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Education

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

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Peter Sammarco

By Christine Zammarco

It started with a hoarse voice that seemed like part of a lingering cold that wouldn’t go away. Then one morning, Peter Sammarco, then 48-years-old, was shaving when he coughed up blood and right away knew something was wrong. After meeting with the doctors, Sammarco was diagnosed; it was throat cancer. Yet, rather than being concerned about what lay ahead, the Plainview history teacher, Rocky Point resident, father and husband met the challenge head on.

Peter Sammarco

“I was pretty hopeful,” he recalled at the age of 81, and speaking by projecting air through his diaphragm.

He was more upset about retiring from his job than he was about losing his voice or even the risk of dying, but Sammarco is from tough stock and from a generation which knew how to work hard and how to fight. He was born in 1930 during the Great Depression. He remembers the absence of his older brothers away serving in the military as he grew up. His Father, Petero, was a tailor and able to trade making suits in exchange for doctor and dentist visits or other services for the family.

As a boy, Sammarco would go to the tailor shop during his lunch breaks in grammar school and enjoyed conversations with two part time Jewish men who worked there — one of whom would become his mentor. The worker would give him history lessons and talk about Hitler and what life was like in Germany, where he immigrated from.

Between the knowledge Sammarco picked up from the workers and the letters he received from his brothers stationed overseas in different parts of the world, he was always learning about current events going on in the world. His teacher would often ask the young man, “how’d you know that?” The teacher even asked him to report current events to the class.

When his brother, Bob, whom Sammarco hadn’t seen in five years, came back from serving in the military, one of the first things he did was grab his younger brother by his collar and take him to St. Ann’s Academy school to enroll. It was an all-boys private school with a cost of $12 a month, which was a lot of money back then, but Bob and his father paid for it. Sammarco was always an above average student with good grades across the board. He graduated in 1948 and planned to go into the military, but again Bob had other plans for him, and took him to Queens College to enroll. He was only the second person in the whole neighborhood to go to college.

“I graduated Sunday, and the Monday after I graduated [the next day] I was sworn into the military,” said Sammarco.

He was in charge of communications in Korea for 17 months. The highlight of his time in Korea was helping the local orphaned children who had no food, clothes, or even underwear. He used his leadership to get the troops stationed there to build an orphanage. He went from tent to tent collecting money. Three days later, a truckload of clothes arrived.

“That was one of the best times of my life because they knew I was responsible for it,” said Sammarco.

The children were amazed by how fast the buildings went up, and Sammarco felt good to leave something of himself behind.

“I came home from Korea in 1954 on military discharge and I said, what am I going to do now?” Sammarco recalled.

Bob guided him and told him about a job at an insurance company. He did very well financially, but working sales wasn’t for him.

“I loved teaching. I always loved teaching,” said Sammarco.

He went back to college at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. He was only there a week when he was called to the office.

Peter Sammarco

“I asked, ‘was there a problem with my check?’ And they said, ‘no’ and offered me a job teaching,” Sammarco recalled. “I said, “but I’ve only been going to school here a week.” The new job was at an all-girls school, namely William Maxwell Commercial High School in Brooklyn.

He went in for the interview not knowing much about the position. Amazingly, they hired him on the spot.

“They didn’t ask me any questions, they said, here you go, room 401.”

He was in a class with 52 female students where Sammarco taught history for three years, but eventually it came time to settle down in the suburbs, and the commute to the city became too much. A friend helped him get a job at Plainview High School teaching history. He was there for 19 years. He spent his free time teaching at a Jewish community center and homeschooling sick children at a mental institution.

“The parents said he was such a wonder to their kids,” said his wife, Janet Sammarco.

One year, the journalist Geraldo Rivera ran a feature story about wanting to raise money for schools with special needs. Sammarco decided to throw a carnival at the high school and get his senior students involved. They raised $9,000 dollars.

“Some parents in Plainview say it was the best thing that ever happened to Plainview… that all the kids did something good,” said Sammarco.

