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Port Jefferson School District

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PJ Royals Win in Homecoming Blowout

Port Jefferson homecoming football game against Greenport/Southold/Mattituck Oct. 5. Photo by Bill Landon

The weekend of Oct. 4-6 was one of purple and Royals pride. Hundreds swarmed through Port Jefferson during the annual parade, and more gathered in the Joe Erland Field for fun and games, as the Village of Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson School District, Port Jefferson Free Library and local residents combined their efforts to put on a huge blowout celebration.

When it came to the game at 2 p.m. Oct. 5, it was a Royal’s rout when Greenport/Southold/Mattituck came calling and was blown out by Port Jefferson 62-0. From the opening kickoff it was all Port Jeff as wide receiver Aidan Kaminska proved unstoppable as the senior found the end zone three times, along with teammates Luke Verruto and Luke Filippi who each had a pair of touchdowns. Junior Alex Ledesma split the uprights eight times for the extra point.Senior quarterback Sam Florio, who was healthy after missing last week’s game against Mount Sinai, threw for over 250 yards with four TD passes in the Div. IV matchup.

The win lifts the Royals to 2-3 with three games remaining before the post season and are back in action with a road game against Elwood John Glenn Oct. 12. Kickoff is at 1:30pm.

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Village, school district, businesses and community come together for new homecoming celebration. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Always a Royal.”

That is how school district and village officials alike are calling present and past residents to attend this year’s homecoming celebration, shifting away from school-centered pride to exulting the whole of Port Jefferson.

The village and district are working hand in hand to create a celebration at Joe Erland Field near Caroline Avenue just west of Barnum Avenue. The celebration will include food, games and music from a DJ, and will take place in between the annual parade that flows down Main Street and the homecoming game set to take place Saturday, Oct. 5.

Port Jefferson homecoming floats make their way through the parade Oct. 21, 2017. File photo by Bill Landon

The change has come in response to district officials last year canceling the annual bonfire. As classic as it was, school district officials said the bonfire was unsafe and a redundant way of gathering school pride. They said it meant children wandering into nearby woods without supervision, adding their own internal pep rally did enough to promote school spirit.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano said the bonfire could not continue as it had before, especially considering security and safety.

“We cannot guarantee that when children are dropped off at the high school for this particular night event, that they are in an environment that is safe and secure,” he said. “We are grateful for the conversations that have developed among community members, our board of education members and staff to come up with a carefully considered plan as we move forward.”

Not letting themselves get discouraged, community members looked to celebrate Port Jeff pride, and more than that, bridge the gap between school district, village, shops and community.

Jae Hartzell, a Port Jefferson resident and a local photographer, said many residents were upset the bonfire was canceled, calling it an old tradition. She started looking toward creating something new, perhaps even establishing a new tradition in itself. She and fellow resident Paul Braille have worked alongside school and village officials in crafting the new event.

“[This event] is a really enriching tradition and there’s a huge collaboration to increase school pride and school spirit that will continue for generations,” Hartzell said. “It’s all about creating traditions in the community — a way to stay rooted with your community.”

Along with several food trucks, the field will also be littered with games of Can Jam, Cornhole and giant Jenga, all provided through the Port Jefferson Free Library. There will also be face painting on behalf of the school art department.

Beyond the celebration at surrounding Caroline Avenue, the school district has connected with multiple businesses to emphasize school spirit and the community as a whole, including alumni. PJ Brewery is promoting live music by the band Damaged Goods, while throughout the weekend businesses will be promoting happy hour and brunch specials specifically for alumni. Prohibition Kitchen will also include Mayor Margot Garant as guest bartender Oct. 5. Participating restaurants include Nantuckets, Joey-Z, Prohibition Kitchen, Junior’s Spycoast, Billie’s 1890 Saloon and Old Fields Restaurant, just to name a few.

The Joe Erland Field will play host to an upcomming homecoming celebration. Photo by Kyle Barr

In the first meetings looking to create the new homecoming event, village trustee Kathianne Snaden was brought on board to give the village’s point of view. She said she immediately took to the idea. The village has put up the funds to pay for the food trucks, the DJ, physical and online promotions and has allowed the use of the field. Meanwhile, Port Jeff students will be creating a banner to go up along the football field at the high school, each letter being done by a different grade from Kindergarten through fifth grade, spelling “Royals.” The event, she said, has the possibility of doing much to bridge a gap between village and school district, one that has existed from each entity “doing their own thing.”

“When this came up, I said I wanted to take this up and make this work, because for the village this bridge has been broken for so long for whatever reason,” the trustee said.

