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Mount Sinai High School

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School board officially renames high school in honor of Robert Grable

After the devastating loss of Mount Sinai High School principal Robert Grable in July, the school district is looking for ways to move forward.

Principal Robert Grable speaks at the 2019 high school graduation. Photo by Bob Savage

In a letter posted to the district website Superintendent Gordon Brosdal announced the appointment of Middle School Principal Peter Pramataris to the high school principal position. Middle School Assistant Principal Elizabeth Hine will assume his place, while Brian McCarthy, a retired administrator, will assume Hine’s previous position.

“I am very happy to report that all three buildings are going to be fully staffed and ready to greet our students on Wednesday, Sept. 4,” Brosdal wrote in the letter,

McCarthy has been an administrator at several districts including Miller Place and William Floyd. Brosdal said he specializes in elementary schools.

According to Brosdal, the district has conducted a search from an interim principal for the last four weeks, including candidates outside and inside the district.

“Peter Pramataris has been selected to serve as the interim high school principal while the district conducts a thorough search for the right person to permanently sit as high school principal.”

Maureen Poerio, the district clerk, said Mount Sinai will not be starting the process of looking for a permanent high school principal until January 2020.

The interim positions of the administrators will be held for a year, and they are on leave from their previous positions should any wish to return.

At its Aug. 28 meeting, Brosdal said while they looked for an outside interim replacement at the high school, districts have a hard time finding a replacement at such short notice for such an important position. Otherwise, having familiar faces move within the district can help aid the transition through what may be a difficult time for students.

“We feel good about this, we’re ready to go,” Brosdal said.

Pramataris said he spent a while thinking about whether to accept the position or not, but decided based on his desire to help the district in its time of need.

“Rob [Grable] was a great friend, mentor and colleague,” he said. “It’s just a way that I think I can help the community get through this difficult time.”

At the meeting, the board officially voted to rename the high school to the Robert M. Grable Jr. — Mount Sinai High School.

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District to rename high school after Robert Grable

The Mount Sinai community held a vigil remembering Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

The storm loomed large and dark from the west, just as members of the Mount Sinai community were starting to say their goodbyes to High School Principal Robert Grable, who passed July 19.

However, instead of turning around and running for their cars, the Mount Sinai community, family and friends of Grable, turned and moved into the high school. His vigil would continue, rain or shine.

The Mount Sinai community held a vigil remembering Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

“On July 19, as he went about his business, his usual routine going off to the gym, Rob Grable passed away,” said school board President Robert Sweeney to the assembled crowd. “Use his name. It keeps him with us. No matter what we do, no matter how hard this is, what would he want us to do? Do your best, be professional, be strong.”

Grable joined the school district in 1998, teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade before moving up to assistant middle school principal and in 2005 to middle school principal. He would become high school principal in 2010, during a reshuffling of staff where TBR News Media reported at that time he was there to help facilitate a “diversity of staff.”

In his earlier years, before he entered education, Grable played Major League Baseball for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. He can be found in the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame. The 49-year-old was a lifelong resident of Connetquot and father of three girls.

But if his true calling was education, it showed, according to both those who worked with him and those students he guided.

Lynn Jordan, a Mount Sinai resident who had been on the board of education since 2007 until this year, said the high school is where he truly thrived.

“That was his building — that was where he belonged,” she said, only a few hours after learning of his passing.

The high school principal would be instrumental in several programs that saw the high school thrive, Jordan said, including a “collegial observation process” that had teachers sit in on other instructors’ classes, having them learn from each other. While the program met with some initial resistance, it soon became an important part of teachers mentoring each other, especially for those just coming into the district.

“Teachers are very funny about having other people in their classrooms while they’re teaching,” she said. “It grew tremendously. I think about every teacher was participating in the collegial rounds eventually.”

Scott Reh, the district’s athletic director, knew Grable for nearly 20 years, having been one of his closest comrades. He said the principal cared about the students like they were his own children.

“He had a vision — he was a presence in the high school,” Reh said. “If you look at the Mount Sinai High School, Rob created that, he made it.”

Vincent Ammirato, who taught and coached alongside Grable, would later work under him as principal. He said he remembered joking, saying Grable once worked for him, and he was now his boss. Even with him moving up in the district, Ammirato said the principal never lost that personal connection to his students.

