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Elwood Middle School

An artistic rendering of the proposed Elwood Orchard. Graphic from Villadom Corp

Breaking News as of 3:09 p.m. May 16: Huntington Town officials have adjourned the May 17 hearing on Villadom Corp’s proposed Elwood Orchard. More details to come. 

Huntington Town officials have laid down the ground rules for the crowds expected at the Villadom mall hearing this Thursday.

Residents will have the chance to voice their opinions on developer Villadom Corp’s proposed plans to build a 486,380-square-foot mall on Jericho Turnpike May 17 starting at 7 p.m. at Elwood Middle School.  It will be the first town board meeting to be held outside Huntington Town Hall.

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), during his 2017 campaign for town office, had proposed rotating where town board meetings are held in an attempt to increase accessibility to residents. He said he felt the strong community interest in Villadom Corp.’s proposal provided a good opportunity to try relocating. Elwood Middle School’s auditorium has more then double the legal occupancy of Huntingotn Town Hall, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. 

The proposed plans for Villadom mall, named Elwood Orchard by the developers, has drawn widespread interest and vocal objection from Huntington residents. Several public officials including newly elected state assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) has spoken out against the project.

Based on the anticipated crowds, Huntington town officials released the following guidelines May 14 for how the hearing will be conducted:

  • The official Town Board Meeting Agenda will be conducted prior to the Villadom public hearing. The Villadom project is not on the May 17 Official Town Board Meeting Agenda as a vote may only be conducted within 90 days after the public hearing.
  • The Elwood school district will not permit public access to school grounds prior to 6 p.m. due to ongoing school activities. Town of Huntington Public Safety officers will coordinate on site with Suffolk County police to maintain a safe and orderly environment for the event as per the district’s request.
  • Access to Elwood Middle School will be permitted via the Elwood Road entrance only.  The Kenneth Drive entrances to the school will be closed as a security precaution.
  • The public is encouraged to carpool due to parking limitations at both Elwood Middle School and  John H. Glenn High School. Normal afterschool activities will be ongoing at the high school until approximately 9 p.m.
  • As a large number of speakers are anticipated at the hearing, people wishing to speak must sign in with security upon entering the middle school. A number will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no preregistration to speak.
  • The maximum time allotted for each speaker will be determined at an early point in the meeting based on the total number of participants wishing to speak. The applicant, developer Villadom Corp. will open the hearing with a presentation as is standard format, followed by the public speakers.
  • Reserved handicap seating will be located in the front rows of the left and right sides of the auditorium, individuals requiring handicap access (including speakers requiring handicap access) may stay seated in that section.
  • Speakers will be called up to assemble in groups of five (speakers numbers 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, etc.) in the far left and far right aisles, where there will be reserved seating for each group of five speakers in the aisle seat of the first five rows. Once finished speaking, speakers will return to other seats in the auditorium, opening up the reserved seats for the next five speakers. 
  • If the auditorium is filled to maximum occupancy, audio from the meeting will be broadcast to people assembled outside the building.

For those interested in attending, Elwood Middle School is located at 478 Elwood Road in Elwood. The town advises that due to the change of location, live streaming of the town board meeting will not be available. The meeting will be broadcast on Optimum 18 and FIOS 38 as well as be posted on the town’s website within 24 hours of the meetings completion, according to Lembo.

Follow TBR News Media on Twitter and Facebook for coverage of the event May 17. 

An artistic rendering of the proposed development on Elwood Orchard site along Jericho Turnpike. Rendering from Villadom Corp

Town of Huntington officials have decided to use the public hearing on contentious plans for a proposed Elwood mall as the trial run for taking town board meetings on the road.

Huntington Town board members voted 4-1 to reschedule public comments on the proposed Villadom Mall to a May 17 town board session that will be held at Elwood Middle School.

“This will be our test case,” Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

Lupinacci, during his 2017 campaign for town office, had proposed rotating where town board meetings are held in attempt to increase accessibility to residents. He said he felt the strong community interest in developer Villadom Corp’s proposal to construct a 486,380-square foot mall with mixed retail and office space on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood provided a good opportunity to try relocating.

“I once again stand in strong opposition to the Villadom project…”
— Steve Stern

“The middle school auditorium has more seating,” the supervisor said. “I am sure it will be a long hearing of several hours of comments.”

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the sole vote against relocating the Villadom hearing, citing security concerns and potential confusion for concerned residents.