“This is the best way to bring that back.”

School board Vice President Tracy Zamek said once the district established there would no longer be a bonfire at homecoming, the idea of bringing the community together in celebration, off school property and hosted by the village, immediately appealed to them. 

“We’re really excited about waking up the village and bringing the school and village together as one entity — as a tight-knit community,” Zamek said.

Those involved said they hope the new event will bring in more people for the annual homecoming game, which all said has had relatively little attendance for the past few years.

In regard to the food trucks, Snaden said the businesses were contacted first to see if they would be available to set up stalls, but according to the trustee none had the correct permits. Having them host specials throughout the weekend was a way in which they could contribute, she said, with Hartzell adding she hoped they may be able to get the permits to participate in the future. 

Festivities start Oct. 4 at the PJ Brewery with Damaged Goods playing at 7 p.m. The following day will include an 11 a.m. parade that rolls down Main Street and crosses over West Broadway onto Barnum Avenue, letting people move onto Joe Erland Field for the days’ activities. The football game is set to kickoff at 2 p.m. Alumni will receive complimentary mimosas at village restaurants for brunch that Sunday, Oct. 6.

Quest to remember the Royals fight song

In preparation for the upcoming homecoming, Port Jeff music staff wanted to bring back the classic “fight song” played at homecoming in the decades past.

However, there was a problem, said Christine Creighton, the middle and high school band teacher. The music sheets were nowhere to be found. 

Mike Caravello, the director of music and fine arts at PJSD, gathered together music teachers from across the district, including Creighton, middle and high school chorus teacher Jeffrey Trelewicz and middle school band teacher Edward Pisano, to find a way to bring back the fight music. 

It came from an unexpected place. One of the security staff at the district, Amy Goldstein, is an alumnus and told the staff she was part of the marching band when she was in school in the ’80s and knew the fight song by heart. It is a jaunty tune, a classic marching theme that’s short and to the point. 

“We’re really excited about waking up the village and bringing the school and village together as one entity — as a tight-knit community.”

— Tracy Zamek

Creighton said Goldstein recorded the song for her. Taking that, she transcribed  it on piano while the music staff helped her with the harmony. They then put it into music writing software. 

They played it back for Goldstein, and she reacted with glee. 

“She said, ‘It’s just like the real thing,’” Creighton said.

Alumni, the music staff said, are “coming out of the woodwork,” to help bring the song back for the upcoming homecoming game. 

“They can all sing the fight song, they know it by heart,” said Caravello.

The middle school marching band will be leading this year’s parade, while the pep band will play the fight song at the end of the midday celebration at Joe Erland Field and during the homecoming game itself. Residents can expect to hear the song Oct. 5.

The Harborfields Tornadoes had the measure of the Lady Royals of Port Jefferson in their season opener Sept. 10, winning the game at home 7-1. Senior Co-Captain Gracie Heil led the way for the Tornadoes with two goals, while junior Katie Davis scored along with an assist. Junior Kate Christensen, senior Mia Desiderio, junior Taylor Sammis and freshman Melissa Neder rounded out the scoring with a goal apiece. Harborfields senior keeper Zoe Krief made seven saves at net.

The Royals broke the ice in the second half when Sophomore Abigal Rolfe’s shot found the net with 18 minutes left.

Port Jeff plays an away game against Hampton Bays before they take on Kings Park in their first home game Sept. 18  at 4 p.m.

The Tornadoes retake the field Sept. 16 at home where they’ll try their hand against the Lady Kingsmen. Game time is also 4:00pm.

 

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Left, new HS Principal Eric Haruthunian; right, new pre-K-8 Assistant Principal Amy Laverty. Photo from PJSD Facebook

The Port Jefferson School District announced new faces will be standing by the doors of school buildings come September as other district personnel move up through the ranks.

Eric Haruthunian was named principal at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, while Amy Laverty has been named pre-K-8 assistant principal.

Before joining the Port Jefferson School District, Haruthunian most recently served as the assistant principal at John F. Kennedy High School in the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District, where he served since 2015. Prior to that position, he served as supervisor of discipline at Wantagh High School. His professional background also includes eight years of teaching experience in mathematics at the middle and high school level in the Freeport School District.

Port Jefferson High School Principal Christine Austen. File photo

The new high school principal earned a master’s of science degree in educational leadership from the College of New Rochelle and a master’s of science in elementary education from LIU Post. He holds a bachelor’s of arts in secondary math education, also from LIU Post, and permanent certification as a school administrator/supervisor, school district administrator and in 7-12 mathematics.

Haruthunian comes in to replace now Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christine Austen, the previous principal, after a several-month search for a replacement.