The Mount Sinai community held a vigil remembering Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The kids loved him, the parents loved him, the teachers loved him,” he said. “It’s very rare that you find that in education or any walk of life to be loved by so many people.”

Students who spent years with the principal, both in the middle and high schools, would come to see him as more than just an administrator.

Daria Martorana, a Mount Sinai native who graduated in 2014, said she had traveled the road from middle to high school with Grable, adding he was magnanimous to her and the other students.

“To say Mr. Grable was a passionate and dedicated educator is an understatement,” she said. “He has always been the one who his students could go to for a laugh when we were down, guidance when we were lost, and help when we were confused … he would even escort us to class, so we didn’t get in trouble for not having a late pass.”

Sidney Pirreca, a Mount Sinai graduate of the class of 2015, said Grable was a friend to students, even tacitly participating in that year’s senior prank where the soon-to-be graduates hosted a tailgate party in the faculty parking lot.

“I asked him to bring a tub of cream cheese,” she said. “He was a great person, friend, leader and mentor … A thank you will never
be enough.”

To those who paid attention to his methods, Grable took a look at teaching like a coach would on the baseball field, seeing how each individual student has strengths that had to be pushed and nurtured. He was adamant that students just looking to coast through easy courses should challenge themselves.

“[He] mentored them all through the year, making sure they were really getting what they needed,” Jordan said. “He worked with kids. He tried to make the final outcome better.”

Grable spoke at the 2019 senior commencement ceremony just last month, June 28. Jordan said that, even though he had spent nearly 19 years in the district and could have moved up higher in administration, he considered the high school his home.

The Mount Sinai community held a vigil remembering Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Robert Grable was so much more than a principal,” said Gabriella Conceicao, a 2014 Mount Sinai graduate who would later become a teacher in the district. “There are few educators who take the time to get to know their students on a personal level, and he was one of them. He built relationships that would last far beyond high school, and he touched the lives of countless students and faculty members … I feel so lucky to have known him as a principal, friend, mentor, and co-worker.”

Mount Sinai school district announced it would be changing the name of the high school in honor of its late principal.

“There are no words to show the impact Mr. Grable has had on each and every one of his students,” Martorana said. “We are so lucky to have had him as a mentor and teacher but more importantly as a friend.”

A scholarship fund has been created to help Grable’s three daughters. Checks can be made payable to Mount Sinai Administrators Association, mailed to Mr. Matt Dyroff c/o Mt. Sinai High School, 110 North Country Road, Mount Sinai, NY 11766.

 

Principal Robert Grable speaks at the 2019 high school graduation. Photo by Bob Savage

Mount Sinai High School Principal Robert Grable passed July 19. He was 49.

Mount Sinai High School Principal Robert Grable addresses the graduating class of 2015. Photo by Erika Karp

Grable joined the school district in 1998, teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade before moving up to assistant middle school principal and in 2005 to middle school principal. He would become high school principal in 2010, during a reshuffling of staff where TBR News Media reported at that time he was there to help facilitate a “diversity of staff.”

In his earlier years, before he entered into education, Grable played Major League Baseball for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. He can be found in the Suffolk sports hall of fame. He was a lifelong resident of Connetquot and father of three girls.

“The community, school district and its teachers, administrators and staff are devastated by his untimely loss,” the school district said in a statement.

But if his true calling was education, it showed, according to both those who worked with him and those students he guided.

Lynn Jordan, a Mount Sinai resident who had been on the board of education since 2007 until this year, said the high school is where he truly thrived.

“That was his building — that was where he belonged,” she said, only a few hours after learning of his passing.

The high school principal would be instrumental in several programs that saw the high school thrive, Jordan said, including a “collegial observation process” that had teachers sit in on other’s instructors classes, having them learn from each other. While the program met with some initial resistance, it soon became an important part of teachers mentoring each other, especially for those just coming into the district.

“Teachers are very funny about having other people in their classrooms while they’re teaching,” she said. “It grew tremendously, I think about every teacher was participating in the collegial rounds eventually.”

Scott Reh, the district’s athletic director, knew Grable for nearly 20 years, having been one of his closest comrades. He said the principal cared about the students like they were his own children.

“He had a vision — he was a presence in the high school,” Reh said. “If you look at the Mount Sinai high school, rob created that, he made it.”

Vincent Ammirato, who taught and coached alongside Grable, would later work under him as principal. He said he remembered joking, saying Grable once worked for him, and he was now his boss. Even with him moving up in the district, Ammirato said the principal never lost that personal connection to his students.

