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Gerard Poole

By Kyle Barr

Shoreham-Wading River school district is asking students and staff to become the eyes and ears of the school with the introduction of the anonymous Report It app as part of the district’s increasing focus on school security.

Report It app draft of anonymous report questions.

“Last fall we started to look at different ways that students could report any safety or security issues they may have where they weren’t comfortable reporting in a regular venue,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “This was an anonymous way to let us know if there was something they know or to give us some advance notice of something that may be emerging.”

The Report It app allows students, teachers, staff or community members who access the website or download the app to anonymously report on any activity they think is suspicious to the school, whether its security or drugs related or even involving social media and cyberbullying.

Alan Meinster, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment said at an April 18 board of education meeting each of the four district principals and administration will receive the tips and are responsible for checking up on any reports. The information in the report will then be monitored by the district main office.

“There are protocols they have to do involving investigating any information that is receive — all the principals will always follow the standard protocol, and part of that protocol is consulting with district administration,” Meinster said at the meeting.

The reports are monitored during regular school hours.

The app has been active in the district for approximately a month, but Poole said the district has yet to see any reports that have required action. Though Poole admitted that since reporting is anonymous there is potential for false reports, he believes students and staff understand the purpose and gravity of what this app means for the school.

“This was an anonymous way to let us know if there was something they know is emerging to give us some advance notice.”

— Gerard Poole

“We had a high school assembly where we were telling students how to use the app and what it was for, and I think the students took it very seriously as an option for them,” Poole said. “We haven’t had any false reports yet, and while there is potential for false reports it wasn’t enough of a concern for us not to implement it.”

Poole said that the school is not liable if they do not take action on any specific report.

The app is part of the district’s See It, Say It, Report It campaign to get students and staff active in being mindful of school safety. The app joins other security features that the district has implemented this year such as a visitor management system in all district buildings that scans licenses and prints out a tag with a person’s destination and photo. The district has also hired two more security guards for large gatherings as well arrival and dismissal during the school day.

The district is planning to implement more security features over the summer. Poole said the goal is for students to come back next year to new security vestibules and a student ID swipe-in system at the high school and Albert G. Prodell Middle School. The security features will be built with funds from the ongoing bond project.

“If you are going to encourage a student to come forward, which is not an easy thing to do, you have to provide mechanisms that are conducive to the culture.”

— Anthony Lavalle

Anthony Lavalle, executive director of Sayville-based Report It Inc., said that the app was designed for use in today’s technological age.

“If you are going to encourage a student to come forward, which is not an easy thing to do, you have to provide mechanisms that are conducive to the culture,” Lavalle said. “Even today if you think about it, a school shooting in Texas, school shooting in Florida, the concept is that students potentially know about these types of things, but they do not communicate them because of fear of some sort of retribution or retaliation.”

After the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, shooting, Lavalle said he’s seen a lot more interest from local schools in Report It as a means of enhancing security. A number of school districts on Long Island, including Half Hollow Hills, Plainedge, Lynbrook, Port Washington and Malverne have also signed on to using the app.

The application is web-based, but there is also an option for users to download it to their phone. Each school building’s webpage has a link that sends it to that specific building’s Report It page.

If logging into the app from the website, users will have to input five digits for reporting for Shoreham-Wading River schools. The code starts with “SWR,” with the last two letters being the school the user is sending it to, which are “HS” for the high school, “MS” for Albert G. Prodell Middle School, “MA” for Miller Avenue Elementary and “WR” for Wading River Elementary School.

School officials urge that if the report is an emergency, to immediately call 911 or contact emergency services.

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As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, a new drop-off point was added at Wading River Elementary School, where Principal Louis Parrinello can be seen greeting a student. Photo by Kyle Barr

An ongoing bond referendum project has aided in Albert G. Prodell Middle School’s makeover. Thanks to the $48.5 million bond voted on in 2015, repairs and expansions have led to many changes across the district, including renovations to the middle school library by the end of this summer, and a new cafeteria and kitchen addition by Jan. 1, 2019.

“It’s been a very exciting time for the district with the bond work and the renovations,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Opening up the schools this fall was great with those new vibrant spaces for our students, so we’re looking forward to the work this summer.”

