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Kevin Redding

The new team room at Rocky Point High School is meant to give student-athletes a sense of collaboration and camaraderie. Photo from Dan Spallina

By Kevin Redding

For years, Rocky Point High School physical education teacher Dan Spallina had a blank canvas in the form of an old weight room-turned-football storage space. But this past February, with the help of volunteers and supporters — including parents, students and faculty members — he completed and unveiled a state-of-the-art sports team room in the space’s footprint to be used for video breakdowns of players’ performances, halftime meetings, team gatherings and other school events.

Parents and students help Rocky Point coach Dan Spallina, on right, turn high school storage space into a sports team room. Photo from Rocky Point school district

As head coach of the girls lacrosse program, Spallina, a Rocky Point graduate, recalled visiting the room to pick up his players’ uniforms in 2015 and envisioned something better for the school’s athletes in the cramped and underutilized area. As the student-athletes were often relegated to unused classrooms, the hallways or the athletic field for meetings and team-building exercises, Spallina thought a more suitable space could be built in the spot — a plac for “collaboration and camaraderie.”

“I just thought, what if?” Spallina said.

So, in fall 2016, after receiving approval from the board of education, he rounded up a small, determined band of parent volunteers, with the help of the district’s athletic director Charles Delargy, to help configure, spackle and paint the space. Spallina said the volunteers regularly pitched in at night, after their full-time jobs and daughters’ lacrosse games, to help bring the roughly $4,700 project to light. Even a couple of players helped with painting.

What is now the Rocky Point team room used to be storage space after it was an old weight room. Photo from Dan Spallina

“When I say dedication, I mean dedication,” Spallina said. “The volunteers just wanted to help out and be a part in it. In my eyes, it was simply amazing.”

Together, they transformed a room previously used by teams to watch gameplay videos on a small television or an old projector against a white wall into a clean, open facility equipped with a full HD 4K projector, video screen, stadium seating and strip lights on step-down levels. The new complex has also been decorated with 3-D wood objects, framed inspirational quotes and artwork of the Eagles emblem and American flag.

“To have an idea, then see it being brought to life is incredible,” said Spallina, who presented the new room during a special celebration event in late February alongside Delargy. “My hope is that every athlete that steps into the room feels the sense of pride that it took to build. This is a truly special community and togive the student-athletes a room like this can only be positive.”

The construction phase of the Rocky Point team room was made possible the the help of parents and students. Photo from Dan Spallina

Delargy said when he came to the district a year and a half ago, he and Spallina quickly saw eye to eye about the room’s potential.

“One of the first things I did was stress with the teams and coaches about how helpful video is to prepare for games and for general improvement — and the storage area was the perfect place to do something like that,” Delargy said. “It turned out to be such a nice community project and the coaches and students are all extremely happy, because now they have a place to go. And with the 4K projector — it’s night and day.”

John Bellissimo, the parent of senior lacrosse player Christina Bellissimo and one of the lead volunteers who helped design the room, also noted the importance of the new facility, stating he feels every school district should have a dedicated space like the one at Rocky Point for its student-athletes.

“Of course, our job as parents is to provide our kids with every opportunity to be the best they can be, and help bring the goodness out of them,” Bellissimo said. “So, by having this team room, it’s going to foster the team spirit, togetherness and confidence, and really push these kids to understand what it means to work as a team. The feedback from the kids is that they love it. Because it’s new, nobody else has had it — it’s theirs. This is the room they needed.”

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River’s third preliminary budget presentation for the 2018-19 school year March 20 included an added proposal to bring a pre-kindergarten program to Miller Avenue School for a total $270,000 in contingency funds. Some residents were on board for the idea, while others wondered if there were better options in how spend the district’s extra dollars.

Superintendent Gerard Poole said the board of education received a request last month to consider the inclusion of the popular program that offers deeper learning and more structured skill-building to young children as a way to better prepare them for success in future education. According to the presentation, the robust program features play-based math curriculum, English language arts, development of fine motor and gross motor skills and a strong emphasis on social-emotional learning.

“This is a really great gift to give to our children. It’ll help them socially, cognitively and emotionally, and also help our district’s enrollment. Families that are young and new are looking for programs like these.”

— Courtney Von Bargen

 

“Pre-K programming, according to our research, offers benefits to students’ social-emotional learning and academics, and eases the transition to kindergarten,” Poole said. “About half of Long Island districts do offer a pre-K program.”

Administrators estimated that $250,000 would be spent annually to cover the costs of staffing. An additional $20,000 was also set side as a one-time start-up cost for this year. The program requires a total of two teachers with pre-kindergarten certification and two teacher aides.

These funds, they stressed, do not in any way change previously-presented budget numbers — which includes a slight increase of just .95 percent, or $701,500, from the current year’s budget at a total $74,776,072. There’s a projected tax levy decrease in the budget draft of .5034 percent, or $268,775 from the 2017-18 budget.

Pre-kindergarten would occupy two classrooms with a capacity of 72 students and be broken down into two half-day time slots — 9:15-11:30 a.m. for one group and 12:15-2:30 p.m. for the other. Implementation of the program would also potentially boost the district’s declining enrollment.

Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent voiced his feeling of opposition not as an elected official, but as the father of a student in the district.

“I’m here to urge members of the board to not adopt the pre-K program,” he said. “Fundamentally, this program would reduce options for district parents because the money can be applied elsewhere. It has been proven time and again that when you introduce public funding into a preschool, you reduce the options, and put outward pressure on private providers. Half-day programs will also take students away from other activities.”