“The kids loved him, the parents loved him, the teachers loved him,” he said. “It’s very rare that you find that in education or any walk of live to be loved by so many people.”

Students who took spent years with the principal, both in the middle and high schools, would come to see him as more than just an administrator.

Daria Martorana, a Mount Sinai native who graduated in 2014, said she had travelled the road from middle to high school with Grable, adding he was magnanimous to her and the other students.

“To say Mr. Grable was a passionate and dedicated educator is an understatement,” she said. “He has always been the one who his students could go to for a laugh when we were down, guidance when we were lost, and help when we were confused… he would even escort us to class so we didn’t get in trouble for not having a late pass.”

To those who paid attention to his methods, Grable took a look at teaching like a coach would on the baseball field, seeing how each individual student has strengths that had to be pushed and nurtured. He was adamant that students just looking to coast through easy courses should challenge themselves.

“They mentored them all through the year, making sure they were really getting what they needed,” Jordan said. “He worked with kids, he tried to make the final outcome better.”

“That was his building — that was where he belonged.”

— Lynn Jordan

Grable spoke at the 2019 senior commencement ceremony just last month, June 28. Jordan said that, even though he had spent nearly 19 years in the district and could have moved up higher in administration, he considered the high school his home.

“Robert Grable was so much more than a principal,” said Gabriella Conceicao, a 2014 Mount Sinai graduate who would later become a teacher in the district. “There are few educators who take the time to get to know their students on a personal level and he was one of them. He built relationships that would last far beyond high school and he touched the lives of countless students and faculty members… I feel so lucky to have known him as a principal, friend, mentor, and coworker.”

Community reaction to the news on Facebook was swift in its condolences, with one resident calling him “one of the most compassionate educators Mount Sinai has ever had.”

The school district announced it would be closed at 3 p.m. Friday, July 19 until Monday July 22 in observance of Grable’s passing.

“There are no words to show the impact Mr. Grable has had on each and every one of his students,” Martorana said. “We are so lucky to have had him as a mentor and teacher but more importantly as a friend.”

*This post was updated July 19 with additional information and quotes.

** This post was updated July 22 with additional quotes

The cast of '26 Pebbles'. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Melissa Arnold

In the world of high school theater, it’s pretty common to see a troupe of eager teens take the stage to perform a lighthearted comedy or timeless musical. David Kramer knows that, and he’s certainly enjoyed directing shows in those genres many times before. But in the past several years, the director of Mount Sinai High School’s theater program has moved to exploring deeper topics for the benefit of both actors and audiences.

Kramer has devoted more than 40 years to arts education. He taught music in the Miller Place School District for 39 years and was also involved with the after-school theater program. In 2014, he was hired to direct both the annual drama and musical for Mount Sinai High School. The opportunity has enabled him and his students to be able to bring plays that “hope to spark conversations of timely, mature social issues” to the community, including “The Laramie Project,” “And Then They Came for Me,” “Twelve Angry Jurors” and “Our Town.”

On Nov. 13 and 17, Mount Sinai High School will present “26 Pebbles,” a poignant and timely one-act drama about how the citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, grieve and attempt to recover in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre of 20 children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

This show builds upon Mount Sinai’s growing reputation for tackling difficult topics and societal issues through its drama program.

“I always thought there should be high-quality shows that expose young adults to different aspects of the human condition as well as theater skills,” Kramer said. “I’m not looking to crush them. I’m looking to help them develop a sensitivity to what’s going on in society. My goal is to use theater to encourage change.”

Kramer selected “26 Pebbles” for its focus on current events, including gun violence and the ensuing debate about safety in schools. Several school districts on Long Island now employ armed guards, so Kramer found the show relevant to local audiences. He was also touched by the story of a former student whose child attended Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time of the shooting.

While some of the auditioning students admitted that they initially weren’t excited over Kramer’s selection, he said they all agreed it was an important story that needed telling. During auditions, Kramer showed students a trailer of the show and asked them to read from portions of the script. The result is a cast that connects deeply to the show’s message and is passionate about sharing it with audiences.

