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High school

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More than 400 people crowded onto the Shoreham-Wading River High School soccer field Dec. 15 to race in the first annual Andrew’s Run, but one family especially that crossed the finish line did so to cheers and applause that resounded all across the North Shore community.

John McMorris, the father of 12-year-old Boy Scout Andrew McMorris who died in October, walked and ran with his son’s framed photograph clenched in his hand. As he and Andrew’s mother, Alisa, strolled over the finish line that morning, John stuck up his hands in triumph, knowing it would go to support his son’s memory.

“This is how the community comes together,” he said. “The community is the only way we’ve been able to heal — to continue to heal.”

Andrew, who was a seventh-grader at Albert G. Prodell Middle School in Shoreham, died Oct. 1 after an alleged drunk driver struck him and four of his fellow Scouts in Boy Scout Troop 161 while they were walking along the shoulder of David Terry Road in Manorville during a hike. The McMorris family said
Andrew was going to do his first practice for the middle school cross country team that same day, but his life was ended before he could fulfill that ambition. 

The run was brought together through the efforts of 16-year-old Miller Place High School student Danelle Rose, who helped prepare everything from the race’s route across the fields at SWR High School to coordinating with the school and the Strong Island Running Club professional time takers, who donated their services for free to the run.

All the funds are going to support Boy Scout Troop 161 in their effort to build a new 3,200 square foot Adirondack cabin at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in Wading River, which will be named McMorris Lodge in honor of Andrew. The run raised over $8,000 for the lodge.

Several members of local Boy Scouts, including those from Troop 161 and Troop 204 from Miller Place, ran in the race, some in their full Boy Scout uniforms. While weather forecasts called for rain that Saturday morning, Troop 161 Scoutmaster Matthew Yakaboski said it was a sign that good things may still come from tragedy.

“I think Andrew was shining down on us today,” Yakaboski said.

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Port Jefferson Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

In the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education’s efforts to hire a new superintendent of schools, an online survey is collecting information on community input on the qualifications, instructional leadership and community engagement it expects from the next leader of the district.

The online survey is available in both English and Spanish and is open until Dec. 21. Those interested can use the links below:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ptjeffeng

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ptjeffspan

The district is allowing residents to fill out a paper copy as well if they visit the District Office located at 550 Scraggy Hill Road, Port Jefferson.

On Jan. 3, 2019, Dr. Julie Davis Lutz, Chief Operating Officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, will meet with interested community members to further provide residents an opportunity to discuss skills and characteristics that the new superintendent of schools should possess, and the short-term and long-term issues that he or she will need to address. This meeting will be held at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School at 7 p.m.

Check back next week for more details in Port Jefferson School district’s search for a new superintendent.

By Andrea Paldy

Family and friends cheered on the more than 600 seniors who graduated in front of the Ward Melville High School clocktower on Sunday.

During the June 24 ceremony, salutatorian Michael Lu reminded his classmates to continue to open themselves to new possibilities.

“As graduates of Ward Melville High School, we can do anything we put our minds to as long as we have an appetite to learn and a willingness to take risks,” he said.

Ethan Li, the class valedictorian, encouraged his classmates to be socially aware and to enact change.

“Talent without humanity is like a violin bow which lacks resin,” he said. “It may produce practically perfect music, but the sound will never inspire.”

Ward Melville principal Alan Baum built on those words in his last commencement speech as principal.

“Change is okay,” he said. “You don’t have to be afraid.”

Baum, who will take on the role of executive director of secondary curriculum and human resources in the district office, had parting words for the class of 2018.

“Don’t let others or naysayers tell you what you can’t do,” he said. “Go out and show them what you can do.”

Shoreham-Wading River High School seniors were met with applause and cheers as they accepted their diplomas during the class of 2018 commencement ceremony June 23.