“Fundamentally, this program would reduce options for district parents because the money can be applied elsewhere.”

— Dan Losqudro

He read a quote from Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy, a national independent advocate for public education and more effective public schools. “Subsidies for early childhood education would produce negative effects … policy makers should recognize it’s unnecessary and provides no new benefit to low-income parents, and will create a new subsidy for middle and upper-income families while adding to the tax burden,” he said.

Wading River mother Robin Heavey also voiced opposition to the proposal, concerned about security issues that may arise from the program. Because the district would not be supplying transportation for pre-K, Heavey wondered how the school will handle the extra parents and children coming in and out of the building.

“What would be the drop-off and pick-up procedure?” Heavey asked. “If we went through the main vestibules at Miller Avenue, 36 families walking through at the same time would cause disruption and difficulty. And also, what about security guards? Will we have to hire an additional guard for drop offs and pickups?”

Alisa McMorris said she would like to see the extra funds go toward enriching and enhancing the district’s existing programs instead.

“We really need to take a good look at how this will affect the entire district, and how it can be utilized somewhere else,” she said.

But Courtney Von Bargen, a former teacher in the Connetquot school district, stood up in support.

Shoreham-Wading River Budget highlights:

  • 2018-19 proposed budget 0.95 percent higher than current year — $74,776,072 compared to $74,074,572
  • All instructional programs will be maintained, with several additions including Project Adventure and Student Council at Miller Avenue; Science Olympiad and Coding clubs at Wading River School; Christian Club and a cheer team at the middle school; and a yoga club at the high school
  • Tax levy decrease of .5034 percent, below the allowable tax levy limit cap over the last six years
  • Employee salaries and benefits make up 70.9 percent of the budget’s total expenditures with $33,811,370 projected for salaries and $19,205,941 for benefits
  • Superintendent Gerard Poole said: “Our budget is developed to maintain and strengthen our student programs and outcomes and developed to protect the future fiscal health of our residents.”

“Research shows that 3- and 4 year olds that attend high-quality preschools are more successful in kindergarten and beyond,” Von Bargen said. “It really starts with a strong foundation, and if they’re provided with that they will be successful throughout their careers. This is a really great gift to give to our children. It’ll help them socially, cognitively and emotionally, and also help our district’s enrollment. Families that are young and new are looking for programs like these.”

After the meeting, a few more residents weighed in on the issue on a Shoreham-Wading River community page on Facebook.

“So many districts have pre-K programs,” Wading River resident Justine Eve said. “It helps the little ones get acclimated to their building and prepares them well.”

But Stacey Tingo believes the district should have other priorities.

“Let’s meet the needs of all the current students in the district before we bring on new clientele,” Tingo said. “Bring in a full-time elementary librarian, secondary grade psychologist, add another unit to the high school math and science classes … then we can talk about pre-K.”

Board of education member Michael Yannucci addressed many of the concerns of residents.

“We as a nation invest more in academic intervention and not enough in early intervention, where the vast majority of research shows we get more value from,” he said. “Any thought that adding a few pre-K classes would add to security threat is misplaced … we also put many dollars toward enrichment and mental health and current services are regularly evaluated for efficiency. Miller Avenue is the most logical place for [this program]. It’s our early childhood school, has the space and will be the school these children attend for three additional years.”

The next budget meeting will take place Tuesday, March 27, and will focus on: Curriculum & Staff Development, Athletics, Community Programs, Health Services and Personnel — which makes up 1.19 percent of the budget. The public will be able to vote on the budget in May.

Residents at the Town of Huntington's vigil for Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Scott Beigel was a beloved teacher, coach and son, and on Feb. 14, he became a hometown hero.

The Florida school shooting hit close to home for Huntington residents, who joined together inside Town Hall March 14 for a candlelight vigil in honor of the Dix Hills native. Beigel died protecting students from danger as a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Beigel, 35, who graduated from Half Hollow Hills East, was one of 17 killed during the tragedy. He was shot while attempting to lock his classroom door after holding it open for students fleeing from the gunman. Beigel had only been teaching at Parkland for six months, but also served as the high school’s cross-country coach.

“[Scott] was a hero not just on the day he died but every day of his life, to his students and the people whose lives he often helped,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We have unfortunately seen these incidents happen far too many times … but I do truly believe that Scott’s death and what happened in Parkland is something that will change this country. His heroism will change our country and save many, many lives. That will be his legacy.”

Michael Schulman and Linda Beigel Schulman. Photo by Kevin Redding

During the ceremony, Beigel was remembered for his “goofball” sense of humor, selflessness and a true love for his job and the students he taught.

Prior to working in Florida, he was a camp counselor and division leader at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania and a volunteer teacher for underprivileged children in South Africa.

Half Hollow Hills Superintendent Patrick Harrigan said in honor of Beigel, students at the local high schools have implemented a 17 acts of kindness initiative to improve the culture of their environment and make an effort to prevent another senseless tragedy from occurring.

“Scott was a new teacher, only six months into his tenure, and already making a difference every day for his students,” Harrigan said. “As an educator, it is my hope that Mr. Beigel’s lasting legacy is as a child advocate, a teacher, a coach and an inspiration to other teachers to always improve the lives of their students and the children in their communities.”

