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Northport-East Northport school board members are looking into whether or not the district should buy iPads for trustees to be used at meetings instead of paper agendas. Stock photo

Northport-East Northport school board members earlier this month discussed whether the district should pay for iPads that trustees could use during meetings.

The idea was introduced by board member David Stein as a way to reduce costs of paper. The idea, however, was sharply denounced by the board’s Vice President David Badanes.

“I am really unhappy about any money being spent on board members for iPads,” Badanes said at the Oct. 8 board meeting. “I think it’s outrageous.”

Badanes, who was the lone naysayer, said he doesn’t have a problem with board members bringing their own iPads or electronic devices to meetings — he just doesn’t want the district to pay for them, he said.

According to District Clerk Beth Nystrom, there is currently no district policy that finances electronic devices for members of the school board’s use exclusively. She did say that board members are welcome to use district-owned electronic devices at board meetings, but presently none do.

Other board members said that while it may be fine for Badanes to have his own personal opinion, it’s not something he should hold everyone else to.

“Personal convictions are fine but each person should be given the right to decide,” Trustee Jennifer Thompson said. “It should not impugn the rest of us.”

Trustee Lori McCue said she felt it was unfair to tell board members who wanted to use an electronic device to bring one from home.

“I don’t know if it’s appropriate,” McCue said. “What if you don’t already own one of these devices?”

Stein claimed it’s more cost effective for the board to use electronic devices instead of getting paper agendas and other documents sent to their homes before each meeting.

“We spend nearly $800 worth of paper every year [on each board member],” Stein said. “If individuals want to embrace it, they’re saving $800 in taxpayer money.”

Stein said regular agendas are also not the only documents that are printed for board members every year.

“Based on 24 scheduled meetings per year, and an average of six specially called meetings plus the budget season, which can produce budget documents several times the size of a regular weekly package,” Stein said in an email. “The regular board member could receive anywhere from 22,000 pages during the course of a year.”

According to Nystrom, the cost is quite low to send board members paper agendas to their home annually.

“The approximate cost the district pays per board member to send printed copies of the agenda to their houses before meetings is approximately $35 per year,” Nystrom said in an email.

Board President Andrew Rapiejko encouraged board members to try and find the best way to serve the district.

“Everyone wants to do this job as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Rapiejko said. “They shouldn’t be criticized for trying to get the right tools. If the district can provide this tool, I think it should be discussed.”

Rapiejko also said that it is not for the board’s personal benefit to use these devices. “The district isn’t giving these out to board members,” Rapiejko said. “These are purchased for the district’s use.”

Trustee Regina Pisacani said she has been to other district board meetings where board members using electronic devices.

Rapiejko said the board could resume discussing this topic during budget season.

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.”

New trustee uses policy committee role to suggest better student accommodations

Smithtown Trustee Jeremy Thode is one of the newest members of the school board. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Smithtown board of education has decided to look into adopting policy for transgender students.

School board Trustee Jeremy Thode introduced the issue at the board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Thode is a chairperson for the policy committee and said he thinks the board needs to start looking into this issue. He said that at some point in the near future the policy committee would try to obtain language for a policy on transgender students.

“It’s important to ensure that all students are accounted for,” Thode said. “So that they understand what their rights are.”

Thode said that this is purely the beginning and that there are not many other details currently about how the board will approach adopting local policy for transgender students.

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has had transgender issues in her sights since she first took office in May.

Elia released the Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Guidance Document in July to public school districts throughout New York State.

According to a press release from the New York State Education office, the document is intended to help districts foster an educational environment safe and free from discrimination for transgender and nonconforming students.

It includes information to help districts comply with federal, state and local laws concerning bullying, harassment, discrimination and student privacy.

“All students need a safe and supportive school setting to progress academically and developmentally,” Elia said. “We have a moral responsibility to foster civility in our schools, and to ensure that every student has equal access to educational programs and activities.”

This document also provides guidance on using pronouns and handling issues like restroom and changing room use. It will complement existing resources like the Dignity for All Students Act that was signed into law in 2010. DASA seeks to provide New York State’s public elementary and secondary students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property, a school bus and at school functions.

Smithtown school district Superintendent James Grossane recently renewed coordinators for this act throughout the school district. 

Jack Blaum speaks at a Three Village board of education meeting. File photo

In the years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — a horror further punctuated by recent college shootings — safety continues to be a top priority for Three Village school officials.

Security & Safety coordinator Jack Blaum detailed the district’s efforts at a recent school board meeting. The past year has seen the installation of vestibules in school lobbies, card key entryways, emergency training for staff and safety drills with students during school hours.