After the processional and National Anthem, sung by senior Jack Flatley with ASL interpretation by Victoria Ann Holden, high school Principal Frank Pugliese addressed the crowd. Opening remarks were presented by salutatorian Calvin Schmalzle and senior Alexandra Melt followed him by singing “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules, before valedictorian Christian Wesselborg bid the class farewell.

Rocky Point High School seniors tossed their caps off in celebration of achieving an education milestone during their graduation ceremony June 22.

The Eagles are officially soaring over the district, displaying decorated caps, some of which showed off where they will be taking their next educational steps and others that displayed words of encouragement like “Let’s fly with your beautiful wings” and “Don’t dream it, be it.”

Rocky Point class of 2018 valedictorian Connor Middleton and salutatorian Kyle Markland addressed the crowd, as did Superintendent Michael Ring and high school Principal Susann Crossan.

 

#NationalHighSchoolWalkout movement comes on 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting

By Rita J. Egan

A student-led movement at Ward Melville is determined to ensure the voices of high schoolers continue to be heard when it comes to preventing gun violence.

On April 20 — 19 years after the Columbine High School shooting — about four dozen members of WM Students Take Action participated in the second wave of the #NationalWalkout movement. While the number of participants was about 200 less than the March 14 walkout, held a month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, participating students nonetheless braved a chilly, windy day to stand in solidarity to call for stricter gun control legislation.

“You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

— Ward Melville student

With a megaphone in hand, senior Bennett Owens led the crowd outside of school. Students read poems and gave speeches for 45 minutes. The rally included a moment of silence to remember Columbine victims, and in-between speeches, participants would shout out chants including “Listen to us” or “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”

During the rally, Owens said the protesters were asking for common-sense gun legislation, including a ban on “assault-style rifles” and universal background checks. He said when our forefathers wrote the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, they had no idea the type of weapons that could be made. He added his generation is the most qualified to speak about the issue because of the number of shootings that have occurred during their lifetimes.

One speaker encouraged the group not to listen to those who call them irrational. She said their detractors believe they want to ban all guns, instead of just assault weapons, because the opposition doesn’t engage them in conversation.

“We actually have ideas, we have plans, and we will vote,” she said.

Many of the students talked about how they are part of the generation of change. One girl who delivered a speech told her fellow students not to be afraid of punishment when it comes to protests and to disregard criticism that young people don’t know what they are talking about.

“What can a bunch of high schoolers know about change?” she said. “The high schoolers are the ones who are dying. Their opinions are the only opinions that really matter. You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate. I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.”

— Bennett Owens

During the 45-minute protest, drivers passing by honked sporadically to show their support, and for 15 minutes, nearly a dozen Ward Melville students stood outside with signs that read “Join the NRA,” opposite the protesters.

After the walkout, Owens said he was feeling optimistic.

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate,” he said. “I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.

No more protests are planned for the rest of the school year, Owens explained, but on Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 1, the group hopes to sell ribbons at school and donate the funds to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.

Owens, who wants to be a criminal defense attorney, said he plans to continue his activism in college and has faith WM Students Take Action will continue.

“I have to pass down this organization soon, and I’m really hopeful based on the turnout we’ve seen today by underclassmen that this organization will continue to protest for the injustices that we’ve seen,” he said.

Despite concerns posted on the group’s Instagram page before the walkout, the students faced no disciplinary action, according to an April 23 statement from school district spokeswoman Jessica Novins.

Northport High School has replaced its wood bleachers, pictured above at a prior homecoming celebration. File photo

By Kevin Redding

The Northport-East Northport Tigers’ challenges this football season have given them a whole new perspective on why there’s no place like home.

On Saturday, Oct. 14, Northport-East Northport’s varsity football team will celebrate homecoming by stepping onto their own field for the first time this season after a recent announcement that the district has completed its thorough and long-proposed bleacher repairs.

The process of replacing the football field’s deteriorated wooden bleachers with new metal bleachers officially began in late August and ended Monday, Oct. 9. This was a period of frustration and uncertainty for many parents and players within the district as it forced the Northport Tigers to go to other fields for the first two home games of the 2017 season.