But it was not just one single event that stands out to him. “The whole experience was rewarding,” he said. “Seeing kids grow. I had the same kids for a year so I could see the difference between when they started and the end. Plainview had really good students. Oh, they were bright. It was a good feeling, if you don’t get that feeling. Don’t teach.”

Sammarco still remembers receiving the news of his cancer and how the idea of having to resign pained him, as he would no longer be able to teach without a voice. The students all walked him out to his car on that last day.

“All the girls were crying,” Sammarco recalled. “That was a bad day, let me tell you… I loved teaching… that was very sad. I drive out of the parking lot and they were all waving.”

He had surgery shortly after, and the whole school waited for news. Someone made an announcement on the loud speaker, saying “Mr. Sammarco made it through the surgery, he is okay.”

They could have taken only one vocal cord and left him with a voice, because the tumor was only on one vocal cord, but it was large and if even meniscal traces were on the second one the cancer would have spread further. The operation saved his life. With speech therapy he started with a method using burping up air, one he learned to laugh about. His more recent pattern of projecting air became more natural, allowing him to verbally communicate.

“People would be scared and feel bad if they couldn’t understand what he was saying,“ said Janet Sammarco. “I think we were closer. He needed me more than ever before.”

It also brought the community together and showed him how many people cared. People came to him and prayed for him.

“Losing my voice didn’t affect the quality of my life. I can’t complain about my life. I was good to my country, I helped people grow, I’m very positive about my life,” said Sammarco.

The radiation from chemotherapy led to blood and kidney cancer years later. He believed the water he drank while in Korea that had been contaminated with gasoline also contributed. Drinking that water and smoking socially are his only regrets in life, but he says he wouldn’t have changed anything.

“Did I appreciated what I had? Not really. I do now. We take things for granted… after the third cancer I was like, O.K God, I get it,” He laughed lightheartedly with a big warm smirk.

Still a young man after the surgery, Sammarco still needed to work. Sammarco went on to be the groundskeeper at his local church, St. Anthony of Padua R.C Church in Rocky Point after resigning from teaching.

Sammarco passed away June 24. He was 88, and is survived by his wife of 60 years, Janet; his children, Peter and Jennifer; two granddaughters, Jennifer and Christine; two great-grandsons, Connor and Bryce; and his only surviving brother, Richard.

He was preceded in death by his son Robert.

“I enjoyed the 19 years working at the church and planting trees… it wasn’t that bad,” Sammarco said. “The trees will outlive me, and people will look at them and remember me driving around on the tractor.”

File photo

Comsewogue school district representatives said they focused on keeping increases low while dealing with a decrease in school enrollment.

The Comsewogue Union Free School District has proposed a $93,974,755 budget for the 2019-20 school year, an increase of $2,027,025 from last year. 

Included in the budget is a proposed tax levy, the amount of money the district raises from taxes, of $57,279,755, a 2 percent increase of $1,140,786, below this year’s tax levy cap of 3 percent.

One of the main foci of the budget was for child mental health awareness.

“Everybody we met with, everyone was in agreement, students’ mental health and well-being — it was important to put more money into the budget for social and emotional learning and mental health issues,” assistant superintendent Susan Casali said.

One increase came in the form of pupil personnel services from $3,322,061 to $3,678,447. PPL aids students with special needs. 

While the district experienced a total enrollment decline of 40 students, the number of students with special needs has increased, according to the assistant superintendent, and each of those young people is more expensive overall than a typical student. In addition, the district is hiring one additional social worker and a new social worker teacher’s assistant.

“That’s why you don’t see the budget going down — there are students that cost us a lot more money,” Casali said. 

Other major increases include a 27 percent and $696,209 increase in debt services, but this is offset slightly by a $570,000 or 33 percent decrease in interfund transfers.

In terms of state aid, the district received a moderate increase from $31,800,000 to $32,700,000. 

In addition to the budget vote, the district is asking residents to vote on proposition 2, which would establish a capital reserve fund. This allows Comsewogue to set aside money for future capital projects, when it will require district residents again to take money out of the reserve. Casali said this is funded through unallocated funds the district has by the end of the year, and the fund does not increase taxes.