Laverty joins Port Jeff from the Northport-East Northport School District, where she served a dual role as the summer reading program principal and the instructional curriculum coordinator. Before that, she was a classroom teacher at various elementary levels in the district’s Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

She earned a master’s of arts in liberal studies from Stony Brook University and a bachelor’s of arts in child study and students with disabilities from St. Joseph’s College. She holds initial certification in school building leadership and professional certifications in early childhood/childhood and students with disabilities. She also received an educational leadership advanced certificate from LIU Post.

In her new role, Laverty will work with Port Jefferson Middle School Principal Robert Neidig and Edna Louise Spear Elementary School Principal Thomas Meehan.

“The educational experiences of both Mr. Haruthunian and Ms. Laverty will help us continue to guide our students in the stimulating learning environment of our schools,” said incoming Superintendent Jessica Schmettan on a post to the district’s Facebook page. She will be replacing current Superintendent Paul Casciano come the end of October. 

“We look forward to their professional commitment to our students, staff and entire school community,” she added.

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Rendering of the Brockport apartment complex. Construction is expected to be complete in December 2020. Photo from the Gitto Group

As one of the latest apartment complex project in Port Jefferson inches closer to construction, another apartment complex has received tax breaks from an IDA.

Last month, the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency approved an economic benefits package, which includes a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes, to the apartment complex expected to be built out of the current Cappy’s Carpets building, to be known as The Brockport. Construction is expected to begin this fall. 

The site plan calls for a three-story structure with a total of 44 one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units. The $16.5 million project headed by Port Jefferson-based The Gitto Group, will have stores, office spaces and a restaurant on the first floor and apartments on the other two floors. 

The current taxes on the property, which was once occupied by Cappy’s Carpets and a boat storage lot are approximately $35,000 annually, according to Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group. The 10-year PILOT would see taxes increasing to $99,183 in the first year and then gradually escalate until the last year when it reaches $213,360. According to Gitto, the retail portion of the

property will be fully assessed as it is not part of the IDA program. 

“We are planning to commence the construction on the site within the next 30 days and we anticipate to be completed with the project by December 2020 — all of this is dependent on what type of winter we have,” Gitto said. 

Paul Casciano, Port Jeff Superintendent of Schools, made it clear he and the district are not against the planned project. 

“We just had concerns and questions,” the superintendent said. “As a district we have to do our due diligence to see if there is any potential impacts — this is what we do. It doesn’t mean we are against the project.”

As part of the response to the SEQR referral for the project in November 2018, the district sent in a letter outlining their questions and concerns. 

With the construction site close to the Port Jefferson high school, the district had concerns over access to the driveway on Barnum Avenue. Also, due to the  close proximity to the site there were concerns of potential dust, fumes and noise from the construction. 

Though questions were raised about how many students this particular apartment complex will bring, Casciano said it’s routine to ask how new developments will impact the district. Other complexes in the village have offered more two-bedroom options. The Shipyard complex has 18 and The Hills has seven. The upcoming complex on Main Street will have two.

The district sent the same letter for the July 17 Brookhaven IDA public hearing.  

Casciano reiterated that they support the project, adding the information is important for them to know for a variety of things including future planning of the district. 

“I think this project will benefit us [the Port Jeff community],” he said. 

Responding to concerns from the community about the impact of construction on the area, Gitto said they do not anticipate any major issues relating to the construction of the complex. 

“The project does not include any road improvements that would require us to close down the road,” he said. “There may be some minor work that needs to be completed by the utility companies, but that would really be it. We are the owners of the adjacent office building to the north [414 Main St.] and the mixed-use property located to the south of the subject property [464 Main St./50 Barnum Ave.] which will enable us to stage any construction equipment or materials without impacting the surrounding areas. The early stages of the project will include typical noise associated with a construction project.”

The development group, which also owns and manages The Hills and the Barnum House apartments, said Brockport will have a minimal impact to the student population of local school districts.  

“The two properties [the Hills and Barnum House] combined have 104 apartments [one- and two-bedroom units] and our records are showing that we only have two school-aged children within these 104 units,” Gitto said. “The majority of our units are one-bedroom apartments which typically do not work well with families with school age children.”  

Once construction on The Brockport is completed, Gitto said they are estimating the one-bedroom units to be around $2,650 per month and the two-bedroom units to be $3,800 per month. The building will be more than 65,000 square feet and have approximately 2,700 square feet of retail space.

 

In Port Jefferson, graduates shared in the late June celebrations, braving the heat and humidity June 28 to grab their diplomas.