The team’s first home game in September was moved to Elwood-John H. Glenn High School. Their Oct. 1 game was relocated to Half Hollow Hills High School East’s field.

Northport High School. File photo

The new structures passed inspection with Texas-based LandTech Inc. at the helm of construction. Total cost for the project was more than $1 million, which came from the district’s general fund as well as state aid, according to school officials.   

“We’re going to be back on course for homecoming Saturday,” Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer said.

A former football player himself, Banzer claimed the stadium had the same wooden bleachers when he was there in the early 1980s. The upgraded bleachers are far less dangerous and were built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I’m excited to have everybody see the work but, most importantly, to be at home,” he said. “It’s always a very fun time.”

Banzer and the school board initially approved the bleacher repairs in the 2015-16 budget, along with a variety of infrastructure projects throughout the district. But the construction couldn’t move forward on it right away as it faced a lengthy state approvals process.

The first opportunity the school district could seize to begin repairs was in late spring of this year prior to
graduation ceremonies. Banzer said he didn’t want to risk the job not being done in time for a large event. By the time the district hired LandTech to build the bleachers, the construction company was booked for most of the summer and couldn’t begin the project until a couple weeks into August.

School officials projected the bleachers would be finished by the team’s second home game, but as that proved to be overambitious, the community grew increasingly anxious that the job wouldn’t be done in time for homecoming. Some residents made sure their voices were heard.

“It’s a disgraceful, embarrassing, hurtful situation that in my opinion could’ve been avoided,” Mike Gozelski, president of the Northport Football Booster Club, said during the Sept. 28 board of education meeting. “We’re halfway through the season and the athletes, marching band, cheerleaders and the community have yet to set foot on our home field. It’s heartbreaking for most of us. Part of our anger comes from the fact that work on the bleachers didn’t start until August with football season starting in September. It’s negligent.”

Gozelski, a former Tiger, said for many seniors on the team, including his son, this season is the last chance they had to show their school pride in the stadium.

A previous Northport running back rushes across the football field. File photo by Bill Landon

“These kids practice for two hours a day and work hard 12 months a year to be able to play on this field,” he said. “You have to understand how disappointing this is for them.”

Banzer responded, explaining the school’s side of the situation to Gozelski, as well as about a dozen parents and football players in uniform in the room.

“I know it’s disappointing,” the superintendent said. “But we also wanted to make sure we provided the best product going forward. We just want the job to be done right.”

At the end of the exchange, the board said it was hopeful the bleachers would be ready to go for the district’s pep rally Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 homecoming.

Gozelski said he received the good news from the school’s athletic department on Monday morning.

“Now we’re going to be out there and opening up a brand new, refurbished Tigers stadium,” Gozelski said. “The players get to play, the band gets to play, the cheerleaders get to cheer and the community gets to see a good football game … and hopefully a victory.”

Gina Macchia-Gerdvil, a mother of two students on the team and a member of the Booster Club, was equally upset over the situation, believing the district should have replaced the bleachers after the football
season was over. She said up until Monday’s announcement, nobody was certain if homecoming would take place at home.

“I’m excited for all the kids,” Macchia-Gerdvil said. “My boys are in their second year on varsity and they haven’t had a chance yet to step into their stadium and see the big crowd and all the festivities.”

Shoreham-Wading River assistant principal Kevin Vann will be replacing retiring Albert G. Prodell Middle School Principal Linda Anthony this June. Photo from Kevin Vann

Kevin Vann will be returning to his roots this June.

The now assistant principal at Shoreham-Wading River High School will be reentering middle school doors, but this time as principal of Albert G. Prodell Middle School.

“I feel a strong sense of loyalty to Shoreham-Wading River,” Vann said. “The district gave me my first opportunity as an administrator, and I think I’ve developed some great relationships. I thought this was a great opportunity to stretch my wings a little bit and still stay connected to a community that I really have a lot of respect for and enjoy working with.”