In the meantime, the district is going ahead with the first phase of its bond project; bids were scheduled to go out to companies in April. District voters approved the $32 million bond last year, which the district said would go up in several phases. The first phase, costing about $5.8 million, will complete work on the parking lots at the Boyle Road Elementary School and the Terryville Elementary School, along with the creation of security vestibules in all school buildings and adding new locks to doors throughout the high school building.

The district is lauding its Moody’s bond rating of AA2, and expects to have to keep up on payments for the next three years in order to maintain that rating.

Comsewogue will host its budget hearing May 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the district office board room. The budget vote will take place May 21, in Comsewogue High School from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr
Check back later this week for Miller Place’s proposed school budget and interviews with school board trustee candidates.

School districts throughout the North Shore of Long Island are gearing up for budget votes on May 21. Here is a round up of some of the local districts latest budget overviews and a preview of candidates who are running for board of education trustee seats.  

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai School District budget overview 

The final proposed budget figure for the 2019-20 school year will be 61,009,770, which is a 1.34 percent and $806,295 increase from the current year’s amount. 

The district is poised to receive $18,007,000 in state aid in the upcoming school year, a slight decrease than it received last year. 

Though it will receive slightly more in foundation aid for the upcoming school year in $12,909,109 compared to this year’s figure of 12,845,044, the district will be receiving less money in building state aid. The 2019-20 amount will be $1,168,106, a $489,000 decrease in funds. That’s due to a 25-year-old bond loan on the high school finally being paid off, according to Superintendent Gordan Brodsal. 

“The bond on the high school is paid off,” he said. “No more principal, no more interest. That means no more building aid from the state.”

The tax levy cap for the district in 2019-20 will be 2.168 percent and the tax levy amount is $40,986,735, a $870,000 increase from the previous year. 

The tax rate for an average assessment of a household valued at $3,700 will be $9,839. As a result, and the district said there will be a $17 increase in tax rates for the average homeowner.

For capital projects, a separate vote in conjunction with budget, the board wants to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Brosdal and the board are proposing to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

Other highlights of the budget are plans to make the Consultant Teacher Direct Instructor program full day for children in grades 1 through 4. To expand the program, the district would be looking to hire two additional instructors. 

Also, the budget will cover replacement of outdated textbooks in the middle and high school. The total for the new textbooks will cost the district $75,550.

Mount Sinai board of education trustee vote

This year, Mount Sinai will have five candidates running for three open trustee seats. Board member Anne Marie Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again after she replaced trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August 2018. Board member Lynn Jordan will be vying for re-election. Challengers this year are Lisa Pfeffer, Chris Quartarone and Robert Pignatello. The two candidates with the highest votes will get a three-year term while the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s vacated seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats. 

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point Union Free School District budget overview 

The latest proposed budget amount for the upcoming school year will be $86,743,446, a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount. The district will also see a projected tax levy cap of 2.59 percent and a tax levy amount of $52,491,371, which is an increase by more than $1.3 million from the current year’s figure of $51,166,218. 

The district will be receiving $28,864,295 in state aid for 2019-20, an increase of close to $130,000. Rocky Point will get $19,044,293 in foundation aid, an increase of more than $140,000 compared to last year’s figure of $18,902,525. 

Another highlight of the budget overview is that debt services will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

Superintendent Micheal Ring said the bonds expiring were approved by voters for various construction projects, including the construction of the Rocky Point Middle School. As debt service decreases, so does building aid from New York State, which is provided to offset part of the cost of bond interest and principal payments over the life of debt. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which is expected to likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Ring said that as rates have gone down it has resulted in opportunities to better support the district’s core instructional programs and enhance maintenance of facilities.  

Rocky Point board of education trustee vote

This year there will be two open trustee seats. 

Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, has said he has no plans on securing re-election in May and will let other candidates run for his seat. The candidate with the most votes will serve for the three-year term. The candidate with the second highest number of votes will serve the remainder of Coniglione’s term, which is one year. The candidates this year are Susan Sullivan, Michael Lisa and Jessica Ward. 