Playwright Eric Ulloa spent months in Newtown conducting dozens of interviews for “26 Pebbles,” which uses a docudrama format to tell the story of Sandy Hook through a variety of perspectives. While the original script calls for each actor to play multiple characters, Kramer chose to expand the cast by assigning individual roles. The stories of parents, teachers, first responders, clergy and community members are all represented by a cast of 24 students in grades 9 through 12. The set for the show is deliberately sparse and unfinished, conveying that both the national conversation on gun violence and Newtown’s recovery are ongoing.

Kramer is extremely proud of his students and their dedication to telling the story of Sandy Hook with respect, honesty and powerful emotion. To prepare for the show, Kramer asked the cast to write mock sympathy notes to families who lost loved ones in the shooting, allowing them to connect and empathize with the people they portray.

“The souls of [the people of Newtown] are embedded in these students for the hour and a half they’re on that stage … they have shown incredible realism and growth. I think whoever comes to this show will be incredibly taken by it.”

Mount Sinai High School, located at 110 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai, will present “26 Pebbles” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 17. Tickets are $10 at the door. Runtime is approximately 90 minutes. There is no violence in the show, but it is recommended for mature audiences only. For information, call 631-870-2800 or 631-870-2882.

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Significant upgrades are underway for Mount Sinai’s football field, bleachers, track, press box and surrounding areas. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai Mustangs football team will soon be cantering down a new turf field as part of the school district’s ongoing capital bond projects.

By the end of the school year, the district hopes to have completed an upgrade to its turf field, track, concrete plazas, fencing, press box and bleachers for the varsity field. Plans are also in place to repair the high school roof as part of the district’s $5 million capital project that was approved in May by residents with a 787 to 176 vote. The district hired Melville-based architectural and engineering firm H2M to help design the new sports amenities and fencing, and Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said right now all projects are on or ahead of schedule.

“You have to take care of your houses — all your stuff,“ Brosdal said. “If you don’t maintain them it becomes a big expense.”

The district has ripped up its old turf surface, fearing that its age could result in it being condemned, and replaced it with a new one that prominently shows the school logo and mascot name. Amityville-based The Landtek Group Inc. is currently building the new track and new concrete plaza that will border the football field, both of which will be finished by mid-November.

The new upgraded bleachers and press box should arrive in mid-November as well, according to district officials. The total amount for the athletics upgrades, including the new field and amenities, cost about $2.3 million.

Brosdal said the field would be finished by Sept. 21 when the Mustangs will be hosting its first home game against Port Jefferson.

“We tried to schedule the start of our season to be away games, but we should definitely be ready by that date,” Brosdal said.

About $1.4 million went to fixing a patch of the high school roof that has caused problems for the building during rainstorms. Construction will take place after school hours and is expected to be completed from late October to mid-November.

The district is also planning to invest in new perimeter fencing. Some parts will be amending torn down chain link fencing, some of which borders residential properties. For fencing that borders the road, the plan is to build “ornamental” black iron fence to match the rustic character of the surrounding area. This includes a new gate stretched across the school’s front entrance off Route 25A with stone supports that will match the electronic signs stationed at both entrances.

The fences, along with other security measures, cost the district $800,000. The plan is to start construction in late September and is expected to be completed by mid-November.

Several new security updates have finally come at the start of the new school year as well, though not part of the capital project. All faculty must wear security badges that are color coded to their school building. Athletics personnel have a purple badge while substitute teachers are yellow. High school students must also now wear badges, colored differently depending on their class year.

The badges and guard booth were not part of the capital project and were instead included in the district’s security funding in the general fund budget. Mount Sinai’s 2018-19 budget included $400,000 in security funding, which was $305,000 more than the 2017-18 school year.

Students and staff are now required to scan their badge into an electronic system upon entry. To go along with this change, a new front gate guard booth was installed in May that is wired with a phone, computer and cameras. Persons approaching the front gate need to either show a driver’s license or school badge to gain access to the campus.

Black Team wins Battle of the Educators for third straight year

By Bill Landon

Third time was also a charm for Mount Sinai Middle School’s faculty.

Brandon Loomis, a 6-7 physical education teacher and four-year starter in Mount Sinai School District’s faculty game, ignited the crowd with dunk after dunk to help lead his Black Team to a 73-72 win over Mount Sinai High School staff March. 2.

“[I do it for] all of these kids here that cheer us on,” Loomis said. “We hype it up in the elementary school — they get so excited.”

