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Three Village School District

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Ward Melville High School’s varsity ice hockey team celebrates its Suffolk County championship victory against Smithtown-Hauppauge.

By Desirée Keegan

Mark Devlin was at his son Ryan’s high school graduation ceremony last month and couldn’t believe his ears. As Ward Melville High School’s valedictorian took to the podium, he referenced three state championship teams from the past school year — the field hockey, boys lacrosse and ice hockey teams.

“I almost fell out of my chair,” the former five-year president and general manager of the Ward Melville Ice Hockey Club said, laughing. “They’ve never recognized our hockey club at the high school, and there was a huge roar up in the stands, so it was really cool. Our town is known for lacrosse and now the word is getting out about the hockey team.”

Ward Melville High School’s varsity ice hockey team celebrates its state championship victory against Smithtown-Hauppauge.

Although Devlin, who was also the varsity head coach last year, has since stepped down as president of the club, the soon-to-be varsity assistant coach said it has come a long way from when he took over five years ago, creating a board and turning the 30-year-old organization into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

The varsity team was 1-19 when his son first entered the youth league, and last year, the Patriots became the first team in the Suffolk County High School Ice Hockey League to go undefeated. They also took home the club’s first state championship, which qualified the team for its first national showing.

“This year we told a very different story,” recent graduate and co-captain Zachary Boritz said. “We found out after our last game that we were the first team to go undefeated and I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it. And to make it to states and then to nationals was a dream come true.”

Ward Melville took the ice in Minnesota right before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School team from Florida, the district rocked by a tragic mass shooting in February. The Patriots wore stickers on their helmets that said, “MSD Strong,” the parents of the teams greeted one another, and the Stoneman Douglas kids applauded the Patriots as they took center stage. 

“Most of the time when you watch hockey there are three forwards and two defensemen, and you can clearly see that on the ice, the difference with this team is there were five players out there regardless of what position they played that could score or defend.”

— Greg Kryjak

“It was a horrible tragedy and we hoped to show our support from the guys on Long Island,” Boritz said. “Being on that stage was something else. Out of all of the tournaments and showcases I’ve been to throughout my hockey career, nationals was the best game I’ve ever played in. It was a good challenge.”

Part of the program’s secret is four years ago Devlin created 10- to 12-year-old and 13- to 15-year-old developmental teams. The club also takes in players from the greater Port Jefferson area and Mount Sinai, hoping to expand in the future to create more teams.

“Those teams have taken off,” Devlin said. “Now, I think they’re looking at creating a 7- to 10-year-old team, so from a community aspect we’re getting kids involved in hockey at the lowest levels now.”

Current vice president Greg Kryjak said watching the varsity Patriots excel the way they did was jaw-dropping, especially with a 126-21 goal differential.

“Most of the time when you watch hockey there are three forwards and two defensemen, and you can clearly see that on the ice, the difference with this team is there were five players out there regardless of what position they played that could score or defend,” he said. “It really differentiated them from the rest of the teams.”

This set the stage for a dynamic playoff atmosphere, where Devlin said people had to be turned away as the rink filled with high school classmates and parents. The team bested St. John the Baptist 5-2 and blanked reigning league champion Smithtown-Hauppauge 5-0 in a decisive game three for the Patriots’ first league title. Ward Melville went 4-1 in the state tournament to secure a place in the final game, which the team won 3-0.

“We’re huge with offense — scored a lot of goals this year,” Boritz said. “It wasn’t just the first line — every single line all the way to the fourth line, everyone was contributing, which was great to see because a few years prior it wasn’t really like that.”

Ward Melville High School’s varsity ice hockey team celebrates its state championship victory against Smithtown-Hauppauge.

Co-captain Brendan Callow was also recognized by Devlin as being a big playmaker out on the ice, especially when some of the other major contributors were out with injuries.

“He won games almost single handily, and he’s the most humble, high-character kid you’d ever meet,” the coach said. “If I had to pick one kid, he’s the guy who when we needed a big goal or we needed something going on, he did it. He was also an extension of the coaching staff. Because he’s such a great player and a great guy, the rest of the team looked up to him.”

Blanking Smithtown 5-0 was significant for the team, after Ward Melville lost in devastating fashion to the Bulls in the state finals two years ago with 2.1 seconds left in a decisive game three.

