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Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Artie Gross, behind him his office at the SWR middle school. Photos from Gross

“It was a good time. I enjoyed the opportunity to teach a lot of talented kids,” said Artie Gross, reflecting on a more than three-decade music teaching career, much of it spent at Shoreham-Wading River. 

Gross, who has been a mainstay in the Shoreham-Wading River school district as a middle school vocal music teacher for the past 35 years, retired at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year. 

“He was the ultimate professional.”

— Kevin O’Brien

“I just knew it was time,” he said. “Thirty-five years is a good number.”

Gross said that since he was a kid he knew he had a passion for music. As a young man he remembered constantly playing guitar and singing.

“I would bring my guitar to school — I was the class musician, I got involved in some of the school’s shows and plays,” he said. 

When it came time to decide what he wanted to pursue as a career, Gross said he knew his parents wouldn’t pay for guitar lessons. 

“It was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to school to be a guitar performance major,” the Port Jefferson resident said. 

Despite that, Gross found his answer while being in a high school chorus class.  

“My high school chorus teacher made such an impression on me and I was like ‘This is what I want to do,’” said Gross.  

After graduating high school, he went to the University of Rhode Island for one year before transferring to SUNY Buffalo to complete his bachelor’s in music education. Gross would then go get his master’s degree at Ithaca College. 

From there, Gross got his first gig teaching in the Bethpage school district, filling in for a music teacher who was out sick for the year. 

“From February to June of that year I was full-time teaching strings,” he said. “I ended helping out with shows and doing a little bit of singing.” 

The following year, Gross initially thought he would be going back to Bethpage but the district told him it was now a brand-new position and would bring him down to starting sub-salary. 

“They told me I’d be teaching seven elementary school classes a day and I was like, this doesn’t sound good,” he said. 

While Gross ultimately decided not to stay at Bethpage, he had heard there was an opening for a music teacher at SWR and called to see if the job was still available. 

“They told me it was still available. The superintendent didn’t like the person we sent up,” he said. “I met with the assistant principal and principal — and boom, I was hired that day. Just a few days before the school year [in 1984].”

Gross said during his first year he wanted to build up the chorus program in the middle school. After one year it went up from 48 kids to more than 100 kids participating. 

After his first year in the district, Gross began splitting time at the high school and middle school as a traveling teacher. During his time at the high school he was involved in music direction for shows as well as taking charge of the chorus. Starting in 1990, he came back to the middle school full-time. 

Linda Jutting, a former orchestra teacher at SWR, first met Gross during his first year on the job in 1984.

“It wasn’t until 2002, when I came back to the district, that I worked with him at the middle school for 15 years until I retired,” she said.

Jutting said her own three children had Gross as a teacher and said he had an amazing work ethic.

“He was really dedicated to his craft and his students,” she said. “He went above and beyond.”

Gross said he had a strong passion for what he did and wanted to share it with the kids. 

“I think one of my strengths is being able to connect with middle school kids and treat them like young adults,” he said. “I think one of the most important things is believing in them and getting them to believe in themselves.”

“He was really dedicated to his craft and his students.”

— Linda Jutting

Kevin O’Brien, district band director at SWR, said he can’t say enough good things about Gross. 

“I worked with Artie in the same building for 12 years. He mentored and helped me during my first couple of years in the district,” he said. “He was the ultimate professional.”

Gross mentioned when he retired, he received a signed poster from former students. He realized all the people he had affected positively.  

“I was just doing my job, I didn’t think I was doing anything special,” he said. “One girl told me, ‘I became a social worker because of the way you treated me.’”

Gross said he is looking forward to practicing playing his guitar more and hopes to visit his children in Wyoming and Australia. The Port Jefferson resident also hopes to be involved in the middle school shows in the future and is currently giving private lessons. 

“I had a good career. I got to share something that I loved, which was music,” he said.

 

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Shoreham-Wading River school district is considering converting the closed fitness center into a wrestling center. Photo by Kyle Barr Photo by Kyle Barr

Shoreham-Wading River’s ailing fitness center may see a new lease on life, should the puzzle pieces come together.

