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Members of the SCSSA Executive Board met with Suffolk County law enforcement officials and lawmakers to discuss its five-point Blueprint for Action to Enhance School Safety Aug. 27. Photo from SCSSA

Superintendents in Suffolk County are trying to get their schools all on the same page when it comes to safety.

Following the particularly deadly school shooting — though just the latest in a long line of similar occurrences — that took place in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, which resulted in 17 casualties, discussions about concrete steps to enhance safety for students and staff in buildings from coast to coast have been seemingly unending. In Suffolk County, school officials have teamed up to release a five-point blueprint of actionable steps, officially recommended by the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association Aug. 27 to local, state and federal lawmakers.

The superintendents are calling on lawmakers to invest in the School Resource Officer program, providing additional officers in Suffolk County schools; adopt legislation that enhances campus safety, including amending the New York State Criminal Procedure Law dealing with setting bail; make the New York State SAFE Act the law of the land; support the social, emotional and mental health of children through screening programs and education initiatives; and provide institutional support to finance school safety, calling for the state to initiate School Security Aid and to exempt school safety expenditures from the tax levy limitation.

“While school safety has always been a top priority, following the horrific massacre at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, and the tragic events that followed, the importance of a strong working relationship between the police, mental health providers and public-school officials has become more important than ever,” the association said in a press release. “The SCSSA plans to continue to work together with Suffolk County law enforcement and local, state and federal legislators to turn these plans into actions that will improve school safety and the safety and wellness of all students in Suffolk County.”

In August, representatives from Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization that was founded by parents from the Connecticut elementary school to carry out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths, held a forum for the association and law enforcement officials. The purpose of the meeting was to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools.

The four strategies, which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk free of charge. Superintendents who were in attendance from several local districts pledged to further examine Sandy Hook Promise’s programs and to take steps toward implementing them.

During an exclusive interview with TBR News Media in July, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said creating countywide standards for school security is a priority for his department.

My family has become archeologists in our own home. After 12 years of collecting artwork from the kids’ classes in school, saving report cards and filing away binders from earlier grades, we are sifting through all that material, jettisoning or recycling what we don’t need.

Some of the finds are so remarkable that they stop us in our sorting tracks. My high school daughter isn’t much of a morning person. She often prefers short sounds or gestures in the car on the way to school, rather than actual conversations that might require her to form words.

As we were going through a pile of material, we found a note from her nursery school teacher. She described a charming little girl who often takes a while to get going each morning. That description is so apt today that we realized how much of people’s patterns and personalities form early in life.

Then, sorting further, we found papers from her spectacular first-grade teacher. A young woman with a soft voice and a determined style, her teacher brought out the best in our daughter, even early in the morning.

Our daughter kept a diary in that class, in which she shared stories about the family’s weekend activities. Clearly, her brother was jealous of that writing, as we also found a diary from him in which he thanks her for creating a similar book for him to record his experiences. He shared his thoughts from the weekend, and the rest of the family readily wrote back to him.

His sister also kept handwritten notes from her first-grade teacher. The letters are all clear and distinct, and offer a positive and supportive tone. Her teacher wrote to her, without talking down to her. What a wonderful role model. This teacher, through form and content, offered a ray of sunshine to our daughter even then, which was probably why we kept the papers.

These notes today take on a different meaning for us, as the teacher succumbed to cancer at a young age just a few years after our daughter had the privilege of being in her class. Our daughter was recently in a high school English class in which her first-grade teacher’s husband served as a part-time instructor. She shared some of these notes with him. He was delighted to take them home to his daughter, who was a toddler when
her mother died. His daughter has particularly appreciated seeing her mother’s handwriting and feeling an indirect connection to the encouraging words she offered.

We have also sorted through dozens — OK, hundreds — of pictures that have transported us to earlier memories. We have a photo of our 1-year old son standing on the warning track at the old Yankee Stadium, bunched up in a winter coat on a December day.

We also found numerous pictures of our son on baseball fields of his own, surrounded by younger versions of teammates who have stuck with him through the years, as well as of friends who have gone their separate ways — or have pursued other sports.