As the outgoing superintendent, Casciano thanked his colleagues as he prepared to leave the district in October in order to aid the new superintendent Jessica Schmettan.

“The class of 2019 will really be missed,” he said. “Everything you have done has been a demonstration of commitment and the pursuit of excellence.”

In addition, the Berger family received an honorary diploma in honor of their son Dylan, who died in 2016.

Reid Biondo, the Student Organization president, who will soon be attending the University of Virginia for economics and science, told his fellow graduating seniors they would need to look to themselves and their values as they move away from school.

“I don’t need to tell everyone the values they already know, I only ask that in the upcoming years they uphold their values with dedication and action,” he said. “Everyone can talk, but few will act.”

Seniors Annalisa Welinder, left, and Ava Schully, valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Photo from PJSD

Two young women, Annalisa Welinder and Ava Schully, have, respectively, attained the title of valedictorian and salutatorian for the Port Jefferson Class of 2019. 

Welinder has an impressive and diversified high school résumé, including taking eight honors and 12 Advanced Placement courses and one college-level class. She is an Advanced Placement Scholar, a Presidential Scholars Program nominee and a National Latin Exam four-time gold medalist. She serves as president of the Latin Club, is a member of Mathletes and member of the school’s Academic Team. Welinder is also a member of both the track team and tennis team.

A violinist, Welinder is a member of the prestigious National Youth Orchestra, where she served as a concertmaster in 2017, with which she traveled to numerous concert halls, including Carnegie Hall. She and her brother have run a summer music camp — Sound Strings Long Island — for all age levels and she is a frequent award winner for various violin competitions. Welinder is also interested in creative writing endeavors.

Asked for some words of wisdom to share with future graduates of the school, Welinder had an uncomplicated response. “Everything seems easier and more doable if you enjoy it,” she said.

Welinder is excited to enter the freshman class at Stanford University in September.

Schully, as salutatorian, commended her family, peers and teachers who have helped her succeed in school and other aspects of her life. 

Schully’s list of achievements is comprehensive and includes taking 10 AP courses, four honors courses and two college-level courses. She was on the school’s soccer team in ninth grade and has run on both the school’s track team and cross-country team. She is a member of the Peer Leadership, Interact, Drama and Latin clubs as well as a member of Tri-M Honor Society and Sources of Strength.

Schully took a service trip to Peru to help build a clean water system for local people, attended a six-week intensive study of classical music at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, took part in the Philadelphia International Music Festival and recently performed on cello in the National Association for Music Education All-Eastern music conference in Pittsburgh. Her extracurricular activities include being a member of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York and Stony Brook University Young Artists Program. She has received numerous school awards and is active in the local community.

Schully’s plans after high school include exploring how music can promote community partnerships and cross-cultural relations. She has committed to Brown University where she plans to create her own major that focuses on a mixture of topics including ethnomusicology, human development, international relations, education and nonprofit organizations in an interdisciplinary context.

“Challenge yourself in classes you’re actually interested in and take part in extracurricular activities that you love,” she said. “Don’t worry about doing what you think a college admissions office might want to do and just pursue your passions. The rest will follow.”

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The Port Jefferson School District Armed Forces tribute. Photo from PJSD

The Port Jefferson School District will unveil its new Armed Forces tribute at a dedication ceremony with students May 30, at 10 a.m., at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. 

The tribute, created to express gratitude to those former students and staff members who have served in the armed forces, will salute military personnel with welcoming remarks from student leaders and school and local government officials. The Port Jefferson Middle School band will perform and students from Edna Louise Spear Elementary School will share poetry written especially for the occasion. 

“More than two dozen school staff and community members came together to form this committee with enthusiasm and camaraderie to honor those who served,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. “The culmination of months of planning, fundraising and fellowship has resulted in a tribute of which our school community will be very proud.”

For those who cannot attend the event, a public recognition will be held Saturday, June 22, at
9:30 a.m.

Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson School District

With the final voters leaving the polling stations at the stroke of 9 p.m., the Port Jefferson School District residents passed the $43,936,166 2019-20 budget with 559 for and 160 against.

In addition to the vote, the second proposition to use $3.6 million in funds from the capital reserve fund for high school roof repairs passed 591 to 125.

Results of the budget are read to board members. Photo by Kyle Barr

The new budget is a 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget, and the tax levy, the amount of funds the district raises from taxes, has also gone up to $36,898,824, a $464,354 and 1.27 percent increase from last year, staying directly at the 1.27 percent tax cap. Officials have said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations.

