprofit’s designation, given to high-performing institutions worldwide.
The board president also wants to restore programs that were cut in recent years to balance budgets.

Rick Rennard
Rick Rennard just finished his first year on the board, completing the term of a former trustee who moved out of the district.
“This one-year experience that I’ve had so far has been so positive,” he said. “I want to continue.”
He said he would like to finish some things the board started this year, such as the accreditation process. He echoed Swenning in saying he wants to restore academic programs.
He also “would like to continue to speak out on behalf of the district to our legislators to get our fair share of funding,” Rennard said. “I will fight for the district.”
The father of three children, 11-year-old Emma, 9-year-old Rickey and 7-year-old Brendan, and a social studies teacher at Newfield High School, he’s been living in the community for almost 11 years.

Louise Melious is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate
Louise Melious is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate

Louise Melious
A newcomer, Louise Melious, has decided to run for trustee after years of being on the fence about serving.
“I think I have something to offer and I certainly hope the community can give me this honor,” Melious said.
She has been following the issue of students opting out of taking the state’s standardized tests, she said, and while her children, 18-year-old Victoria and 16-year-old Matthew, are past that testing stage, she would advocate on behalf of other students. She said she feels the testing system is wrong.
If elected, she would like to work on tax relief for older residents, expand district sports programs, and restore other programs that were cut in previous budgets.
“If given this opportunity, I would change what I do and be more involved,” Melious said.

Rally against New York State education changes

A protestor stands on North Country Road in Mount Sinai on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Educators, parents and students gathered outside state Sen. Ken LaValle’s Mount Sinai office Tuesday with one clear message: They won’t forget he voted “yes” on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget when it’s their turn to vote in November 2016.

Nearly 100 people rallied in front of the North Country Road office of LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), holding signs letting the senator and the community know they were upset he voted in favor of a portion of the 2015-16 state budget that amended the teacher evaluation system, lengthened the time before teachers can gain tenure and created new designations for failing schools.

Beth Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and a John F. Kennedy Middle School teacher, said her association and other groups coordinated the protest to show the senator they don’t take his vote lightly.

“The purpose of this rally is to remind Mr. LaValle that his vote in favor of Mr. Cuomo’s budget and anti-public education agenda will be remembered by the parents and taxpayers in the November elections,” Dimino said.

A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon
A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon

LaValle, who was in Albany at the time of the protest, was just re-elected to his 20th term in the Senate and will be up for election again next year.

He said in a statement Wednesday, “We improved on what the governor put in his budget proposal and I fully expect we will continue to fix the education piece, with the final result addressing parents and educators concerns.”

April Quiggle, a Port Jefferson parent, said she came out to show how disappointed she is in the senator she always supported.

“I feel betrayed by him,” Quiggle said.

Not one person at the education rally was without a sign. Young children also held signs.

Miller Place resident Erik Zalewski, who teaches in the Middle Country school district, said LaValle and other politicians who voted in favor of the governor’s reform sold out educators and kids.

“It seems money is more important than the children,” Zalewski said.

Lucille McKee, president of the Shoreham-Wading River Teachers Association, joined in to let everyone know she is tired of non-educators making decisions about education.

Halfway through the rally supporters broke out in a cheer: “Ken LaValle you let us down, Ken LaValle you let the students down, Ken LaValle we will not forget!”

Many parents at the picket said they tried numerous times to reach out to the senator by phone and email and never heard back.

Hundreds of cars drove by as everyone protested on the corner of the road. Drivers honked, gave thumbs-up signs and cheered, letting the protesters know they supported them.

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Comsewogue’s David Nodeland takes a cut in the Warriors’ 9-4 victory at Sayville Thursday, to win the series 2-3. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

These Warriors are still the superior League VI team.

Despite giving up a 1-0 lead to trail 4-1 in the fifth inning, the Comsewogue baseball team put together an eight-run rally in the top of the seventh to claim a 9-4 victory over Sayville Thursday and take the series by winning two of out three games.

Dan Colasanto crossed the plate first courtesy of Mike Stiles’ stand-up double to take an early lead, but both teams struggled to bring runners home over the next three innings.

Comsewogue pitcher Dan Colasanto hurls a pitch from the mound in the Warriors’ 9-4 comeback win over Sayville Thursday. Photo by Bill Landon
Comsewogue pitcher Dan Colasanto hurls a pitch from the mound in the Warriors’ 9-4 comeback win over Sayville Thursday. Photo by Bill Landon

“We were all scrappy in the beginning — we had a couple of errors, a couple of bad plays,” Stiles said. “[We just needed] to get a couple of hits, a couple of walks together, and that’s just what we did in that last inning.”