Amid all the trophies from sports teams, we discovered certificates indicating that one or both of our children had been successful lunch helpers.

We have unearthed old VHS tapes of movies we watched numerous times as a family, including a few Disney classics and a surprisingly amusing Barbie version of “The Princess and the Pauper.”

In addition to sending us down memory lane, sorting through all the accumulated clutter has made the house seem so much larger, giving us room to add modern memories and memorabilia to our collection.

A large nor’easter took form off the coast of Florida and rode up the east coast. Photo from Legislator Kara Hahn's Office

Winter Storm Grayson was touted as a powerful blizzard featuring substantial snowfall and hurricane-force winds, and it has delivered.

The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for the area beginning 1 a.m. Jan. 4 through 12 a.m. Friday, Jan. 5. The advisory is associated with a large and powerful nor’easter, which took form off the coast of Florida and rode up the east coast.

While the greatest snowfall amounts are expected to be northeast of Long Island, meteorologists expect that we may see as much as 14 inches of snow combined with high winds exceeding 60 MPH that will cause near blizzard conditions.  This storm poses a risk of coastal flooding in the Western Long Island Sound.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has issued a State of Emergency for all of downstate New York. Cuomo also issued a travel advisory from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.

“It is a combination of snow and wind and frigid temperatures,” Cuomo said. “That is a bad mix. I have been driving around myself this morning looking at the conditions — they are terrible, and only going to deteriorate further throughout the day. The wind is going to pick up, and there’s no doubt there is delays on mass transit, and the roads are going to be in poor condition. They’re forecasting three to six inches in the city, up to 12 inches on long Island and six to nine in Westchester. The roads in Westchester are bad. Roads on the Island are bad, and it’s only going to get worse. So schools are closed. If you don’t have to be on the roads, you really shouldn’t be, because it is going to be ugly.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has also issued a State of Emergency in the Town of Brookhaven effective Jan. 4 at 8 a.m. Vehicles that are parked in the street must be moved to driveways or be subject to towing at the owner’s expense. Any abandoned vehicles obstructing access for snowplows and emergency vehicles may also be removed by the town. All residents are urged to stay off the roads unless there is an emergency or if it is absolutely essential to travel.

“Driving is expected to be extremely hazardous due to heavy snow and wind conditions,” Romaine said. “Town snow removal crews will be working throughout the day and night to clear the roads until all are safe and passable.”

As a result of the predictions, many school districts closed school ahead of time.

There are closings at the following schools:

