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Robert Banzer

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

By Kevin Redding

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

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

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

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

Northport High School. File photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Widespread concerns over indoor air quality will keep the K-wing of Northport Middle School closed for the upcoming 2017-18 school year, Northport school officials announced.

On Aug. 9, Northport school district held a community forum to address parents concerned over what health risks may be posed to students in the classrooms where an earth science teacher reported smelling gasoline fumes in April. The fumes were said to be coming from a petroleum-based warehouse located beneath the K-wing. The materials have since been removed.

The most recent air-quality tests, performed July 22 by Hauppauge-based J.C. Broderick & Associates Inc., an environmental and construction testing firm, showed no hazardous concentration of chemicals in any of the samples. But four chemicals commonly linked to perfumes, natural rubber products, air conditioners and refrigerators, thermoplastics and latex paints were found in high concentrations — above the 95th percentile — in the K-wing corridor, rooms 74 and 75. These results were reported to the New York State Department of Health, according to J.C. Broderick & Associates’ report.

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer said the wing’s closure will not affect scheduled classes other than moving their locations, as students can be readily accommodated by reallocating use of existing classrooms.

The district has a plan of action in place to continue air-quality sampling throughout the building.

The high school football field, which currently floods easily during games. Photo from Northport-East Northport School District.

The Northport-East Northport school district is set to roll up their sleeves and get to work, as the community recently voted to approve a nearly $40 million bond to improve infrastructure, athletic and physical education needs, classrooms and more.

Residents voted Feb. 28 overwhelmingly to support the bond, with 2,802 yes votes to 1,025 no votes.

Superintendent Robert Banzer was pleased the community was behind the board in this endeavor.

“I thank all community residents who took the time to vote today and for their support of the referendum,” Banzer said. “Through this support, we will be able to make improvements that will enhance our instructional learning, upgrade our physical education and athletic facilities for students and the greater community, and make needed infrastructure improvements that are long overdue. As we move through the process of finalizing plans and submitting them to the State Education Department for approval, we will continue to keep the community updated on our progress.”

One of the boys bathroom stalls with urinals that no longer work. Photo from Northport-East Northport School District.

The $39.9 million bond has been in the works for more than a year, with committees touring school grounds and facilities to see which areas are in dire need of improvements, meeting with officials and administrators from other districts to see how they’ve tackled upgrades and more. The school board voted to approve the scope of the work in December, and then worked to educate the community on the project with building tours and community forums.

Half of the funds — $19.9 million — will be going towards infrastructure improvement. This includes repairing and replacing asphalt pavement, curbing, sidewalks and masonry; renovating bathrooms; upgrading classroom casework; renovating classroom sinks and counters; replacing windows and some ceiling areas at several buildings; and reconfiguring the south entrance of Northport High School.

The other 50 percent of the bond will be divided for classroom and security enhancements and athletic improvements.

Ten million dollars will go towards renovating three outdated science labs at East Northport Middle School, five at Northport Middle School and 10 at Northport High School; constructing a security vestibule at every school building; upgrading stage rigging and lighting at East Northport Middle School and replacing the auditorium stage floor at Northport High School.

For the first two scopes of work, the majority of the ideas came from the Capital Projects Committee, created in 2016 to review district buildings’ conditions.

For the athletic and physical education improvements, the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee, formed in 2015, suggested most of the work.

Projects will include replacing the track and reconstructing the baseball and softball fields at East Northport Middle School; replacing the track and tennis courts at Northport Middle School; and renovating and redesigning the athletic fields at Northport High School, as well as installing a synthetic turf field at the high school’s main stadium and reconstructing the track and reconstructing Sweeney Field with synthetic turf.

According to the board, approximately 90 percent of the projects included in the proposed plan are eligible for New York State building aid at a rate of 28 percent, which would reduce the cost impact to local residents. The cost to the average taxpayer in the school district would be approximately $122 per year. To ease the cost to residents, the board has timed the project so a portion of the new debt created by the plan essentially replaces debt that expires in the near future.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport school officials are crafting a budget for 2016-17 that would maintain all programs from the current year.