Many area residents voiced their opinions on the proposed mall at the April 10 town board meeting. The first among them was former Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

“I once again stand in strong opposition to the Villadom project and overdevelopment in our area which will have a tremendously adverse impact on the aquifer, already heavy traffic and the quality of life,” Stern said.

He said the Suffolk County Legislature previously voted against Orchard Park, a prior proposal to build 360 luxury apartments in addition to retail and office space, on the same site as Elwood Orchard, Villadom’s proposed project.

“There are doomsday predictions of traffic counts, megamalls and tax breaks that are non-existent.”
— Robert Rocklein

Robert Rocklein, a member of the civic group Huntington Matters, said he is supportive of Villadom’s plans.

“I see the glass as half full, not half empty,” he said. “I see a lot of benefits that could be bestowed on the community.”

Rocklein said he believes residents’ fears of the mixed-use project have been created by information circulating on social media. He once viewed a similar development in Short Hills, New Jersey whose tenants he said have given more than $1 million a year to community organizations and groups.

“There are doomsday predictions of traffic counts, megamalls and tax breaks that are non-existent,” Rocklein said. “Elwood school district stands to have the most to gain, but also the most to lose.”

An online petition started against the proposed Villadom Mall has gathered more than 4,000 signatures in the last three weeks. Residents have voiced concerns about the potential environmental impact of the development’s storm water runoff on drinking water as well as potentially increased traffic on Jericho Turnpike, Old Country and Deer Park roads.

The Greater Huntington Civic Group, a nonprofit organization of multiple civic associations in the Town of Huntington, will be hosting a public meeting with the developer April 18 at 7 p.m. prior to the town hearing. The event will be held at the Huntington Moose Lodge, located at 631 Pulaski Road in Greenlawn.

Dilapidated auditorium seating in Elwood Middle School, will be repaired as a result of the passage of a capital bond proposition. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Elwood school district opened its doors to residents last week for a night of building tours in anticipation of the Nov. 28 bond referendum vote to spend $38.2 million on infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

School administrators guided parents through the district’s four buildings Nov. 8 — Harley Avenue Primary School, James H. Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School and John H. Glenn High School — to provide firsthand glimpses of the proposed numerous critical repairs and renovations within each school. The projects are addressed in two propositions community members will be able to vote on Nov. 28.

The tours were considered effective by the small — yet invested — group of parents who walked through each school.

“You can tell me all you want that there are cracked tiles but seeing it actually brings it to life and makes you see the real needs here,” said Michael Ryan, whose daughter is a graduate of the district. “We have a responsibility to make sure students have an environment that’s conducive to education.”

Marianne Craven, an Elwood resident for 40 years, thought it was a good idea for the school to host the tour.

“We’ve had all sorts of bond issues over the years, but I think this is the first time we’ve ever had a tour,” Craven said. “Those that didn’t come lost the visual. A picture is not worth a thousand words, and actually seeing it makes all the difference.”

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that would be repaired or renovated if Proposition 1 is approved by residents Nov. 28. Photo by Kevin Redding

The first proposition of the bond totals $34.5 million and will cover major projects like the installation of new roofs on each school which currently leak and cause flooding whenever heavy rain occurs.

In observing the leaky ceilings throughout the middle and high school, Jill Mancini, a former district clerk at Elwood, said, “I moved here in 1975 and the roofs have been leaking since then. All of them.”

Also included under Proposition 1 are repairs to cracked sidewalks and curbing and the refurbishment of auditorium spaces and cafeterias, which need air conditioning as well as furniture replacements. In the middle and high school, the consumer science labs would be upgraded, along with the art rooms, locker rooms and a guidance suite.

“We need to bring them up to 21st century learning environments,” said Superintendent Kenneth Bossert, who led the tour of the middle school. “Some folks who visit our facilities feel like they’ve stepped back in time when they enter [some] classrooms and it’s just not the right environment to teach our students the new skill sets they need to be successful.”

Karen Tyll, the mother of an Elwood seventh-grader, said seeing all the infrastructure problems was eye opening.

“They haven’t done enough throughout the years to maintain the schools and replace the things that are required replacements,” Tyll said, pointing out the importance of stable roofs. “We’re reaching a point where everything is sort of coming to a head, and we need to make the schools better in terms of health and safety for the kids.”

Although she said it’s unfortunate the district needs such an expensive bond, Tyll hopes it will be worthwhile in the end.

“Some of the items are unnecessary because they’re more wants rather than needs,” said one mother on the tour who asked not to be named. “A roof is definitely needed, but the new guidance suite is a want. Our taxes are going to go up and they should’ve separated some of these.”