Albert G. Prodell Middle School Principal Linda Anthony will be retiring at the end of this school year. Photo from Linda Anthony

Vann will be replacing retiring principal Linda Anthony, who has been at the helm for the last 11 years. An English teacher in Japan for four years, she took a unique approach to special education and at-risk students, also living in California before returning to New York.

Anthony said she’s fortunate for the extended stay that helped her move the Prodell middle school in the right direction.

“A lot of different instructional practices were put into place in the middle school, the culture of the middle school changed quite a bit — I was able to hire about 40 percent of the staff,” she said. “With so many years you can really initiate change, sustain change and then lock change.”

Some of the changes she made include increased collaboration with teachers and the level of rigor for students.

Anthony has a long history with art, and upon retirement, hopes to get back to her roots, too. She also said she wants to assist in some way with the refugee crisis.

After working with Vann, and attending a weekend conference with the soon-to-be principal, Anthony said she knows what he’s capable of doing in his new position.

“I think he will be an outstanding principal and I think he really is the best possible choice,” she said. “He will take the school to the next level. I have full confidence in that.”

Dan Holtzman, principal of the high school, said the last decade has been productive and meaningful, especially having Vann at his side the entire way.

“He has been my right hand, my support, and even more importantly, my friend,” Holtzman said. “We have worked tirelessly in creating a safe and welcoming learning environment for our students, and I am very proud of the outcomes. I think this transition will prove to be a smart move for the district and Kevin. The strengths he will bring will be an asset to the middle school. I could not be happier or more excited for him.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of change kids go through at that level physically, socially and emotionally. We’re looking to make kids feels supported and know there’s adults in the building that care about them, and try to give them good opportunities to develop and to learn.”

—Kevin Vann

Vann began his career in education at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, working in the business world prior to earning a job teaching social studies in the Patchogue-Medford School District. He also worked on a grant for the Office of Safe and Healthy Students while in Pat-Med, and was the dean of students at Shoreham-Wading River High School. In both capacities, he said the administrative and disciplinary actions he learned to take will help guide him in his new position. He also earned a master’s degree from Touro College in educational leadership.

Prior to him working in the district, there hadn’t been a tenured administrator in over a decade. Anthony, Holtzman and Vann helped change the Wildcats culture.

“There was a lot of turnover — a lot of inconsistency and a lot of uncertainty with students and parents — so we worked hard to create a culture of acceptance, and a student-centered environment where the students could always come talk to us,” Vann said. “We wanted to have an open line of communication.”

To assist with that, the district brought back an advisory period, where for 15 minutes in the middle of the day, kids can connect with teachers. Advanced Placement training for educators was also added to increase subject concentrations, and the College Board has recognized the school as a result.

“We wanted students to know that their opinions and ideas were respected, and when dealing with parents we wanted them to know our goal was to create the best environment possible for their students to succeed,” Vann said. “I think that really has happened.”

Now, he said he’s hoping he can carry down what he’s learned as assistant principal at the high school, while continuing the current successes already put in place.

“I know they have a highly-engaged staff that’s connected to the students, so I’d look for any opportunity I have to continue to foster that growth,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of change kids go through at that level physically, socially and emotionally. We’re looking to make kids feels supported and know there’s adults in the building that care about them, and try to give them good opportunities to develop and to learn.”

Sophomores Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick successfully convinced the district’s board of education to let them head Shoreham-Wading River’s first debate club. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

A love of law and political science, combined with the impact of recent presidential debates, sparked the idea for two Shoreham-Wading River sophomores to push for a debate team.

Thanks to the efforts of Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick, the board of education saw no argument against the idea, and unanimously approved the newfound club, which will begin the 2017-18 school year.