At a July 8 meeting, Superintendent Gerard Poole presented the idea to the school board that the district could convert the old Joe Ferreira Fitness Center and turn it into a wrestling center, while at the same time taking the auxiliary gym and turning that into a new fitness center.

Though the thought is still up in the air, the plan would require making major renovations to the old fitness center, located just to the east of the main high school building. The fitness center, built in the 1980s, was closed in July last year when an assessment of the building by the school district’s internal engineer showed the flooring was not up to code for constant physical activity. The building would require additional steel supports, toilet renovations to make it ADA compliant, new HVAC, emergency lighting and an upgraded fire alarm system.

Last October, the district said the renovations could cost upward of $200,000.

The district moved exercise equipment into room A101, right next to the cafeteria. Room A102 will also be used for fitness come September.

In a survey sent to students by the district about whether they would use a fitness center within the high school, 75 percent responded yes.

At the July meeting, Poole said the district had originally included the fitness center as part of its 2015 bond project, which is currently in the midst of renovating the high school parking lot. Though the school district could use additional funds left over to remake the fitness center, it won’t know how much funds it has left until the end of August, the superintendent said. There is no current funding in the 2019-20 budget to convert either the auxiliary gym or old fitness center.

Local residents who once extensively used the old fitness center for exercise during non-school hours have said they wished to be allowed to use the machinery, though Poole said they would have to look at hours and access for nonstudents on the off hours.

In addition the district said this change would potentially allow them to use the outside building as a polling place, instead of the usual gym space. School’s being used as polling places has been a sore spot for several North Shore school districts as they continue to look at security concerns.

Poole said, in speaking to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, there is no requirement that the district reuse the same space.

“It’s a matter of looking at the layout seeing where everything can fit,” Poole said.

 

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr
Check back later this week for Miller Place’s proposed school budget and interviews with school board trustee candidates.

School districts throughout the North Shore of Long Island are gearing up for budget votes on May 21. Here is a round up of some of the local districts latest budget overviews and a preview of candidates who are running for board of education trustee seats.  

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai School District budget overview 

The final proposed budget figure for the 2019-20 school year will be 61,009,770, which is a 1.34 percent and $806,295 increase from the current year’s amount. 

The district is poised to receive $18,007,000 in state aid in the upcoming school year, a slight decrease than it received last year. 

Though it will receive slightly more in foundation aid for the upcoming school year in $12,909,109 compared to this year’s figure of 12,845,044, the district will be receiving less money in building state aid. The 2019-20 amount will be $1,168,106, a $489,000 decrease in funds. That’s due to a 25-year-old bond loan on the high school finally being paid off, according to Superintendent Gordan Brodsal. 

“The bond on the high school is paid off,” he said. “No more principal, no more interest. That means no more building aid from the state.”

The tax levy cap for the district in 2019-20 will be 2.168 percent and the tax levy amount is $40,986,735, a $870,000 increase from the previous year. 

The tax rate for an average assessment of a household valued at $3,700 will be $9,839. As a result, and the district said there will be a $17 increase in tax rates for the average homeowner.

For capital projects, a separate vote in conjunction with budget, the board wants to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Brosdal and the board are proposing to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

Other highlights of the budget are plans to make the Consultant Teacher Direct Instructor program full day for children in grades 1 through 4. To expand the program, the district would be looking to hire two additional instructors. 

Also, the budget will cover replacement of outdated textbooks in the middle and high school. The total for the new textbooks will cost the district $75,550.

Mount Sinai board of education trustee vote

This year, Mount Sinai will have five candidates running for three open trustee seats. Board member Anne Marie Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again after she replaced trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August 2018. Board member Lynn Jordan will be vying for re-election. Challengers this year are Lisa Pfeffer, Chris Quartarone and Robert Pignatello. The two candidates with the highest votes will get a three-year term while the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s vacated seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats. 