The superintendent said he felt the Nov. 8 tours were productive in helping residents understand the scope of the proposed bond. 

“It’s difficult to get a true sense of the needs of the facilities solely from the use of pictures and videos,” Bossert said. “I believe residents left with a greater understanding of the priorities the district has brought forward.”

Elwood Middle School will get a new roof with the passage of Proposition 1 by voters. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Elwood school district officials will put a total of $38 million in capital bond projects before residents for approval this November.

Elwood’s board of education voted unanimously Sept. 28  to put forth two propositions for a vote next month. Proposition 1 includes $34.5 million for health and safety improvements across the district. A $3.65 million Proposition 2 would go toward enhancement of the athletic fields.

“Over the course of the next two months, I look forward to as much community participation as possible,” Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said. “We want to provide as much information as possible to residents so that they can make an informed decision at the polls on Nov. 28.”

The first proposition focuses on major projects in each of the four school buildings — Harley Avenue Elementary, Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School and John H. Glenn High School — including replacing the roofs to fix existing leaks and flooding issues, fixing sidewalk and pavement cracks, renovating cafeterias and auditoriums and including air conditioning in some spaces.

The second, if passed, would allow for enhancements to the district’s athletic facilities including a concession stand for the high school fields with an outdoor bathroom, a synthetic turf field, sidewalks to make the fields compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a new press box and a scoreboard for the varsity baseball field.

The major issue of debate at the Sept. 28 board meeting came down to prioritizing items on the district’s list of alternative projects. The list is a compilation of recommended building renovations and upgrades that may be possible to complete if Proposition 1 is approved by voters, and there are additional funds remaining after the outlined construction is completed.

“The alternative list are all projects that were removed from Proposition 1 in order to bring it down to a level where taxpayers could be comfortable with [the tax increase],” Bossert said.

The district’s original building repair survey had recommended approximately $60 million in needed construction and safety upgrades to the buildings.

Some of the alternative projects the district will put forth to the state which aren’t included in either proposition include a new districtwide satellite clock system for $105,000; a backup generator for the computer systems at $125,000; air conditioning for office areas at $710,000; replacement of heating and ventilation units for $110,000; wall paneling at $170,000; locker room renovations for $625,000 and landscaping a playground for $40,000.

“I would like to see some things that the students will be impacted by moved up to the top of the list,” trustee Heather Mammolito said. “In an ideal world, I’d like to see locker room renovations bumped up and some others, like wall panelling, lower on the list.”

Mammolito’s comments were echoed and supported by other members of the board, who reached an agreement to re-evaluate it before posting it for district residents.

The superintendent stressed that the alternative projects list is highly flexible and “not set in stone”, as the renovations would only be possible if there are surplus funds and, which ones move forward would be dependent on how much of the bond is left.

“Often as is the case with construction, there are unanticipated costs,” Bossert said. “We may have to add projects to our list.”

The alternative projects list must be compiled as it has to be approved by voters and sent to the state, according to Bossert, so that if there are funds leftover after major projects are completed the district would have authorization to do work on these projects.

School officials have plans to host walk-through tours at each of the school buildings prior to the November vote so residents can evaluate first-hand the proposed projects. The dates have yet to be announced.

The Nov. 28 vote will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m at the district’s administrative offices. This a change from the district’s traditional 2 to 10 p.m. polling hours, approved by the school board, in order to offer more hours for working taxpayers to vote and more aligned with general election polling hours.

Elwood Middle School will get a new roof with the passage of Proposition 1 by voters. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Elwood school district board of education will weigh putting two proposals before voters this November for a total of $38 million in districtwide repairs and upgrades.

Superintendent Kenneth Bossert presented refined bond propositions Sept. 18 at Elwood Middle School Auditorium in which school officials have continued to gradually shave down and refine their list of desired projects into two propositions.

“We need to make sure to put up a budget that is below the state tax cap and maintains all programs and staffing we offer to our students,” Bossert said. “We see the scope of this, there are projects that are desperate needs that cannot be included in the budget without decimating our instructional program.”

The first proposition is for $34.5 million in capital projects and renovations that takes aim at health and safety issues in the schools. These funds would be used for major projects including the replacement of the roofs in each of the four buildings — Harley Avenue, Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School, and John H. Glenn High School — due to existing leaks and flooding issues; fixing sidewalk and pavement cracks; renovating cafeterias and auditoriums including air conditioning in some spaces. 

“It is cost prohibitive to add AC to all spaces,” Bossert said. “We would like to have large group gathering spaces that would be air conditioned. There are some very hot days where school is in session and there is not always a place we can bring our students to be cool.”

