Education

Beginning of the ‘color run’ at Ward Melville High School. Photo courtesy the Three Village School District’s Instagram

By Katherine Kelton

On Saturday, May 4, the Ward Melville Parent Teacher Student Association hosted a Star Wars-themed color run. The event welcomed all members of the Three Village Community, including all ages, from 2 to 4 p.m. for a one-and-a-half mile run around the perimeter of Ward Melville High School. Younger children ran a shorter quarter-mile lap around the track field. 

The full course went through the woods, the back parking lot, the front of the school, and back onto the track field where it began. Complementary water bottles were given to runners after finishing. 

Assistant Principal Michael Jantzen along with parent and staff volunteers ran the event. Students from the new T.E.A.M W.A.R.D club, targeting emotional and mental wellness and recovery development, also worked at the event. 

One T.E.A.M W.A.R.D member, junior Jason Stiles, shared, “Working at the event was a great experience. I got to throw color powder at runners and make them smile.”

Students were stationed at various points throughout the course with colored powder to toss at the runners. Star Wars-themed music also played to pay homage to the “May the Fourth Be With You” holiday. 

Upon check-in, runners received a white event-labeled T-shirt that cost $20 along with registration. The proceeds of the event went directly back to the students. “Knowing that the color run was going toward a good cause, in the senior scholarship fund, felt good helping out,” Stiles said.

“The turnout was great. I didn’t expect to see as many young kids, but a lot of middle school and high school kids showed up as well,” Soraya Masrour, a student who participated in the run said. 

Many kids stayed after the run to play in colored powder and run around the football field. The weather was incredibly nice, making it the perfect day to get outside and active. 

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Mallie Jane Kim

Three Village Central School District is attempting more advanced budget planning, but that may be easier said than done. Discussions at the May 8 Board of Education budget hearing highlighted the complications and uncertainties districts face in trying to look ahead.

After a presentation of the $236.1 million district budget for 2024-25, which is up for vote on May 21, the board returned to the recent hot topic of building out a five-year budget plan. Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon indicated that he gave trustees a document looking forward to upcoming district needs considering state mandates likely coming down the pike, including electrification of school buses, mandatory universal pre-K and 3-year-old pre-K.

But projecting finances is another matter.

“There’s factors that, like this year, it’s a gamble,” Scanlon said, referring to the threat earlier in the spring of losing $9 million in state aid funds that did not happen. 

Other uncertainties include fluctuating costs in vital areas like health insurance, security and transportation, changes in salaries negotiated every few years and the new unreliability of state aid.

Trustee Karen Roughley, one of the board members who has pushed for advanced planning, noted that any such plan would be something of a guess.

“We need to understand what the financial impact is, but we also need to understand that that’s going to be generalizations,” Roughley said. “You’re never going to get down to the dollar on what our budget is going to look like, but we can have an idea of what we want to do.”

Even planning year to year has challenges, for instance, special education or English language learning services could arise at any time, as Deputy Superintendent Jeffrey Carlson noted.

“We always know there’s going to be additional needs that we don’t even know yet,” Carlson said, noting that if a family moves into the district with needs, those services are mandated. “We can’t say, ‘Well, sorry we don’t have the money budgeted.’ We have to find the money in the budget for that.”

Scanlon added that for 2024-25 school year, the district already knows of 37 students, which he said is more than 10% of the incoming kindergarten class, who will be in self-contained special education classes this fall.

Extrapolating all of that out to plan five years ahead brings in even more unknowns. Trustee Shaorui Li pointed to the fact that the tax cap changes each year, based on a state formula that doesn’t always reflect inflation accurately.

“Whenever we have high inflation, I’m sure something is being sacrificed,” she said.

Budget facts

The $236.1 million budget facing voters stays within the state’s mandated 2.84% tax levy increase and therefore requires a simple majority vote to pass. 

Carlson noted the budget includes $3 million in capital improvement projects, which will fund adjustments to the high school to accommodate adding ninth grade in 2025. Other capital projects on the docket include bathroom renovations and ongoing asbestos abatement. New York State reimburses the district for 66% of these capital improvement costs over time, according to Carlson.

He added that he expects a large number of retirements over the next few years, something that, brain drain aside, saves the district money. According to district data, this year’s number of retirements is up to 75, including 33 teachers and five administrators, and about 131 employees are coming up on their first retirement eligibility. 