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point Union Free School District budget overview 

The latest proposed budget amount for the upcoming school year will be $86,743,446, a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount. The district will also see a projected tax levy cap of 2.59 percent and a tax levy amount of $52,491,371, which is an increase by more than $1.3 million from the current year’s figure of $51,166,218. 

The district will be receiving $28,864,295 in state aid for 2019-20, an increase of close to $130,000. Rocky Point will get $19,044,293 in foundation aid, an increase of more than $140,000 compared to last year’s figure of $18,902,525. 

Another highlight of the budget overview is that debt services will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

Superintendent Micheal Ring said the bonds expiring were approved by voters for various construction projects, including the construction of the Rocky Point Middle School. As debt service decreases, so does building aid from New York State, which is provided to offset part of the cost of bond interest and principal payments over the life of debt. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which is expected to likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Ring said that as rates have gone down it has resulted in opportunities to better support the district’s core instructional programs and enhance maintenance of facilities.  

Rocky Point board of education trustee vote

This year there will be two open trustee seats. 

Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, has said he has no plans on securing re-election in May and will let other candidates run for his seat. The candidate with the most votes will serve for the three-year term. The candidate with the second highest number of votes will serve the remainder of Coniglione’s term, which is one year. The candidates this year are Susan Sullivan, Michael Lisa and Jessica Ward. 

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District budget overview

The finalized proposed budget figure for 2019-20 will be $75,952,416. It is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure. 

The tax levy cap for the upcoming school year is 2.36 percent and the tax levy cap amount is $54,377,657, an increase of $1,257,442 from the current year’s amount. 

The district is expected to receive $12,676,465 in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a decrease of over $98,000 from 2018-2019. Also, SWR will see an increase of over $48,000 in foundation state aid received with the total amount being $6,442,501. 

The fund balance for 2019-20 will decrease by close to $67,000 from 2018-19. 

The final budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse. 

Shoreham-Wading River board of education trustee vote

This year, SWR will have three trustee seats open.

The full terms of board members Michael Lewis and Kimberly Roff will expire June 30. Roff chose to not seek re-election. 

The third seat is for board member Erin Hunt, who resigned in March and whose term will expire June 30 as well.  

The candidates with the two highest number of votes will win the full three-year term seats.  These candidates’ term will be from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022.

The candidate with the third highest number of votes will win Hunt’s vacated seat.  The winning candidate’s term will begin the evening of the election, May 21, and their term of office will end June 30, 2020. An election will take place in May 2020 to fill the seat for a three-year term.

The five challengers for this year are: Thomas Sheridan, Jennifer Kitchen, Meghan Tepfenhardt, Edward Granshaw and William McGrath.

 

In its first year, the Shoreham-Wading River debate team takes part in state competition. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

In a little over a year, the Shoreham-Wading River debate team developed from an idea by two high school students into a fully formed, competing group in the New York State Forensic League championship. And while team members admit they still have a lot to learn following their recent defeat in the state tournament hosted at Hofstra University April 28 and 29, they can’t argue with how far they’ve come.

After success in February’s qualifer, four students from the nine-member team — juniors Mahdi Rashidzada and Andrew Honold, and freshmen Jalal Sawas and Yusra Rashidzada — went up against more experienced debaters from various school districts across Long Island and the state.

“We were all very worried about how the debate would go since we didn’t really know what to expect — after all, it was our first championship debate.”

— Mahdi Rashidzada

With a discussion topic of universal basic income implementation in various countries, Sawas and Yusra Rashidzada won one out of five debates while Honold and Mahdi Rashidzada lost all five of theirs. Every student competed in five rounds on Saturday, and, depending on how well they did, advanced to final rounds on Sunday.

Mahdi Rashidzada said though the team lost, he considers his team’s participation learning experience for the future.

“At first we were all very worried about how the debate would go since we didn’t really know what to expect — after all, it was our first championship debate,” the junior said said, pointing out that the team was assembled at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

In February, the team began preparing for the state competition by meeting after school at each other’s houses two days a week, researching the debate topic, writing speeches and practicing counterarguments in front of adviser and English teacher Brenna Gilroy.