There was time for one last play after the Gray Team scored on a free-throw to break a 71-71 tie, and the middle school team made it count. Elementary school principal Rob Catlin brought the ball down the court and passed to fifth-grade teacher Melissa Drewisis at the baseline, who found nothing but net as the buzzer sounded to win the game, and with it, bragging rights for another year.

High school team captain and floor general Matt Dyroff said the nor’easter howling outside made him think about postponing the Battle of the Educators, and was glad he didn’t.

“We contemplated whether to call it off, but we said, ‘Let’s go with it,’” Dyroff said. “We crossed our fingers, and it worked out well — it’s a great crowd. The excitement that it brings to the kids … it’s always all about the kids.”

The game is organized and sponsored by Mount Sinai Booster Club, and funds raised from ticket sales, concessions and the halftime shooting contest go toward six $1,000 athletic scholarships awarded in June. Booster club President Diane Tabile said if money is needed to fund other projects or events throughout the district, the club is more than happy to share the wealth. Tabile said she loves how the faculty game is different from anything else her club partakes in throughout the year.

“The kids come out and watch their favorite teacher, especially the younger kids, they idolize these teachers,” Tabile said. “I appreciate the faculty coming out giving up their own time so the kids can come and watch, it’s just a great night. If there’s a program maybe they’re lacking funds for, or if a student may need a little help financially, we’re always willing to help out and we’re lucky that we can.”

Tabile’s daughter Alexa, a senior varsity cheerleader who worked the souvenir and snack stand, said the event gave herself and her classmates a unique perspective of their teachers.

“It’s fun to see the teachers,” she said. “You always see them on such a composed level, but to see them differently — letting their hair down — is fun.”

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Mike Ruggieri grabs hold of his opponent’s leg to try and send him to the ground. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Mustangs took pinning down their opponents quite literally Tuesday.

Mount Sinai’s wrestling team made short work of visiting Southampton Jan. 9, scoring almost as many points from forfeits as it did wins in a 90-0 win, with all nine of the grapplers matchups resulting in pins in the first or second period.

Joe Sabella controls his unable-to-move opponent by wrapping his legs around him. Photo by Bill Landon

The fastest victory of the evening was from 160-pounder Joe Goodrich, a sophomore who had his hand raised just 28 seconds into his match. Junior Mike Ruggieri’s challenger at 285 didn’t fare much better, falling
victim to the Mustang in 33 seconds.

“We knew that [Southampton is] very young, and we had a pretty good chance to win with a good team this year, but we wanted to make sure that we’re still wrestling well,” Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong said. “We kept a couple of kids out of the match tonight because they’re not 100 percent, and we want to be at full strength for the start of the dual meet championships.”

Mount Sinai will compete in the Suffolk County individual championships Jan. 12 before the dual meet championships, which begin Jan. 17.

“The strength of our team is how close we all are — if one kid’s over[weight] we’ll all go in the gym, we’ll all run,” said senior Jake Croston, who won his 220-pound matchup due to a forfeit. “And if a kid wants to work on something that beat him in practice, we all stay after to help him work on that.”

Brendan Goodrich grabs his guy from behind to toss him to the mat. Photo by Bill Landon

Michael Zarif, who won his match by forfeit at 138 pounds, agreed with Croston about Mount Sinai’s ingredients for success.

“We’re working hard every day in practice — we just keep going, we never stop working toward the county title,” the senior said. “And that’s our goal, that’s what we’re working for this year. This is kind of a warm-up.”

Matt Campo, a 126-pound sophomore who eclipsed the 100-match win mark this season and placed third in the state last season, spent little time in the ring, but still topped his opponent with a pin at the 1:32 mark.

“[This win] gives me a lot of confidence going into the county competition — I feel I should have a good tournament,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some good competition, get a win and go back to the states this year.”

Armstrong pointed to eighth-grader Joe Sabella as a standout in the gym for his level of dedication and unparalleled work ethic despite being the youngest in the group.

Antonio Palmiotto prepares to escape from his challenger. Photo by Bill Landon

“Joe has come up and helped fill the lineup and has been seeing success more lately due the fact of how hard he works every day,” the coach said. “I’m very proud of him sticking this out and finally seeing some success.”

The 113-pounder wasted no time pinning his challenger at 1:26 to bank six more points for his team.

“[I have to] just attack — I can’t play it safe when I don’t have the advantage,” the young competitor said. “When I had my legs [around him], that’s when I knew I had the advantage and he couldn’t get up.”