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District budget overview

The finalized proposed budget figure for 2019-20 will be $75,952,416. It is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure. 

The tax levy cap for the upcoming school year is 2.36 percent and the tax levy cap amount is $54,377,657, an increase of $1,257,442 from the current year’s amount. 

The district is expected to receive $12,676,465 in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a decrease of over $98,000 from 2018-2019. Also, SWR will see an increase of over $48,000 in foundation state aid received with the total amount being $6,442,501. 

The fund balance for 2019-20 will decrease by close to $67,000 from 2018-19. 

The final budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse. 

Shoreham-Wading River board of education trustee vote

This year, SWR will have three trustee seats open.

The full terms of board members Michael Lewis and Kimberly Roff will expire June 30. Roff chose to not seek re-election. 

The third seat is for board member Erin Hunt, who resigned in March and whose term will expire June 30 as well.  

The candidates with the two highest number of votes will win the full three-year term seats.  These candidates’ term will be from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022.

The candidate with the third highest number of votes will win Hunt’s vacated seat.  The winning candidate’s term will begin the evening of the election, May 21, and their term of office will end June 30, 2020. An election will take place in May 2020 to fill the seat for a three-year term.

The five challengers for this year are: Thomas Sheridan, Jennifer Kitchen, Meghan Tepfenhardt, Edward Granshaw and William McGrath.

 

Northport High School. File photo

Northport residents were given an overview of a proposed finalized school district budget for the 2019-20 school year at the April 11 board of education meeting. Plans include important capital projects that the district will look to pursue in the upcoming school year. 

The overall budget figure totals $171,397,668 — an over $4.5 million and 2.75 percent  increase from last year’s amount. The district will see a projected tax levy cap of 2.78 percent and the levy amount would increase by over $4 million. 

“We’ve been on this budget process for about two months,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “We’re at the point when we will be rapping it up.”

The proposed tax levy would result in an increase of property tax rates of $187.918 per $100 of assessed valuation. 

This year’s budget amount will help cover expansion of integrated co-teaching model at elementary and high schools, funds for ongoing security expansion including the implementation of a smart card ID system, funds for extra/co-curricular and athletic programs. Also there will be improvements to instructional technology with more Chromebook laptops in classrooms and there will be a “future study” done that will look at the future demographics and capacity of the school district. 

Debt services increased $1 million compared to last year due in part to two major payments. One is a bond payment, which has gone up close to $770,000. The other is a tax anticipation note that has increased to $300,000.

The district for the upcoming school year will be receiving $16,130,805 in state aid, which is slightly more than they expected to receive in Gov. Cuomo’s first executive budget. 

“This has changed since the last time we spoke,” Banzer said. “We got a little bit more in state aid.”

The district used the funds from state aid to reduce the tax levy amount to the most recent 2.78 percent figure.  

Banzer proposed a general fund budget of $936,750 for capital projects in the upcoming school year. Roof repairs and replacement districtwide total $616,750. Asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs total $320,000. 

The superintendent also proposed to use $1.8 million from the capital reserve fund for additional asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs as well as traffic reconfiguration at the entrance of Northport High School. These projects will need resident’s approval come May. 

“We had to prioritize some projects,” Banzer said. “There remains other work to be done and we understand that.” 

Also discussed at the board meeting was the ongoing LIPA situation. 

“This is really important to understand, there has been a lot of questions,” Banzer said.

The school district has been involved in the third-party beneficiary case regarding LIPA alleged breaking a promise by seeking to reduce its power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The district has also been in mediation with the Town of Huntington, LIPA and a third-party neutral attorney. 

Residents most recently held a public rally against LIPA earlier this month. 

The next Northport school board meeting on May 9 at 7 p.m. will be a public hearing to discuss the finalized budget  at the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The budget vote is slated for May 21. 

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Scott O’Brien was named as the Rocky Point school district’s new superintendent April 16. Photo from RPUFSD

Following a months-long search process, the Rocky Point school district has selected Scott O’Brien as its next superintendent of schools. O’Brien will succeed Micheal Ring, who is set to retire this summer after 11 years of service to the school district, the last nine years as superintendent of schools. The school board named him to the position at its April 16 meeting.