Blaum said an analysis of the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon reveals that such tragedies have three things in common: motive, means and opportunity.

“The one thing we have total control over is opportunity,” Blaum said, last Wednesday. “The opportunity is keeping our buildings closed when we’re in session.”

That is ensured by posting additional full-day security officers at each elementary school, as well as an additional full-day and half-day officer at the junior highs, he said. Security guards are also posted at each entrance to the high school.

The security staff — which is made up of either active or retired law enforcement personnel — checks visitors who must enter an enclosed vestibule before entering a building. Greeters are responsible for late arrivals, early dismissals and helping visitors once they’ve been allowed to enter.

Blaum said that he and his team would begin to train district staff to use the CrisisManager app, which holds the district’s protocol for dealing with different crises. The app offers the advantage of being easier to reference during a real crisis than a paper flow chart, Blaum explained. Parents and students can also download the free app.

In other details, Blaum said the district is constructing a “command center,” with 11 video monitors at the back of the North Country Administration Building. He said the center would make it easier for the superintendent to monitor incidents remotely and help with any investigations.

Across the district, emergency phones — “bat phones,” according to Blaum — connect directly to the Suffolk County police communications supervisor in Yaphank.

“Lockdown buttons,” located throughout each building, will trigger an automated lockdown message, disable key card access to all but emergency personnel and set off sirens and a blue strobe light to alert those outside the building that the school is on lockdown.

Besides the additional cameras installed throughout the district, including the Ward Melville High School football field, there is also a law enforcement presence on weekends and holidays, Blaum said.

Though the district’s advantage is in controlling opportunity, Blaum emphasized the importance of recognizing and reporting changes in student or staff behavior. He reminded the community to use the Safe School Helpline to report safety concerns.

“If you take out one part of motive, means and opportunity, the shooting can’t happen,” he said.

As mandated by the State Education Department, building emergency plans and layouts have been filed with New York State police and distributed to Suffolk County police and the Setauket and Stony Brook Fire Departments.

Buses for all

In another move aimed at student safety, the district will provide busing for everyone. Currently, Three Village provides busing for all elementary school students, but not for junior high students who live less than a mile from school or high schoolers less than a mile and a half away.

“It is the single biggest complaint,” assistant superintendent for business services Jeff Carlson said.

He pointed specifically to the danger posed to students crossing Nicolls Road to get to R.C. Murphy Junior High School. He also mentioned those who have to walk along Christian Avenue, Quaker Path or Mudd Road — which have no sidewalks— to P.J. Gelinas Junior High School. There is also an issue of safety for high school students walking along Sheep Pasture Road, he said.

The three additional buses would cost $220,000, but transportation aid from the state would be around $100,000, he said. With more state aid to further lower the cost, the increase to the tax levy would be around $10,000, Carlson said.

Residents must vote on an amendment to the busing guidelines in a proposition that is separate from the budget.

The school board unanimously voted to add the proposition to the May ballots.

“That’s our duty, our obligation to keep all our students safe,” said board trustee Jeff Kerman, who seemed to sum up the sentiments of his colleagues.

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.

Irene McLaughlin to take the reins of new post in November

Northport High School Principal Irene McLaughlin is stepping into a new role as the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

At the Northport-East Northport school board meeting on Sept. 10, board President Andrew Rapiejko announced McLaughlin’s new role. He said both he and the board were “very excited,” and to that, the audience offered a long round of applause.

McLaughlin is just as excited.

Northport High School Principal Irene McLaughlin. File photo by Rohma Abbas
Northport High School Principal Irene McLaughlin. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“I’ve had chances to pursue administration roles in other districts, but I didn’t want to,” the principal said in a phone interview this week. “Northport is such a great place for teachers, students, and parents, and I wanted to stay here.”

McLaughlin has been at the district for 31 years. She kicked off her career with the district straight out of college as a part-time health education teacher at Northport Middle School in 1984. From there, she worked at Norwood Avenue Elementary, Fifth Avenue Elementary and Pulaski Road Elementary schools until she became a teacher at the high school in 1992. She was promoted to principal of Northport High School in 2003 from assistant principal. This year marks the start of her 13th year as principal of the school.

“I will miss the high school,” she said. “Even when I worked at other schools, I was coaching here. My roots are deep here at the high school.”

McLaughlin is following Rosemarie Coletti, who stepped down from the position in June of this year. Lou Curra is currently the interim assistant superintendent of human resources.

“I am looking forward to getting more involved in district wide decisions,” she said. “I want to expand my scope, and learn more about how the entire district works and not just the high school.”

The responsibilities for assistant superintendent of human resources include recruiting, hiring and maintaining the nearly 1,000-person staff of the Northport-East Northport school district.