“I have two words, thank you,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. This will be the last budget overseen by the Casciano, as his position will be filled by incoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan in October. “The board and administration worked hard to make a budget the public would be receptive to, and apparently we were.”

The district has slashed and consolidated a number of items, including professional development for staff, private transportation allocation and a $142,000 reduction through scheduling and enrollment efficiencies for staff. The district has also cut the teacher’s retirement system by $25,000 and staff retirement system by $60,000. The biggest increases in the budget came from health insurance for staff, increasing by approximately $555,580, and benefits, which increased by $408,480.

The district also plans to use $400,000 in the general fund budget to relocate the middle school office into an existing upstairs science classroom for what district officials said was security reasons.

District keeps two incumbents, elects one newcomer

Much less controversial than last year’s election, Port Jefferson residents decided to keep two current members of the board and vote in one newcomer.

Incumbent trustee Ellen Boehm, a seven-year member of the board, was again asked to take her seat securing 521 of the votes. 

“I’m pleased with the positive confidence of the residents in Port Jefferson,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp is sworn in. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ryan Biedenkapp, who had been appointed to the board to replace resigned board member Adam DeWitt, was elected to the board to serve out the rest of DeWitt’s term, ending June 30, 2020. His seat will be up for election come that time. Biedenkapp was sworn in for the first time the night of the election.

“I’m honored the town saw fit to bring me back,” Biedenkapp said. “I look forward to serving the kids, all of the kids.”

Newcomer Randi DeWitt, a teacher at Mount Sinai Elementary School, will be taking the post as board member thanks to a vote of 473. 

“I thank the community for their belief in me, and I look forward to working with the rest of the board members,” she said.

Mia Farina was the last candidate standing, securing only 291 votes. She said she plans to run again for the board next year as well.

“I just wanted to thank everyone who supported and voted for me even though I did not make the board this time,” Farina said in a Facebook post. “I have made so many new friends and learned so much through this campaign. So many people have helped and supported me with inspiring words.”

Comsewogue Union Free School District

Comsewogue school district voters resoundingly passed its 2019-20 budget with a vote of 660 to 152.

The district’s second proposition to create a capital reserve fund also passed with high margins, 656 to 150.

The new budget of $93,974,755 is an increase of $2,027,025 from last year and includes a $57,279,755, a 2.2 percent increase from last year and below this year’s tax levy cap of 3 percent.

“The budget passed by 81 percent, the highest margin it has ever been at Comsewogue,” Superintendent Joe Rella said. “I just want to thank the community from the bottom of my heart for supporting us.”

One increase came in the form of pupil personnel services from $3,322,061 to $3,678,447. PPL aids students with special needs. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photo

While the district experienced a total enrollment decline of 40 students, the number of students with special needs has increased, according to the assistant superintendent, and each of those young people is more expensive overall than a typical student. In addition, the district is hiring one additional social worker and a new social worker teacher’s assistant.

Other major increases include a 27 percent and $696,209 increase in debt services, but this is offset slightly by a $570,000 or 33 percent decrease in interfund transfers.

Meanwhile, the district is going ahead with the first phase of its bond project; bids were scheduled to go out to companies in April. District voters approved the $32 million bond last year, which the district said would go up in several phases. The first phase, costing about $5.8 million, will complete work on the parking lots at the Boyle Road Elementary School and the Terryville Elementary School, along with the creation of security vestibules in all school buildings and adding new locks to doors throughout the high school building.

District re-elects incumbents

Being uncontested, current trustees Robert DeStefano and Francisca Alabau-Blatter maintained their seats.

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Alden Mohacsi will be traveling to the Czech Republic thanks to a scholarship. Photo from Mohacsi’s Facebook

A Port Jefferson graduate will be spending his summer in the Czech Republic, teaching high school students English thanks to a Fulbright scholarship.

Alden Mohacsi, 22, a history major at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, will be making his way to the Czech Republic this summer for the chance to teach high school students English through “art and music.”

“It’s an incredible honor to be named a Fulbright Scholar,” Mohacsi said. “I can honestly say that expression, ‘It takes a village,’ holds true for me.”

Mohacsi has been a docent at the Port Jefferson Historical Society, and thanked them, among others, for helping him make it through college. He is graduating May 19 with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in art history.

“I’m so grateful for all the help and guidance I received growing up in Port Jeff — from my teachers, coaches and mentors, the amazing team at the Performing Arts Studio, the Port Jeff Historical Society, and all the friendships and support,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with and being a part of the world’s largest and most diverse international educational exchange program.”

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in more than 160 countries worldwide. Mohacsi is one of more than 2,100 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English and provide expertise abroad for the 2019-20 academic year.