Looking up at a large photo of her son, Beigel’s mother Linda Beigel Schulman held back tears and said, “I love you Scott … you will forever be my inspiration and hero.”

She called to action the need for gun control legislation including universal background checks before purchasing a firearm; a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and an increase in the minimum gun-buying age from 18 to 21. She also commended students who participated in the National School Walkout.

“We need action now and we will continue to be heard,” Beigel Schulman said. “When Scott was a child and came home from school, I worried about what kind of a day he would have; I did not worry about if he was going to come home from school.”

Beigel Schulman then turned to look upon a photograph of her son again.

“You may have died senselessly, but as I stand here today, I can honestly say not in vain,” she said. “It has been one month and I promise I will not stop until no child ever has to fear going to school, being with their friends at school and learning from their teachers [at school].”

A street sign that will rename Hart Place in honor of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) unveiled the new street sign renaming Hart Place, where Beigel grew up and where his parents still reside, to become Scott J. Beigel Way.

Tragedies such as Parkland, Lupinacci said, “especially touch home when you have someone that grew up here, went to the high school, went to many of the same stores we go to … We thought it very fitting for where he grew up and spent his formative years to be renamed in his honor.”

The supervisor said a proper ceremony for the street renaming will take place in the upcoming weeks.

“We just want Scott’s voice and legacy to live on — we don’t want him to ever be forgotten,” said Melissa Zech, Beigel’s sister. “I think he would be so proud and I know we’re so proud of him. ― He was so smart, quick-witted, caring and loving. These are things I wish I would’ve told him when he was here.”

Michael Schulman, Beigel’s father, also spoke of the honor.

“This took us all by surprise,” he said. “It’s a great acknowledgement of what this town meant to him, and what he meant to the town. Right now, the street sign is something that’s bittersweet, but, in the years to come, it’ll just be sweet. I just wish we didn’t have to have it.”

Huntington Town Board is expected to formally vote on renaming Hart Place in Beigel’s memory at its March 20 meeting. Lupinacci also said the new street sign would be put on public display for area residents to see.

Northport Village Hall. File photo

Votes are in for the March 20 Northport Village Board trustee election, and results show that an incumbent and a former trustee have captured the two open seats in the three-candidate race.

Ian Milligan, a trustee since 2014, has come out on top with 1,078 votes, while Thomas Kehoe, who served as a trustee for two terms from 2006-14, came in second with 788. Each candidate secured titles for the next four years.

Ian Milligan. Photo from Ian Milligan

Trailing Kehoe by just 16 votes was Joseph Sabia — a former Northport police officer, Northport-East Northport school board member and a mayoral candidate in 2014 — who received 772 votes, all according to the office of the village clerk at Northport Village Hall as of March 21. The trustee-elects will begin their terms April 6.

“I’m glad to be back on the board,” Kehoe said. “I was here for eight years, so people know me — they know my work ethic, know that I get things done and that’s what they want. They want someone who’s going to work hard for them and be ethical and transparent, so, I think that’s why they voted for me.”

Kehoe, the owner and operator of East Northport-based K & B Seafood for more than 30 years, ran on an agenda to push the village into the 21st century by updating its infrastructure and antiquated codes, maintaining its public safety by securing the future of the village police department and helping solve problems of the local business community.

When he was trustee, Kehoe served as the commissioner of commerce, police and sanitation, and created the Northport Business & Economic Development Committee — a group he said he plans to re-implement. He said the committee’s first mission will be to tackle parking in the village.

“I’m very thankful that, hopefully, Northport can now return to some stability,” he said. “We have a lot of different opinions and lifestyles in the village and we make it work and, so, I’m happy to get back to it.”

Milligan, a Northport native and the owner of Electric Harbor Inc. on Willis Street, has focused his bid for re-election on maintaining Northport’s quality of life for residents, keeping taxes low, continuing to better the Northport Village Dock and getting a rain garden into the village to absorb rainwater runoff to keep the waterfront clean.

Thomas Kehoe. Photo from Thomas Kehoe

He could not be reached for comment following the election results, but in a previous interview with TBR News Media, Milligan said of re-election: “I have enjoyed this work and there is more work to be done.”

Sabia, also a local businessman as the owner of Sabia’s Car Care on Fort Salonga Road since 1977, ran for trustee promising to keep taxes low, restore the village’s crumbling roads and sidewalks, update village codes and push to bring a full-time paramedic to the vilalge’s firehouse.

Despite his disappointment in the overall results, the challenger said he’s proud of how he ran his campaign.

“I think [my opponents] spent a ton more money than I did, and they had more manpower, and I think I did pretty good,” Sabia said. “I think the people of the village spoke based on the tight race. Fifty percent of the people in this village aren’t happy. God bless everybody and God bless all the people that voted for me.”

Asked if he plans on running for the position in the future, Sabia said he wouldn’t rule it out.

“You never know what’s going to happen in life — I leave all my avenues open,” he said. “I’m not a quitter.”

The results also saw the election of new mayor Damon McMullen, a longtime trustee and the unopposed mayoral candidate in the race who secured a total of 1,078 votes. Paul Senzer was elected village justice with 966 votes.

Heritage Trust and community members say if a cell tower were to come to Mount Sinai, they’d prefer to see it behind the Heritage Center at the park. Photo by Tom Carbone

A beloved local park is gauging the reception of a potential development.

