Authors Posts by Victoria Espinoza

Victoria Espinoza

Victoria Espinoza
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Victoria Espinoza is the editor of the Times of Huntington & Northport. She once broke her elbow trying to eat a cookie.

Fresh produce will make its way to the streets of Kings Park once again as the annual farmers market takes shape with an opening date set for Sunday. Photo from Alyson Elish-Swartz

The market is fresh.

Kings Park’s coveted Farmers Market will start a brand new season on Sunday, June 7, with all of last year’s farmers returning plus some new additions. Founded in 2010, the market boasts everything from locally grown produce, baked goods, fresh fish, goat cheese, olive oil, pickles and more.

One addition includes the St. James-based Saint James Brewery, a craft brewery which specializes in Belgian beer.

Returning farmers market participants also include Thera Farms, from Ronkonkoma, Fink’s Country Farm from Manorville and Monty Breads from Islip Terrace.

There will be multiple festivals held at the market throughout the summer, including a strawberry festival, a corn festival, Oktoberfest, a baking contest and a chili cookout, according to members of the Kings Park civic group helping to organize events.

“This market has brought the town together, while also supporting local agriculture,” said Alyson Elish-Swartz, a member of the Kings Park Civic Association and a chairperson of the farmers market committee said.

The King’s Park Civic Association sponsors this event in partnership with ligreenmarket. Kings Park’s Farmers Market will also spotlight local musicians, as they have done before, with new acts coming this summer. But new this year will be a spotlight on local photographers, with booths featuring photographs from some of Kings Park’s most talented photographers.

Kings Park restaurants will also be hosting cooking demos, where they buy the ingredients from the farmers market and then show fun and fresh dishes residents can make with them. Restaurants like Café Red and Relish have participated in the past, making dishes like fresh watermelon soup.

The Kings Park Farmers Market is open Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., now through November 22, at the municipal lot on Route 25A and Main Street.

The whole idea of the farmers market started when two local residents who didn’t know each other, Ann Marie Nedell and Elish-Swartz, had the same the idea. Sean Lehmann, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, gave Nedell and Elish-Swartz each other’s phone numbers and told them to link up. He asked them to find out more and report back to the civic association.

Elish-Swartz and Nedell pounded the pavement, talking up the idea to community groups and handing out surveys to find out what Kings Park wanted in a farmers market, with free parking high on the list.

The plan took a leap forward when Nedell and Elish-Swartz met Bernadette Martin. Martin is director of Friends and Farmers Inc., a company she started to advocate for small family farms and to bring fresh, local food to Long Islanders. The market first opened in the summer of 2010 and Martin manages it, every Sunday, from June through November.

Susan Risoli contributed reporting.

Robert Pearl will once again take the helm at Norwood Elementary School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Along with freshly sharpened pencils and blank notebooks, the new school year will also bring several administrative changes to Comsewogue schools.

Special education teacher Robert Pearl will be the new principal at Norwood Elementary School, replacing longtime leader Leah Anesta, and James Hilbert, a John F. Kennedy Middle School social studies teacher and part-time dean, will become the new assistant principal at JFK.

The Comsewogue School Board of Education officially approved Pearl and Hilbert on Monday night, along with some other personnel changes, such as giving 15 educators increased work hours for the upcoming school year, with 10 teachers promoted to fulltime positions.

Pearl served a stint as interim principal from September to December, when Norwood Principal Leah Anesta took a leave of absence to care for an ill parent. Now she is retiring, after being with the district for more than 10 years.

Pearl, who has lived in the community for almost two decades, has said he would like to increase the elementary school’s involvement with parents and the community.

Hilbert’s hiring is part of a more complicated switch.

Comsewogue was operating with a dean at the middle school and one at Comsewogue High School, both part-time officials who had teaching responsibilities. Starting next year, to create more flexibility, those dean positions are being replaced with full-time assistant principals.

Bill Bodkin is retiring as the high school’s dean of students after many years, and is being replaced by two assistant principals: Jinu Mathews, who is already on board, and one more who has yet to be hired to replace Pearl, who entered the high school position upon Anesta’s return but will soon leave to once again step into her shoes.

The middle school already had one assistant principal, Theresa Etts, in addition to part-time dean Hilbert, so there will now be two of those full-time staffers at that school.

County Executive Steve Bellone cites increased savings for taxpayers

Steve Bellone, Barry Paul and John Kennedy, Jr. spotted at a recent press event. Photo from Suffolk County

The merger of the offices of Suffolk County treasurer and the Suffolk County comptroller is being moved up by two years — a move Executive Steve Bellone’s office claims will save taxpayers even more money than originally anticipated.