“It would create tremendous financial opportunities for the district,” Carlson said of future retirements. “Whether that be to add programs, or to simply fund more reserves, start putting money in capital reserves or maybe not increase the tax levy as much, all of those are the opportunities that will be coming.”

Three open board of education seats

Voters will also select three trustees for next year’s school board. At a PTA Meet the Candidates night, May 9, candidates were asked to share something they wished the budget had accomplished.

Stanley Bak indicated he wished some slice of any extra money found through budget adjustments would go toward decreasing the tax levy, rather than getting absorbed by other areas of the budget. “I would have liked to see some acknowledgement that taxpayers exist within the district,” he said. “Our enrollment has been going down for some time, and our taxes keep going up.”

For Amitava Das, secondary school start times would’ve been his priority. “All the evidence points that school should start later,” he said. “If the budget was the only thing that stopped late start to school being implemented, I wish that weren’t the case, and that we had found the funds to do so.”

Current board member Shaorui Li acknowledged that she, too, is concerned about the budget but pointed out that Three Village is on par or better in per-student spending when compared to Syosset and Jericho school districts, which she called out as other “very good” school districts in the area. Elsewhere in the evening, she emphasized the importance of the variety of programs available for students. “If we keep under the cap, that is OK for us,” she said. “Making it lower will just lose our advantage and standing as a very good school district.”  

Susan Rosenzweig, also an incumbent, said she would have preferred rebuilding funds in accounts set aside for a rainy day. “I wish we could have repaid the money we borrowed from ourselves to stay open during COVID, and begun to really build up those reserves,” she said, adding that she believes the state should change regulations to allow districts to build reserves even higher than current limits. “If the state’s allowed to, we should be allowed to, as well.”

The two top candidates will each win three-year full terms, and the candidate who receives the third-most votes will fill the one year remaining on a term left open last year by a board member who had to resign for personal reasons. 

Residents can vote Tuesday, May 21, at Ward Melville High School from 6 a.m. through 9 p.m. Early and absentee ballots are also available through the district.

125 graduates of the Renaissance School of Medicine (RSOM) at Stony Brook University received their MD degrees in 2024. Photo by Arthur Fredericks

By Daniel Dunaief

On May 14, the Renaissance School of Medicine celebrated 50 years since its first graduating class, as 125 students entered the ranks of medical doctor.

The newly minted doctors completed an unusual journey that began in the midst of Covid-19 and concluded with a commencement address delivered by former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Fauci currently serves as Distinguished University Professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and the McCourt School of Public Policy and also serves as Distinguished Senior Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

“I have been fortunate to have had the privilege of delivering several commencement addresses over the years,” Dr. Fauci began. “Invariably, I have included in those addresses a reference to the fact that I was in your shoes many years ago when I graduated from medical school.”

This graduating class, however, has gone through a journey that “has been exceptional and, in some cases unprecedented,” Dr. Fauci added.

Indeed, the Class of 2024 started classes remotely, learning a wide range of course online, including anatomy.

“Imagine taking anatomy online?” Dr. Bill Wertheim, interim Executive Vice President for Stony Brook Medicine, said in an interview. “Imagine how challenging that is.”

Dr. Wertheim was pleased with the willingness, perseverance and determination of the class to make whatever contribution they could in responding to the pandemic.

The members of this class “were incredibly engaged. They rolled up their sleeves and pitched in wherever they could to help the hospital manage the patients they were taking care of,” said Wertheim, which included putting together plastic gowns when the school struggled to find supplies and staffing respite areas.

“Hats off to them” for their continued zeal and enthusiasm learning amid such challenges, including social issues that roiled the country during their medical training, Wertheim said.

Student experience

For Maame Yaa Brako, who was born in Ghana and moved to Ontario, Canada when she was 11, the beginning of medical school online was both a blessing and a curse.

Starting her medical education remotely meant she could spend time with the support system of her family, which she found reassuring.

At the same time, however, she felt removed from the medical community at the Renaissance School of Medicine, which would become her home once the school was able to lift some restrictions.

For Brako, Covid provided a “salient reminder” of why she was studying to become a doctor, helping people with challenges to their health. “It was a constant reminder of why this field is so important.”

Brako appreciated her supportive classmates, who provided helpful links with studying and answered questions.

Despite the unusual beginning, Brako feels like she is “super close” to her fellow graduates.