Superintendent Robert Banzer gave an update on the $160 million budget at the board meeting Thursday night, explaining the reason for the $1.8 million increase over the current year’s spending plan.

The rising costs are due mostly to staff changes and inflation, not new additions or programs, Banzer said, calling the budget “essentially” a rollover. But the district is expecting eight teachers to retire at the end of this year, and he expects that will save Northport money moving forward because new hires replacing the staffers will receive lower salaries.

The state-mandated cap on how much Northport can increase its tax levy is only 0.55 percent this budget season, according to Banzer, so non-tax revenues such as reserves and state aid will fund a majority of the budget increase.

Northport’s projection of how much state aid it will get next year, $13.9 million, would not cover that deficit. In fact, the district is expecting a 0.39 percent decrease in overall state aid, because the current year’s total had included funding to implement a full-day kindergarten program — funding that will not be repeated in 2016-17.

And it’s unclear how much the state will restore to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction it began taking out of all school districts’ aid a few years ago to help close its own budget deficit.

“There has been a lot of discussion that there will be full restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which for us would be an additional $840,000,” Banzer said at the meeting. “We’re anticipating that by the end of the month, we will have a budget where we know what [the GEA restoration amount] will be.”

Banzer added that the district would hammer out the finer details of its revenue streams “as the picture becomes clearer and we have more information from the state.”

Trustee Regina Pisacani asked the superintendent if any suggestions the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee — a group she spearheaded — gave in December are being considered for inclusion in the 2016-17 budget. Proposals for capital projects ranged from turf fields to updated lockers.

“I can’t help but think about the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee, and the recommendations that they just made,” she said at the meeting. “Were those things looked at and recommended for this budget?”

Banzer said the projects would all be discussed, and that savings realized from the upcoming retirees’ salaries could possibly be used toward projects like those.

The district will have further budget meetings on the next few Thursdays in March, including March 10, 17 and 31, the last of which will provide an opportunity for public input.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer updated the school board and audience members about the changes in Common Core Learning Standards at a meeting last week.

The Oct. 22 presentation covered upcoming state assessment changes and teacher and principal annual professional performance reviews (APPR) shifts.

According to Banzer’s presentation, as far as learning standards go, the English language arts and math common core standards have been adopted and implemented, the social studies standards have been adopted but not implemented and the science standards are only under review and have not yet been adopted or implemented.   

Several shifts are happening in the ELA and literacy, social studies and mathematic standards. The shifts in ELA and literacy are mostly focused on having students engage with the text more.

Students will have a “true balance of informational and literary texts,” according to the presentation and students will build knowledge about the world “through text rather than the teacher.”

The math changes include striking a balance between practicing and understanding math skills in the classroom.

“Both are occurring with intensity,” according to the presentation. There is also an emphasis on students “deeply understanding” math concepts. “They learn more than the trick to get the answer right. They learn the math.”

New social studies standards mirror those in ELA and literacy.

These include using informational text to support an argument to help students “develop the skills necessary for 21st century college, career and citizenship standards.”

In June 2018, a new global history and geography exam will be administered based on the new framework, and in June 2019 a new US history and government exam will follow.

For science standards, a steering committee was formed in August 2014 and a public survey is currently being developed to gather feedback on a new set of science learning standards for grades pre-kindergarten to 12. Adoption of a five-year strategic plan is anticipated in 2016.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created a Common Core task force amid growing boycotts of standardized tests.

According to the governor’s website, the task force is a diverse and highly qualified group of education officials, teachers, parents and state representatives from across New York. The group will complete a review and deliver its final recommendations by the end of this year.

There are also changes to assessments, including a greater input from teachers in the test development process.

In grades three through eight, ELA tests will have fewer questions in 2015-2016. Computer based testing will also be field-tested.

Changes to APPR are also on the way.

A new education law requires districts to negotiate new annual professional performance review criteria by Nov. 15, unless the district applies for and receives a hardship waiver, which would extend its deadline.

Banzer said that Northport-East Northport has applied for and received its hardship waiver just last week. The waiver is for four months and a district can apply again for another extension, according to the presentation.

