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Ken Bossert

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano addresses the Class of 2018 during graduation June 22. File photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District will be looking for new leadership following the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Paul Casciano announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year, effective July 1, 2019, during an Aug. 29 board of education meeting.

“As we had discussed with the board in the fall of 2016, I was willing to complete the 2016-17 school year and two additional school years as your superintendent,” Casciano wrote in a letter dated Aug. 28, which was released publicly by the district in the aftermath of the meeting.

Casciano was hired during the summer of 2016, initially under an interim designation that was removed in Dec. 2016, effectively making him the permanent superintendent. Casciano took over for outgoing Ken Bossert, who transferred to a position leading the Elwood school district.

“Having the opportunity to serve the Port Jefferson School District is truly an honor and privilege of which I am extremely grateful,”Casciano wrote. “We have amazing students who attend our schools and the sky is the limit to what they can and will achieve. I am proud of what we have accomplished so far during my tenure.”

BOE President Kathleen Brennan said the board regretfully accepted Casciano’s resignation.

“I would like to thank Dr. Casciano for his service to Port Jefferson,” she said. “I had the opportunity to speak to the staff at the opening of school and shared with them that Dr. Casciano did not come looking for Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson went looking for Dr. Casciano when we were looking for an interim superintendent and he agreed to stay beyond the one-year interim that we had initially discussed. In fact, the board of education, the night he was interviewed, asked when he left the room, ‘Can he stay?’”

Casciano, a Stony Brook resident, had previously served as superintendent in William Floyd school district. He retired from the position about a year prior to starting with Port Jeff on an interim basis.

The board will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the next steps to search for a new superintendent of schools, according to a district press release. Casciano said in his letter he is willing to assist in the transition to a new superintendent’s tenure beyond his set retirement date.

“When Dr. Casciano was interviewed he said, ‘I have two speeds, go and stop, and what you see is what you get — I’m not going to come in and tread water,’” Brennan said. “The board was very happy to hear that and very happy that he didn’t tread water … So on behalf of the board, I would like to thank Dr. Casciano for his service to Port Jefferson.”

Mark Barden, a founder of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, presents violence prevention strategies to a room full of Suffolk lawmakers and school officials during an Aug. 16 event at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue as Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. looks on. Photo by Alex Petroski

On Dec. 14, 2012, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut left more than 20 people dead, mostly first-graders, shocking the world and changing it permanently. Much of that change can be attributed to the efforts of those who were most personally impacted by the tragic events of that day.

Parents from Sandy Hook were invited to St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue Aug. 16 by Suffolk County Sheriff’s office to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools to a room packed with Suffolk County school district superintendents, administrators and lawmakers.

Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization, was founded by parents including Mark Barden, a professional musician originally from Yonkers who had moved to Newtown in 2007 with his wife to raise their three kids. His son, Daniel, was seven years old  when he was killed during the tragedy.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life,” Barden said of his son.

He said Daniel was known for trying to connect with other kids he saw eating alone, for holding doors for strangers in public, and for picking up earthworms from the hot sidewalk and moving them to safety in the grass, among other instinctual acts of kindness he regularly displayed.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life.”

— Mark Barden

“That’s how I’ve chosen to honor his life is through this work,” Barden said.

Sandy Hook Promise’s approach to carrying out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths can be viewed as an extension of Daniel’s legacy of caring for those in need. Barden was joined Aug. 16 by two other members of the organization — Myra Leuci, national account manager, and Marykay Wishneski, national program coordinator — who detailed the initiatives the nonprofit pitches to school districts interested in improving their prevention strategies.

The four strategies , which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk.

Say Something is an anonymous reporting system that teaches kids how to recognize warning signs, especially on social media, and gives them an outlet to get adults involved. Start With Hello is a training program that teaches students how to be more inclusive and connected to peers. Safety Assessment & Intervention program is geared toward adults and aims to teach them how to identify, assess and respond to threats of violence or at-risk behavior prior to a situation developing. The Signs of Suicide program teaches people how to identify and intervene to get help for those displaying signs of depression or suicidal behavior. The nonprofit offers in-person training for each program, though Say Something and Start With Hello are available to be downloaded and self-led by interested districts.

Since assuming office in January, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said he has made improving school safety and developing uniform, countywide approaches a top priority. Just a few weeks into his tenure, the country was rocked by the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed by a lone gunman.

“It’s an obligation that I feel I have as the Suffolk County Sheriff, to work with all of our partners, but I do feel I cannot stand on the sidelines and just watch,” Toulon said. “We really have to be proactive. Everyone from our police departments, our school administrators, everybody’s taking this banner on. Thankfully we’re all working together to really keep our communities and our children safe.”

Toulon has offered free safety assessments on a voluntary basis to interested districts. Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has taken several steps  already to improve schools’ safety including starting an initiative that allows interested districts to grant access to in-school security cameras to the police department, and securing funds for a mobile phone application for municipal workers and school district employees that can be activated and used in the event of an active shooter situation to notify law enforcement. Bellone announced new initiatives to increase police patrols in school buildings, assign additional officers to the SCPD’s Homeland Security Section and establish a text tip line to report troubling activities this month.