Junior Vin Valente came away with another fast pin at 152 pounds, winning in 1:06. According to Armstrong, Valente has made tremendous progress over last year and, as with all of his Mustangs, has high expectations for him this postseason.

“Vin has also improved so much from last season,” Armstrong said. “I hope to see him and the rest of my guys place high this year in the Division II county tournament.”

Uniqua holds her two new teddy bears tightly. She received the gifts from members of Mount Sinai's Students Against Destructive Decisions club. Photo by Kevin Redding

Just one night at Mount Sinai High School helped to make the season bright for local families in need.

For Christmas, all 6-year-old Uniqua really wanted was an Elf on the Shelf toy, a gift her mom struggled to afford. But Moniqua McGee, who lives with her daughter at Concern for Independent Living in Medford, knew she had nothing to worry about. She had Mount Sinai high schoolers to rely on.

A family from Concern for Independent Living receive gifts from Mount Sinai children through Hauppuage-based nonprofit Christmas Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

On Dec. 6, during the Students Against Destructive Decisions club’s Christmas Magic dinner in the high school’s cafeteria, a beaming Uniqua not only got her wish, but two new teddy bears and holiday-themed face paint, too. She even met Santa Claus and Rudolph.

“I’m grateful they’re doing this for the families and putting smiles on the kid’s faces,” said Moniqua McGee, who has been coming to the event the past five years. “It works every time.”

The McGees were just one of dozens of families from the Medford nonprofit enjoying the holiday spirit in the room. An 18-year partnership between the Hauppauge-based organization Christmas Magic and the SADD club, the Christmas soiree served as the ultimate payoff of a shopping spree by the students Dec. 1. Under the supervision of SADD club advisors John Wilson and John McHugh, they spent that day rushing around Smith Haven Mall and Walmart to buy gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, which provides housing and employment help for struggling families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa. The school district also raised $8,000 for Christmas Magic.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club watch children open up presents. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I’m happy and proud to be part of a program and district that not only encourages, but fosters this type of activity,” McHugh said. “The students involved display the best we have to offer … we have grown our program every year and that makes me feel great.”

With all the gifts wrapped and labeled, every kid left the dinner with at least three presents given to them by Santa, played by rosy red cheeked wrestling icon Mick Foley, who also posed for pictures. Christmas tunes blared through the cafeteria’s speakers as families ate chicken, pasta and desserts, and SADD club members — some dressed up in costume — went around the room with little gift bags of extra toys for attendees. SADD club members also played games and watched “Elf” with the kids.

“It’s so nice to be able to see all the kids here and see them get the gifts we got for them,” said Allie Garrant, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up a lacrosse stick and Rubik’s Cube for a 13-year-old boy. “Just seeing their faces — it’s a whole different thing. It’s like, ‘Wow, these are real people I’m helping’ and you get to see firsthand the difference you’re making.”

Renato Lugo, whose four children were ecstatic over their gifts, expressed his gratitude to those involved in the event.

Students dressed up to entertain children during a Christmas Magic dinner at Mount Sinai High School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s a beautiful thing to have organizations like these that help out and take care of people in need,” said Lugo, who has been aided by Concern for Independent Living for six years. “The students bring joy and cheer and they make my kids very happy.”

His 12-year-old daughter, Elena, was ecstatic receiving a long-sleeve Unicorn pajama shirt from Santa.

“I think it’s really amazing I got the present I wanted,” Elena said. “And the food is amazing and everyone’s so happy. I love SADD. They’re really like another Santa.”

Kim Dellamura, who’s been at the nonprofit agency for six months, said the event allowed her 4-year-old daughter MacKenzie to have a Christmas.

“It feels good because I don’t know how much I would’ve been able to give her this year,” Dellamura said. “So this really helps out a lot. She loves it.”

For Lawrence Aurigemma, the event is a perfect reflection of what this time of year means.

“This season is all about peace and generosity,” said Aurigemma, a military veteran whose 14-year-old son received Pokemon cards. “These students are just fantastic. They go out of their way to help out the less fortunate people here. It’s a wonderful thing. They knew exactly what to get my son … he’s so happy.”

Smithtown resident and former WWE wrestler Mick Foley dishes out gifts to children. Photo by Kevin Redding

Also at the event was Christmas Magic founder Charlie Russo and representatives of Concern for Independent Living, including case managers Ella Cantave and Julio Villarman, who were excited to see their clients enjoying the holidays.