Alternatives For Children – East Setauket

Alternatives for Children Daycare – East Setauket

B.E.S.T. Learning Center – Smithtown

Building Blocks Developmental Preschool – Commack

Calling All Kids, Too – Huntington

Catholic Charities Outpatient Clinic – Commack

Children of America – Smithtown

Children of America – Port Jefferson Station

Church of St. Gerard Majella – Port Jefferson Station

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Commack School District

Comsewogue Public Library

Comsewogue School District

Coram Child Care

DDI Adult Day Programs – All Locations

DDI Early Childhood Learning Center – Huntington

DDI School Age Program – Huntington

DDI School Age Program – Smithtown

Day Haven Adult Day Services Program – Port Jefferson

East Northport Jewish Center Religious School

Elwood School District

Elwood’s Little Einsteins

Emma S. Clark Library – Setauket

First Presbyterian Church of Port Jefferson

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Centereach

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Huntington

Gold Medal Gymnastics Center Rocky Point

Gold Medal Gymnastics Centers Smithtown

Grace Lane Kindergarten – Coram

Happy Time Preschool – Smithtown

Harbor Country Day School – St. James

Harborfields Central School District

Hauppauge Public Library

Hauppauge Public Library

Holy Family Regional School – Commack

Humpty Dumpty Day Nursery – Greenlawn

Huntington Montessori

Huntington Public Library

Huntington School District

Infant Jesus R.C. Church Religious Ed – Port Jefferson

Ivy League School – Smithtown

JKL Montessori School – Commack

Kiddie Academy – East Setauket

Kiddie Academy – Greenlawn

Kiddie Academy of Miller Place

Kiddie Care Early Learning Center – Commack

Kids of Miller Place

Kids of Mount Sinai

Kings Park School District

LI School for the Gifted – Huntington Station

Little Flower Union Free School District – Wading River

Little Rascals Child Care – Miller Place

Long Island Bone & Joint – Port Jefferson

Love of Learning Montessori School – Centerport

Magic Circle Nursery School – East Northport

Marion Kenney Day Care Center – Wading River

Martin C. Barell School- Commack

Messiah Preschool & Day Care – Setauket

Middle Country School District

Miller Place School District

Miss Barbara’s Preschool – Centereach

Miss Dawn’s Child Care Center – Huntington

Miss Mella’s Footsteps to Learning – Coram

NSSA – Adult Services – Commack

Noah’s Ark Day Care Center – Port Jefferson

North Shore Jewish Center – Port Jefferson Station

North Shore Montessori School – Stony Brook

Northport – East Northport Public Library

Northport / East Northport School District

Options for Community Living Inc. – Smithtown

Our Lady of Wisdom Regional – Port Jefferson

Our Savior New American School – Centereach

Planet Kids – Coram

Port Jefferson Free Library

Port Jefferson School District

Primarily 2’s and 3’s – Mount Sinai

Prime Time Preschool – Kings Park

Pumpkin Patch Day Nursery – Commack

Rainbow Chimes – Huntington

Reach for the Stars Pre – School – Ridge

Rocky Point School District

STEP Preschool – Smithtown

Saf-T-Swim – Commack

Saf-T-Swim – Coram

Sappo School – Commack

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Smithtown Central School District

Smithtown Christian Early Learning Center

Smithtown Christian School

Smithtown Special Library District

South Huntington School District

St. Anselm’s Episcopal Nursery School – Shoreham

St. Anthony of Padua Religious Ed – East Northport

St. Anthony’s High School – South Huntington

St. Frances Cabrini Religious Ed – Coram

St. James Lutheran Preschool – St. James

St. James Religious Ed – Setauket

St. Joseph’s Religious Ed – Kings Park

St. Louis de Monfort Religious Education – Sound Beach

St. Louis de Montfort Preschool – Sound Beach

St. Margaret of Scotland Church – Selden

St. Mark’s Religious Formation Program – Shoreham

St. Patrick School – Smithtown

St. Philip Neri Religious Ed – Northport

Step by Step Montessori – Miller Place

Stony Brook Child Care Services

Stony Brook Gynecology & Obstetrics – Rocky Point

Stony Brook Gynecology & Obstetrics – Setauket

Stony Brook Kidney Center – East Setauket

Stony Brook University – Psychological Ctr / Psych B Bldg. – Stony Brook

Stony Brook University

Stony Brook Urology – East Setauket & Commack

Sts. Philip and James Religious Education – St. James

Sts. Philip and James School – St. James

Suffolk County Community College – Selden

Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center – Commack

Sunshine Alternative Education & Prevention Center – Port Jefferson

Temple Beth El Religious School – Huntington

Temple Isaiah Religious School – Stony Brook

Tender Hearts Preschool – Mount Sinai

The Childrens Community HEAD START Program – Port Jefferson

The Day Care Center at Ivy League – Smithtown

The Knox School – St. James

The Laurel Hill School – East Setuket

The Learning Center – Huntington

The Learning Experience – Centereach

The Learning Experience – Mount Sinai

The Learning Experience – Northport

The Learning Experience -Rocky Point

The Learning Experience – Stony Brook

The Village Preschool – Northport

Three Village Church – East Setauket

Three Village Schools – Stony Brook

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church – Rocky Point

Trinity Regional School – East Northport

Tutor Time of Nesconset – Smithtown

UCP – Suffolk – Hauppauge

UCP Suffolk – The Children’s Center – Commack

United Methodist Nursery School – Huntington

Wesleyan School – Smithtown

West Hills Montessori – Huntington

Wisdom Tree Preschool – Miller Place

Work of Heart Preschool – South Huntington

Please monitor local media coverage or the National Weather Service for up-to-date weather forecasts and notifications. For your safety and the safety of emergency responders, please adhere to all travel restrictions and advisories that may be issued.