“Knowing from May to November, for many districts, to negotiate would be impossible or impractical to try,” Banzer said. “We bought ourselves some much needed time with this process.”

Members of the Northport-East Northport school board discuss creating an ASL course during an Oct. 8 meeting. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Northport-East Northport school board mulled adding American Sign Language to the district’s curriculum at a meeting on Thursday.

Currently no such course is offered in Northport-East Northport schools.

“ASL is something I find really interesting, and many other students do too,” Emily Faltings, a student at Northport High School, said. “I think it’s very important we involve it in our district. Why don’t we have it?”

Many audience members agreed that it’s important for the district to add a sign language course.

“It’s not just for special needs kids who have hearing loss,” Cathy Josephson, a Northport resident said. “It’s also for people who want to communicate with them.”

Josephson said she has brought the issue to the board’s attention for the last six years, and she hopes members actually follow through this time.

Matthew Nelson, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, said the reason the course hasn’t been offered is because the district can never get enough students to fill a full class. Trustee Jennifer Thompson wondered if this was because students aren’t getting enough exposure to the different language choices at a young age.

“I don’t know if there is a chance for students to recognize what other languages they could take,” Thompson said. “Maybe there could be more of a discussion about what other languages students could take and are interested in.”

Board President Andrew Rapiejko said that it sounds like no one on the board is opposed to the idea, and that the real challenge is figuring out how to publicize the course.

Superintendent Robert Banzer wondered where school officials would begin.

“Do we start this at the high school level?” Banzer said. “What would be the entry point? These are questions we can definitely look into.” Banzer also said the district could look into offering an ASL course at the middle school instead.

Trustee Regina Pisacani said language teachers in the district inform potential students of their course. She said the teachers from the middle school visit fifth grade classes and give presentations to the students about the language classes they teach.

“I think a lot of the students’ choices are influenced by the exposure of the teachers coming into their classroom,” Pisacani said. She said she thought that would be a good approach in publicizing an ASL course.

Trustee Lori McCue said that maybe ASL could be added to the elementary schools’ after-school programs, and many audience members cheered for the idea.

“That’s an obvious solution,” Rachel Friedman, a Northport resident said. “This is not something that should wait until high school. I think the best suggestion is to start it as an after-school program and then they can make that choice to continue in seventh or eighth grade.”

The board agreed that it would look into these options. No other decisions were made.

Change is in the air at Northport-East Northport schools.

School board Trustee Andrew Rapiejko, a five-year incumbent who served as vice president, was sworn in as the board’s president at its reorganizational meeting on Wednesday, following a nomination by President Julia Binger and an 8-1 vote. Trustee Regina Pisacani was the lone vote against the appointment.

Newly re-elected Trustee David Badanes was nominated and voted vice president of the board — but not without an unsuccessful attempt by Pisacani to nominate newcomer Trustee David Stein to the slot. Her motion to do so failed to gain support, and Badanes was unanimously appointed.

The July 1 meeting was the district’s first with new Superintendent Robert Banzer at the helm. Banzer, along with Stein, recently re-elected Trustee Tammie Topel, Badanes, District Clerk Beth Nystrom and new audit committee member Edward Kevorkian were all officially sworn in.

In his remarks to the community, Rapiejko called it a “critical year” for the district, and pointedly addressed what he called a divide on the board.

“The elephant in the room is this split on the board,” he said

While the board typically votes unanimously on most items, Rapiejko said in a Thursday phone interview that the community perceives a divide on the school board. Those differences among board members have given rise to tensions that began under the administration of former Superintendent Marylou McDermott, he said.

“The former superintendent is out of the equation now,” he said in his speech on Wednesday. “And I’m looking forward and to move on. I think we have to move forward and it’s critical we do that.”

He urged the school community to respect each other and said it is the board’s responsibility to set that tone of respect. In a phone interview, he said he was heartened that his appointment earned almost unanimous support, which hasn’t been the norm at reorganizational meetings in recent years past.

“We can disagree, we can have very strong opinions, but there’s a way to do it and a way to do it respectfully.”

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