Several other projects take aim at legal issues required under state law including upgrading facilities to be compliant with the Americans with Disability Act, the latest state codes on fire alarms, drainage improvements and asbestos abatement for future construction.

The proposed Proposition 2, as presented by Bossert, requests $3.72 million for enhancements to the district’s athletic programs.

“The reason it is separate is there was division among opinions in the community,” Bossert said. “Some members of the community were strongly in support of this proposed $3.72 million as something they can afford to invest in, other factions said, ‘We don’t feel that way.’ The board wisely chose to make it a separate proposition.”

Proposition 2 would include a concession stand for the athletic fields with an outdoor bathroom, a synthetic turf field and sidewalks to make the fields ADA compliant, a new press box and scoreboard for the varsity baseball field.

The superintendent said if the board of education votes to move forward Sept. 28, the residents will cast their ballots on Nov. 28. The average estimated cost to taxpayers for Proposition 1 is $221 per year, or $18.32, for a home with an assessed value of $3,800; and if both propositions pass the average cost would be $333 per year for a home with an assessed value of $3,800.

Bossert stressed to residents that Proposition 2 for athletic enhancements can only be passed if Proposition 1 for districtwide repairs is approved by voters.

A video of the superintendent’s Sept. 17 presentation is available on YouTube and the district’s website. Bossert said the district will also be adding a calculator to its website to allow property owners to insert their home’s tax value to determine what their individual tax increase will be if Proposition 1 is approved, and if both propositions are approved.

“Elwood is not a village, not a town, but it is a school district,” Bossert said. “I believe our community takes good pride in our schools and I want that to be reflected.”

Elwood Middle School’s new principal Christina Sapienza meets and greets students Aug. 24. Photos from Elwood school district

Elwood Middle School students are kicking off the new 2017-18 school year with a new principal at the helm.

Christina Sapienza, the newest middle school principal met sixth- to eighth-graders for their first day Sept. 5. She was  appointed to the position by Elwood’s board of education over the summer.

“We knew we needed to find a real all-star for the students of Elwood Middle School,” said Superintendent  Kenneth Bossert in a statement. “Dr. Sapienza was a candidate who didn’t just want a job, she wanted a position in a district where she felt she could really be successful and make a difference. I am confident that she is the right person to do that here.”

Sapienza said she grew up in Huntington and went to St. Joseph’s College in North Patchogue. She received her doctorate degree in educational leadership from Concordia University in Chicago.

“I’ve always been very passionate about working with middle school-aged students,” she said. “It’s a unique time in their development where they need strong, trusting, loving adults in their lives that can help support them as they develop their sense of self.”

Elwood Middle School’s new principal Christina Sapienza meets and greets students Aug. 24. Photos from Elwood school district

Sapienza has extensive experience as an educator and nearly a decade of administrative experience. In her career, she previously worked as a special education teacher in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District and was an assistant principal for Oceanside schools in Nassau for six years. Sapienza is coming to Elwood from her most recent role as assistant principal at Commack Middle School for three years.

“What I recognized very quickly about the Elwood school district is it has a strong sense of community, which I am really excited to be a part of,” she said.

Over the course of the summer, Sapienza said she’s had the opportunity to meet Elwood’s teachers and staff in preparation for her new role. Middle school students and their families were invited to a special meet and greet with the new principal Aug. 24.

The first thing I hear from everyone I meet is, ‘You are going to love it here,’” Sapienza said. “People could not be kinder or more supportive.”

As the new principal, Sapienza said one of her main goals is to get Elwood’s parents, teachers and staff immersed in learning more about the adolescent development of middle school-aged students and how that influences providing instruction and support to them.

This has been a focus of Sapienza’s career as a member of the national Association for Middle Level Education. She has traveled across the country for more than five years as a AMLE presenter teaching other educators about the best practices for teaching middle school-aged children given their stage of psychological and physiological development.

“I hope to bring my passion and passion for middle school learning to everyone who speaks to me,” Sapienza said. “I want to spend this year learning about the Elwood culture and community.”

A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Alex Petroski & Victoria Espinoza

The world changed Sept. 11, 2001. For those who were alive and old enough to grasp the enormity of the event, what happened that day is very complicated and difficult to comprehend, even 15 years later. For those who weren’t born yet or were too young to remember the events, it’s even more challenging to comprehend. That is the task facing North Shore global and American history teachers welcoming eighth- and ninth-graders into their classrooms for the 2016 school year.