For you convenience, listed are some important emergency and not-emergency contact numbers to help you get through the storm should you need assistance:

PSEGLI Outages – 800-490-0075

Police Emergency – 911*

Police Non-emergency – (631) 852-2677, (631-852-COPS)

Town of Brookhaven Highway Department – (631) 451-9200**

Suffolk County Department of Public Works – (631) 852-4070***

*Please do not call 911 or other emergency telephone lines unless you are in need of assistance with an immediate physical or medical emergency.

**Responsible for all roads in the district (outside of incorporated villages) except County Road 97 and New York State Routes 112, 25A and 347.

***For emergency issues on county roads such as Nicolls Road (CR 97) only.

Additional information, notifications and details may be posted by Suffolk County’s Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services as the storm develops and impacts the area.  Click here to visit the department’s information page.

A 10-year-old student of William T. Rogers Middle School was hit by driver Pasquale Izzo, 81, of Kings Park, while attempting to board the bus Sept. 15. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

A 10-year-old Kings Park boy struck by an SUV on his way to the school bus was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries, according to Suffolk County police.

A William T. Rogers Middle School student was walking across First Avenue, near Carlson Avenue, at about 7:54 a.m. Sept. 15 to board his school bus, police said. The bus had its flashing red lights on and stop sign activated to warn approaching motorists.

Pasquale Izzo, 81, of Kings Park, was driving a 1998 Dodge Durango northbound on First Avenue when he allegedly attempted to pass the school bus, and ignored its flashing lights. Izzo failed to stop his vehicle and struck the student, according to police.

The 10-year-old boy was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious, but not life-threatening injuries, according to police. Izzo was not injured. 

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen notified district parents that it has additional mental health staff available at the middle school to provide  support to those students who witnessed the accident, students who know the injured student and anyone else, as needed.

“Unfortunately, this incident is a terrible reminder that we cannot always assume that motorists will follow traffic safety rules at all times,” Eagen said in a message posted on the district’s website.

Under New York State Law, drivers who pass a stopped school bus can be fined $250 for the first violation and face up to a maximum fine of $1,000 for three violations in less than three years. Individuals convicted of three violations in a three-year span may have their driver’s license revoked.

Kings Park Central School District announced the bus’s route has been changed in order to avoid any potential future tragic accidents at the intersection, and so that the student involved and those who witnessed the accident don’t have to return to the scene of the accident on a daily basis.

The neighboring Commack school district sent out an email to parents reminding them to, “Please drive slowly with no distractions, and be especially vigilant of where our precious children are playing, walking, riding or standing.”

Most school bus-related deaths and injuries occur when children are loading or unloading from a bus, according to New York State Department of Motor Vehicle’s website, not in collisions that involve school buses.

The driver’s vehicle has been impounded for safety checks and the incident is under investigation. Suffolk County’s 4th Squad Detectives are asking anyone who witnessed the accident to call 631-854-8452.

The state department of motor vehicles has recently issued several safety recommendations for drivers sharing the roads with school buses:

* When a stopped school bus flashes its red light(s), traffic that approaches from either direction, even in front of the school and in school parking lots,  must stop before  reaching the bus. Drivers should stop at least 20 feet away from the bus.

* Before a school bus stops to load or discharge passengers, the bus driver will usually flash yellow warning lights. Drivers should decrease speed and be prepared to stop.

* When you stop for a school bus, do not drive again until the red lights stop flashing or until the bus driver or a traffic officer signals that you may proceed. *You must stop for a school bus even if it is on the opposite side of a divided highway.

* After stopping for a school bus, look for children along the side of the road. Drive slowly until have passed them.

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New Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal Rob Catlin, Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Executive Director of Educational Services Deena Timo discuss how to incorporate new reading programs into the school district. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

It’s not as easy as A-B-C for some. That’s why the Mount Sinai school district recently rolled out new reading programs that will help K-8 students who struggle with the subject find success.

Last fall, Superintendent Gordon Brosdal was concerned the elementary school’s standard reading program did not accommodate for the fact that all students learn at different levels. So those challenged by reading tended to fall behind while their classmates soared, he said.

A closer examination of the district’s overall reading results, through assessment programs such as aimsweb, showed plenty of room for improvement to meet the school’s academic standards.