Brako was thrilled that Dr. Fauci gave the commencement address, as she recalled how CNN was on all the time during the pandemic and he became a “staple in our household.”

Brako will continue her medical training with a residency at Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where she will enter a residency in obstetrics and gynecology.

Mahesh Tiwari, meanwhile, already had his feet under him when medical school started four years ago. Tiwari, who is going to be a resident in internal medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, earned his bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook.

He was able to facilitate the transition to Long Island for his classmates, passing along his “love for the area,” recognizing the hidden gems culturally, musically and artistically, he said.

After eight years at Stony Brook, Tiwari suggested he would miss a combination of a world-class research institution with an unparalleled biomedical education. He also enjoyed the easy access to nature and seascapes.

A look back

Until 1980, Stony Brook didn’t have a hospital, which meant that the medical students had to travel throughout the area to gain clinical experience.

“Students were intrepid, traveling all across Long Island, deep into Nassau County, Queens and New York City,” said Wertheim.

In those first years, students learned the craft of medicine in trailers, as they awaited the construction of buildings.

Several graduates of Stony Brook from decades ago who currently practice medicine on Long Island shared their thoughts and perspective on this landmark graduation.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, graduated from Stony Brook Medical School in 1983.

In the early years, the students were an “eclectic group who were somewhat different than the typical medical school students,” which is not the case now, Nachman said.

When Nachman joined the faculty at Stony Brook, the medical school didn’t have a division of pediatric infectious diseases. Now, the group has four full time faculty with nurse practitioners.

The medical school, which was renamed the Renaissance School of Medicine in 2018 after more than 100 families at Renaissance Technologies made significant donations, recognizes that research is “part of our mission statement.”

Stony Brook played an important role in a number of medical advances, including Dr. Jorge Benach’s discovery of the organism that causes Lyme Disease.

Stony Brook is “not just a medical school, it’s part of the university setting,” added Nachman. “It’s a hospital, it has multiple specialties, it’s an academic center and it’s here to stay. We’re not just the new kids on the block.”

Departments like interventional radiology, which didn’t exist in the past, are now a staple of medical education.

Dr. David Silberhartz, a psychiatrist in Setauket who graduated in 1980, appreciated the “extraordinary experience” of attending medical school with a range of people from different backgrounds and experiences. He counts three of the members of his class, whom he met his first day, as his best friends.

Silberhartz, who planned to attend commencement activities, described the landmark graduation as a “wonderful celebration.”

Aldustus Jordan III spent 43 years at the medical school, retiring as Associate Dean for Student Affairs in January 2019.

While he had the word “dean” in his title, Jordan suggested that his job was to be a “dad” to medical students, offering them an opportunity to share their thoughts, concerns and challenges.

As the school grew from a low of 18 students to a high of 150 in 2021, Jordan focused on keeping the small town flavor, so students didn’t become numbers.

“I wanted to make sure we kept that homey feeling, despite our growth,” said Jordan.

Jordan suggested that all medical schools recognize the need for doctors not only knowing their craft, but also having the extra touch in human contact.

“We put our money where our mouth is,” Jordan said. “We put a whole curriculum around that” which makes a difference in terms of patient outcomes.

Jordan urged future candidates to any medical school, including Stony Brook, to speak with people about their experiences and to use interviews as a chance to speak candidly with faculty.

“When you have down time, you have to enjoy the environment, you have to enjoy where you live,” Jordan said.

As for his own choice of doctors, Jordan has such confidence in the education students receive at Stony Brook that he’s not only a former dean, but he’s also a patient.

His primary care physician is a SBU alumni, as is his ophthalmologist.

“If I can’t trust the product, who can?” Jordan asked.

As for Fauci, in addition to encouraging doctors to listen and be prepared to use data to make informed decisions, he also suggested that students find ways to cultivate a positive work life balance.

“Many of you will be in serious and important positions relatively soon,” Fauci said. “There are so many other things to live for and be happy about. Reach for them and relish the joy.”

Photo courtesy of NYS OPWDD

Partnership Offers Microcredentials Through the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals for Current and Aspiring Direct Support Professionals at SUNY Campuses Statewide

The New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and The State University of New York (SUNY) joined with Farmingdale State College and developmental disabilities service providers Community Mainstreaming Associates, Developmental Disabilities Institute, Epic Long Island, Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Life’s WORC, The Center for Developmental Disabilities, Inc., and Viability today to celebrate the success of its Direct Support Professionals Microcredential Program. Officials were on hand to acknowledge 26 students from the first cohort who are graduating this month. Enrollment for a second cohort is happening now.