“We are educators, so partnering with law enforcement and those with the skilled lens of how to best ensure the safety of our students has been paramount,” said Ken Bossert, president of Suffolk County Superintendents Association who leads Elwood school district. “So the focus and attention that law enforcement has paid on our schools is just greatly appreciated.”

Representatives from districts across the North Shore attended the informational forum and expressed interest in implementing some or all of what Sandy Hook Promise has to offer, including Huntington Superintendent James Polansky and Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents.”

— Kara Hahn

“A lot of what we heard today I’m going to roll out just informationally to my administrative staff,” Polansky said, adding Huntington has taken up Toulon on his offer to assess building safety already. “We’re actually looking to pursue a lot of the initiatives Sandy Hook Promise has to offer.”

Casciano expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a great resource, and we’re very interested in pursuing it,” he said. “We’ll be making our contacts.”

Several attendees commended Toulon for embracing a leadership role on school safety, including Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D), who was among the wide array of lawmakers at the event along with the school officials.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who is a licensed social worker. She called Toulon’s approach incredibly important. “It shows that he has the recognition that when you have a shooter at the door of a school, it’s too late, and this really needs to be about prevention. We cannot police this, we need to prevent this. And that’s what this is about.”

Bossert said superintendents in the county have been working to put together a uniform blueprint for school safety and are planning to roll it out later this month. For more information about Sandy Hook Promise, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.

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.”

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

A longtime educator will lead the Port Jefferson school district as it searches for a permanent replacement for outgoing Superintendent Ken Bossert.

During its meeting on Tuesday night, the board of education hired Paul Casciano to serve as interim superintendent, a year after he retired as the head of the William Floyd school district on the South Shore.

Paul Casciano is Port Jefferson’s new interim superintendent. Photo from Casciano
Paul Casciano is Port Jefferson’s new interim superintendent. Photo from Casciano

“We felt that he had tremendous experience,” board President Kathleen Brennan said in a phone interview on Wednesday, referring to Casciano’s 41 years in education, from teacher to superintendent at William Floyd. “He certainly has a grasp on all levels of what it takes to run a district.”

The board hired Casciano to serve from July 1 through June 2017, during which time the board, while receiving input from staffers and other community members, will be searching for someone to work more long-term.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Casciano said although he had retired from being a superintendent, he continues to teach and work. With his wife working and his kids mostly grown, “I thought the conditions were right.”

The Stony Brook resident has education degrees from Central Connecticut State University, Southampton College, C.W. Post and New York University, according to his resume. He joined the William Floyd administration in 1982 as an assistant principal and slowly worked his way up to superintendent, a role in which he served from 2006 to 2015.

“They needed help so that they could select the best candidate to meet the needs of the school community,” Casciano said about meeting with Port Jefferson school board members to discuss the position. “It just seemed like we were all on the same page.”

He joked that Port Jefferson “made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

He does not want to use his time in Port Jefferson keeping things “status quo” and just sitting back and watching, he said. He is interested in “continuing to move the district forward even if it’s in the short-term.”

“How much I personally could accomplish? I’m not sure,” Casciano said, but he hopes the superintendent who succeeds him will keep moving forward.

On a personal note, Brennan called Casciano “a very nice guy — very down to Earth.”

Bossert announced his plan to leave Port Jefferson earlier this year and become the new superintendent in Elwood. He had been at the helm for five years, during which time there have been other changes in leadership throughout the district. Tom Meehan was brought in as the elementary school principal, first on an interim basis and then as the permanent leader, then Antonio Santana and Matthew Murphy were hired as principals of the middle school and high school, respectively, when those two buildings’ combined principal, longtime leader Roseann Cirnigliaro, retired.

Both Santana and Murphy have since moved on to other schools, with Robert Neidig replacing Santana and Christine Austen replacing Murphy.

“With the current leadership team in place, I know that the district is in very capable hands,” Bossert said in his farewell letter to the community.

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Superintendent Ken Bossert. Photo by Eric Santiago

Superintendent Ken Bossert announced on Friday that the 2015-16 school year would be his last with Port Jefferson.

According to a letter distributed to the community, he was appointed the new superintendent in Elwood, and plans to submit his letter of resignation to the Port Jefferson school board at its April meeting.

Bossert, a Port Jefferson resident, took over the helm five years ago. Financially, it has been a time of uncertainty, as the school district waits, along with the rest of the community, to learn the fate of the aging local power plant, whose property taxes fund almost half of the school district’s budget.

In addition to receiving Bossert as a new arrival, during his tenure parents and teachers have also seen changes in leadership at each school building.

At the elementary school level, the district brought in Principal Tom Meehan. When former middle and high school principal Roseann Cirnigliaro retired, the district brought in Antonio Santana at the middle school and Matthew Murphy at the high school, both of whom have since moved on to other schools.