The treasurer’s office will be folded into the comptroller’s office on Jan. 1, 2016 instead of a planned 2018 deadline, and the groundwork for the transition has already begun, with changes in the treasurer’s office implemented as early as January this year.

A whopping 62 percent of Suffolk County voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum to combine the two offices in a vote , and ever since then, plans have been put into action to complete the merger.

Merging the departments is expected to save taxpayers more than $3 million, according to Bellone’s office in a statement. Moving the merger up by two years saves more money because the county can eliminate positions sooner. Also, implementing new human resources software will allow the county to realize more savings.

The merger includes abolishing the treasurer’s position, as well as two deputy treasurer positions. Five positions have already been eliminated from the treasurer’s office. These positions included staff members who had retired or left the office and were not replaced, since the positions were deemed no longer necessary. 

Interim Treasurer Barry Paul has been spearheading the merger, and it is the main reason he was brought into the position. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone nominated Paul to the post when previous Treasurer Angie Carpenter was named Islip Town supervisor and left the office in early January of this year.

Bellone has worked with Paul and Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., whose two offices will become one. However, at first, Kennedy was not in favor of the merger. During Kennedy’s campaign for comptroller last year, he strongly opposed the referendum and the merger.

“I had concerns with the separation of functions and the new oversight of the two offices,” Kennedy said. Once he was elected into office and realized the public’s support for the move at the polls, Kennedy said he altered his point of view.

“I try to be guided by the will of my constituents, and they wanted to see consolidation so I am now on board,” Kennedy said.

Originally the merger was scheduled to be complete in January 2018, since Carpenter’s term as treasurer was from 2015 to 2017. Once Carpenter stepped down, there was an opportunity to bring on Paul and speed up the process.

Previously, Paul was a Bellone staffer, and once he finishes overseeing the merger of the treasurer’s office with the comptroller’s office, he will return to his post there. For Paul, the treasurer appointment was always a short-term assignment.

“All existing personnel from the treasurer’s office will go under Kennedy, and Kennedy has really embraced that,” Suffolk County Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider, who has worked on the merger as well, said in a phone interview. “This merger will save taxpayers money, while delivering better services.”

Another place that the treasurer’s office has been able to save money is with regards to a backlog of providing tax refunds. As of May 14, the backlog tax refunds were reduced by a third, coming down to 7,810, whereas over a month before, the number of backlog tax refunds was 11,830, according to Bellone’s office.

The backlog is expected to be completely eliminated by July, and will save the taxpayers more than a million dollars in reduced interests costs annually.

The new merged office will also host Munis software in the county’s IT system, which will save another $150,000 to $200,000 dollars. Munis is an integrated enterprise resource planning system that manages all core functions, including financials, human resources, citizen services and revenues.

In a statement, Paul said he has been following Bellone’s mandate to make the treasurer’s office as efficient as possible, and is confident in this timeline and the work his office has been doing to save taxpayer dollars.

New York native to start on July 6

MaryEllen Elia succeeds John B. King Jr. as the state’s next education commissioner. Photo from state education department
MaryEllen Elia succeeds John B. King Jr. as the state’s next education commissioner. Photo from state education department

MaryEllen Elia, a former Florida superintendent, will succeed John B. King Jr., as New York’s next education commissioner and local education leaders across the North Shore are anxiously waiting to see if she’ll pass the test.

The New York State Board of Regents formed a seven-member search committee in January to find a replacement for King, who announced he was leaving his seat after accepting a federal senior advisor position to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

For a decade, Elia served as the superintendent of Hillsborough County, Florida, and was named state Superintendent of the Year in 2015. She is credited with much success in Hillsborough, as her district won $100 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help develop a teacher evaluation system that used student standardized test scores as a key factor.

The system, Empowering Effective Teachers, received national praise from Duncan and the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who stated in a press release the system provides extensive support for teachers and pay structure incentivizes teachers to take on more challenging positions.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a press release that Elia has a remarkable record of working collaboratively with parents, students and teachers to get things done, which was crucial to make sure the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards went smoothly for students and teachers in Florida.

Elia is delighted to return back to New York, and said in a press release that she is happy to work on behalf of the children. She still considers herself a teacher at heart, and believes that a good teacher is also a good listener.

The New York native had her first teaching job in Sweet Home Central School District in Amherst, N.Y., where she taught social studies for 16 years. In 1986, when her family moved to Florida, she became a reading teacher for three years and then held various administrative positions in the district until her departure.