“That was one of the most heart wrenching losses we’ve ever had,” said Devlin, who was an assistant at the time. “They’ve been our nemesis. It was thrilling to beat them.”

He said he was also feeling so many different emotions at the time of the win because his son was one of 13 seniors on the squad, and because he’d been coaching 10 of the upperclassmen since they were 5 years old.

“They’re second and third sons to me — I’ve watched them grow up,” Devlin said. “Their work ethic, their accountability, their love for each other, no one wanted to let the guy next to them down. To watch these seniors go out on top like that, it was a fairytale ending. I couldn’t have written a better script.”

Photos courtesy of Ward Melville Ice Hockey

This post was updated July 18 to correct Ward Melville’s record in the state tournament.

From left, Eliana Sasson, Nicole Freeley, Rebecca Blumenthal, Samuel Kim

On Monday evening, April 23, Emma Clark Library, the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, local elected officials, representatives from the Three Village Central School District and guests from the community gathered to honor the winners of the fourth annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Award.

At the ceremony in the Vincent R. O’Leary Community Room, Library Director Ted Gutmann, along with the family of Helen Stein Shack, presented all of the winners a bound copy of their book. In addition, the books will be added to the library’s Local Focus Collection.

 A $400 scholarship was awarded to first-prize winner Rebecca Blumenthal of R.C. Murphy Jr. High School for her children’s book, “Racing Star,” and Ward Melville High School student Nicole Freeley for her book titled “Wally’s Wild Ride.” 

A $100 check for second prize was awarded to P.J. Gelinas Jr. High School student Eliana Sasson for her book “This Is How I Can Help! 10 Ways I Can Help My Community!” and Ward Melville High School student Samuel Kim for his informative children’s book, “Freddy the Fish and His First Election Day.” 

Gutmann explained that the event “really helps us to showcase the wonderful talent we have here, and we thank the authors and their parents for encouraging that and being here tonight.”

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), and Carol Nucci [representing Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport)] spoke at the event, and the winners also received certificates from Flanagan, Hahn and Cartright.  

Library Board Treasurer Deborah Blair and Trustee Richard Russell were there to congratulate the winners and Three Village school district BOE President William Connors, Assistant Superintendent Kevin Scanlon, Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum, Ward Melville High School Librarian April Hatcher, Murphy Jr. High School English Department Chair Cathy Duffy and Murphy Jr. High School Librarian Betsy Knox were all in attendance.

The Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Contest called for teens in grades 7 through 12 who live in the Three Village Central School District to create a children’s picture book. Each entry could be the work of a single author/illustrator or a collaborative effort of an author and an illustrator. The award is given in memory of Helen Stein Shack by her family.  

“As Ms. Shack clearly knew, children’s literature does a lot for the community, as well as the young children themselves. It helps to promote brain development, it helps to promote language development, literacy skills, as well as creating an important bonding moment for families,” said Cartright.

Two of the grandsons of the late Helen Stein Shack also spoke at the ceremony. Regan Kelly flew all the way from California for the event. Tamir Taylor grew up in Three Village and attended Murphy Jr. High School and Ward Melville High School.  

“A lot of people thank us a lot for creating this event,” mentioned Taylor. “But we really want to thank you guys because our grandmother, mother, was really important to us and by you guys participating and making this event happen and the library for making this happen, you guys give us the opportunity to remember and honor her, which is really special to us.”

The Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Award brings together a large part of the Three Village community — the library, school district, local elected officials, teenagers and their families and all of the children that read these books. As Hahn remarked, “What a great way to encourage teenagers to think about … what’s important to them and how to express that in a way that will resonate with children.”  

 

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Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

Two students in Three Village Central School District were schooled on what not to post online.

On the morning of March 14, before high school students staged a walkout joining teens across the nation to demand stricter gun legislation, the administrative staff at Ward Melville High School was notified of a social media posting allegedly made by a student. The posting was a cause for concern, according to an email to parents from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich. The student was removed from school and the Suffolk County Police Department was notified.

Later that afternoon, parents received another email from Pedisich. The superintendent said in the message the SCPD closed the investigation after concluding “the posting was a foolish decision and a lack of proper judgment by the individual.”