The SUNY Microcredential program, a partnership between The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, SUNY and OPWDD, provides training that leads to national certification in the distinct skills and competencies required of today’s direct support professionals. The Direct Support Professional Microcredential opportunity is being offered at 19 participating SUNY colleges throughout the state. Direct Support Professionals who are enrolled in the program report feeling empowered to make decisions and employ best practices on the job, while preparing to take the next steps in their careers.

NYS OPWDD Commissioner Kerri Neifeld said, “The response from DSPs who want to participate in this professional development opportunity has been tremendous and is a testament to what we know to be true – the field of direct support needs and deserves a career pathway that honors the skills and best practices that these professionals bring to their jobs every day. Thank you to our SUNY partner Farmingdale State, Chancellor King and the providers who are helping their employees to take these next steps in their career. New York State is a leader in this effort and DSPs who are earning credentials from the NADSP SUNY Microcredential Program should feel proud to be a part of this movement to professionalize the field.”

SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. said, “SUNY is committed to increasing upward mobility for all New Yorkers and this program does just that. The high demand for the Direct Support Professionals Microcredential Program shows that more individuals, whether working in the field already or not, want to provide vital care to New Yorkers in need, and want to improve their skills at doing so. The success of the program has opened up more opportunities for DSPs across SUNY, including at Farmingdale State College, and I couldn’t be more excited.”

CEO of The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals Joseph Macbeth said, “The direct support workforce crisis has been well-documented for decades. Direct support work is not easy and it’s certainly not a job that just anyone can do. It requires complex skills, adherence to ethical standards and impeccable judgment. Over the past few years, OPWDD has worked closely with the SUNY system to address these challenges by developing a comprehensive microcredential initiative. Now, prospective and incumbent direct support professionals can achieve college credit, national certification and financial assistance as they learn and demonstrate their direct support skills. The leadership at SUNY and OPWDD in this area is commendable.”

Laura Joseph, EdD, Senior Vice President and Provost, Farmingdale State College said, “Farmingdale State College is honored to be part of this joint initiative with OPWDD and SUNY to provide an educational opportunity for students to become Direct Support Professionals. The funding has allowed us to develop the curriculum for the Direct Support Professional I and II credential as well as the wrap-around support needed to help students complete the course of study. Students enrolled in the DSP I and II Microcredentials are frontline workers and serve as the backbone of the Human Services industry. These microcredentials empower these professionals and further legitimize the profession. Dr. Michael Figuccio, Chair of the Psychology Department, has been instrumental in launching this program with over 30 students in the first cohort.”   

Supported through over $50 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Microcredential Program aims to assist direct support staff already working in the profession and those new to the developmental disabilities field in earning college credits that meet requirements for certification from The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals. Students will be able to secure national certification and college credit toward a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree. The grant program covers tuition, certification, fees, books and student support, and students can earn a one-time $750 stipend. Each participating SUNY campus is working with an OPWDD-operated or affiliated provider partner to help upskill incumbent workers or to provide internships for those new to the field.

Enrolled students not yet working in the developmental disabilities field will be offered work-based learning opportunities with OPWDD or OPWDD-certified service providers.

These programs build on Governor Kathy Hochul’s efforts to expand the direct service professional workforce and address worker shortages.

About SUNY’s Microcredential Program

This academic year, SUNY will offer nearly 700 microcredentials at 51 of its 64 campuses. Microcredentials are smaller, academic- and skills-focused credentials that can be completed in months, not years. SUNY’s program is designed to provide earners with immediate workforce-ready skills, knowledge, and experience, while also providing a pathway to additional credentials, certificates and degrees. Recognized with the inaugural Business Council of New York State Workforce Innovation Award in Higher Education, SUNY Microcredentials increase access to higher education by providing another pathway for New Yorkers to earn the credentials they need to meet their academic and career goals, all while collaboratively meeting the needs of New York businesses and industry.

About OPWDD 

The New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) provides high-quality person-centered supports and services to people with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders and other neurological impairments. OPWDD provides services directly and through a network of over 600 not-for-profit providers. OPWDD’s mission is to help people with developmental disabilities live richer lives that include meaningful relationships, good health, personal growth, and a home within their community. For more information, visit www.opwdd.ny.gov or connect with us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

About The State University of New York

The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2022, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit www.suny.edu.