Students now have Principal Christine Austen in the high school and Principal Robert Neidig at the middle school.

Bossert said in his farewell letter to the community on Friday, “With the current leadership team in place, I know that the district is in very capable hands.”

He called working in Port Jefferson “an honor and a privilege” and thanked the students, parents and staff for their support over the years.

Bossert will make the jump to Elwood in July. The school board there has appointed him to a five-year term as their superintendent, according to a board agenda posted on the Elwood district website.

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Kids are dismissed early from Port Jefferson’s middle and high schools on a previous snow day. File photo by Michael Ruiz

Slippery conditions and cold temperatures are a couple of reasons to hate snow, and now Port Jefferson kids and parents have another one: cutting into the school break.

Despite a handful of snowfalls, with the help of the heaviest of them falling on a weekend, the school district has kept closings to just two days — last Friday and Monday. But those instruction days still have to be made up at some point, so that the district stays in compliance with state education regulations regarding the minimum number of school days.

Superintendent Ken Bossert said at the Port Jefferson Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night that, as a result, the snow will dig into April. The first lost day will be made up on Friday, April 22, which was originally scheduled as a staff conference day, and the other will be made up on Monday, April 25, which was supposed to be the first day of spring break.

Delayed openings and early dismissals, which the school district also uses to ensure student safety during snow events, do not affect the count of instruction days and thus do not have to be made up elsewhere.

If there are any more storms that precipitate school closings, each instruction day missed will be redeemed during the spring break, according to Bossert, cutting deeper into that vacation time.

The superintendent explained that due to the way the school calendar was designed in the 2015-16 school year, with a late Labor Day and the way the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fell, the calendar was “much less flexible with building in snow days.”

Next year is shaping up to be different. The school board approved a 2016-17 calendar on Tuesday night that starts a couple of days earlier than the current year and has five snow days built in from the get-go.

“And we can actually do more than that without encroaching on religious observances and things like that,” Bossert said.

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

If all goes according to plan, Port Jefferson school district residents will pay almost the same in taxes next year.

Between those taxes, state aid and other revenues, the total budget for 2016-17 could actually go down, according to a presentation from Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister at the school board meeting on Tuesday night. That’s largely because the district would not spend as much on capital projects next year, with the new high school elevator being one big-ticket item that will not be repeated, and because the district will see a drop in its debt repayments.

Those two significant decreases would offset increases in health insurance payments and transportation costs, among others.

The proposed $41.3 million plan would maintain all academic programs and staffing levels, despite the 2.5 percent decrease in spending as compared to the 2015-16 budget. But Leister noted that the tax levy would go in the opposite direction — residents would see a slight increase of 0.11 percent. That levy bump would come in just below the state-mandated cap on how much it could increase next year, which Leister estimates at 0.16 percent.

Leister’s estimate for next year’s increase in state aid is larger: He’s putting that at 6 percent, a number he called “conservative,” especially in light of the recent discussion between state officials about the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

The adjustment, a deduction taken out of each New York school district’s state aid, was enacted several years ago to help get the state government out of a fiscal crisis. The deduction has been decreasing lately, and there is talk that it could be removed completely in the coming cycle.

Leister is not as optimistic.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.

If, however, Port Jefferson receives more state aid than it allots for in the budget, Leister said school officials would decide together how to spend it.

And Superintendent Ken Bossert assured the school board that the district also has a plan in the event of receiving less state aid than estimated in the budget proposal.

There are “still a lot of moving parts” in the budget planning process, Leister said. In addition to the question about state aid totals, school districts are still waiting on final numbers for their tax levy caps.

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Officials are finishing up a large staffing shift in the Port Jefferson schools, recently choosing a new assistant principal for grades nine through 12.

Kevin Bernier is joining the Royals from the William Floyd school district, where he was an assistant high school principal and a career and technical education administrator.

“We are certain that Mr. Bernier, who comes to us with years of administrative experience, will serve our district well and help to ensure that all of our students receive the personalized, rigorous education that our community has come to expect,” Port Jefferson Superintendent Ken Bossert said in a statement this week.

Bernier, who will start at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School on Aug. 24, has a background as a secondary English teacher and is a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and of the National Council of Teachers of English, the Port Jefferson school district said. He is a Sayville resident.

The position Bernier will hold opened up after former high school Principal Matthew Murphy announced he would not return for the 2015-16 school year. Port Jefferson officials promoted assistant principal Christine Austen to Murphy’s role, vacating her spot.

As assistant principal, Austen previously handled all grade levels in the district, but officials split that job in two — creating one assistant principal position at the high school and one for the elementary and middle schools. Bernier’s primary education counterpart is former Middle County school district employee Claudia Smith, whom the school board appointed last month to serve the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School and Port Jefferson Middle School.

Those shifts are not the only staffing changes this school year — there is also a new principal at the middle school and a new district special education director.

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