Student artwork done after a 9/11 lesson. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Student artwork done after a 9/11 lesson. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Wendy Blair-Braxton, an eighth-grade history teacher at Elwood Middle School, planned several days worth of lessons to help her students get an in-depth understanding of the events that transpired on 9/11.

Blair-Braxton started her lesson Sept. 9 by showing her students photos of 9/11, without telling students what the photos depicted.

“They had different reactions, some students said terrorism, some didn’t even realize we were talking about 9/11,” she said in a phone interview.

Blair-Braxton said after the students realized what the subject was, she showed videos about 9/11, to help put the students in the shoes of those at Ground Zero.

“I tried to teach the emotional aspects of 9/11,” she said. “It really did hit home for a lot of the students. I also explained to the kids, once you live through this type of history, all the emotions come back every time you revisit it. You get the chills, and the goosebumps down your spine.”

She said many of her students became emotional after seeing the video and photos of the Twin Towers falling, and the classroom became “dead silent.”

The eighth-grade teacher said many students didn’t realize just how many aspects of their lives were affected by the attacks.

“They didn’t realize added security now at airports was because of this,” she said.

The Elwood students’ lessons eventually went into further detail about the Patriot Act, terrorism and the Department of Homeland Security, as Blair-Braxton said she tried to show the students how 9/11 was a turning point in the United States.

Students were asked to write reflections on index cards, as Blair-Braxton played songs like “My City of Ruins” by Bruce Springsteen, a popular ballad that took on new meaning after 9/11 and helped raised funds for first responders.

After the lesson, students wrote down their thoughts on reflection cards.

“We had a child who was actually questioning if there were people in the building when it went down. So a lot of them really don’t have any clue.”

— Erica Alemaghides

“I feel like I shouldn’t be that affected by what happened on 9/11, since I had no personal connection to anything that happened,” one student wrote. “Then why do I feel like it does affect me? It’s probably because of a mixture of shock and sadness realizing that it affected our country and everyone inside of the country is the country.”

Grasping the subject wasn’t any easier for a classmate.

“I feel that I can’t describe 9/11 in detail,” the student wrote. “I know all the videos, and people’s stories of how they reacted, but I wasn’t there. I don’t have any personal experience with the incident. I think 9/11 had the largest negative impact in the history of the U.S. New York City is known as the city that never sleeps, but for long after the incident the city slept. The whole city was silent. I feel horrible for all the people who lost their lives, and the people who lived on, carrying the crestfallen emotions of the deceased. 9/11 will never be lost in history.”

Erica Alemaghides, a social studies teacher at Rocky Point Middle School, said she tried to approach the lesson from a different perspective this year compared to years past.

“I feel it’s important to teach them about everything, all the facts having to do with it, because they really don’t know anything,” she said. “We had a child who was actually questioning if there were people in the building when it went down. So a lot of them really don’t have any clue. They’ve heard of it, but a lot of them didn’t even really know what terrorism is, or they just don’t understand it.”

She said some students didn’t realize how many planes were hijacked that day, and weren’t aware of the attack on the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania.

Alemaghides’ new lesson plan required students to choose an artifact that might have been found in the rubble, which they then replicated and explained in a personal reflection.

She said she wanted students to understand how the nation changed after the deadly attacks, and what was done to make America safe.

“You don’t want everyone thinking every time you go into a building you have to worry about that happening,” she said.

A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Port Jefferson high school global history teacher Jesse Rosen, who teaches ninth grade, said in a phone interview that his goal in teaching about 9/11 hasn’t changed much over the years. He prefers to approach the subject from a humanistic point of view, with minimal discussion of the global implications.

“I feel like it’s still so close and people still know someone who was affected that the humanistic aspect of it is where I want to stick,” he said in a phone interview.

Rosen teaches the lesson around a story originally revealed in an ESPN piece for the show “Outside the Lines” about “the man in the red bandana.” The piece tells the story of Welles Crowther, a former lacrosse player at Boston College, who carried a red bandana with him everywhere he went. Crowther died in the attacks, and his family later learned of his heroism on that day when they heard stories about a man with a red bandana helping to save people trapped in the building.

“I feel strongly that positive can come out of negative,” he said.

Rosen shared student responses following the lesson.

“Everything we have learned about Welles shares a common theme: he was a hero,” ninth-grader Katelynn Righi wrote. “For someone to risk their life to help other people shows a lot about that person. It shows their courage, bravery and that they will do anything to make sure others are alright. He decided to be a hero because that’s who he was.”

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