As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, school classrooms, like those at Principal Christine Carlson’s Miller Avenue School, were expanded to include bathrooms. Photo by Kyle Barr

The construction is being headed by South Huntington-based Park East Construction, and according to Poole, the district is currently in phase three of four and right on schedule.

The middle school’s library will see an internal redesign. Currently, the library walls only reach three quarters of the way to the ceiling, and the plan is for the new walls to go all the way up. The overhead lighting and circulation desks will be replaced.

“I think part of it is modernizing it, and the other part of it is redesigning it into an instructional space,” Poole said. “The library is the heart of the building, so modernizing it is going to be great for the instruction of the students.”

The extension for the kitchen and cafeteria will include a new freezer and utilities. The kitchen, and its staff, will provide a health-based menu much like the cafeteria at Wading River Elementary School, that was completed in summer 2018. Poole said that the kitchen may provide opportunities down the road for culinary classes.

“Whenever you make a space in the school, people seem to make use of it,” Poole said. “I wouldn’t rule it out.” 

“We had students where the only bathroom they could use in the whole school was the one in the nurse’s office. It was bad, because those students just wanted to be like everyone else. This has definitely made a difference.”

— Christine Carlson

The middle school is also scheduled to receive parking improvements with the addition of 20 spots in the rear of the building and main office, guidance department and nurse’s office quarters.

Cracked track asphalt and roof repairs were already completed last summer. Water fountains, carbon monoxide detectors, a phone system and additional AEDs were also added at Prodell.

Bond construction work to date

Phase one of the bond project was completed in 2016 with the reconstruction of Shoreham-Wading River High School’s tennis courts and roof. The high school’s football field was also upgraded with new turf.

Phase two of the project included renovations at both Miller Avenue and Wading River elementary schools.

Outside, Miller Avenue’s parking lot was reconstructed with additional parking in the front as well as a new bus loop that goes to the rear of the building. Inside, the school was expanded by the addition of new kindergarten classrooms, and some pre-existing classrooms were enlarged to fit internal bathrooms. Bathrooms in the front of the school have also been made handicap accessible. Miller Avenue Elementary School Principal Christine Carlson said the change has helped students feel less segregated from their peers.

“We had students where the only bathroom they could use in the whole school was the one in the nurse’s office because it was the only one accessible to them,” Carlson said. “It was bad, because those students just wanted to be like everyone else. This has definitely made a difference.”

As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, asphalt was replaced on Albert G. Prodell Middle School’s track. Photo by Kyle Barr

Wading River Elementary School also saw the construction of new classrooms and renovation of several existing ones. The school’s floor was redesigned and part of the roof was refurbished. The main courtyard had major flooding issues, so a new water filtration system was installed.

The building also saw the addition of a new kitchen and cafeteria. Kitchen staff arrive early in the morning baking bow-tie pasta with fresh basil pesto, grilled chicken, steamed carrots and fresh fruit.

Wading River Elementary School Principal Louis Parrinello said that the renovations have made a huge impact on the morale of the school.

“When you’re not focused on facilities, of floods in the courtyard or a bad roof, you can turn your attention to the things that really matter — the students,” Parrinello said. “Now we can look to work on new programs and activities going into next year.”

Phase four of the bond project is expected to start next year. Those plans include a redesign of Shoreham-Wading River High School’s parking lot and traffic circle. The district still has to finalize the draft for the plans and get state approval, before receiving bids from potential construction companies.

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The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

During a second public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education Tuesday night, a grieving mother pleaded with administrators to “be brave, step out of the box and take a chance” by turning the beloved-but-shuttered school on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham building into a refuge for students that need one.

“We can do something really big here,” said Grace Shea McCarthy, the mother of Remy Kallie Jeanne McCarthy, who, as a 15-year-old freshman at the high school, took her own life Nov. 2, 2016. “My daughter was a very capable, talented, skilled person who, over time, had lost connection with her school and her peers. We need to do more to help these kids sooner.”

McCarthy, an employee at Brookhaven National Lab, asked the board to support a joint proposal by North Shore Youth Council and Tesla Science Center for student-oriented programs and services in the portable units at Briarcliff Elementary School, which was built in 1907 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

She explained that North Shore Youth Council — a Rocky Point-based nonprofit active in communities and school districts throughout the area, including Shoreham-Wading River, Mount Sinai and Miller Place — would be able to host cost-efficient after-school tutoring, recreation, social skill development and summer programs in the space; and provide students of varying ages with professional counseling in the areas of substance abuse, social isolation and depression.