About Farmingdale State College 

Farmingdale State College offers 46-degree programs focused on emerging, high-demand, and relevant careers to help prepare the next generation of leaders in technology, engineering, business, healthcare, science and the arts. With nearly 10,000 students, FSC is SUNY’s largest college of applied science and technology. More than half of our graduating seniors leave debt-free and 82% are employed six months after graduation or enrolled in graduate school. FSC is home to Broad Hollow Bioscience Park, which supports the development of biotech start-up companies and partners with surrounding businesses and research institutions along the Route 110 Business Corridor. Our engaging student experience, highly inclusive campus and sustained commitment to accessibility, affordability, and student support, helps make FSC one of the best values in higher education.

Photo of the announcement at Farmingdale State College attached, credit NYS OPWDD. 

Anthony S. Fauci, MD, addressing the RSOM graduating Class of 2024. Credit: Arthur Fredericks

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Speaking in a front of a receptive, appreciative and celebratory audience of 125 graduates of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University who gave him a standing ovation before and after his commencement address, Dr Anthony Fauci, former Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared some thoughts on the hard lessons learned from the last four years.

Dr. Fauci currently serves as Distinguished University Professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and the McCourt School of Public Policy and also serves as Distinguished Senior Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

“I speak not only of lessons we have learned that can help us prepare for the next public health challenge, but, more importantly, of lessons that will apply to your future professional and personal experiences that are far removed from pandemic outbreaks,” Fauci said, after complimenting the class on persevering in their training despite the challenges and losses.

To start with, he suggested these new doctors expect the unexpected. In the early phase of the pandemic, the virus revealed multiple secrets, “some of which caught us somewhat by surprise,” Fauci said. “As well prepared as we thought we were, we learned that SARS-Cov2 is often transmitted from people who are infected but have no symptoms.”

Additionally, the virus continually mutated, forming more transmissable variants that caused illness even in those who had already contracted the virus.

“Each revelation not only humbled us, but served as a stark reminder that, when facing novel and unanticipated challenges in life, as you all will I promise, any predictions we might make about what will happen next or how the situation will unfold must always be provisional,” Fauci said.

Dealing with these challenges requires being open-minded and flexible in assessing situations as new information emerges.

He cautioned the new doctors and scientists to beware of the insidious nature of anti science.

Even as doctors have used data and evidence learning to gain new insights and as the stepping stones of science, anti science became “louder and more entrenched over time. This phenomenon is deeply disturbing” as it undermines evidence-based medicine and sends the foundation of the social order down a slippery slope.

Even as science was under attack, so, too, were scientists. “During the past four years, we have witnessed an alarming increase in the mischaracterization, distortion and even vilification of solid evidence-based findings and even of scientists themselves,” Fauci continued.

Mixing with these anti science notions were conspiracy theories, which created public confusion and eroded trust in evidence-based public health principals.

“This became crystal clear as we fought to overcome false rumors about the mRNA Covid vaccines during the roll out” of vaccines which Dr. Peter Igarashi, Dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine estimated in his introduction for Dr. Fauci saved more than 20 million lives in their first year of availability.

“I can confirm today that Bill Gates [the former CEO of Microsoft] and I did not put chips in the Covid vaccines,” Fauci said. “And, no, Covid vaccines are not responsible for more deaths than Covid.”

The worldwide disparagement of scientific evidence is threatening other aspects of public health, he said, as parents are opting out of immunizing their children, which is leading to the recent clusters of measles cases, he added.

Elements of society are “driven by a cacophony of falsehoods, lies and conspiracy theories that get repeated often enough that after a while, they become unchallenged,” he said. That leads to what he described as a “normalization of untruths.”

Fauci sees this happening on a daily basis, propagated by information platforms, social media and enterprises passing themselves off as news organizations. With doctors entering a field in which evidence and data-driven conclusions inform their decisions, they need to “push back on these distortions of truth and reality.”

He appealed to the graduates to accept a collective responsibility not to accept the normalization of untruths passively, which enables propaganda and the core principals of a just social order to begin to erode.

Fauci exhorted students to “seek and listen to opinions that differ from your own” and to analyze information which they have learned to do in medical school.

“Our collective future truly is in your hands,” Fauci said.