The school district sent a message once again the morning of March 15. The administrative staff was notified of another concerning post allegedly made by a student. Later in the day, Pedisich notified parents that the SCPD determined there was no credible threat to the safety or security of students and staff.

“As part of their investigation, the police were informed that the photo in question had originally been shared privately with another individual and subsequently posted publicly online by an additional third party,” Pedisich wrote in the email.

In the notification, the superintendent shared advice when it comes to posting on social media, asking parents to remind students to think twice when it comes to what they share digitally.

“In light of today’s and yesterday’s incidents, I cannot stress enough the importance of creating a heightened sense of awareness for the appropriate and proper use of social media and other communication devices,” Pedisich wrote. “Students need to understand that what is shared digitally — whether it be via text, Facebook, Instagram or any other medium — is not private. Those thoughts, photos and comments that are shared can be and are often seen, shared and interpreted by anyone, anywhere and at any time.”

The superintendent wrote that while it was disheartening to have to issue two concurrent messages about students’ inappropriate postings, she was grateful for those who brought the matters to the district’s attention.

“Our parents and all residents are an integral part in helping to ensure that our safety and security is not compromised,” she wrote, “I continue to encourage anyone who sees, hears or notices something suspicious to inform the district immediately.”

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

Three Village school district has officially made a decision on whether or not to allow students to participate in a walkout.

Ward Melville Principal Alan Baum informed student organizers March 9 the district could not allow students to walk out March 14, according to Bennett Owens, one of the organizers. Parents were notified by the district in a letter later that day.

Students were planning to participate in the walkout held in conjunction with events across the nation honoring the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and to call for stricter gun control laws. Parents and students were told it was a joint decision by the board of education, principal and district’s lawyer to not encourage the walkout. Owens said the main concern cited at the March 9 meeting with the principal was the district feeling it couldn’t keep the students safe during the walkout.

“My whole thing is I’m not going to not do what I believe in out of fear of someone being violent, because that’s really why we’re protesting,” Owens said, adding that he plans to walkout regardless of the district’s decision. “We’re protesting the fact that we’re not safe in school.”

At the end of the school day March 9, the school district released a letter from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and board of education President William Connors. Various discussions were held with students and staff to find the best ways to students participate in what has been called the #Enough movement, according to the letter.

“As a result of these discussions and with the guidance of our legal counsel, our district will not be encouraging or condoning a walkout involving students exiting the building or leaving campus,” the letter read. “We feel that this type of demonstration would not only disrupt the educational program but would severely compromise our mission to ensure building security and student safety.”

In the letter, the district also informed parents that any student who leaves the building without authorization will be asked to return to class. Parents will be contacted if their children disregard the direction, and students who are disrespectful or disorderly will be subjected to the district’s code of conduct.

As an alternate to a walkout, the district is offering voluntary activities March 14 for high school and junior high school students, according to the letter from Pedisich and Connors. There will be a moment of silence at the high school and both junior high schools. A forum moderated by instructional staff and supervised by administrators will be held in the Ward Melville auditorium for interested students to discuss issues connected to the #Enough movement. R. C. Murphy Junior High School students will have the opportunity to write letters to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, and P.J. Gelinas junior high schoolers can gather in the gymnasium during fourth period to hear student government leaders read memoriam notes and listen to a brief music interlude.

“It is our hope that our planned activities will afford our students the opportunity to pay respects, offer reflection and appropriately respond to honor the victims of the tragedy,” the letter read.

The decision comes a week after students interested in participating in a walkout sat with Baum to discuss their plans. Both Owens and fellow organizers were optimistic, saying the principal was receptive to their ideas; suggested changing walking out of the main entrance to the gym entrance, feeling it would be safer; and said participants would not receive disciplinary action.

Owens said he was disappointed with the district’s final decision.

“I just think a walkout at 10 a.m. when schools nationally are doing it — this was the most impactful way to get our message across,” Owens said.

Owens said he and other organizers plan to continue promoting the event on the Instagram account wmhs_walkout, but will advise fellow students they may face repercussions. Planning to attend Binghamton University in the fall, Owens said he’s not worried about any disciplinary actions that may follow the peaceful walkout after seeing a post on the college’s Instagram account, binghamtonu. The university posted: “Binghamton University will not change admissions decisions for students who are involved in peaceful protests addressing gun violence.”