“As a parent watching my child go through this district, I can absolutely tell you this school needs more of these programs,” she said. “We are going through a suicide epidemic — our students need opportunities to build their confidence through buddy systems.”

McCarthy said partnering these students with science and technology programs at the Tesla Science Center would be “incredibly beneficial,” and serve to reignite the passion for science among youth in the community. She addressed the annual costs of $95,000, plus any additional unexpected costs, to operate the school. Board members and residents expressed concerns over the pricey upkeep during the first public discussion about the property last month. Some proposed that the property be sold off to eliminate the costs.

“When I look at that amount of money to maintain such a spectacular building, such a historical landmark in our backyard, I believe we need to fight to keep it,” she said. “It’s not something we should just give away. To have that knocked down to have condos put up or something, that would be a crime.”

Residents spoke up in favor of the proposal.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, urged the board last month to file covenants on the property so the building could never be taken down.

“This way, you can maintain the ownership of the building for future use and defray the costs,” Madigan said.

While Dennis Ryan, a Shoreham resident, said leasing the building was a good idea if the right group came along, he asked the district to not sell, but demolish the school, getting rid of all the extra upkeep costs and turn the 10-acre property into a park for the community.

“We talk about the budget and trying to get a nest egg — the value is in the land itself,” Ryan said. “Hold onto the property. We don’t need the money at this point. If something happens 10 to 15 years down the line and we need that money, then we know we’ll have it.”

At the top of the forum, Superintendent Gerard Poole presented the district’s evaluation and consideration of some of the ideas residents had during the first forum Jan. 9. These included selling the property, moving the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is attached to the high school to Briarcliff,
attaining historical landmark status and redeveloping the building as a residence for seniors.

Board president Robert Rose assured that the district will not be rushing into any
decision, continuing to weigh the options while promising to hold more public forums.

“We want to take our time and make the right decision,” Rose said.

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

A new, broader homework policy drafted by the Shoreham-Wading River board of education opened up a dialogue last month between parents and administrators over the best approach to after school assignments throughout the district.

Varying consequences for students who don’t do their homework and an overabundance of assignments over school holidays were main topics of discussion during Shoreham’s Oct. 24 board meeting, in which community members weighed in on a planned revision to the district’s current policy.

In response to a curriculum survey sent out by the district over the summer, parents requested that its guidelines for homework be expanded. While the original policy is merely two sentences on the educational validity of homework, the new two-page proposal aims to better accommodate for individual students and incorporates recognized best practices in the development of assignments.

New homework guidelines could include stricter
penalties, less work on vacations. Stock photo

“The process has certainly put a lens on homework,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Feedback from parents in the survey was a little mixed — the underlying theme was that homework is important but there should be consistencies across grade levels and considerations for home life. We tried to craft something that empowered the buildings to make practices come to life that make sense for students and families.” 

The newly drafted guidelines, titled Policy 8440, encourage teachers to consider students’ time constraints when assigning homework, which should be “appropriate to students’ age” and shouldn’t “take away too much time away from other home activities.”

“Homework should foster positive attitudes toward school and self, and communicate to students the idea that learning takes work at home as well as in school,” the draft policy states.

While it addresses that students should be accountable for all assignments, there are no strict consequences in place for when homework isn’t done, which prompted some parents to voice their concerns.

“I think it’s very important that we establish responsibility and have consequences that teachers themselves are able to have the flexibility to put on children,” said Jeannine Smith, a Shoreham parent with children in Wading River School and Miller Avenue School.

As an educator in an outside district, Smith supported the concept of taking recess away from students in the elementary and middle school who consistently don’t hand homework in.

“I think it’s very important that we establish responsibility and have consequences that teachers themselves are able to have the flexibility to put on children.”

— Jeannine Smith

“It’s the teacher’s job to make sure children are prepared in the future and if homework’s not important in the classroom, children get the message that there is no consequence,” she said.

Shoreham resident Erin Saunders-Morano agreed, saying she believes homework is ultimately the student’s responsibility and shouldn’t be seen as something that falls on the parents.

“As we get older, if you don’t do your job, there are consequences,” Morano said. “I think we should be raising the bar for our students, not lowering it. If students want recess, they should make sure they do their homework.”