“During the application process, it became evident that the candidate best suited and qualified to lead our schools into the future was already part of our administrative team,” said board president Susan Sullivan. “In his many years working in our district, Scott has cultivated strong connections with parents, students and residents alike. This, combined with his passion for education, convinced the board that he will continue to serve our district well in this new role.” 

O’Brien, who currently serves as the district’s interim assistant superintendent, has nearly two decades of educational experience in the Rocky Point school district. He served as a principal in the district prior to his current position, most recently for Rocky Point Middle School and previously for Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School.

O’Brien earned his doctorate in educational leadership and accountability at St. John’s University, professional diploma in educational administration at SUNY Stony Brook, master’s in literacy from Dowling College and bachelor’s of science in psychology and special education from Le Moyne College.

“Rocky Point has always felt like a home away from home for me, and I am honored and humbled to begin this new professional journey here,” the incoming superintendent said. “This district is well-regarded for the robust educational offerings we provide to students at all levels … I look forward to working collaboratively with the staff, students and community to take our district to the next level of excellence.” 

Heather Lynch visits Cape Lookout in Antarctica during recent trip that included an NBC TV crew that produced a feature for ‘Sunday Night with Megan Kelly.’ Photo by Jeff Topham

By Daniel Dunaief

Heather Lynch is thrilled that she’s in the first class of scientists chosen as a recipient of the National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grant.

An associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, Lynch uses computers to study satellite images to reveal details about populations of penguins.

In addition to determining how many penguins are in an area, Lynch also can use images of the stains penguin poop leaves on rocks to determine what the penguins eat. Krill, which feeds on the underside of ice, is reddish or pinkish, while fish leave a white stain.

Heather Lynch with a penguin. Photo from Heather Lynch

A total of 11 researchers won the grants, which are a combined award from Microsoft and the National Geographic Society and were announced in December. The winners were chosen from more than 200 qualified scientists.

“This is the first grant that National Geographic and Microsoft are doing,” Lynch said. “It’s super exciting to be in the inaugural group.”

To hear from Lynch’s colleagues, she is an extraordinary candidate for a host of awards, including recognition as one of the TBR News Media People of the Year for 2018.

In addition to landing a coveted grant for her innovative research using sophisticated computers and satellite images, Lynch earlier this year made a remarkable discovery using Landsat imagery about a population of Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands in the Antarctic that was largely unknown prior to her published paper.

This archipelago of nine islands, which were named because of the ice that is impenetrable in most years, was home to 1.5 million penguins, which she surveyed using a combination of photos, drone imagery and hand counting. That figure represents a substantial population of a charismatic animal whose numbers often are used as a way to determine the health of a delicate region managed by a collection of nations.

“She does such good work,” said Patricia Wright, a distinguished service professor at Stony Brook University and the founder and executive director of Centre ValBio, a research station in Madagascar. Her discovery of the additional Adélie penguins was “fantastic.”

Lynch received some pushback from people who thought the discovery of these penguins ran counter to the narrative about the need for conservation. Wright appreciates how Lynch shared the discovery with the public, reinforcing her scientific credibility.

“She’s an example of a scientist who doesn’t give in to political pressure,” Wright said. “It’s difficult sometimes to face up to people who have good intentions, but who don’t seem to want to accept the reality.”

While the discovery of the Adélie penguins was remarkable, it doesn’t necessarily run contrary to the notion about the delicate balance of the Antarctic ecosystem, and it also doesn’t indicate that the population is soaring in a way the flightless water fowl never will. Indeed, the 1.5 million penguins may have been higher in the 1990s, although she is working to pin down exactly how much larger they might have once been.

Heather Lynch at Spigot Peak in the Antarctic. Photo by Catherine Foley

Lynch has also won admiration and appreciation from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who recently won his 14th term and has focused attention on environmental issues.

“Her ability to use statistics and mathematics to further conservation biology is pioneering work and worthy of recognition,” Englebright said.