Members of Heritage Trust in Mount Sinai are currently evaluating a proposal made by a Verizon representative last month to build a cellphone tower on the property.

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage.”

— Lori Baldassare

According to Lori Baldassare, the nonprofit’s president, the group was contacted by Verizon Wireless consultant, Robert Monteleone, a few weeks before the trust’s annual meeting in early February.

Without a design or any specific plan yet in place, Baldassare said Verizon’s bare-bones pitch is to install a tower somewhere on a 0.7-acre stretch of property at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road to help eliminate a cellular “dead zone” in the area, where weak signals and dropped calls can create safety issues. More and more cell towers have popped up across the state in recent years as less residents hold onto their landlines, instead relying almost completely on their cellphones. Phone carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, are required to make sure dangerous coverage gaps are filled.

Baldassare said she and other Heritage members requested more information from Monteleone as to how obtrusive the proposed tower would be and exactly where the structure might be located on the scenic site, which features a playground, baseball field, walking path, gardens, a plant maze and mini-golf course.

“Do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

— Ann Becker

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage,” Baldassare said, hoping that the tower be built behind the Heritage Center building, where there are already tall poles and transformers installed. “We certainly don’t want it in front of our building.”

But a cell tower at Heritage would come with an added benefit, Baldassare said.

“Part of the reason we’re considering it is that the income generated from the cell tower — roughly between $2,500 and $3,500 a month — would go directly to Heritage Trust to help support our programs, activities and efforts at the park,” she said. “It would certainly be a help to us as we don’t get taxpayer money, and rely on donations.”

She said she was “cautiously pursuing” the idea.

“We’re trying to weigh out the pros and cons based on what comes back to us from Verizon,” Baldassare said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”

The topic came up during a March 5 Mount Sinai Civic Association meeting. Civic Association President Ann Becker led the discussion, raising questions and making clear to the public that no application for the cellphone tower has been submitted.

“Nothing has happened yet, but it’s now on our radar,” Becker said. “I guess the downside is, do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

“This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community.”

— John Leonard

Vice President Brad Arrington said there are alternative models and size options available when it comes to towers.“Would there be room on a cellphone tower to share and cooperate with other providers?” asked park volunteer Fred Drewes, referring to the service of not just Verizon customers.

Becker said there is.

“If Verizon builds it and, say, Sprint rents from Verizon by paying an additional fee, there would be that additional benefit,” she said. “One tower, more money, less construction.”

Mount Sinai resident John Leonard said via Facebook that he would support the cell tower as long as the revenue went to the Heritage Trust, which he commended for being a 100 percent volunteer board.

“They have done amazing things,” Leonard said. “This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community. It’ll help this group continue doing great things for our region.”

But not all residents seem to be on board.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Robyn Blumstein said. “What an eyesore for a beautiful park.”

Mose Allison
Evening will honor the music of longtime Smithtown resident

By Kevin Redding

Mose Allison. Photo by Michael Wilson

A reporter once asked the late jazz and blues pianist and singer Mose Allison — regarded among musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Pete Townshend and Van Morrison as “one of the finest songwriters in 20th century blues” — why he wasn’t more famous.

“Mose, you were a social critic before Bob Dylan, satirical long before Randy Newman and rude before Mick Jagger,” the reporter said. “How come you’re not a big star?” Allison, who was born in Mississippi and moved from New York City to Smithtown in the mid-1960s to raise a family and spent much of his time walking in the local woods and swimming in the Long Island Sound, responded: “Just lucky, I guess.”

On Saturday, March 24, The Long Island Museum, in partnership with WUSB-FM’s Sunday Street Concert Series and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, will give the 2006 Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee his proper due with The Word From Mose: A Celebration of the Music of Mose Allison, a tribute concert in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room at 7 p.m.

Jack Licitra

The concert, following the tradition of other Sunday Street Series shows organized by Charlie Backfish, Stony Brook University history lecturer and host of the university’s weekly radio program “Sunday Street,” will feature local and outside musicians, who will strum and sing through decades of Allison’s breakthrough material, including his more well-known tracks “Your Mind Is on Vacation,” “Everybody’s Crying Mercy” and “I Don’t Worry About a Thing.”

Allison, who died Nov. 15, 2016, just four days before turning 89, was a four-time Grammy nominee and frequent collaborator with jazz greats Zoot Sims and Stan Getz whose songs spanned more than 30 albums — The Rolling Stones, Diana Krall, The Who, The Pixies and Elvis Costello are among those who have recorded Allison’s songs.

Pete Kennedy

The lineup includes “Sunday Street” regular and New York-based singer-songwriter Pete Kennedy; Pat Wictor, electric and slide guitarist of the group Brother Sun; Jack Licitra, a Sayville-based keyboardist and guitarist as well as the founder of the music-teaching studio South Bay Arts in Bayport; and Abbie Gardner, an acclaimed Dobro player who has toured for many years as part of the trio Red Molly. Some members of Allison’s family, including his daughter and singer-songwriter Amy Allison, will also be in attendance.

The evening will also include a screening of a short BBC documentary on Allison called “Ever Since the World Ended,” featuring interviews with Costello, Morrison, Raitt and Loudon Wainwright III and footage of Allison performing.

“Not only is he such an important artist, Mose Allison was someone who lived in this area for many decades and we thought it was time to do something like this for him,” Backfish said of the decision to honor the musician. “When he wasn’t on tour, which was quite often, he would be back in the area and playing shows at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University or jazz clubs in Port Jefferson.”