So this year, three widely used and proven effective programs designed to sharpen literacy skills  — the Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention System, the Sonday System and the Wilson Reading System — were implemented in the elementary and middle school reading and writing curriculum. Training sessions on the ins-and-outs of each program took place over the summer for district educators, including English as a second language and special education teachers.

“We focused on how we could do more to target those students who are not making progress and are stuck at a level or falling behind as they get older, and the work gets more difficult.”

Deena Timo

Throughout the year, new elementary school reading teacher Lindsey Mozes, who has extensive experience with the three programs, will work with students and train teachers to use them.

“We’re increasing our teachers’ toolboxes so they can handle the individual needs of each student better,” Brosdal said. “Kids have more challenges today — the population’s more diverse, some don’t speak English, some speak very little English and some can’t read. We have to address those individual challenges.”

By starting it at the elementary school, Brosdal said the district is building a solid foundation, especially if it wants to maintain its Reward School status, which is given to schools that demonstrate either high academic achievement or most progress with minimal gaps in student achievement between certain populations of students, according to the New York State Education Department.

“We want to remain a Reward School, but we’re not going to have that if kids aren’t being more challenged in reading and writing early on,” Brosdal said.

Deena Timo, Mount Sinai executive director of educational services, worked alongside the superintendent to bring the reading programs to the district.

“We focused on how we could do more to target those students who are not making progress and are stuck at a level or falling behind as they get older, and the work gets more difficult,” Timo said. “We’re looking at the individual student’s needs and adjusting to meet those particular needs.”

She explained the Wilson and Sonday systems are based on the Orton-Gillingham instructional approach, which commonly consists of a one-on-one teacher-student setting and is targeted for those with more severe reading issues, such as students with learning disabilities. The programs focus mostly on word pronunciation and expression, Timo said, while Fountas & Pinnell is more comprehension based.

“As a parent, you don’t want your kid reading books that are too hard or too easy, you want them reading books that are just right, and this makes it really clear.”

Rob Catlin

During a Fountas & Pinnell session, a student simply reads a book with his or her teacher. As he or she reads, the teacher takes note of overall reading ability and then asks questions about the book to gauge understanding of the text, whether it’s a “Clifford the Big Red Dog” or “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” book. If the student understands the book well, that student graduates, moving on to a book with a more challenging reading and comprehension level.

Beyond expanding the student’s literacy understanding, the program allows for teachers to grasp exactly what learning level a students is at — which can then be easily communicated to parents.

“As a parent, you don’t want your kid reading books that are too hard or too easy, you want them reading books that are just right and this makes it really clear,” said Rob Catlin, the district’s new elementary school principal. “It’s helping parents and teachers become a team to help that kid.”

Catlin taught Fountas & Pinnell for years as an educator in New York City before arriving at his new position. He is also well versed in the Columbia Writing Program, which enters its third year in the Mount Sinai school district and has aided in strengthening students’ writing scores on English Language Arts exams.

As a principal, he said his goal is to see students progress throughout the year and believes these reading programs will help with that.

“I want to see that no matter where you were in September, you’re at a different point in June,” Catlin said. “Each kid is getting differentiated instruction based on what they need and we’ll find the right program for them. Maybe they do need Wilson, maybe they don’t. Regardless, we’ll figure out the best approach.”

He said he doesn’t want to see kids continue to fall through the cracks.

“Good instruction is never one-size-fits-all,” he said. “We’re equipping our teachers with options when a student is struggling and making sure they have the skills to address the individual needs of every kid in their room. I feel like this district was on the precipice of doing really great things and I happened to just come in at the perfect time.”

Officials say the subcontractor for PSEG/LIPA is violating town code

Material outside Asplundh Construction, located across the street from Mount Sinai schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Brookhaven Town leaders are determined to stamp out what they’ve deemed an illegal eyesore in Mount Sinai — a commercial retail area turned industrial facility on Route 25A near the entrance to the school district campus. Officials said by being there, the owners and tenants of the property are willfully violating town zoning codes and damaging quality of life in the process.