Sayville’s bats came alive in the bottom of the fifth with a four-run rally to take its first lead of the game, which stood until the final inning.

Comsewogue head coach Mike Bonura told his team it’s just a three-run deficit, and to keep their composure.

“Let’s have some quality at bats,” he said to his athletes. “It’s just three runs. We just got to get to first base.”

Despite the deficit, Colasanto went back to work in the sixth inning and retired three in a row.

“We just had to keep our heads in the game and I knew my job was to throw strikes,” Colasanto said. “I knew if I could keep it in the strike zone we’d have a chance, because I have a great field behind me.”

Bonura was pleased with his player’s efforts.

“Dan didn’t get rattled after he gave up three runs in the fifth,” Bonura said. “He just stayed the course and didn’t let anyone’s mistakes in the field effect the way he pitched, and everyone feeds off of that. Dan’s been with me four years — he had a great game, he’s a senior captain who’s a team leader.”

In the top of the seventh, Comsewogue’s Vin Velazquez chopped an infield hit that fell into no man’s land to get him to first in time to load the bases with no outs.

James Mimnaugh followed with single that drove home Ryan Szalay to cut the deficit to two, and teammate John Braun smacked the ball into shallow right field for a two-run hit that drove in Robert Dattoma and Jake Sardinia, to even the score at 4-4.

David Nodeland helped the Warriors claim the lead after Braun and Sardinia crossed the plate off of his deep hit, to give his team a 6-4 advantage.

Comsewogue’s Ryan Szalay makes a grab at the warning track in the Warriors 9-4 comeback win over Sayville Thursday. Photo by Bill Landon
Comsewogue’s Ryan Szalay makes a grab at the warning track in the Warriors 9-4 comeback win over Sayville Thursday. Photo by Bill Landon

“We all just stayed in it,” Nodeland said. “Everyone stayed alive on the bench and kept it going. Once the hits started coming they just kept rolling, so it was a nice little rally we had.”

Trying to stop the Warriors in their tracks, Sayville made its fourth pitching change of the game, but to no avail.

Colasanto ripped one deep for a stand-up double, driving in Nodeland, and after scoring a run earlier in the inning, Szalay helped Colasanto earn a run of his own with a short fly ball in the gap,

With a full count against him, Velazquez drew a walk with the bases loaded for the final run of the game and the 9-4 win.

“[We didn’t want to do] anything big, just make sure you get on base, and that’s what we did,” Braun said.

On Sayville’s last at-bat, Bonura said Colasanto wanted to close the game out, but was pulled after his pitch count reached 100, to prevent the risk of injury.

Szalay took the mound in place of Colasanto, and finished the job his teammate started,

With the win, Comsewogue improves to 8-1 atop the League VI leaderboard. The team will travel to Westhampton Beach on Tuesday to take on the No. 2 Hurricanes, at 7-2 in the standings, at 4 p.m.

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Stock photo

By Joan Nickeson

I read with interest the recent opinion article by Comsewogue school board trustee Ali Gordon (Team up to starve New York’s testing machine, March 12). I applaud her efforts. She explains how the governor tied his latest education policy to our state budget, a game where no one wins.

As an occasional contributor to this paper, I share thoughts on the organics of life: water conservation and wildlife, civic engagement, writing love letters, and about my daughter preparing for college — all untidy ventures. But being a student is untidy. Educating children is an organic experience; a hands-on, creative occupation. Our teachers tend to our children all day long. Not unlike rangers, they patrol for danger. Like gardeners, they employ means by which to rid the soil of invasive species. Ms. Gordon has shed light on the parasites.

Education’s root word, “educe,” means bring forth or draw out. It is untidy business. As adults, we know children grow at their own pace. A few bloom early, boldly. Some reach for help; others need coaxing. Some never extend themselves. Having tools and space helps to “bring forth” the students, and adequate funding is necessary for this organic endeavor. Forcing children to take poorly-worded standardized tests doesn’t help. Linking teachers’ employment and the health of school district to the results of any test should be actionable.