The assemblyman believes scientists and policymakers are still in the early part of the process of understanding the complexity of the ecosystems in the Antarctic.

Finding the penguins on the Danger Islands doesn’t mean the “Antarctic is any less at risk. We still have to place that discovery into its proper context and [Lynch] is helping us do that,” Englebright said.

People who have ventured to the Antarctic with her admire Lynch’s focus, energy
and stamina.

Michelle LaRue, who is a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, suggested that Lynch was “the most hardworking scientist that I know.”

LaRue recalled a time when Lynch was ill, and she still got up and did her job every day.

“The work we were doing wasn’t easy,” LaRue said. “I know she didn’t feel well and she kept going. She has a lot of perseverance.”

LaRue appreciates how her fellow scientist sees the “forest for the trees,” using a combination of high technology and considerable on-site counting to understand what changes in the penguin population reveal about the region.

Michael Polito, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University, has also worked with Lynch for years. He appreciates how she’s “not afraid of uncertainty. In science, it’s knowing how well you know something. She’s amazing at taking data and information, which from the natural world is messy, and analyzing it and helping people pull useful and meaningful knowledge from complex situations.”

Ron Naveen, who founded the nonprofit group Oceanites in 1987, has worked with Lynch for 11 years.

“I’m very much proud of her work ethic and the standard of excellence she brings to the job,” Naveen said.

Oceanites collaborates with Lynch and others, Naveen said, to understand how penguins have reacted to climate change in an area where temperatures have been increasing at a faster rate than they have for much of the rest of the world.

Naveen recalls how Lynch, whom he describes as “petite and energetic” lugged around “amazingly heavy equipment,” including a camera for a Google Earth project.

“Whether [Lynch] is hiking, using a satellite or a drone, or lugging equipment that’s heavier than she is, she gets the data,” Naveen said.

He recalled a lab meeting with Lynch, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland in the lab of William Fagan. Lynch circled the room as she wrote on the board, sharing statistical language to explain a point.

“I had no bloody idea what she was talking about,” Naveen said. “When she was done, she sat down with a smile, and I raised my hand and innocently asked, ‘Would you mind translating that into plain English?’ Without missing a beat, she did.”

By all accounts, she’s continuing to do that.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella congratulates a member of the class of 2016 during graduation June 23. File photo by Bob Savage

By Rob DeStefano

What can you accomplish during a 25-year career at Comsewogue School District? Greatness. Let me explain: While I was a sophomore at Comsewogue, we were introduced to Joe Rella as the new teacher in the music department, a quarter century ago. In the months that followed, students started talking about music, band, theater and jazz with an increased frequency not measurable before. Something special was beginning.

I don’t remember which concert it was, winter or spring, but as a junior participating in the newly reinvigorated jazz band, it happened. We sat playing an upbeat swing-time classic — maybe Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” or Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” — and this new teacher stepped away from the conductor’s podium. We stayed cool, kept playing, though we wondered what was happening. He walked to the audience and offered a hand to his wife. A moment later, this new teacher and his wife were doing the Charleston in front of an audience of parents, while our band played. In that moment, the magic became real. Comsewogue had hired our own “Mr. Holland.” We had our first glimpse of who Rella was.

In the years that followed, class after class grew to appreciate his style — and his impact. His collaboration with our music educators led to a number of new opportunities for students. We had a pep band at home football games. Our theater performances recruited more students, some discovering talent they didn’t know they had. Even more, they found confidence, overcame shyness and lifted each other to perform at higher levels. This influence benefited all the district’s high school students when he became principal in the 1998-99 school year. How he found the time to continue to accompany students in their musical endeavors, I don’t know.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella with students who participated in Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Rella’s appointment as Comsewogue’s superintendent in 2010 coincided with my election to our board of education. To call the last eight-plus years of working with him “unforgettable” is an understatement. Just as he inspired our students, he’s been a source of trust, candor and community to Port Jefferson Station residents, and beyond.

He’s proposed innovative solutions to challenges that threaten public education. He’s stood up for our children and an educational curriculum that prepares them to be their best. He’s advocated logic in the face of unreasonable and irresponsible policies dictated by out-of-touch government actions. As he prepares to retire after nine years as superintendent, his influence on our district, community and public education are deep and long lasting.