Stony Brook University followed a similar policy, and posted a message to its Facebook page Feb. 26. “We have received inquiries from prospective and admitted students asking us if their admissions application will be negatively viewed if they have protested,” the statement read. “At Stony Brook University, a disciplinary action associated with meaningful, peaceful participation in a protest will not negatively impact an admissions decision. We would not view it as inappropriate or lacking integrity on its face. We view every disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.”

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As another school year drew to a close, the final Three Village school board meeting of 2016-17 brought news of security enhancements and the district’s third phase of spending for its Smart Schools Bond allocation.

The Smart Schools Bond, an initiative approved by New York voters in 2014, allocated $2 billion to public schools across the state for education technology, preschool classrooms and security.

Three Village received $3.39 million from the fund, which is being spent on hardware, equipment and infrastructure. Speaking at the district’s final meeting for the school year, safety and security coordinator Jack Blaum said that the final phase of spending — about $1 million — will include an upgrade to security cameras, digital video recorder storage and card key access devices.

The district will convert cameras it already has on its properties from analogue to digital, Blaum said. Besides those cameras, located both in the interior and on the exterior of district buildings, officials plan additional digital security cameras at each school and will install wireless cameras at the two junior high schools to monitor the athletic fields. There is already a surveillance system for the fields at the high school.

To accommodate all of the new cameras, new DVR units will be purchased for the district’s schools. Blaum said the upgrades will also boost the number of key card readers at doors for faculty and staff at all schools, the North Country Administration Building and the old administration building on Nicolls Road. He said that there will also be additional ID scanners in building vestibules to produce visitor badges.

He discussed turning the old administration building into a command center where cameras and security vehicles could be monitored.

For Phase 1 of the Smart Schools Bond, money, about $1.2 million, has been budgeted for upgrading network infrastructure. Phase 2, recently outlined in April, will see the district spending about $1 million on classroom technology and on the district’s one-to-one device program that will provide notebook computers to junior high students.

The plan was posted to the district’s website for a 30-day period to allow residents to comment. The 30-day comment period has now passed, and the district is currently in the process of submitting the plan to the New York State Education Department for approval.

While the district still awaits approval of the first two phases of spending, he anticipates that many of the security requests will be “fast-tracked.”

Coordinating security within the district is like running a small city, Blaum said.

“All the infrastructure is great but, again, the support of all the staff and all the students are crucial,” he said.

Debuting gender-neutral green gowns, accented with gold stoles, Ward Melville High School’s graduating seniors took their places in front of the school’s clock tower Sunday.

A satisfying cap to the Three Village school district’s 50th year, more than 600 students received diplomas at the commencement ceremony.

Ward Melville’s principal Dr. Alan Baum reminded those in the class of 2017 that they come from a 50-year tradition of greatness and will continue the tradition because they are “unbounded and unlimited.”

Salutatorian Isabelle Scott and Valedictorian Kirti Nath celebrated the individual gifts of their classmates.

“There is no person here without accomplishment today,” Scott said. “Parents, faculty, our victory is yours, too.”

The salutatorian urged her classmates to be true to themselves.

“I hope, if nothing else, that you do the things to make yourself proud,” she said. “Your life deserves nothing less.”

Nath encouraged her classmates to look on their mistakes as opportunities to move forward or gain strength.

“We don’t have to pretend that everything in high school is easy, because that’s what makes today so uniquely special,” she said. “And even though you may not have realized it at the moment, every fall was indeed a fall forward, moving us closer to success — and, if not success, then strength.”

The class gift — additional picnic tables for the football field — was presented by Brandon Cea, student government president.

Three Village school board president, William F. Connors, had advice for the soon-to-be graduates.

“I urge you to work hard, work to your potential and believe in yourself,” Connors said.

Incumbents Irene Gische, Jeff Kerman and Inger Germano are running unopposed for their seats back on the Three Village board of education.

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village residents have overwhelmingly approved the school district’s proposed $204.4 million budget for the coming year.

At the polls Tuesday, 1,708 voted for the budget, while 719 voted against.

Incumbents Dr. Jeffrey Kerman, Irene Gische and Inger Germano, who all ran unopposed, will retain their seats.