During a press conference Aug. 22, town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), along with town officials and a civic leader, stood across from a fenced-in lot where concrete is crushed and dozens of the Asplundh Construction company’s trucks, as well as poles and large spools of cable, are stored.

A lineup of Asplundh Construction trucks on the company’s lot. Photo by Kevin Redding

Romaine said the type of activity on the property, which is owned by Nkp Properties LLC, of Farmingdale, is illegal under J-2 zoning and is restricted to industrial property only — a fact he said Nkp is aware of as it paid a town-issued fine of $4,000 in April. Despite paying the fine and pleading guilty to violating the town code, Nkp continues to use the property. The group was met with more fines July 24, which included a ticket for a second offense of the code violations and for not having site plans to try and legalize the activities on the site.

According to the town’s deputy attorney, David Moran, the attorney for Nkp  at the time “acknowledged that the use was not appropriate and said he was going to try to get all the necessary site plans and approvals in.”

No one from Asplundh Construction returned phone calls for a request for comment, and visits to the site for questions were directed back to the telephone number.

Officials during the press conference called on the company, a subcontractor of PSEG and LIPA, to vacate the property as soon as possible.

“The parents that drop their children off at the school, employees and civic members— residents in Mount Sinai certainly don’t appreciate what’s going on across the street from us.”

Jane Bonner

“The last time I looked, LIPA was a public utility whose subcontractor is willfully flouting zoning laws in the Town of Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “That type of zoning violation is one we will not stand for. We are particularly concerned because this is adjacent to the Mount Sinai schools. We’re asking that they come into compliance or we have to take further action.

The property was previously the site of a party equipment rental business. When Asplundh moved in, a structure on the site was demolished.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said it’s negatively impacting the town.

“One of the things that the Mount Sinai community is desirous of is a corridor that is user-friendly and appealing to the eye,” Bonner said, looking at the Nkp property behind her. “I’ve been in office almost 10 years and for the past eight years, the property behind me has been a constant source of complaints from the community, the parents that drop their children off at the school, employees and civic members. Residents in Mount Sinai certainly don’t appreciate what’s going on across the street from us.”

Bonner said she would like to settle this problem before the start of the new school year. More than 30 Asplundh trucks, she said, drive in and out of the lot every morning, which can become a safety concern once buses join Route 25A traffic.

Ann Becker, president of the Mount Sinai Civic Association, also expressed her concerns.

Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker talks about her feelings toward the construction company across the street from Mount Sinai schools during a press conference Aug. 22. Photo by Kevin Redding

“The civic, which recently celebrated 100 years, has been working to maintain the quality of life here in Mount Sinai for all that time and we continue to do so, and we continuously get complaints about this location and now it’s becoming even worse than it was before,” Becker said. “We’re really wanting to have nice businesses here and we’ve done a lot of work on beautification … what’s happening behind us is absolutely against everything the civic has stood for.”

She said she hopes the current owners ultimately cease and desist so that the location is turned into something more appropriate for the community.

Moran said he believes the businesses will try to get away with the violations as long as they can in order to maximize every dollar out of it to help fund construction projects.

“From a prosecutorial standpoint these types of flagrant violations will not be tolerated in the Town of Brookhaven,” he said. “You can’t just buy property and use it to your will. We have codes that must be followed and, in this instance, I can assure you that we will ensure that they follow our codes.”

R. C. Murphy Jr. High School. File photo

The Three Village Central School District implemented a new type of technology to help alert the community when a lockdown is underway at one of the schools.

In partnership with IntraLogic Solutions, blue strobe lights have been installed on the exterior of every school building. Should a lockdown be initiated in that school, these lights will flash on all sides of the building, serving as a signal that the facility is in lockdown and entry is prohibited. For security reasons, the district defines a lockdown as a time when a threat to the safety and security of students and staff exists within the school building. This differs from a lockout, when the threat exists externally, but in the vicinity of the school building, for example if a criminal on the run from law enforcement in the area.

The district advises the community and visitors to the schools that if they see the strobes activated, they should return to their vehicle at once and leave the scene, as a critical incident may be unfolding.