During Elia’s 10-year tenure as superintendent of Hillsborough, students have received national recognition for their achievement. Fourth and eighth grade students earned high reading scores than any of the other 22 districts that participated in the 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment.

All of Hillsborough districts public high schools placed on the Washington Post’s list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” in 2012 and 2013.

Former state education Commissioner John B. King Jr. at a community forum. File photo by Erika Karp
Former state education Commissioner John B. King Jr. at a community forum. File photo by Erika Karp

King stepped down last December amidst much controversy, specifically for his methods of implementing the highly controversial Common Core in New York.

Superintendents, politicians and members of the community all found problems with King’s techniques, feeling that the Common Core was rushed into the schools and not given enough time for teachers and students to understand it. Another fault was his background, which lacked any teaching jobs. King was a co-founder of Roxbury Prep, a charter middle school in Massachusetts.

“I was the first to call for his resignation, he developed a hostile approach and seemed oblivious to his role,” New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

Englebright said he hopes Elia will provide a fresh look at the system, and that she’ll bring her background as both a teacher and an administrator to the schools of New York.

One thing is for sure; Elia has her work cut out for her.

“I think she has a monumental task ahead of her, “ Timothy Eagen, Kings Park’s superintendent said. “On Long Island, about 50 percent of students in grades three through eight refused to take the assessments this past year. There is a lot of work to be done.”

Middle Country school district Superintendent Roberta Gerold felt there wasn’t a collaborative culture surrounding the application of the Common Core under King’s tenure.

“There needs to be a responsible conversation, and I don’t think we had that with King, he was reluctant to slow down,” said Gerold, who also serves as president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

Fellow superintendent, Joe Rella, of Comsewogue, said he is desperate for a more collaborative and ongoing conversation.

“This reform dialogue needs to stop, he said. “We need time to examine what has happened. I am optimistic on Elia’s hiring until further notice.”

The superintendent’s prayers may just be answered, as Elia stated that her first item of business as commissioner will be listening to the members of the community, parents, teachers, students and administrators.

Johanna Testa, vice president of the Miller Place Board of Education, said while she is 100 percent happy to see a new commissioner, who has experience teaching in New York, she still has some concerns over Elia’s track record of student test scores being tied to teacher evaluations.

“I’m just not convinced she’s the right person for the job,” Testa said.

Take a bite out of these waterside restaurants

The view at Louie’s in Port Washington. Photo from restaurant staff

Spring ushers in warmer weather and a thirst for the outdoors. And what better way to quench that thirst than by dining outside? Here are a few waterside restaurants to simultaneously satisfy your cravings for beautiful vistas and delicious food.

The Whales Tale
81 Fort Salonga Road, Northport
Only minutes from Northport Village is a small, locally-run restaurant that was created as a local hangout for families and friends. The Whales Tale is meant to be a place where you can grab a bite of quality seafood with a waterfront view without actually paying for a waterfront view. The restaurant brews its own beer, which is a popular item on the menu, as are a local rum punch and the Northport Rocket — a combination of a piña colada and a rum float. The tacos are the most popular item on the menu, especially during the now famous Taco Tuesday, which is a huge hit among locals.

The view at Danfords in Port Jefferson. Photo from restaurant staff
The view at Danfords in Port Jefferson. Photo from restaurant staff

Maple Tree BBQ
820 West Main Street, Riverhead
Maple Tree BBQ offers a taste of the south and is located across the street from the Peconic River. The restaurant serves authentic barbecue food in a fun and casual atmosphere. You can buy food by the pound or by the platter to go, and many customers do this routinely. Not only are there picnic tables set up in front of the Peconic River, but Maple Tree BBQ is also right near Tanger Outlets — making it a great place to grab a bite after shopping, or drop your husband off while you shop. They make their own sweet tea here —a popular item — as well as their pastrami and Cuban sandwich.

Rachel’s Waterside Grill
281 Woodcleft Avenue, Freeport
Situated on Freeport’s famous Nautical Mile,  Rachel’s Waterside Grill offers casual, family-friendly dining paired with delicious, always-fresh seafood and a terrific view. The menu at Rachel’s Waterside Grill is innovative and different, offering a new American cuisine that includes a large selection of fresh fish that can be prepared in a variety of styles, including Korean grilled, blackened, roasted and more, paired with many different types of toppings. The tuna is one of the most popular items on the menu, along with the mussels. There are quite a few favorite cocktails, including the Dark and Stormy, a Bali Punch — a passion fruit punch drink mixed with rum — and an Almond Soy Martini.