The 2017-18 budget, a 2.77 percent increase over the previous year, covers academic enhancements, staffing changes and maintenance projects at the district’s buildings. The most notable additions are the free prekindergarten program for four-year-olds, a drug and alcohol counselor to work with students and their families, and a supervisor of technology and information systems to help oversee next year’s initiative to provide all junior high students with notebook computers.

The three board trustees, each going into a third three-year term, acknowledged the challenges of the cap on the tax levy and the controversy over Common Core in the past few years, but look to the future with optimism.

Kerman has said that in the next three years he wants to “continue to have our district advance and to educate all of our students — the entire range, from special education students to Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists.”

“All in all,” Gische said at a previous meeting, “the district is thriving in spite of the tax cap.”

She cited the addition of the free preschool and the drug and alcohol counselor as continued signs of progress, and said she will continue to support the prekindergarten and additional program and curriculum enhancements.

Germano also cited the preschool — as well as the Three Village Academy, which opened in 2013 — as recent district successes and pointed out that the Academy is a source of revenue through tuition from non-district students. She will “continue to ensure that Three Village maintains academic excellence” while staying fiscally responsible and “putting the needs of the children first,” she added in an email.

This year, because of safety concerns, voting took place at the three secondary schools instead of the elementary schools. Though voter turnout was lower than in past years, district officials interpreted it as a sign of residents’ satisfaction. The absence of additional propositions, like last year’s for transportation, and an uncontested school board election, may also have contributed to the lower turnout, they said. 

However, with 70 percent voting in favor of the budget, the message from residents was still clear.

“The community has shown their approval and support and we couldn’t be more pleased,” Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said.

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.

A free prekindergarten class will replace SCOPE preschool at Nassakeag Elementary School. File photo

By Andrea Paldy

In the not-so-distant past, budget season meant looking for places to trim. Now, as the Three Village school district looks ahead to the 2017-18 school year, it actually is making plans to add new programs.

Though the current projected increase in state aid, according to the governor’s proposal, is very small — $247,000 — Three Village will not need to cut programs to stay within the 3.40 percent cap on the tax levy increase, Jeffrey Carlson, the assistant superintendent of business services, said.

2017-18 Budget Facts

  • 3.40 percent tax levy increase cap
  • $247,000 in additional state aid
  • Additions include junior high math centers, drug alcohol counselor, free pre-k
  • 7th through 9th graders will receive notebook computers to use at home and at school

Junior high math centers and a certified drug and alcohol counselor are among the additions for the new school year, along with a free district-run prekindergarten that will replace the current SCOPE preschool at Nassakeag Elementary School.

However, not everyone is on board with the preschool. Three Village resident and parent Christine Segnini said during last week’s school board meeting that she was perplexed by the district’s decision to use “taxpayer money to support a non-mandated grade like pre-K.”

“We are not a district of low socio-economic status,” Segnini said. “We are not a district having our incoming kindergarteners ill-prepared and lacking in preschool experience. I fear that this high-ticket, non-state mandated item will indeed sink your budget.”

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that though preschool is not currently mandated, she could see both kindergarten and prekindergarten being mandated in the future. She also added that there are students in the district who enter kindergarten without preschool.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to catch those children and bring them in so that they will have a level playing field and opportunity to get the early intervention that is critical for them to be successful,” Pedisich said.

While the administration has budgeted for five preschool teachers — three would be reassigned from the elementary level due to declining enrollment and two would be hired — the district would only need all five teachers if the program hits capacity at 200 students. With only 53 students signed up so far, Pedisich does not anticipate the need for a lottery. Each teacher will instruct a morning session and an afternoon session with 20 students per class.

The decision to hire a certified drug and alcohol counselor was made to address an “issue of highest importance,” the superintendent said.

“We are not a district having our incoming kindergarteners ill-prepared and lacking in preschool experience. I fear that this high-ticket, non-state mandated item will indeed sink your budget.”

—Christine Segnini

“I’m not going to be one of the superintendents that says we don’t have a drug problem in Three Village,” she said, noting that drugs are a problem across the country.

The district will be prepared to offer help to students and their families, even providing services in the home, if necessary, Pedisich said.

The only addition to the administrative staff will be a supervisor of technology and information systems, Pedisich said. With the $3.4 million in Smart Schools Bond Act money that has been awarded to Three Village, the district will introduce one-to-one devices in the junior highs. It means that students in grades 7 through 9 will receive their own notebook computers to use at home and at school. The new technology supervisor will oversee the pilot program, which would eventually expand to the high school, Pedisich said.