Although the majority of the details of the system are kept confidential, the district assures residents that once the system and its technology are activated, members of law enforcement will be notified immediately to respond. Additionally, as per the district’s emergency management plan, parents will be notified immediately upon activation of an actual lockdown and provided with instructions.

Residents with questions can contact the district’s security coordinator at 631-730-5089.

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education Betsy DeVos has been met with opposition from North Shore educators. Photo from Senate committee website

Many North Shore superintendents and educators are concerned with President Donald Trump’s (R) nominee for secretary of education: Betsy DeVos, chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately-held investment and management firm based in Michigan, to serve as secretary of education. According to her website, the Michigan resident has a history in politics spanning more than 35 years. She was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times, and worked in a leadership capacity for campaigns, party organizations and political action committees, her website states.

DeVos went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for a confirmation hearing Jan. 17.

“Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it … do not have my support.”

—Paul Casciano

“I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve,” DeVos said during her opening remarks at the hearing. “Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children? I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children. The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

DeVos’ views on public education created a stir around the country, and superintendents from the North Shore and county as a whole joined the chorus of those skeptical about the direction she might take the country’s education system.

“I have devoted my entire adult life to public education and believe it is the bedrock of our democracy,” Port Jefferson school district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it or that offer alternatives that are not subjected to the same strict standards and scrutiny that public schools must live by, do not have my support.”

Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagen echoed many of Casciano’s concerns.

“I find President Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to be unacceptable,” he said in an email. “Education in this country is at an important crossroads. As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education that will prepare them to be active, contributing members of society.”

“As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education.”

—Tim Eagan

Eagen also has concerns about DeVos’ qualifications.

“I believe that Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the U.S. Department of Education,” he said. “She is a businesswoman and politician without any experience in public service or public education. She does not have an education degree, has no teaching experience, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended public school or a state university, and did not send her own four children to public school.”

Middle Country Central School District  Superintendent Roberta Gerold stressed that she does not support the appointment of DeVos, stating that she believes all of DeVos’ actions to date evidence a lack of support for, and understanding of public education.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework,” Gerold said. “She couldn’t seem to, for example, understand or explain the difference between growth and proficiency — very basic concepts. And her answer to whether guns should be allowed in schools — please.”

The superintendent said, though, that she is most disappointed that DeVos would even be considered for the position.

“It seems clear to me that this is purely a political appointment, not an appointment that recognizes merit or values authentic education,” Gerold said. “John King — who I don’t believe was a great champion of public education, at least had credentials that deserved respect. The new nominee does not. It’s worrisome and disconcerting….and insulting to the public education system, K–12 and beyond.”

She said her teachers, several who are community residents, are preparing a petition that requests the board of education adopt of resolution in opposition to the appointment.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework.”

—Roberta Georld

“I believe that our board will be supportive of that request,” she said. “I know that our board president is in agreement with opposing the nomination.”

The Miller Place school district’s administration and board of education drafted and passed a resolution opposing DeVos’ appointment. Superintendent Marianne Cartisano addressed the appointment in an open letter on the district’s website.

“Our concerns are twofold,” she said. “The first reservation we have is regarding the candidate’s lack of first-hand experience as an educator or administrator within the public school system. Since the majority of the children in the United States are currently being educated within the public school system, we feel that this experience is very important for an effective Secretary of Education.”

Cartisano elaborated on her other issues with DeVos.

“Her record also shows a clear bias towards private, parochial and charter schools and the use of vouchers to attend these schools,” Cartisano said. “This bias leads us to our second overarching concern with Betsy DeVos as a candidate for Secretary of Education. The concern is that Betsy DeVos has been a strong advocate for the use of public funds to attend private schools through vouchers, and this would have a direct negative impact on our public school system’s fiscal stability if it is put into effect on a national level.”

The committee will vote to either approve or deny DeVos’ nomination Jan. 31.

Victoria Espinoza and Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.

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The other day, my teenage son had a choice. No, he can’t vote and no, he wasn’t ordering a sandwich at a diner with an 18-page menu. He was with some friends who decided they wanted to get a better view of the street and, presumably, their peers who were walking below during a warm fall day.

They headed for the roof of a building, where a Private Property No Trespassing sign awaited them. They ignored the sign. When my son hesitated, they signaled for him to join them.