Pat Wictor. Photo by John Mazlish

Backfish said he also had the opportunity to interview Allison on his radio program many years ago. “He had such an incredibly rich catalog in so many ways and these artists are going to get together and play both well-known songs of his and the deep tracks,” he said. “I would hope that if people aren’t aware of Mose, they’ll suddenly find someone they will check out and listen to, and for those who know him, this will be a great way to celebrate his music and listen to artists reinterpret his songs.”

Wictor, a longtime Allison fan who, with his band, recorded a version of “Everybody’s Crying Mercy,” said Backfish approached him to participate in the concert for his “affinity” for the man’s work. “I love Mose partly because he cannot be categorized easily,” Wictor said. “He sort of mixed jazz and blues, and social commentary, in a way that nobody else did. And I like his sense of humor in his lyrics, which were always a little sardonic and mischievous. He comes across as a person that doesn’t suffer fools gladly and that’s always enjoyable to me. The songs themselves are very musically interesting, too — blues-based but they always have a unique musical and lyrical quality unlike anything else.”

Abbie Gardner

Kennedy said Allison was unusual among jazz musicians in his time because he wrote a lot of songs with lyrics, while others primarily stuck to instrumental compositions. “Allison actually wrote songs that he sang and that’s what we’re focusing on during the concert,” said Kennedy, who noted that he’s had a lot of fun examining Allison’s songs more closely and learning them in anticipation of the show. “His songs sound totally modern to me now, even the old ones from the 1950s and ’60s. The writing is really clever, really humorous and had a little bit of social commentary to it, but not in a negative way.”

Licitra, too, expressed his excitement over his involvement, calling Allison’s music “the thinking man’s blues.” “I’m really looking forward to giving people a taste of his style of intellectualism and humor,” he said. “And for me, this is all about the group of performers on the bill. I’m a big fan of all of them and so I’m excited about playing with them and seeing how they each interpret Mose’s [work].”

The jazz legend’s son John Allison, who grew up in Smithtown, said while his father was a true “musician’s musician” and beloved in many artist’s circles, he was as low profile as could be at home. “There he was, living in Smithtown, so unassuming that even our neighbors, for 15 years, didn’t know what he did until they saw him on TV with Bonnie Raitt for a PBS concert at Wolf Trap,” John Allison said, laughing. “He just wanted to do his thing. He read books and played music. I’d come home from high school and he’d be listening to some weird Chinese, classical music and just laughing and loving it … [and] sometimes he did tai chi in the living room.”

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Advance tickets to the tribute show are $25 through Friday, March 23 at www.sundaystreet.org with tickets at the door for $30 (cash only). Beer, wine and cider will be available for purchase. For more information, please call 631-751-0066.

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

“Books not bullets!” “We want change!”

A group of nearly 30 students shouted these words from behind the front gates of Rocky Point High School between 10 a.m. and 10:17 a.m. March 14, demanding stricter gun legislation to help put an end to school violence one month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting left 17 students and faculty members dead.

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point high schoolers were among thousands across the country who took part in the school walkout demonstration during the time frame.

The district issued a letter to parents last week that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school will be “subject to administrative action.” Requests for what the repercussions might be were not immediately returned.

Students waved signs that read “Our voices deserve to be heard,” “I will not be a statistic” and “School is for learning, not target practice” as passing cars honked in support.

“We want legislators to take action against all assault weapons,” said senior Jade Pinkenburg, one of the organizers of the event. “We don’t want guns in our schools and want to feel safe within our schools. That’s what we’re doing this for.”

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

Senior Bernard Sanchez said students should be allowed to have more of a voice.

“You can’t sacrifice the First Amendment to try to protect the Second,” Sanchez said. “Court cases have proven time and time again that we don’t give away every choice we have when we enter a school.”

Jade Pinkenburg’s father Chris said that the students involved in the protest attempted to meet with Superintendent Michael Ring at the start of the week but “nothing happened.”

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote in last week’s letter.

Chris Pinkenburg stood by and said he supports the students despite the district’s disapproval.

“I think it’s a very good thing,” his father said. “Obviously the adults don’t have any solutions, so I hope this will bring about great change. It’s time.”

Miller Place and Rocky Point will host indoor forums, Shoreham-Wading River is undecided

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In the aftermath of the most recent mass shooting, students across the nation are planning to rise up and walk out — a movement that is being handled very differently across local school districts.

On March 14, exactly one month after gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and faculty members dead, students plan to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m. — both in honor of the Parkland victims and as a call for legislative action to help put an end to deadly shootings. The nationwide protest, the seeds of which have spread across social media with the hashtag #ENOUGH, was launched by the activist group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, whose members are demanding Congress do more than “tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence” and that “students and staff have the right to teach in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms,” according to the group’s website.

The movement was initiated by Parkland survivors, whose outcry against guns following the shooting has reverberated throughout each and every state. An impassioned speech given by senior Emma González Feb. 17 went viral by stating that she and her fellow classmates would change the law in the country so that her high school would be the location of America’s last mass shooting.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating. There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions.”

— Keri Rooney

Across the North Shore, school districts have begun addressing how they will handle the localized version of the movement, with Miller Place and Rocky Point firmly opposed to letting their students leave the building — echoing widely shared concerns over safety. Mount Sinai is on board with letting students participate in the national movement, while Shoreham-Wading River is still weighing the situation.