Fauci also urged these doctors and scientists to take care of their patients and to advance knowledge for the “good of humankind.”

Victoria Hogan, CMS assistant principal Amy Martin and principal Michael Larson at an April board of education meeting. Photo courtesy Commack School District

The Commack Schools family officially welcomed its newest member at an April board of education meeting. 

Victoria Hogan was appointed the next assistant principal at Commack Middle School.

She will succeed Frank Agovino, who is retiring at the school year’s completion.

Hogan has served for the past two school years as a districtwide instructional leader with the Mineola Union Free School District. In that role, her duties included collaborating with teachers and administrators on the creation and implementation of competency-based learning scales for kindergarteners through eighth graders as well as coaching new teachers. 

“Her energy, enthusiasm and experience separated her from more than 200 applicants for the position,” assistant superintendent for human resources Scott Oshrin said.

Hogan earned a bachelor of arts in English with a minor in secondary education from Queens College, a master’s in reading instruction from Goucher College and an advanced certificate in school building and school district leadership from The College of Saint Rose.

“The most exciting thing about being able to come to Commack is being welcomed into the Commack family itself,” Hogan said. “I’m excited to get to know everybody — the students, the staff, the community — and really make this my home.”

A transition plan is currently being implemented at CMS.

“We wish both Ms. Hogan and Mr. Agovino much luck and happiness as they begin the next journeys in their professional and personal lives,” Oshrin said. 

ASCE Metropolitan Student Symposium at SBU. Photo by Rigoberto Burgueno

Stony Brook University’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) hosted its 2024 ASCE Metropolitan Student Symposium from April 12 to 14.

Attendees from New Jersey and New York included approximately 270 students from 13 universities who convened over a weekend of design events. In addition to a myriad of design competitions, the symposium also hosted several pop-up workshops facilitated by ASCE professional members and a networking event with donors.

The Stony Brook University ASCE Chapter competed in five competitions: taking first place in the Land Surveying competition; second place in the Construction Institute competition; and third place in the Steel Bridge competition. In addition, the Stony Brook University ASCE chapter took home an honorable mention for the New York State Council 2023 ASCE Student Chapter Award.

Read more and see a photo gallery from the symposium at the Stony Brook University Department of Civil Engineering website.

Rocky Point High School valedictorian Isabella Rooney (right) and salutatorian Sofia Haviland. Photo courtesy of the Rocky Point school district

Rocky Point High School is proud to congratulate Isabella Rooney as its Class of 2024 valedictorian and Sofia Haviland as its salutatorian. 

Isabella Rooney

Rooney is honored to be named the top student, calling it a privilege to earn the title in such a phenomenal class of peers. “Our school is full of so many talented, dedicated and hardworking individuals,” she said. “I could not be more excited and grateful.”

The valedictorian has taken more than two dozen Advanced Placement, honors and college-level courses while at the high school. In her senior year alone, she has taken seven AP classes while dancing and training for more than 20 hours each week. 

“It has been extremely difficult to balance studying and homework with the physical and emotional demands of Irish dance,” she said. “But this year has taught me a lot about time management and the value of a positive mindset in achieving one’s goals.”

Rooney is a member of the History Honor Society, Homecoming Float Design team, Math Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, National English Honor Society, National Honor Society, Science Honor Society, Student Council and Yearbook Club.

Her community involvement includes participation in various back-to-school and toy drives for the Heather N. Kaplan Foundation. She is also involved in the National Art Honor Society’s Mr. Gobbles charity, the Student Council holiday clothing drive, peer tutoring with the English, Math and Science honor societies and teaches classes at Inishfree School of Irish Dance in Sayville, sharing Irish culture through community performances.

Among many other awards, she has been honored as a third-place recipient in the Mid-Atlantic Region in Irish Dance, placed eighth in the country in Irish Dance, 18th in the Irish Dance World championships and honorable mention in the 2023-24 Suffolk County High School Art Exhibition.

Rooney plans to attend university to study molecular biology. She also looks forward to traveling more after graduation, studying abroad in the United Kingdom and Ireland to further her education and Irish dancing career.

She will leave her fellow high school peers with these wise words, “You will never regret hard work.”

Sofia Haviland

Sofia Haviland takes pride in her accomplishment as salutatorian. “It makes me feel like all of my hard work the past few years has finally paid off,” she said.