“Oh, come on, you’re not going to be like Joey,” they said in a complaining tone. I don’t know who Joey is, but when I heard the story I instantly wanted my son to meet him and hang out with him.“No,” he replied, “but I’m not going up there.”

What stopped him? Why didn’t he do whatever he wanted to do or, equally importantly, whatever his friends wanted? The other boys clearly expected him to fall in line, just the way our friends, our parents’ friends and our grandparents’ friends expected us and our ancestors to fall in line, too.

We send our kids to school every day to learn about differential equations, the American Revolution, the powerful prose of Ernest Hemingway and the anatomy of frogs and people, but somewhere along the lines, they have to learn to develop a set of values.

That can come from a dedicated teacher, who takes time out from a demanding schedule to teach a broader life lesson about the difficulty of making the “right” choice. It can come from a coach, a principal, a neighbor, a parent, a grandparent or anyone who goes out of his or her way to make sure that our children don’t lose theirs.

I understand that this moment isn’t the biggest challenge my son will face. Undoubtedly, someone will come up with an idea, a suggestion or a dare he feels pressure to do.

These small moments, however, lead to the bigger ones. It is the slippery slope argument. If doing something that might be a little wrong doesn’t cause problems or have any consequence, maybe doing something larger that might not be exactly right is also just fine because no one noticed or he didn’t get caught. Or, the argument that frustrates me the most, someone else did something worse, so this isn’t such a poor decision.

We all have those difficult moments, when someone whose company we enjoy encourages us to do something that might not be in our best short- or long-term interests and when, for whatever reason, that friend insists we participate to demonstrate our friendship. This is the moment when peer pressure threatens to silence the little voice in our heads that says, “This is probably a bad idea.”

We hear so many times about people who either don’t have that little voice or who have so effectively silenced it that the rules of our country don’t apply. They live with a freedom that they find exhilarating, until they get caught.

We are painfully aware of the destruction people who tumbled down that slippery slope create for themselves and society, through difficult and self-destructive habits.

There are so many other children who, thanks to the effort of the village of supporters around them who point to a true north, develop both self-control and self-confidence that allow them to say, “I’m not going to do that.”

Through any age, one of the hardest words for us to say, when those around us encourage us to join them in treading on someone else’s property or rights, is “No!”

File photo

By Desirée Keegan

The Middle Country Central School District announced several new programs to engage the students throughout the Centereach and Selden communities for the 2016-17 school year.

The new programs — including specialized music, art and math curriculum for kindergarten students, as well as extra physics classes and the introduction of a Capstone Project — are made possible by the district’s strategic budgeting practices and financial planning. The academic improvements are meant to prepare students for life at the next level.

“At Middle Country, we are dedicated to educating ‘the whole child,’” Superintendent Roberta Gerold said. “We are proud of the many programs we have put in place this year that will help provide students with the resources to excel in the classroom and in the community. These brand new classroom offerings will challenge our students to think critically and prepare them for successful futures beyond the classroom.”

Students at Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center walk into the school building on the first day. Photo from Middle Country school district
Students at Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center walk into the school building on the first day. Photo from Middle Country school district

During the first day of school, students throughout the district took advantage of the many new opportunities provided. Kindergarten students from Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center participated in the new art and music classes, as well as their math literacy program. These initiatives are intended to introduce students to essential Science Technology Engineering and Math concepts.

Other students are also experiencing the excitement of new programs.

Fifth-grade students throughout the district embarked on a newly introduced Capstone Project. The Capstone Project is a two-semester independent research assignment that spans fifth through 12th grade. Designated time for research is granted to seventh- and eighth-grade students, and the eighth-graders will now be able to participate in physics classes.

Outside of the classroom, other exciting news is underway, such as completed projects from the district’s 2015 Bond Referendum.

At the beginning of the school year, students and staff benefitted from the completion of roof replacements, security vestibules, high school track resurfacing, the installation of Smart Boards in the classrooms and new buses and two-student vans.

For more information about academic programs available at the Middle Country school district and a calendar of events, visit www.mccsd.net. To learn more about the student experience and news from the district, also visit www.mymiddlecountryschools.net.

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