Whatever nutritive or non-nutritive fuel contributes to children’s abilities during the day, it is the work of the educators to draw out. They know children have learning challenges that are unrelated to curriculum or tests. I think we all know some come to school on empty stomachs. We know some have family trauma. Many lack confidence. Some are angry and conflicted. Some are bullied and, during math, plan how to get on the bus without being confronted. Some at school are ill and unfocused. Some are dreamers engaged in internal dialogs instead of listening. Others are preoccupied about professional sports teams, because that’s the focus of a parent. We know some whose first languages are not English, who risk their lives to cross the U.S. border to connect with a parent living in our districts. Education is fraught with immeasurable obstacles.

But let me see — in the words of Joe Pesci in “My Cousin Vinny” — what else can we pile on? The tax cap! Which could lead to budget cuts to academics, requiring placement of more and more of our budding children into a single classroom. Do it five periods a day. Do it 180 days a year. Force educators and administrators to douse children with tests created by businessmen who have an eye on their ledgers and the charter school lobby, who are literally banking on our students failing the test. It is unconscionable.

Yet our teachers were predominately evaluated effective or highly effective last year in a New York State Education Department-approved evaluation process.

We need to demand participation in state policy through open legislative debate. We need to opt out of the Common Core-linked standardized tests so our teachers can get back to the organic pursuit of education.

Library members in Port Jefferson and Comsewogue approved the two districts’ proposed budgets on Tuesday. Stock photo

Comsewogue and Port Jefferson library district members approved both institutions’ 2015-16 budgets on Tuesday. The Port Jefferson Free Library budget passed with 106 votes in favor and nine against. Comsewogue Public Library’s budget passed with 104 votes in favor and 19 against.

The Port Jefferson budget, which totals $4.33 million, will increase annual taxes by about $10.80 for the average village resident. The budget includes a $107,000 transfer to the library’s capital fund for facility improvements, as the library nears the finish line on forming a strategic plan for how the institution will serve members in the future. That plan includes improving the facilities and considers possible uses for an adjacent residential property on Thompson Street that the library recently purchased.

In Comsewogue, annual taxes will increase by about $11 for the average resident under the approved $5.58 million budget.

The Comsewogue district residents also elected a new trustee, Corinne DeStefano, with 116 votes. The candidate, who ran unopposed for a five-year term, is the wife of Comsewogue school board Trustee Robert DeStefano. A lifelong resident of the district, she works in quality assurance for software corporation CA Technologies.

A sign at Congressman Lee Zeldin’s press conference in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, speaks against standardized testing. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Congressman Lee Zeldin announced to Comsewogue teachers, parents and students on Sunday that he is working on a way to reduce state testing, amid a renewed local push against the standardized exams.

The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act, which Zeldin (R-Shirley) is co-sponsoring, has “strong bipartisan support,” he told the crowd at Comsewogue High School. “This legislation would roll back state-mandated testing to pre-No Child Left Behind levels.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin talks about a bill that would reduce standardized testing during an event in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, as Superintendent Joe Rella looks on. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Congressman Lee Zeldin talks about a bill that would reduce standardized testing during an event in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, as Superintendent Joe Rella looks on. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 required states to create assessments for basic skills in select grade levels. Before the controversial No Child Left Behind, New York State students were tested in both English language arts and math in three different grades, for six total tests. Now students take those exams each year in grades three through eight.

The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act aims to reduce the number of tests to previous levels — so they would be administered once in grades three to five, once in grades six through nine and once in grades 10 through 12 — based on the belief that it would allow for more curriculum flexibility, giving students more time to learn and helping to nurture their creativity.

Gina Rennard, a Comsewogue parent and wife of school board trustee Rick Rennard, has had her children “opt out” of the standardized tests, something many parents have done in opposition to the Common Core Learning Standards and linked state tests.

“These tests are developmentally inappropriate,” Gina Rennard said. “The grades for these tests come out after the students have already gone onto the next education level, therefore the tests have no bearing on their education plan. So why are we torturing them?”

Superintendent Joe Rella hosted the press conference, and said the only goal of testing is “to put public schools out of business and have [charter schools] for profit, because there is nothing about improvement here.”

Rella said he will not stop fighting for change.

The gathering came just a couple of weeks after Rella and Comsewogue school board members considered a proposal to refuse to administer state exams unless the state delivered more education aid and reduced the weight of student test scores on teacher and administrator evaluations. But after the idea created buzz in the community, the officials nixed the proposal on the advice of legal counsel.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella speaks against standardized testing during an event with Congressman Lee Zeldin on Sunday, April 12. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella speaks against standardized testing during an event with Congressman Lee Zeldin on Sunday, April 12. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

State Education Law gives the education commissioner power to remove school officials from office if they willfully disobey rules or regulations, and withhold state aid from schools where such action takes place.