But Alisa McMorris, a member of the district’s PTA council, protested the idea, saying students who are working hard all day deserve a break. She also pointed out that difficult and time-consuming projects should not be assigned over vacations.

“I can’t tell you how many times my kids have had projects due the day we get back from Christmas break and it makes me crazy,” McMorris said. “Our Christmas breaks now are doing these projects. Vacation is vacation.”

Michelle Gallucci, a Wading River resident and an English teacher at Smithtown High School East, commended the board for drafting a policy that gives teachers academic freedom based on the students they have in the classroom. She equated the importance of homework to sports practice.

“You can’t take a math class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and not do it again until 9 a.m. the next day,” she said. “You have to practice those skills and get better because your brain is a muscle. Just as students practice for hours after school to get ready for games, students also need intellectual practice.”

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

After a grueling months-long search, Shoreham-Wading River school district has finally found a new superintendent.

Gerard Poole, who has served as Freeport School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction since 2013, was officially appointed at the top of Shoreham-Wading River’s April 18 board of education meeting.

He will be the district’s full-time superintendent, taking over for interim Neil Lederer, effective July 1.

An educator for more than 20 years, Poole, 50, started out as an elementary school teacher and instructional coach in the Riverhead Central School District and eventually landed an administrative position in Valley Stream school district before transferring to Freeport.

“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to have the chance to collaborate and build upon the successes of the school district.”

—Gerard Poole

Although Poole has been a lifelong resident of Mattituck, where he lives with his wife and two sons, he said it was an easy decision to apply for the Shoreham-Wading River position. He said he believes it’s one of the best districts on Long Island.

“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to have the chance to collaborate and build upon the successes of the school district,” Poole said during the meeting. “I’ve met many parents, teachers and administrators and [got] a warm welcome and sense of community from everyone.”

When he was interviewed back in February, he said it was clear he and the district saw eye to eye.

“I thought it was a great fit,” Poole said.

There are some key things for every superintendent to be successful, he explained.

“[The most important thing] is to be really open, accessible, forthright, collaborate with the community — to really find out exactly where we want to head, figure out the programs and what the student needs to really reach their full potential,” he said. “It’s not just really important for me to look at documents or student outcomes, but to really listen and hear from parents, staff and students, and work with the board to continue to come up with the great work that’s already in place here in Shoreham.”

Poole’s outlook falls directly in line with what parents in the district asked for.

Bob Freier and Joann Kaplan of District Wise Search Consultants were hired by the district in November not just to find a new superintendent, but to gauge the community on what kind of characteristics they should seek in finding a permanent replacement for previous full-time superintendent Steven Cohen, who retired last summer after holding the position for five years.

Kaplan said the group interviewed more than 30 prospective candidates and narrowed it down to Poole.

“One of the things that stood out for me was how do we become one of those special districts on Long Island? One way is to pick a leader that has a vision. For me, he had that vision.”

—John Zukowski

“It was very important for the superintendent to be a face in the community and be a part of the fiber of the school — not just somebody in the office but somebody who would become a part of the culture of Shoreham-Wading River,” Kaplan said. “We actively recruited [Poole] because he’s brought so many incredible things to Freeport. He met our goals and excelled.”

During his four years in Freeport, Poole focused on providing world-class opportunities for his students, believing that all of them should receive core foundational skills before graduating.

He partnered with local universities to implement a challenging curriculum to prepare students for college, which included elementary-level introduction to technology, advanced science research and expanding college credit opportunities.

Board president John Zukowski said Poole stood out above the rest of the candidates.

“He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the district — he knows the culture here,” Zukowski said. “He has a lot of enthusiasm and incredible ideas. One of the things that stood out for me was how do we become one of those special districts on Long Island? One way is to pick a leader that has a vision. For me, he had that vision.”

Zukowski ended the meeting by referring to Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance artist, who for three straight years slaved away at a massive piece of marble deemed too defective by other sculptors to create something out of. Michelangelo eventually sculpted his renowned David statue out of that rock. When asked how he did it, the artist said, “I see the angels in the marble, and I carve until I set them free.”

“On those days in this job when you feel you are just pounding rocks,” Zukowski said to Poole, “I’m going to ask you to keep carving because we definitely have angels here that you can set free. On behalf of the board, welcome aboard … we look forward to working with you so we can develop the potential of every kid in this district.”

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