When asked about her greatest accomplishment in high school, Haviland noted her role in organizing a clothing swap event as the president of the Human Rights Club, helping to promote sustainability in fashion and discourage the overconsumption of clothing. “This experience taught me the importance of community and working together to create an impact and real change,” she said.

Haviland has taken advantage of many of Rocky Point’s AP, honors and college-level courses, including 12 AP courses and 12 honors courses. She is a member of the high school’s Human Rights Club, where she has served as president for the past two years, and is secretary of the National Science Honor Society. She is a member of the History Honor Society, National English Honor Society, National Honor Society and the New York State Math Honor Society. She is also a member of the school’s pit orchestra and the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York.

Among many different awards, she has been selected to both the Long Island String Festival Association Division III Orchestra and the Suffolk County Music Educators’ Association Division III Orchestra. She looks forward to joining the freshman class at Boston University where she will major in chemistry.

Haviland leaves her classmates and future high school seniors with the wise words, “Relax, don’t stress over the little things.”

The 2024 Rocky Point High School graduation will take place Wednesday, June 26, at 6 p.m. at the Upper Turf Field.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Mallie Jane Kim

Four candidates are vying to serve on next year’s school board in Three Village Central School District. Terms are up for incumbents Shaorui Li and Susan Rosenzweig, who are both running to stay on the board. Newcomers Stanley Bak and Amitava Das have also thrown their hats in the ring.

In addition to the two full terms up for grabs, a third partial-term seat was left open by former board member Jennifer Solomon, after she resigned last summer for personal reasons. At the time, the board opted to wait until this election to fill her seat for the term’s final year, rather than spending additional money on a special election last fall. 

Whoever earns the third highest number of votes will fill this one-year term.

The candidates, profiled below in alphabetical order, opened the two-week campaign season by introducing themselves at a May 6 Three Village Civic Association meeting.

Stanley Bak

Stanley Bak

Bak teaches computer science at Stony Brook University and runs a research lab investigating the safety of artificial intelligence, which he said involves budgeting and managing millions of dollars in funds. 

He suggested the main issue facing the district today is financial.

“We need a long-term financial plan,” he said. “One that acknowledges that taxpayers exist and one that can sustainably provide excellent programs and services for our students.”

Bak, who was a member of the district’s cellphone committee last fall, praised the district’s recently strengthened policy, but added that its success hinges on enforcement.

He also pointed out that, though elementary schools comprise more than half the grade levels in the district, the board does not currently have representation from elementary families. His oldest child has started elementary school, with two others following.

“As a parent with three young children, I have a vested interest in the long-term health of all of our schools,” he said. “Representation matters. I will help bring this perspective to our board.”

Bak published information on his priorities at the website bakforboard.com and emphasizes that he is running independently and will not accept any funding from outside groups. He has received public support from the Residents for Responsible Spending Facebook group, and is a participant in the Three Village Parents Alliance.

Amitava Das

Amitava Das

Das, a parent of a junior high student in the district, said his experience in technology management has given him a firm foundation in communication, collaboration and compromise toward a shared goal of serving clients while being fiscally responsible. 

“These are things from a business perspective that I hope I’m able to bring to this role,” said Das, who is an engineering manager at a major global technology firm. He indicated he hopes to “work with the staff, the teachers, the taxpayers, the parents — I hope to gain your input and your support and understand what your needs are.” 

Das served on this year’s Budget Advisory Committee and volunteers as a computer science teacher for sixth through ninth grades with SchoolNova. He said by email that he previously served on the technical advisory board for Per Scholas, an organization that trains a diverse workforce in technology and helps connect newly-skilled talent to businesses.

He recognized the “tireless effort” of the teachers, administration and staff, but added that he’s also a taxpayer. “There’s a need to balance that aspect of it,” he said. “Are the dollars going toward the right programs, being spent in the right way to deliver the best product for our shareholders — which is us, the taxpayers in the district?”

Das, along with Li and Rosenzweig, is endorsed by the Three Village Teachers Association. He said in a phone call that he hopes to reimburse his portion of any campaign costs — typically, TVTA pays for advertising, including lawn signs and a postcard to each union member, past and present.

TVTA president Brian Pickford confirmed to TBR that this option is open to any candidate.

Shaorui Li

Shaorui Li

Li, also a district parent, has served on the school board since her election in 2021. She is an electrical engineer with 17 years of experience, including at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and is currently heading a microchip-development startup to advance the field of quantum computing. 