Patchogue-Medford Superintendent Michael Hynes said at the event that the pressure on both students and teachers is far too intense.

“If you look at countries whose education systems are performing well, they are doing the opposite of what we’re doing right now,” Hynes said. The crowd roared in agreement.

Jennifer Jenkins moved her family to Comsewogue because of the schools, but said she is no longer confident in the education her kids are getting.

“To have so much of the curriculum based on the testing forces the teachers to focus on standardized testing as a part of the year’s goal,” she said. “Then the teachers have less of an opportunity to build their own curriculum around what’s best for their individual students.”

Zeldin said he is optimistic about the bill’s future in Congress.

“This is where you hold your elected officials accountable, and we will make sure we are doing everything within our power up in Albany and down in Washington to do it on behalf of these kids.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, right. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie M. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) is calling on the North Shore community to take her up on an upcoming tax grievance workshop to combat potential disasters at the height of tax season.

The upcoming workshop, led by Brookhaven Tax Assessor James Ryan, will teach residents how to grieve their taxes and survive tax season just in time for the big day on April 15.

The workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, April 15, at 6:30 p.m. at the Comsewogue School District Office, at 290 Norwood Ave. in Port Jefferson Station.

The event is open to all residents.

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An anti-Common Core rally in Smithtown. File photo

Opting students out of state standardized tests has become a hot topic, and it’s a decision that should rest in the hands of parents, not school leaders.

Recently, Comsewogue School District officials had threatened to consider not administering the tests altogether if Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the state education department did not acquiesce on a list of demands, one of which was to stop weighing student test scores so heavily in teacher and administrator evaluations. But the district clammed up on the measure after its attorney intervened. In addition, the NYSUT union, which represents teachers across the state, has called for a mass opt-out.

State law comes down hard on actions like this: Any school-board members or other officials like superintendents who willfully violate state education regulations — such as by refusing to administer a required assessment — risk being removed from office by the education commissioner, and state aid could be withheld from the district.

At the heart of the matter is a battle over local control of our school districts. While local officials should be consulted when it comes to shaping state education regulations and standards, there must be some degree of state standardization in education to ensure that our programs sufficiently educate kids. It’s wrong for administrators and school officials to politicize a high-emotion situation — the opt-out movement — in a way that could be detrimental to students.

In a school-sponsored, massive opt-out, the ones who face the greatest risk are the students — officials may put their jobs at stake, but the kids’ entire futures could hang in the balance if the state pulls education aid from a district that heavily relies upon it, or if otherwise competent school board members and administrators are kicked out of office.

Let us also pause to think about how adult behavior affects our kids. This paper has previously editorialized about how the commotion over the Common Core and state testing has negatively affected children — students see and hear their parents’ and teachers’ reactions, and many mimic that fear and anxiety when they otherwise would not have had such emotional reactions to tests and classes. At some point, we have to ask ourselves if this is the kind of behavior we want to teach our kids.

Calling for change is one thing, but screaming for it is another. Let’s not play politics. Above all, let’s keep cool.

Comsewogue goalkeeper Jake MacGregor scoops up the ball amid a scrum in the Warriors’ zone during Comsewogue’s 6-5 win at Hauppauge April 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

In practice, the Comsewogue boys’ lacrosse team performs a drill called “12 minutes,” and they’ve been putting that practice to good use so far this season.

“We treat it like the fourth quarter, where there’s 12 minutes left, and we work harder to make sure we come out on top,” junior midfielder Trevor Kennedy said. “We work to score more goals in that 12 minutes.”

On Tuesday, for the third time this season, the Warriors came out ahead in a close, one-goal game. This time, the boys topped Hauppauge, 6-5, rewarding their coach with a birthday win and claiming the top spot in Division III four games into the season.

“Winning against a top team in the division — it’s always nice to take them down and prove that we’re a contender,” Comsewogue junior goalkeeper Jake MacGregor said. “[Coach] had the starters over to watch film for two or three hours at his house to prepare for the game. We always take each game seriously and come out to win.”