McLaughlin’s official start date is November 2, however she said that if the process of finding a new principal for the high school takes a bit longer, she may stay at her post past the beginning of November.

“I want it to be a smooth transition for the students and staff,” she said.

McLaughlin moved her family to the district when they were young because she said she knew Northport was a special place for kids to grow up. She currently resides there with her daughter, Kelly. Her son Michael graduated from Northport High School this May.

“My love for the district is really evident,” she said. “I am committed to the success of the district, and making an impact on more than just the high school.”

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Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Higuera. File photo

Miller Place school district is on its way to completing the bond project voted in March of 2014.

At the board of education meeting on Aug. 26, Superintendent Marianne F. Higuera said the projects are near 80 percent complete. The total projected cost for the bond projects was approximately $7.5 million, when first presented in March of 2014.

The board held multiple public meetings throughout 2013 and 2014 for residents to voice concerns and learn more about the planned updates and repairs.

Most of the projects are specific to certain schools, with one general project that will affect every school in the district.

A district-wide phone system is currently being installed, which will replace the current system that predates 1999. The projected cost is $501,500, and the instillation is expected to be completed by November.

At Miller Place High School, tennis courts have been completely repaired, as well as repairs to the baseball and softball fields. The track is 95 percent done to being fully replaced, and additional turf fields and stadium lighting is also at 95 percent completion.

The high school qualified for state aid on approximately $3 million of field and grounds projects, according to the March 2014 board of education presentation.

Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School and Andrew Muller Primary School both had a new security vestibule constructed. Laddie Decker’s is approximately 99 percent completed and the primary school’s work is done. The primary school also had a roof replacement, which has been fully completed.

At North Country Road Middle School, there are new tennis courts. Repairs to the baseball and softball fields are basically completed, as well as an irrigation system to improve the quality of the soil. There will also be a roof replacement. The roof replacement projects are expected to cost approximately $1 million, for both Laddie Decker and North Country Middle.

Miller Place school district will be reimbursed for 72.4 percent of the costs of all projects, excluding the security vestibules at Laddie Decker and Andrew Primary, according to the board of education. This is a 15-year bond, with an average annual payment of $669,488. The projected tax increase was $1.98.

Enrollment soars above school district's estimates

School board President Robert Sweeney explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

When Mount Sinai school board members proposed full-day kindergarten, they didn’t expect 160 students to enroll.

But the new program brought an enrollment increase of more than 40 percent, according to numbers the Mount Sinai Board of Education examined during a recent meeting, leading the district to hire another teacher.

By the end of the 2014-15 academic year, which had half-day kindergarten, there were around 112 students enrolled. With the 2015-16 enrollment, Mount Sinai had to bump up the number of teachers to seven.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Superintendent Gordon Brosdal explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In May, the board estimated that 125 students would enroll in the full-day program, but by mid-July, there were 151 students.

“All year long … we promoted full-day K at a number around 125 and [aid Mount Sinai received from the state] was based on that number,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. The increase “was a little bit alarming to the board and myself.”

Brosdal said the new program could be popular because full-day kindergarten is easier for a parent’s schedule. He expects several more children to enroll before class starts on Sept. 8, pushing kindergarten enrollment past 160 students.

According to Linda Jenson, assistant superintendent for business, the extra teacher the district had to hire added $85,000 to the budget, bringing the total program cost to $635,000.

Despite that increase, residents will not see taxes go up, Jenson said. Officials dug up the extra money from within the approved $56.7 million budget for 2015-16.

Mount Sinai lengthened the kindergarten day to give young students more time to learn subjects like language arts, math, social studies, science and music.

“We wanted to give our kids and our teachers adequate time to address Common Core, the demands of the curriculum,” Brosdal said.

In half-day kindergarten, students were in school from 8:55 a.m. until 11:05 a.m. With the full-day program, they will stay in the classrooms until 2:58 p.m.

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File photo

It’s the start of the school season, and that should signal us to be a little more wary behind the wheel.

With some schools already in session and some schools opening soon, we are urging drivers who are rushing to and fro to bring their patience and common sense with them.

Just this week in Smithtown, a police checkpoint netted 11 individuals and charged them with DWI — most of those Smithtown residents. It’s a scary number.

Over in Cold Spring Harbor, on Woodbury Road, an elderly woman died after crashing into the woods on Friday evening.

With this kind of troubling traffic safety news becoming the norm lately, we all need to step up our defensive driving game instead of stepping on the gas.