Including the possible two new preschool teachers, the district could add a total of 3.05 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions at the elementary level for the coming year. Art would decrease by .15 because of declining enrollment, but .1 FTE would be added to both physical education and health. One FTE will be added for special education, based on individualized education program (IEP) enrollment. Fourth grade chorus will be added, but without an increase of staff,  Pedisich said.

The secondary schools will see a net increase of 1.15 full-time equivalent positions to cover a new math center during lunch, daily band and orchestra at the junior highs. New electives such as public speaking and local history will be introduced at the junior highs. The high school math department will introduce differential equations to follow multivariable calculus, which students take after completing AP calculus.

The budget vote will be on May 16, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For security reasons, all voting will take place at the secondary schools, Carlson said. Since state election law prohibits screening, it is easier to keep voters contained to polling areas at the secondary schools, he said.

Residents who usually vote at W.S. Mount Elementary School will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High. Those zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Setauket Elementary School voters will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High.

Student representative Brandon Cea discusses Ward Melville's graduation gown controversy during a board meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

To some, tradition is at stake. To others, the issue is about inclusion and sensitivity. Yet another group wonders, why the fuss about a graduation gown?

And, that sums up the furor that continues following an announcement of a new, gender-neutral, green gown and gold stole for Ward Melville High School seniors. Proposed as a symbol of inclusion and sensitivity, the decision has instead ignited division. 

Board President William Connors weighs in on Ward Melville’s graduation gown controversy at a board meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

Two weeks ago, the news that female graduates would no longer march in gold and their male counterparts green, produced a flurry of activity on social media, petitions and protests.

Last week’s school board meeting offered yet another venue for people to express opposition and support about the topic, bringing out speaker after speaker.

“I could not care less what color gown my daughter wears,” said parent Christine Gacovino, whose daughter graduates in June.

The mother said she was most upset by what she saw as the underlying sentiment of those opposed to the change. The reaction indicated “that we have a serious problem with sensitivity in this district,” she said.“Sensitivity and acceptance are so important.” Senior Robert Brando said that for a decision that was meant to unite and include, he feels “anything but included.”

It is “more than just the color of the cloth,” said Brandon Cea, a senior and student representative to the board.

“The issue has come to represent tradition, the rights of the LGTBQ community and the perceived lack of communication between students and administration,” Cea said in a prepared statement.

Ward Melville High School principal Alan Baum, who was in attendance at the meeting, laid out his rationale for the change in a March 2 letter: “In addition to creating a unified senior class, it is our hope that creating a unifying color scheme will eliminate the anxiety that is caused by forcing a young adult to wear a gown that labels them differently from how they identify.”

The prevailing sentiment of parents and students speaking against the new gowns was that they were not “anti-anything.” They simply wanted to honor tradition and democracy, they said. As well, there should have been more discussion with students and the community about the change, they said.

In the wake of the protests, Cea told the school board that the student leadership had met to “establish a new tradition, a tradition where we are Patriots.” Ward Melville students, he said, are proposing the establishment of a student council and a schedule of town hall meetings, so students can express opinions and ask questions about school policy.

“Together, we need to understand the issues on both sides and not allow meaningful conversation to be lost.”

— Brandon Cea

“Together, we need to understand the issues on both sides and not allow meaningful conversation to be lost,” Cea said.

Speaking on behalf of the school board, President William Connors acknowledged that while Baum’s intentions were good, his “rollout” could have been improved through better communication and community involvement.

“The process for these types of decisions will be addressed and solidified to assure that this type of incident does not occur again,” Connors said.

Baum has arranged for female students to retake their senior pictures in the green gowns they will wear for graduation. The photography company has agreed to do the pictures without charging the students or the district.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich was conciliatory.

“It disheartens me to see our school district divided,” she said. “I never want to see that. Our students are precious to us. They are so incredibly valued.

“I’m sorry that the students didn’t have a voice. They should have, absolutely, but now is the time for this district to move forward. I’m imploring you to come together and move forward, because that’s what we need to do.”

This version corrects a previously inaccurate statement. Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum did attend the meeting.

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