Miller Place

During a board of education meeting Feb. 28, where Superintendent Marianne Cartisano outlined for parents the district’s enhanced security measures, including the newly assigned four armed guards for its four buildings, she addressed the walkout.

“We are looking to see how we’re going to manage it here to allow students to have a voice, but I can tell you right now — there is no way that I’m going to have students walk outside at 10 o’clock in the morning,” Cartisano said to applause in the room. “The reason is that if everybody knows that children are walking outside at 10 o’clock in the morning, then who are the obvious victims? And that may or may not happen in our nation — and I pray every night that it doesn’t — but what I can tell you is that’s not going to happen here.”

She explained to residents that she and other administrators want students to have a voice, but in a way that doesn’t create a health and safety issue, or turn into “a political movement.”

“Our students’ voices do have to be heard about ending school violence and returning schools to the safe havens that they once were,” the superintendent said. “We’re spending a tremendous amount of time talking about student demonstrations and how we can provide students with a voice against school violence while also recognizing those who have lost their lives.”

She said students will be able to participate in a safer alternative inside the building March 14. Senior Jake Angelo, student representative on the board, later suggested the indoor event could involve an anti-bullying sentiment and a flower sale to raise money for those in Parkland.

Students in Miller Place will host in-school reflections during the national walkout March 14. Photo by Kevin Redding

Amanda Cohen-Stein, a parent in the district, said later in a community Facebook post that while she originally supported the walkout, she changed her mind following Cartisano’s comments.

“It is best they not leave school grounds,” Cohen-Stein said.

Keri Rooney, a Sound Beach resident with ties to Miller Place, said she didn’t feel comfortable about the walkout.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating,” Rooney said. “There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions. Walking out of school is not the answer and leaves them as an easy target.”

Rocky Point

Michael Ring, superintendent of the Rocky Point district, recently sent a letter to parents in which he said that organized, student-run walkouts “are not a viable option for our schools,” and that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school, will be “subject to administrative action.” He did not specify what the specific consequence would be.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote. “Any student found to have left school without appropriate permission on any school day during the year will be subject to administrative action in accordance with the district’s code of conduct.”

He made it clear that this decision was based on heightened attention to school safety and security, and that, despite not being allowed to leave the grounds, students wishing to participate in the movement March 14 can do so through districtwide activities planned for the day by administration and staff.

“Many in our schools have expressed interest in engaging in activities aimed at not only honoring the lives lost in this national tragedy, but also giving voice to the hope that a similar event does not happen again,” Ring said.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises.”

—Michael Ring

For high school students, these include a moment of silence and the viewing of a tribute to the 17 lives lost in Parkland; a discussion led by teachers encouraging students to participate in 17 acts of kindness during the day in order to “increase positive interactions within the school community”; and opportunities
during social studies classes to voice their opinions on ways to better enhance safety and security in the school; and write letters either to elected officials or the survivors and family members of victims in Parkland.

Although this is considered a high school initiative, Ring said that there will be similar activities, including the letter writing, in the middle school and a moment of silence and kindness-geared activities in both Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School.

Mount Sinai

After Principal Robert Grable met with 20 members of the student government last Friday to gauge student’s perspectives on the walkout, it was decided — in correspondence with Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board of education — that Mount Sinai students who wish to participate can do so March 14.

The students will stand outside on the high school’s athletic field for 17 minutes, school officials said, during which time the campus is expected to be shut down with tightened security by the entrances on the North Country Road and 25A sides of the property, which will be closed and locked.

Grable said in speaking with student leaders he made it clear that he wanted the walkout to be structured, safe and well supervised.

“I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that.”

— Rob Grable

“It’s a very hot topic right now,” Grable said. “I think everybody is emotional about it, including the student body, and I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that. I don’t think it will be that major of a distraction and it will accommodate both parties — the administration as well as the students who wish to demonstrate their support of this initiative.”

Student Council President Joe Kelly, a senior, said he and his peers believe the event should be focused on reflection.

“I talked to a lot of students and we think the walkout should be more for remembering the 17 lives lost with a moment of silence rather than bringing up anything political,” he said. “I talked to many people, all of whom have differing political opinions, and they all wanted it to not be political. They only wanted to do the walk if it was in respect for those in Florida.”

Available teachers, administrators, aides and the district’s school resource officer will be asked to monitor the students. While Brosdal said currently there is the potential for all 800 students to be out there, he predicts there will be many who wish not to be involved. Those students will be able to remain in their classrooms with their teachers.

The superintendent said he supports the students’ rights to take part in this national movement if they choose to.

“I guess we’re getting to the point where enough is enough, not just in terms of the horror of the shootings and the kinds of people that come in, but how unsafe schools are now,” Brosdal said. “I believe truly, in a student’s heart, if they want to experience this and reflect and commemorate this tragic event, they should be permitted to do it. I don’t anticipate misbehavior. I believe in our kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River

“The district is currently discussing this matter, and once a decision is made it will be communicated with our parents and students,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email March 6.

“It will make the students walking targets.”

— Chris Albinski Simion

On a closed Shoreham-Wading River community Facebook page, parent opinions on the walkout ranged from adamant support to heated opposition.

“Definitely against it,” Chris Albinski Simione wrote. “It will make the students walking targets. Every wacko in the country will know when and what time these kids will be outside the schools.”