“It’s a very special day for them,” Cantave said. “It took a lot of effort to make it happen and to make it nice for them.”

As everybody in the room sang “Jingle Bells,” Santa arrived and joined in. Each kid’s name was called out to sit down with the big man in the red suit.

Foley, who has been a volunteer with Christmas Magic since 2000 and officially assumed the role of Santa for the organization in 2014, said he looks forward to the event all year round.

“It’s a great organization — they spread joy and happiness to so many of the less fortunate in the community, and it’s an honor to wear the red suit and represent Christmas Magic,” Foley said before turning his attention to the SADD club. “I make it a point to thank all of them because I think it’s wonderful that they get involved in volunteer work at a young age. They do a great job and it’s really easy for me to show up and get a lot of the credit from children, but the truth is, without them, absolutely none of this is possible.”

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Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

With the yearly rise in the number of Mount Sinai students who refuse to take standardized tests — in relation to a statewide movement against Common Core — district administrators have rolled out new ways to assess and strengthen learning skills. So far, three months into the school year, school leaders believe students are reaping the benefits.

“We’re doing things differently than we’ve ever done before,” said Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal during a Nov. 15 board of education meeting.

Brosdal said the district has implemented new literacy-based assessment programs to fill a great need to measure the academic abilities of elementary and middle school students. Since the 2012-13 school year, more and more students have opted out of the state’s English Language Arts and Math standardized exams, which are administered to evaluate those in grades three through eight, Brosdal said.

“I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core … but it’s important for kids to take the test because you get information out of them. What do we do to inform us about the kids who don’t take it? Or get more information on those that do?”

— Gordon Brosdal

“We went from a participation rate of 97 percent down to 40 percent,” he said, pointing to the uproar among members of the community over the adoption of Common Core as the main cause. Those against the tests criticize the pressures it places on students and teachers. “I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core … but it’s important for kids to take the test because you get information out of them. What do we do to inform us about the kids who don’t take it? Or get more information on those that do?”

Joined by district principals — Peter Pramataris of the middle school and Rob Catlin of the elementary school — Brosdal showcased the growth of students at both schools as a result of the newly implemented programs. Fountas & Pinnell, which started in September, gauges the reading and comprehension level of individual
students by having them read a book with their teacher three times a year. It’s a more relaxed form of testing that serves to measure a student’s progression throughout the year while also encouraging them to find the fun in reading.

When the student demonstrates overall reading ability and understanding of the text, he or she graduates to more challenging books. Books are organized into letter-based levels, “A” books being Dr. Suess and “Z” books being “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

In a demonstration of the district’s Columbia Writing Program, which was put in place three years ago as a
result of weakness in the subject across the elementary and middle schools, Pramataris compared a middle school student’s writing assignment from the second day of school to a writing assignment in October. As he pointed out, the second assignment was lengthier, and the student’s narrative skills were punchier.

Academic Intervention Services — help offered by the state at schools to help  students achieve the learning standards, monitors and helps those falling behind.

“We see weaknesses and we want to make them stronger and really work at it,” Brosdal said. “I believe our students have become better writers and readers and they will only get stronger. We’re going to see a lot of good things.”

Catlin, who was hired as principal of the elementary school over the summer, came to the district already well versed in the new programs and was determined to help initiate them.

“We’ve really developed a district wide action plan this year,” Catlin said. “The absence of meaningful assessment results required us to have meaningful in-house assessments. We can’t be in the dark about how a majority of our kids, who don’t take the state tests, are doing.”

The absence of meaningful assessment results required us to have meaningful in-house assessments. We can’t be in the dark about how a majority of our kids, who don’t take the state tests, are doing.”

— Rob Catlin

Catlin said in the first Fountas & Pinnell session performed by the district, teachers observed that 45 percent of students in lower elementary grades (first and second) performed at or above grade level. In the upper elementary grades (third and fourth) 22 percent of students performed at or above grade level.

“There are many reasons for this,” Catlin said. “As they say, data doesn’t answer questions, it just opens up questions and makes you think more about why things are happening.”

He explained that while students at these grade levels may have understood the books they were reading, they aren’t used to answering the high level of questions about it, and aren’t engaging in enough independent reading to practice these skills.