Comsewogue’s Trevor Kennedy evades Hauppauge defenders as he makes his way up the field into the Eagles’ zone in the Warriors’ 6-5 win at Hauppauge Tuesday. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Comsewogue’s Trevor Kennedy evades Hauppauge defenders as he makes his way up the field into the Eagles’ zone in the Warriors’ 6-5 win at Hauppauge Tuesday. Photo by Desirée Keegan

MacGregor wasn’t kidding.

The junior made six stops in the first six minutes en route to 17 saves on the evening.

“They were really good shooters on the other team but my defense held it together and was able to give me open looks to save the ball,” he said.

After several attempts, Hauppauge was first on the board, but three more Comsewogue saves later, the Warriors tied it up — senior faceoff specialist Zach Deutsch won the ball off the faceoff and took it all the way to goal just eight seconds into the second quarter.

From there, the Warriors never trailed, but the Eagles tied the game four times to keep the fans on edge.

First, junior midfielder Brandon O’Donoghue slid behind the net and passed the ball to sophomore attack Will Snelders on the right side. Snelders dove and shot it in for the 2-1 advantage with 6:46 left in the half.

Five minutes later, Hauppauge tied it again with a goal from Danny Murphy off an assist from Kyle Silverstein.

Comsewogue’s Kennedy was the only player to score in the third, when the ball was passed around the perimeter and, from the left side of the net, it was skipped out to him at center, where he whipped it in for the 3-2 advantage.

MacGregor came through with two more saves after that goal to maintain the lead heading into the fourth.

While in the huddle between quarters, Mitchell shouted, “Look at the clock. This is our time.”

Comsewogue’s Johnny Koebel looks downfield to make a play in the Warriors’ 6-5 win over Hauppauge Tuesday. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Comsewogue’s Johnny Koebel looks downfield to make a play in the Warriors’ 6-5 win over Hauppauge Tuesday. Photo by Desirée Keegan

And the boys synchronized their watches for a win.

First, Silverstein and Murphy connected for a Hauppauge goal, and after another MacGregor save, junior defender and midfielder Chris Pedone scored when he took the ball and rushed it all the way up the field. The Warriors led 4-3 with 9:52 left to play.

The teams kept going back and forth. Hauppauge’s Murphy scored unassisted and Comsewogue’s Kennedy, off a pass across the field from sophomore attack Ryan Dorney, rocked the back of the cage for a 5-4 lead.

Silverstein and Murphy continued to heat up and connected again to tie it at 5-all. Despite losing possession, the Warriors found a way to force a turnover behind the net, and Snelders came through with another diving play with 42 seconds left to end the scoring.

“The kid that passed me the ball, he drew my man and I came in and saw his man coming at me, so I tucked underneath and scored,” Snelders said. “It felt pretty good.”

Hauppauge won possession off the ensuing faceoff and with seconds left, fired a shot that MacGregor saved to seal the win.

“I just tried to react like I do in practice facing some nice shooters like Will Snelders and Trevor Kennedy,” he said. “I just tried to treat it like any other save.”

But Comsewogue head coach Pete Mitchell is more than impressed with his goalkeeper.

“Hauppauge is a very good offensive team and to only allow them to score [five] goals is a testament,” the head coach said. “He just does it game after game; he’s solid.”

He also gave credit to Stephen Reed, Matt Spahr and Chris Pedone, a baseball and soccer player who recently joined lacrosse.

Comsewogue goalkeeper Jake MacGregor comes out of the cage to block Hauppauge defenders from regaining possession in the Warriors’ 6-5 win over the Eagles Tuesday. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Comsewogue goalkeeper Jake MacGregor comes out of the cage to block Hauppauge defenders from regaining possession in the Warriors’ 6-5 win over the Eagles Tuesday. Photo by Desirée Keegan

All four of the team’s games have been one-goal games, the first three of which went into overtime.

The Warriors earned a 6-5 win over Mount Sinai first, before falling to Islip, 4-5. They picked it back up with a 10-9 victory against Eastport-South Manor before the game at Hauppauge. Moving forward, Mitchell is hoping his team can score more goals.

“That’s Division III right now — any coach will tell you, anybody can win on any day,” he said. “I give all the credit to Hauppauge. They just as easily could have been walking off victors here, but it really makes for exciting lacrosse in Suffolk County.”

Kennedy sees signs of good things to come.

“Our defense is sick — our big goalie is pretty good, too,” he said with a laugh. “Our offense could use a little more work but we’re starting to gel and I’m felling pretty confident. Hauppauge was No. 1, now we’re No. 1.”

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