She shared that she has given lectures in the elementary schools regarding NASA projects she was involved in, and has served as a mentor for Science Olympiad.

These STEM skills, she indicated, along with the leadership and management experience she’s gained throughout her career, are what she brings to the table. “I just want to contribute my analytical skills and my love of solving problems and engineering to the board,” she said.

Li praised the board’s efforts in gaining input from all stakeholders for the new cellphone policy as well as in fine tuning the Budget Advisory Committee based on feedback. “The intention is to have input from the community,” she said. “We actually keep changing how [the BAC] will be and probably going forward it will keep changing — the goal is to make it more effective.”

Li invited residents to reach out with questions about district policy to her or any board member, as she said she values understanding community concerns. “The role of the board member is not simply voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on personal preference,” she said. “As a board member, I would actively research … listen to our community and make decisions based on inputs from a broad range of resources.”

Susan Rosenzweig

Susan Rosenzweig

Rosenzweig, the current board president, was also elected in 2021. She said her background in radio and television news have served her well as a leader on the board. She pointed to her ability to approach situations with a neutral position — focusing on facts and data in decision making — as well as her ability to communicate thoughtfully and clearly. 

“I believe these qualities have helped usher in a new era of openness with our community,” she said, adding the board has “a renewed rigor in thoroughly analyzing all of our decisions for their impacts not only on our staff and our students, but on the district’s fiscal health and our overall well-being.”

Rosenzweig has made a full-time job of volunteer opportunities related to her children’s education, including on the board of trustees at Play Groups preschool and as PTA president at all levels. She has also been a leader for Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts.

She called the district’s new cellphone policy “a good start,” but indicated the whole community needs to chip in to help kids — especially since students involved in advising the new policy recognized the distraction and pressure that comes with the current cellphone culture. “We’ve only got them for seven hours a day,” Rosenzweig said. “The rest of the 17 hours, we need help.”

Voting details 

Voting will take place on May 21 at Ward Melville High School between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Early voting is also available this year, and information can be found on the district’s website on the Budget Information page under the Board of Education menu. A PTA-sponsored Meet the Candidates event at the high school is scheduled for May 9, at 7 p.m., and will be livestreamed.

Link to view Meet the Candidates event: https://www.youtube.com/live/o1Tos3A4wSQ?si=nmflK9MHH57onXJs.

By Rich Acritelli

As Rocky Point High School special education teachers Jessica Gentile and Kristina Muratore sought new ways to enhance their life skills classes, Rocky Perk was started on March 17, 2023.The program offers students an opportunity to shop for needed items to make different types of coffee, refreshments and snacks. Started by using donations from staff members, Rocky Perk has seen substantial growth over the last year.

Muratore has been pleased with the progress of her students as “over the last few years our 12:1:1 program [for students with intellectual disabilities] has evolved into this outstanding experience that our students, staff and community has enjoyed. It warms my heart that everyone is able to see the daily talents of our students.”

As part of the program, the students work in a hands-on classroom that has a stove, sink, refrigerator, washer and dryer to handle the rigors of Rocky Perk, which has strengthened independent living skills. The students have also created a menu for the cafe and will be expanding their repertoire with an exciting new vanilla raspberry spritzer, which will be offered to its customers sometime soon. 

Gentile glowingly identified the remarkable growth of her students as “they thrive on serving others through Rocky Perk and are independently functioning to ensure that different types of orders are properly fulfilled and delivered.”

But the life skills program does not end in the kitchen. Continuing to follow the best interests of her students, Gentile also spearheaded the implementation of the Unified Eagles basketball team led by the life skills students. The team is made up of players who have intellectual disabilities paired with mainstream student-athletes. Gentile credits the district’s athletic director, Jonathon Rufa, in being a driving force in establishing this new initiative. 

As the Unified Eagles, the team has played two games. Gentile firmly believes “there is a growth of confidence in her players, who have an iron sense of pride who have also forged unique friendships. I am grateful to be part of this amazing group.”

High school students Brett Condos, Sydney Woods, Sarah May and Ella Rau have assisted the Unified Eagles on the court. A talented athlete, Woods said, “I love guiding members of this team and watching them try their very best.” 

When asked about the future of this Eagles squad, it is the goal of Gentile to garner more school and public support to rally this wonderful group of players. When asked if she would again lead this team next year, Gentile said, “Heck yeah!”