In their PowerPoint presentation during a board meeting a month prior to approval, Beran and Kirkpatrick, who will serve as co-captains of the club, said the first year will serve as their “pilot year” in which they’ll assemble the team, hold weekly meetings with an advisor, compete in practice debates and sharpen their skills to prepare for competition with other schools, which they hope to do by their senior year.

In convincing the board, the two students are already well on their way to being successful debaters, said 10th and 11th grade English teacher Brenna Gilroy, who will serve as the club adviser.

“I just gave them some guidance — they approached me about starting the club and legitimately did most of the work,” Gilroy said. “I think [the board agrees] it’s important for students to be able to communicate well and effectively, but in a respectful, researched and knowledgeable way.”

“I think [the board agrees] it’s important for students to be able to communicate well and effectively, but in a respectful, researched and knowledgeable way.”

— Brenna Gilroy

Beran, a lacrosse player and vice president of his class, said he “prides himself in being an eloquent speaker.” He has wanted to form a debate club since his freshman year, in the hopes the skills acquired could help him, and others with similar interests, in future career endeavors. Beran plans to be a political science major in college, to work on becoming a corporate lawyer.

When Kirkpatrick, an honor roll student with similar career aspirations, also realized the school had no clubs catered to students with interests in political science or law, her next step was to make one. After speaking to Gilroy about moving forward with the idea, her teacher recommended she speak with Beran.

Upon meeting Kirkpatrick, Beran said “we knew this was the time to act.”

The two students, who were deeply invested in the atmosphere of politics last year, pointed to the coverage of the 2016 presidential debates as a catalyst in creating the club, wanting to use it as their template.

“Mrs. Gilroy, Declan and I met after school weekly, collaborating on our ideas for the club and putting together a presentation for the board,” Kirkpatrick said. “Through this process of creating the club, many students have approached me asking me about it and when they can join.”

Similar to the foundations of a debate, the sophomores told board members that students in high school are usually timed and limited by topic when writing argumentative essays, adding that the club could help students taking Regents and AP exams.

Skills acquired will help students not only in high school, but in college and the workplace as well, when doing things like formulating an argument, presenting it in a clear and cohesive manner, building self-confidence with public speaking and deepening research and analysis skills.

“We’ve found that as the students benefit from the debate team, the school will prosper,” Beran said, adding that he thinks the team will be made up of about 20 students overall.

High school principal Dan Holtzman said the required teamwork and collaboration within the club will be a tremendous asset to the students. As for the work of Beran and Kirkpatrick, he couldn’t be prouder.

“I’m a staunch supporter of students advocating for themselves,” Holtzman said. “The fact that Emma and Declan invested a great deal of time and effort into the presentation, it speaks volumes about their passion and commitment.”

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

Shoreham-Wading River school district officials took action Thursday night following a threat to one of their schools.

On March 16, an anonymous text message to a student in the early morning threatened that “something might occur” at the high school March 17. The student who received the text reported it to district administrators,  who put in place procedures, which entailed searching lockers and school bags in addition to adding overnight security, upon hearing the news of the threat.

“We had a good plan in place to ensure the safety of our students,” superintendent Neil Lederer said. “Fortunately, we didn’t have to implement it because we identified the individual late last night.”

The student who sent the text will receive “appropriate consequences.”

“At this point there is no threat and the situation has been successfully resolved,” Lederer said in a letter on the school district’s website. “We take very seriously the potential threat to the safety of our schools and immediately notified the Suffolk County Police Department. The health, safety and welfare of our students and staff are always out main priority. Please know that every precaution is taken on a daily basis to protect the safety of our students and staff and to provide a secure learning environment for all.”

Back in January, the high school was also informed of an Instagram threat. The student was immediately identified and disciplinary measures were also administered in that case. Authorities were also notified and involved in the investigation in that case. It is unclear whether the two incidents are at all related.

Lederer did not respond to questions for comment.

The Suffolk County Police Department has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Updates will follow when more information is available.