Now that teachers have that information about the student, they will be able to directly address their needs before the second session, which takes place in January. In the meantime, the elementary school librarian has started leveling books in the library and Scholastic money from the PTO, totaling $4,000, is being used to purchase more leveled books, Catlin said.

“Now we can use resources to really target their needs,” Catlin said. “And we’re able to see progress quickly, which is nice, and not have to wait until April when the state tests are taken.”

Deena Timo, executive director of educational services and another integral player in bringing the programs to the school, said of the state tests: “We’ve always viewed them as just a little snapshot in time and not the be all, end all to assess a child. It’s that, taken with a lot of things done in the classroom throughout the year that give you a good picture of a student.”

While Brosdal said he wishes more students took the Common Core tests in order to prepare for Regents exams once they reach the high school, he agreed.

“When you have to push the state stuff aside you ask, ‘Now what do we have to measure our kids?’” Brosdal said. “In the classroom, are we seeing growth? Are they engaged now where they weren’t earlier in the year? We are reacting to what we’re seeing, trying to put better things in place. I believe we’re heading in the right direction.”

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Gary Kulik, an educator and coach for the last 30 years at Mount Sinai High School, has been named a “Distinguished Teacher of 2017” by the Harvard Club of Long Island.

“This award honors teachers who transform lives,” said Dr. Judith Esterquest, the Harvard Club of Long Island’s chair of the distinguished teachers selection committee. “Devoted teachers like Gary Kulik offer Long Island students deep expertise, extraordinary talents and countless hours of attention. By capturing the minds and imaginations of our children and preparing them for challenges that were unknown even a few decades ago, these teachers shape the future of our country.”

Gary Kulik, a calculus teacher at Mount Sinai High School, earned the Harvard Club of Long Island’s distinguished teacher award. Photo from Michael Voltz

Kulik, the first from the district to be honored with the award, has been teaching calculus classes at Mount Sinai High School for the past 26 years. Prior to, he taught in the middle school for a few years. A graduate of Stony Brook University with a BS in applied math, he enjoys coaching the high school and middle school math teams.

Kulik also did graduate work at Stony Brook, earning a Master’s Degree in Coaching and Athletics. He is known for having coached the middle school football team since joining the district, and for coaching the basketball team for 15 years. Whether in academics or on the field, he is always there to coach students. He speculates he has written over 1,000 letters of recommendation for his students.

Kulik has a son who is a land surveyor specializing in laser scanning and a daughter who is a high school biology teacher. He was an actuary for a short while before starting his teaching career.

“Mr. Kulik is a beloved figure throughout Mount Sinai; his room is full even when he is not teaching” said Patrick Hanaj, a Mount Sinai High School alum who is expected to graduate from Harvard College in 2020.

“He consistently has the most alumni visit him each year,” Hanaj added. “Kulik forms lifelong connections to his students through programs like the 10-Year Letter, in which he personally mails letters to alumni from their 12th grade selves.”

When Superintendent of Schools Gordan Brosdal learned of this award, he described Kulik as “taking great pride in his work and the Mount Sinai school district.”

“Gary Kulik consistently establishes a culture of respect and trust in his classroom, while he maintains high expectations for all of his students.”

— Gordon Brosdal

“He believes the role of the teacher is the single greatest factor on maximizing student achievement,” Brosdal said. “Gary Kulik consistently establishes a culture of respect and trust in his classroom, while he maintains high expectations for all of his students. Gary’s classroom is engaging and exciting. Because he empowers his students to develop the ability to ‘think about their thinking’ and to learn independently. I enjoy visiting his classroom to watch him work his magic.”

Mount Sinai’s High School Principal, Robert Grable calls Kulik a consummate professional, adding the teacher plans and facilitates instructional designs that reflect a confidence in his students’ learning abilities.

“His students are active participants in the process, thus motivated to assume ownership of their learning,” he said. “Whether it be to receive extra help or simply to chat about life, Mr. Kulik is available for his students.”

Kulik will be one of 12  Long Island teachers honored at the Harvard Club of Long Island’s annual University Relations Luncheon on April 30. At the ceremony, the Harvard Club of Long Island will announce the Distinguished Teacher of 2017 who will also receive a scholarship for a “Harvard experience” at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Past winners of the scholarships have enhanced their teaching by sampling the resources available to Harvard students — meeting with faculty, visiting research laboratories, rare book archives, and specialty museums.