Great leaders don’t act alone. At each step in his 25-year journey, Rella has influenced the culture of the departments, schools and communities he’s worked with. Those who became Warriors along the way have become part of this culture of openness, collaboration and unwavering spirit. That makes me very excited for our community and Comsewogue School District’s future.

Our district administration has delivered great community successes in recent years. We’ve weathered the limitations of the property tax cap without compromising the quality of student education. Student access to technology has grown at all levels. Our arts programs are amazing. If you haven’t been to one of our schools’ art shows or musicals lately, I highly recommend them.

We’ve received accreditation from the Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools, a first on Long Island for a full-sized district, putting our educational standard significantly above those dictated by the New York State Education Department. Program performance has been on a strong incline. Our literacy program and programs for English language learners are providing stronger foundations toward the educational growth of every student. Our problem-based learning program is proving our students have the analytical, critical thinking skills for 21st century success. They not only pass state exams but demonstrate deep knowledge of topics and an understanding of the world around them.

Rob DeStefano is a Comsewogue board of education member and a Comsewogue High School graduate

On top of all this, our district — and really, our community — culture is unprecedented. Our students are not only academically thriving, but they are responsible stewards of the schools and neighborhoods to which they belong. The number of volunteer initiatives and the number of students who participate is awesome to see. And the latest of these, “Joe’s Days of Service,” is one of the great cultural legacies that I have no doubt will become a lasting part of how Comsewogue students give back to the community that has supported them, even after Rella moves on. Our students, past, present and future, will continue to make us proud.

As incoming superintendent, Jennifer Quinn represents the next stage in our community’s Warrior spirit. She has worked alongside Rella to get us where we are. As our district has been elevated, she has built, evolved and driven the programs that are enabling our students to thrive. I’m extremely excited about the vision she has shared to continue Comsewogue’s trajectory toward the very best in academics, athletics and arts. Our community is becoming a more attractive place to live and raise a family. Ask your local real estate agent to confirm this. Where we’re headed, the place we live will become an even more coveted venue — a benefit for all residents.

Legacy takes many forms. Rella’s real, lasting impact on our community is proven by how we celebrate and carry forward the torch he passes along to us all. The job belongs to all of us. We must not lose sight of what makes ours a special place to be. We must recognize the opportunity ahead of us and continue toward it with the same unwavering commitment. We must continue to work together, support each other and continue to carry Comsewogue forward with pride because, in some way, we’ve all had the blessing of being students of Joe Rella. We are a family of Warriors.

Rob DeStefano is a Comsewogue School District Board of Education member and a graduate of Comsewogue High School.

Shoreham-Wading River’s superintendent, Gerard Poole, speaks during an April 18 board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Shoreham-Wading River school district is looking to get smart, with the help of New York State funds.

The district is finalizing plans to use the state’s Smart School Bond Act, which makes up to $2 million available for every school district in the state to improve its technology and security infrastructure. The district has been allocated $1,003,429 to make improvements to district computer server infrastructure; purchase new computers, projectors, security cameras; and to install a new security booth at the entrance of the high school parking lot.

The district laid out its plans at an Oct. 23 board meeting, where Peter Esposito, the director of technical services, said the district plans to replace several pieces of data storage equipment to maximize storage capability in switch closets for $430,000. The district also plans to replace all district computers, 450 in all, last upgraded in 2013, with more modern machines for $425,000. The district will replace its 120, 10-year-old classroom projectors with new LCD projectors for $65,000 and add additional security cameras for $18,000.

“It’s been on my desk for the last three years, so it would be good to move forward with this,” Esposito said.

A prefabricated visitors booth for the high school parking lot will be installed for $65,000. While Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district is still working out the final plans for the booth, it could possibly be located along the high school driveway where the road forks to the administration entrance and to the main parking lot. The booth could include a guard-operated gate so school officials can monitor who is entering the high school grounds, even if they are going to use the trails to the south of the school or the North Shore Public Library.