Wave Seafood Kitchen
25 E Broadway, Port Jefferson
Wave Seafood Kitchen, located inside Danfords Hotel and Marina, overlooks the Long Island Sound and is located on Port Jefferson’s harbor, one of Long Island’s busiest harbors. This family-friendly restaurant serves fresh seafood, with some of its most popular items including shrimp crab rolls, sea scallops and salmon burgers. You can enjoy dinner inside the restaurant, or on the outdoor deck, sipping cocktails like blackberry sangria, a passion fruit mojito or a large selection of Long Island wines. There’s also a selection of refreshing, non-alcoholic beverages, including raspberry iced tea and a frozen mint chocolate chip drink.

Louie’s Oyster Bar and Grill
395 Main Street, Port Washington
This restaurant, located on Manhasset Bay, offers one of the most beautiful views of the sunset on Long Island. Louie’s also offers boaters the ability to dock and dine for free. Louie’s is more than 100 years old and has undergone quite a few changes throughout its history. With a large selection of always-fresh seafood, items like their oysters tend to be the most popular on the menu. They get fresh oysters every day, and are constantly changing the type of oysters they serve. Their Maine and Connecticut lobster rolls are also popular — Maine rolls are served cold and Connecticut served hot. Louie’s also has a very successful mixologist on staff who designs seasonal cocktail menus, including favorite drinks like a winter sangria, and during the summer, a blood orange margarita.

A sign at Congressman Lee Zeldin’s press conference in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, speaks against standardized testing. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Congressman Lee Zeldin announced to Comsewogue teachers, parents and students on Sunday that he is working on a way to reduce state testing, amid a renewed local push against the standardized exams.

The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act, which Zeldin (R-Shirley) is co-sponsoring, has “strong bipartisan support,” he told the crowd at Comsewogue High School. “This legislation would roll back state-mandated testing to pre-No Child Left Behind levels.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin talks about a bill that would reduce standardized testing during an event in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, as Superintendent Joe Rella looks on. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Congressman Lee Zeldin talks about a bill that would reduce standardized testing during an event in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, as Superintendent Joe Rella looks on. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 required states to create assessments for basic skills in select grade levels. Before the controversial No Child Left Behind, New York State students were tested in both English language arts and math in three different grades, for six total tests. Now students take those exams each year in grades three through eight.

The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act aims to reduce the number of tests to previous levels — so they would be administered once in grades three to five, once in grades six through nine and once in grades 10 through 12 — based on the belief that it would allow for more curriculum flexibility, giving students more time to learn and helping to nurture their creativity.

Gina Rennard, a Comsewogue parent and wife of school board trustee Rick Rennard, has had her children “opt out” of the standardized tests, something many parents have done in opposition to the Common Core Learning Standards and linked state tests.

“These tests are developmentally inappropriate,” Gina Rennard said. “The grades for these tests come out after the students have already gone onto the next education level, therefore the tests have no bearing on their education plan. So why are we torturing them?”

Superintendent Joe Rella hosted the press conference, and said the only goal of testing is “to put public schools out of business and have [charter schools] for profit, because there is nothing about improvement here.”

Rella said he will not stop fighting for change.

The gathering came just a couple of weeks after Rella and Comsewogue school board members considered a proposal to refuse to administer state exams unless the state delivered more education aid and reduced the weight of student test scores on teacher and administrator evaluations. But after the idea created buzz in the community, the officials nixed the proposal on the advice of legal counsel.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella speaks against standardized testing during an event with Congressman Lee Zeldin on Sunday, April 12. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella speaks against standardized testing during an event with Congressman Lee Zeldin on Sunday, April 12. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

State Education Law gives the education commissioner power to remove school officials from office if they willfully disobey rules or regulations, and withhold state aid from schools where such action takes place.

Patchogue-Medford Superintendent Michael Hynes said at the event that the pressure on both students and teachers is far too intense.

“If you look at countries whose education systems are performing well, they are doing the opposite of what we’re doing right now,” Hynes said. The crowd roared in agreement.

Jennifer Jenkins moved her family to Comsewogue because of the schools, but said she is no longer confident in the education her kids are getting.

“To have so much of the curriculum based on the testing forces the teachers to focus on standardized testing as a part of the year’s goal,” she said. “Then the teachers have less of an opportunity to build their own curriculum around what’s best for their individual students.”

Zeldin said he is optimistic about the bill’s future in Congress.

“This is where you hold your elected officials accountable, and we will make sure we are doing everything within our power up in Albany and down in Washington to do it on behalf of these kids.”