“We really wanted to go in there and win something, but we kind of knew that we shouldn’t expect a win since everyone we went against were amazing debaters [who have been debating since their freshman year],” Rashidzada said. “We hope to improve our rankings by working hard next year.”

He added that he and the rest of the Shoreham students had great camaraderie with other debate teams.

“We became friends with our rivals, so the atmosphere was very enjoyable,” he said.

Honold, who, during the qualifiers at Jericho High School Feb. 10, nabbed first place in the junior division by winning all four of his debates there, also hopes that last month’s competition will have a positive impact on the club moving forward.

“States was sobering for the team. We realized we have a lot of potential going into the future, but we must work over the coming year to have a chance to do better next year.”

— Andrew Honold

“Frankly, we all learned that we have a lot to learn,” he said. “Our performance at states was disappointing, and we expected to do better. We faced a lot of really talented, experienced and disciplined debaters and, for the most part, they outplayed us. Really, states was sobering for the team. We realized we have a lot of potential going into the future, but we must work over the coming year to have a chance to do better next year.”

And by already reaching this high level of competition within its first academic year, the odds are in Shoreham’s favor, especially with all the state qualifiers returning to the team.

In March 2017, two then-sophomores and later club co-captains Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick brought their debate team idea to the board of education. They proposed that such a team, which was unanimously approved, would be beneficial to students with interests in political science or law. They said that by their senior year, they hoped to compete with other schools.

The club’s members, who span all grade levels, have said through debate they learn analytical and public speaking skills, and hone speechwriting and teamwork abilities.

“I learned how to better structure my debate, and overall I feel like I’ve learned how to become a better speaker this year,” Sawas said following the state competition. “I found it crazy that I was going up against the best kids in the state with honestly little experience, [but] I found it fun.”

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River voters have overwhelmingly approved the district’s $74,776,072 budget with 790 voting in favor and 233 against.

Turnout compared to last year’s vote took a significant downturn, as more than 2,000 taxpayers came out to vote last May.

“The district is grateful to the community for their overwhelming support of the proposed budget,” Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Poole said. “With the voter’s approval, this budget will bring a number of educational enhancements and new programs that will continue to prepare our students to achieve great outcomes in today’s ever evolving world. I look forward to our district’s continued progress and welcome our newly elected Board member Mr. Smith and congratulate Mr. Rose on his re-election to the board.”

Rose won back his seat with 772 votes.

“I’m most proud of the bond that was passed several years ago and improvements that have been taking place at all of our buildings,” said Rose, who will be serving his third term. “I’m very fortunate and I’m looking forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the board and the superintendent to continue to make Shoreham-Wading River a great district.”

James Smith ran unopposed and nabbed 767 votes. He will be taking the place of first-year trustee Michael Yannucci, who did not seek re-election.

“I appreciate Mike’s service and the amount of time he has given to the community and the district,” Rose said. “I respect his decision to not run again.”

Yannucci decided to not run again so he could spend more time with his children.

“Despite the fact that we have an uncontested board election this year, residents should continue to stay engaged and attend board meetings,” Yannucci said. His advice to the rest of the board upon leaving was they should look to engage and communicate with district residents. “Even if they don’t have kids in school, their taxes are still affected by our decisions.”

Smith, who ran last year unsuccessfully, has been a Shoreham resident for the past six years and in that time has not hesitated to get involved in the community. The father of four children in the district, he joined the PTA and became its vice president. He has worked with kids as a coach through Sound Beach Soccer Club and Father Joe’s Soccer. Smith said he wants to push for greater psychological and emotional resources for students.

“I’m excited and optimistic — really looking forward to utilizing my professional and personal experience to strengthen our district,” he said. “My goal is to absorb as much as i can especially in the first year. As a district we have a young board of ed who all are very active within our community. I am looking forward to being a part of that for as long as our community stakeholders allow me. This is a way that I can continue to give back to a district that has done so much for my children.”