“The way we envision it is it will help somebody get to the high school, get to the library or make the left to come up to administrative offices,” Poole said.

The final version of the plan will be submitted to New York State by the end of November, but Poole said the committee that reviews the plan has been taking about one year on average to approve those documents. He said he expects the visitors booth to be installed sometime after the district revitalizes the high school parking lot over the summer as part of a 2015 capital bond referendum, but that those plans will be changed to allow for the new booth.

At prior board meetings residents have expressed frustration about new speed bumps installed on the driveway to the high school, saying they’re so hard and short that it forces most cars to slowly roll over them. Residents have said the slowdown has increased traffic going into the school, especially in early mornings, but the superintendent said the speed bumps are working as intended to slow down traffic to 15 mph or less. He added the school has had no problem getting all students in class by first period, though officials will be reviewing the safety protocols for the guard booth as the district develops plans for the new parking lot, with that stage of the bond project going out to bid in January.

At the October meeting, board President Michael Lewis asked if the computers the school would be buying would have to be replaced in another eight years. Alan Meinster, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said there was no way to tell where technology would go in that amount of time.

“I can promise you if you do this in another eight years you will have the same budget,” Meinster said. “I don’t know where we’re going to be in the next eight years technology wise — what we’re going to be using later on.”

Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the school could pay for future technology through capital reserve funds.

The investment plan is available to view on the district’s website, and district officials are currently asking for feedback on the proposal. The board will vote on the finalized version of the plan at its Nov. 27 board meeting.

Coolsmiles Orthodontics in Port Jeff is hosting an event aimed at examining the causes and identifying solutions for bullying. Stock photo

Orthodontists are usually tasked with improving young peoples’ smiles, but the partners of a Port Jefferson practice are taking patient well-being a step further.

Coolsmiles Orthodontics in Port Jefferson is sponsoring an event entitled “End Bullying Now: Here’s How” at 7 p.m. Nov. 5 at Port Jefferson Village Center, a lecture that will be conducted by Jessie Klein, an associate professor of sociology at Adelphi University and author of the 2012 book “The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools.”

The practice will cover the cost of renting the space for the forum and hiring Klein, and the event is open to the public free of charge.

Dr. David Amram, one of the practice’s partners along with Dr. Justin Ohnigan, said he has always viewed his job as not only improving patients’ teeth, but also impacting their overall self-esteem and well-being as a whole.

“When I was younger I had a really great relationship with my orthodontist,” Amram said, which has led him to view his responsibility as broader than just teeth. “I realized what kind of impact that [self-esteem] change could have on an individual.”

Amram said the practice regularly has discussions about trips and events it should sponsor that are meant to foster positivity and build relationships with the families who visit Coolsmiles, like outings to Long Island Ducks baseball games and other similar events and trips. He said the practice’s exposure to dozens of kids everyday inspired them to tailor an event around an anti-bullying message. He shared a story from a young patient that he said has stuck with him.

“One kid asked for a specific kind of jacket for the holidays, he wanted the jacket and he was wearing it, and then it was gone,” Amram recalled. He said the child explained he stopped wearing the jacket he couldn’t wait to get because other kids made fun of it. “I saw that in him and it was heartbreaking … The need for this kind of thing is striking.”

Klein said she is still in the process of planning how the event will actually play out, but summed up the theme as a look at what goes on in society to encourage that kind of behavior from bullies from a psychological and sociological perspective, and to examine ways to foster a more compassionate society. She said she hopes the forum inspires parents to talk to their kids whether they’re being bullied or displaying signs they may be bullies themselves. She called bullying a national epidemic and said more federal and state resources need to be directed toward prevention of the problem, rather than punitive responses and more security to stave off possible school shootings.

“You really need everybody on board with the same message,” she said. Klein commended Coolsmiles for taking on the responsibility of community betterment from the private sector, and setting an example for others, calling their decision to host the event beautiful and positive. “Them stepping up like that is exactly what is needed.”

Those interested in attending can RSVP by email to info@coolsmiles.com or by calling 631-289-0909 by Oct. 25.