Another resident, Linda Kelly, asked, “And a walkout will accomplish what exactly? No need to do this on school time.”

But Judy Shaffer Noonan said it will, and always will, be young people who make the biggest changes in society.

“The adults failed,” she said. “Historically, the young have impacted change. The young are the future. I don’t think these kids are doing this out of a sense of entitlement … I’m very proud of the Parkland students who are standing up and demanding change.”

Tyler Holmes, a district graduate, said it will be a historic day.

“I’ll do my part to engage in any positive and well-represented protest instead of sitting home,” he said.

Ben Model at the historic Wonder Morton Theatre Pipe Organ at The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in 2014. Photo by Steve Friedman

By Kevin Redding

As a film production major at New York University in 1982, Ben Model sat in a film history class and watched a series of silent movies with his peers. The early 16mm prints had no sound tracks backing them and Model felt the disinterest of his classmates.

“It really bothered me that these movies were bombing in front of film students every week,” said Model, 55, who grew up enchanted by three things: silent movies, the art of filmmaking and music, having started piano lessons when he was 5. “So I figured, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it’s got to be better than nothing.”

Photo by Larry Smith
Ben Model at the Library of Congress Packard Preservation Campus Theater. Photo by Larry Smith

So he approached his professor and offered to play piano during the screenings to liven the experience for the audience — an idea the professor loved. From then on, until he graduated two years later, Model (pronounced Moe-del) served as the maestro for two to three film screenings per week in the basic cinema history class as well as a film historian’s class — providing the music for many of the earliest movies ever made, from Auguste and Louis Lumière’s 50-second-long actuality films depicting military events and everyday scenes to Thomas Edison’s studio films to the works of pioneer filmmakers D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein.

Through his new gig, he met and befriended renowned silent film accompanist Lee Erwin, who was an organist in theaters during the 1920s and was, at the time, playing the giant Wurlitzer organ at Carnegie Hall Cinema in Manhattan, one of the few repertory theaters back then. Erwin served as Model’s mentor, someone whose brain the young college student often picked, learning what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what not to do.

While Model only started doing this to engage his peers in early films, he wound up turning it into a career spanning more than 30 years. He currently serves as one of the leading silent film accompanists and most well-respected silent film historians, traveling around the world in a wide variety of venues presenting silent films and providing unforgettable live scores for hundreds of them.

Ben Model at the Egyptian Theatre, Boise Idaho. Photo by Paul Collins

Model has been a resident silent film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art since 1984; the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre since 2009; the Silent Film Days in Tromsø portion of the Tromsø International Film Festival in Norway, home to Verdensteatret, Norway’s oldest cinema in use, dating back to 1916, for 12 years; the historic Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho, where he performs scores with a full orchestra; recently played in theaters in Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio and frequently performs at museums and schools; will be playing at the Turner Classic Movies film festival next month; and, since 2006, can be seen locally at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington once a month during the theater’s Anything But Silent program.

Model is also a lecturer, film programmer and visiting professor of film studies at Wesleyan  University in Connecticut, as well as the creator of New York City’s Silent Clowns Film Series, launched in 1997 as the premiere, regularly scheduled showcase for silent film comedy, from Buster Keaton to Laurel & Hardy. 

“There’s something so immersive about the experience of silent films, especially when you see it with live music,” Model said. “It’s ironic that because of what’s missing from the film, you’re actually much more involved and engaged, because the imagination is filling in everything: the sound, the colors, pieces of the story, the gags. You’re assembling them in your head, in a group setting. You can get lost in it; you feel like you’re almost part of what’s going on — it’s like a trance.”

A trance, he said, he’s long been in. “When I started doing this, I realized that throughout my life, anything surrounding silent film kind of just worked out for me,” he said.

It all started with Charlie Chaplin. While some little kids were obsessed with dinosaurs and others with trains and trucks, young Model gravitated toward The Tramp, consuming all his films he could find and reading biographies and film books on his craft. That paved the way for Chaplin’s contemporaries like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

When he was 12, Model, who grew up in Larchmont in Westchester County, received a book called “The Silent Clowns” written by Walter Kerr, a New York Times theater critic in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and silent film fanatic himself, which became something of a sacred text to the young boy. Because Kerr lived close by, and had amassed a huge collection of these movies he wrote about, Model’s parents encouraged him to reach out to the author.

“So I wrote him a letter telling him I was interested in seeing more silent films,” Model said, explaining that, in the mid-70s, he had to wait for them to show up on television and there was a lot of movies he read about that he just couldn’t find. “Walter Kerr called me four days later. Over the next 15 to 20 years, a few times a year, I’d go over and he’d say, ‘So, what do you want to see?’ So I grew up going to the guy who literally wrote the book on silent film comedy.”

Model said in terms of his performances, he’s primarily an improviser — relying on his background as a silent film devourer and improv comedian in college to let things come to him naturally, he said, like musicians do in jazz. But if he hasn’t seen the film before, he’ll watch it in advance to take note of different story and action beats in order to stay ahead of the movie and provide certain underscores when needed.

“Ben is creating a virtual time machine of the original movie-going experience and transporting our audiences to another era,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for Cinema Arts Centre, adding that audiences during Anything But Silent nights are always fully engrossed: laughing, shrieking and hooting and hollering. “There’s an undeniable respect for Ben’s choice of film, his vast historical knowledge, and the commitment to giving the best performance to each film. He’s a rock star in his own right.”