When on the road, come to a full stop at a stop sign, not a rolling stop. Always stop behind a school bus with its lights on — a resident told us this week that she routinely witnesses cars blowing past buses that are stopped. Those are children that could potentially be put at risk. And it goes without saying that we should take extra precautions in school speed zones.

The list goes on. Always signal before merging into a lane. And if you’re in the wrong lane, don’t try to cut across multiple lanes, especially on major thoroughfares. Obey crosswalks — we can’t tell you how many times drives ignore them.

Following the rules of the road goes a long way in keeping our families safe. Let’s all be a little more courteous and careful behind the wheel.

Jennifer Thompson, center, with her family, husband Brent, son Sterling and daughter Lauren. Photo from Thompson

After serving for more than six years as a trustee on the Northport-East Northport school board, Jennifer Thompson has set her sights on a bigger role.

Thompson, 44, wants to be the Huntington Town Board’s next councilwoman, and she is seeking election to one of two seats up for grabs on Nov. 3. She’s running alongside incumbent Councilman Gene Cook (I), both of whom are endorsed by the Huntington Town Republican Committee.

Last Friday, the Northport mother-of-two sat down for an interview at Book Revue in Huntington to talk about her campaign. She had just gotten back from a boat trip to Connecticut to celebrate her birthday on her family’s 27-foot sailboat, with her husband Brent and their children, Sterling and Lauren.

A passion for education was instilled in Thompson at a young age — through her parents who emigrated to the U.S. from eastern India — and it seems fitting that Thompson’s first role as a public servant was on the school board, where she felt a responsibility to be engaged in the community.

“Both of my parents had a strong sense to live differently, and the main reason they immigrated was for a better education,” Thompson said.

Although she was born in Queens, she lived in California for most of her life, moving there when she was four years old. Thompson received her undergraduate degree from The Master’s College, and her graduate degree from California State University. After graduating, she worked as a special education teacher in California and then as an administrator.

In 2006, Thompson and her family moved to Northport. Her husband got a job at Suffolk County Community College. Just four years later, she was petitioning for her first term as a school board trustee.

If elected, Thompson would transition off the school board, and her seat would likely remain vacant until elections in May, although it would be up to the board to decide exactly how to proceed.

“She is very focused and approachable, and is 100 percent focused on whoever she is representing,” Tammie Topel, a fellow school board trustee, who has served four years with Thompson, said about her colleague. “She dedicates herself and is extremely reliable.”

At a recent Suffolk County Police Department 2nd Precinct community meeting, residents called for an increase in the police force following three shootings in July and August.

Thompson was at that meeting, and afterwards she researched whether adding staff is the best solution to solve the problem. “Sometimes it’s about your resources and seeing if you’re using them as effectively as possible.”

According to Thompson, the Town of Riverhead has specialized police forces, and she believes this contributes to the town thriving in the last five years. She said she believes the solution of more specialized forces would work in Huntington as well.

Residents have sounded off on overdevelopment in Huntington Town in the past few years. Thompson is clear that she is against overdevelopment, and that she would’ve voted against the zone change permitting the Seasons in Elwood, a 256-unit project for individuals 55 and older, to go through.

“That community did not want it in their community, and the fact that the town council disregarded that is, I think, heartbreaking,” she said. “They were elected by these people to be their voice and to not come alongside the very residents they represent. I think it is anti-democratic.”

She added that she feels that Huntington has the right balance of industrial and business areas and open land, something she doesn’t want to see compromised. “If we wanted to live in Queens, we would’ve bought a house in Queens.”

Recently, Eaton’s Neck residents have been urging the town board to allow for longbow hunting of deer. The residents claim deer have overpopulated the area and pose a public health risk, as the animals are linked to increases in tick-born illnesses like Lyme disease.

This issue literally came into Thompson’s backyard the night before, as she showed a photo of the deer by her fence she snapped from her bedroom window. While she is mindful of animal’s rights, she said she is more mindful of the risk to the public. “I’m always going to be more concerned with public safety.”

If elected, Thompson would like to introduce legislation governing town board term limits. Two terms would be her preference.

“If our highest elected official can’t go more than two terms, why should local officials go longer?”

Thompson confirmed that if not elected, this would be her last term as a school board member. She signed a petition brought to the board earlier this summer to reduce the size of the school board. The petition also suggested looking into term limits.

“I signed the petition because I think the community deserves the opportunity to vote on it,” she said. “Whatever the community decides, I will support that.”

Tim Farrell, a personal friend of Thompson’s for more than 10 years, believes Thompson will bring a powerful work ethic to the town board, if elected. He believes she will also bring a level of transparency and honesty.

“She never settles for anything, even small things, like planning a weekend for the kids,” he said. “She doesn’t generally fail; she won’t allow it.”

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