Model said he loves performing at Cinema Arts Centre because of its monthly embrace of these old films.“You’d be hard-pressed to find a suburban art cinema that thinks silent movies are worth showing,” Model said. “At Cinema Arts Centre, they recognize that sound is only part of the film landscape.”

He encourages people of all ages to come and experience a silent film. He recalled the impact a screening of Keaton’s 1928 film “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” from 10 years ago had on an 8-year-old girl, whose father later told Model that the film, its presentation and her experience that night was the subject of her college essay.

“Everyone involved with these films is dead, but even one from 100 years ago is just as entertaining as it was when it was first released,” Model said. “Silents are able to make the trip across several decades sometimes better than sound movies. It’s just so rewarding to be able to help these films live again, and build the next audience for them.”

Retired NYPD officers with pistols are stationed outside district schools following the Parkland, Florida school shooting

Miller Place School District parents and students gathered inside the high school library Feb. 28 to voice concerns and support for allowing armed guards outside schools in the district. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Coming back from mid-Winter recess, one armed guard stood outside each of the four schools in the Miller Place district, sparking controversy Monday.

The decision to station retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School, Andrew Muller Primary School, North Country Road Middle School and Miller Place High School was made Sunday evening, and an email about the decision was sent out around 9 p.m. stating temporary “increased security measures” would be in place.

Miller Place parent Amber Buscemi is concerned about allowing armed guards to be stationed outside schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

Some residents praised the district for taking quick, drastic action in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 students and faculty members dead Feb. 14. Others raised concerns that the school’s decision was unnecessary and dangerous, sharing their feelings at a board of education meeting Feb. 28.

“Adding armed guards to our schools is not a solution to the problem of school shootings,” said Nina Thompson, the parent of a fifth-grader and a kindergarten student in the district who pleaded with the board not to make this a permanent implementation. “The school in Florida had one, but it didn’t prevent or minimize devastation. Kids should not have to grow up with guns in school. Period.”

But Lou Gallo, a retired teacher in Longwood, said in the immediate sense, armed security is crucial.

“We have to get rid of this notion that our lovely little schools are fuzzy, wuzzy wonderlands, because they’re not anymore — we have to raise our consciousness to the extent that our school is now a potential killing ground,” he told the board. “The criminal mind preys on defenselessness, weakness and vulnerability.”

Superintendent Marianne Cartisano explained to residents during the meeting that the board’s assignment of armed security was done so urgently to ensure that all precautionary measures were being taken.

“You send me your children in the morning and you expect me to send them home to you in the afternoon. There are 14 parents in Florida right now that don’t have that expectation.”

— Marianne Cartisano

“I just don’t want it to be me,” an emotional Cartisano told the residents packed inside the high school library. “I am responsible for 2,800 children and nearly 500 staff members every single day, and you, as parents, have reasonable expectations of me. You send me your children in the morning and you expect me to send them home to you in the afternoon. There are 14 parents in Florida right now that don’t have that expectation. And I can’t tell you how much that nauseates me, saddens me and frightens me.”

The Florida shooting occurred just days before the school district closed for its mid-winter recess, and Cartisano said she and other board of education members spent the break in constant communication. They ultimately met in person at central offices at 4 p.m. Sunday to gather information accumulated in the past week, evaluate the concerns coming from students and faculty members and weigh their options. After meticulously reviewing the pros and cons of each security suggestion, from installing metal detectors in each building to enforcing strict bans on parent drop-offs and pickups, the conversation ultimately led to armed guards.

“We know that we fit the perfect active shooter profile as an upper-middle-class, basically white-community that doesn’t think it’s going to happen here — that makes us a target,” Cartisano said. “Questions kept coming up — are we doing enough? There was a real community fear that we were feeling.”

Cartisano said, in total this week, the guards cost the district $5,750, and, moving forward with enhanced security, the new hires will not financially affect any athletic or extracurricular program, educational course or faculty and custodial staff members.

“The purpose of this was to reduce crisis response time and open up the conversation with law enforcement,” the supervisor said.

Roughly a dozen residents made their voices heard at the meeting.

Lou Gallo talks at the board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

“There is no evidence that an armed guard with a handgun will, or even can stop a shooter with an AR-15,” said Miller Place mother Amber Buscemi, referring to the style of assault rifle that has become the weapon of choice of mass shooters, including the suspect in Parkland’s massacre. “It is illogical. And, now, you have hired an armed officer to be suspicious of all students who attend our schools as they look for potential shooters. … It’s an unnecessary risk.”

Sound Beach resident and Miller Place graduate Patrick O’Hanlon said he doesn’t believe the armed guards would be effective against an active shooter.

“I don’t believe any of you should allow someone with a gun in here,” he said. “They’re not going to protect your children with a pistol in the lobby.”

Despite admitting he was not a gun advocate, Pete Conelli said he was in support of the armed guards. For him, he explained, the Parkland tragedy wasn’t just a story in the news. His wife’s closest friend lives in the Florida town, and her son is a freshman at the high school where the shooting occurred.

“He’s going to live with the mental scar for the rest of his life,” Conelli said, recounting the student sending his parents “I love you” texts from underneath a desk in a classroom while the shooter was in the hallway. “I’ve read a lot of school shooting statistics and one I read reported that 18 percent of shooters are shot by police … and I’ll give my kid the extra 18 percent any day of the year.”