Education

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Katy Dornick and her student. Photo from Andrew Harris

Comsewogue Special Education teacher Katy Dornick has been working in the district for 12 years, and is a proud graduate of the district, too.

Since her first day working with children with special needs she felt at home. 

“Growing up with a sister with special needs I felt that I can relate to the families and be passionate to help their child succeed,” Dornick said. “I take pride in what I do, and I can relate to each family on a personal level.” 

After many years of waiting to teach the students most in need within the district, she finally got a chance to move up to the high school and teach that special class. 

“This is by far the most difficult class to teach,” said fellow teacher Andrew Harris. “It involves a lot of time, energy, and people management to run the class-and that is before you ever set foot inside the classroom and start teaching.”

He added that in this role, there is a lot of paperwork and medical knowledge required by the teacher. 

“It takes someone with a very strong background and work ethic to make it all work,” he said. 

“Not only that, but the students are the happiest I’ve ever seen them with Katy at the helm.”

During the summer, Dornick could be seen rearranging the areas the children would be working in. 

Katy Dornick and her student. Photo from Andrew Harris

“Classroom management is perhaps one of the most important things to have in place so that everything runs smoothly and is safe,” she said. “Some of my students have critical medical needs,  this is a priority, and I wanted the educational set-up to be perfect.”

When school was back in session, a new “sensory room” was created. A perfect place to bring a child — especially children with autism — it’s a place to help calm an anxious student. 

One student said it was his favorite place in the school.

Recently Dornicik, along with her class took over the responsibility of food collection for our high school. They donate all the food to the district pantry.

She has also guided her students to plan and create personal letters to be included when the district sent out care packages to veterans who have graduated from Comsewogue High School. One Marine in California was so excited to receive his gift from her class because he also had her as a teacher several years ago.

She has always been active in the local community including the fire department and a coach for sports teams. 

“Katy. Dornick is truly one of a kind,” said Principal Mike Mosca. “What she has done for the students in her class and the Comsewogue Life Skills program is nothing short of exceptional. Visiting her class and her students is certainly one of the highlights of my day.”

Dornick said it’s an honor to teach her classes.

“All I can say is I feel honored to be given this opportunity to teach this class,” she said. “I truly feel like the luckiest person in the room. There is a line in a song by Jordan Davis that stands true for me in this class: ‘Do what you love and call it work.’ There is not a day that goes by when I do not leave this class without a smile on my face. These kids are simply amazing, and they continue to make me proud on a daily basis.”

METRO photo

As the holiday break began to wind down and COVID-19 infection rates climbed, many parents hoped their children would be learning remotely for a week or two instead of returning to their classrooms.

Many feared that their children would get sick if they returned to school buildings and hoped that their districts would take advantage of their past remote learning experiences and allow students to return to a virtual classroom temporarily — just long enough for the holiday virus surge to pass.

While a few schools on Long Island did switch to remote and other districts offered an option, many school officials opened the doors to their classrooms as if they didn’t have a clue as to how to use alternative methods to educate.

Many people would agree that learning during the pandemic for a majority of students was difficult when a day at school meant logging into a computer instead of boarding a bus. The ideal option is to be seated in a classroom. However, in the worst of times, such as the world continuing to fight a virus that could be deadly to some, would switching to remote learning for a week or two be so harmful?

To keep our children and their families safe, school districts should be at the ready to switch to remote learning when infection rates soar. While health officials can advise not to gather during the holidays, is it such a terrible thing to allow people to be with their loved ones and then look at a screen when school is back in session?

Technology has made it possible to continue learning and working during difficult times such as these. Perfecting remote techniques and always being prepared to use them means that learning, working, basic health care and more can continue no matter what is going on around us, except for maybe a power outage.

And with more employers offering work-from-home options, many parents will be able to watch their children in the house if their children need to log into a computer to connect with their classroom. Which in turn, eliminates the old snow or sick day problem of who is going to watch the kids.

It’s been said many times during the pandemic that maybe instead of getting back to normal, it might be better to embrace a new normal. Let’s retain the lessons we have learned the last two years and increase our country’s chances of soon enjoying good times once again.

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Mrs. Claus (Jennifer Quinn) with board members present gift bags prepared by students Ashley Doxey and Alysaa Morturano to military families. Photo from Andrew Harris

By Andrew Harris 

On Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Holiday Club Fair at Comsewogue High School, the district honored their graduates who are currently serving as active military personnel. 

“We hoped that some could actually be here but realized that they get very little time off and many are serving all over the world,” Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Quinn said. “So, we invited their families to receive the care packages.”

Santa Claus (Joseph Coniglione) with Mrs. Claus (Jennifer Quinn). Photo from Andrew Harris

One mother, whose sons Paul and Sean Piotrowski (2015) are serving in the U.S. Marines, said that “receiving the gift cards and handwritten notes for each of them was wonderful.”

The idea was inspired by students Alyssa Morturano and Ashley Doxey, who followed up by collecting cards at events and doing various fundraisers.

The wife and children of Michelle Flaherty’s son Billy (2004) attended because he is currently in the Army as a helicopter crew chief. The mother said that he is getting deployed to the Middle East this coming May. 

“I am so proud of my son and all the Comsewogue alumni who are serving in our armed forces,” Flaherty said. “It means so much to the families to have the support of the Comsewogue community — once a warrior, always a warrior.”

Joseph Coniglione, assistant superintendent of schools, was thrilled the event was able to happen.

“To have the proud parents of those who have made the decision to serve our country there, and to be able to share their pride was a tremendous experience for me and this community,” he said. “We are all so proud of all our students, especially those who made this commitment.”

Andrew Harris is a teacher in the Comsewogue School District. 

Photo from Harbor Country Day School

On Friday, December 10, Harbor Country Day School paid a visit to Long Island Elite Limousines in St. James to deliver more than 200 toys donated to the Suffolk County Toys for Tots program. The toys were donated by Harbor Country Day School families as part of the Student Council’s annual toy drive. Given the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, there was an even greater need for donations than usual.

Because visitors are not permitted to Harbor Country at this time, and due to social distancing requirements, both the result of COVID-19, this year’s toy drive looked different than in years past.  Historically, Harbor Country Day School was a local drop off point in the community and donated toys were picked up by the Marine Corps.  This year, Harbor students and faculty loaded toys onto the Harbor Country Day School bus to bring to Long Island Elite Limousines where they were subsequently delivered to Suffolk County Toys for Tots.

Harbor has contributed to the Toys for Tots drive since 1998, when former Harbor employee and former Marine Mike Guido instituted the program. Now retired from the school, Harbor continues this tradition begun by Mr. Guido.

“We’re honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the Toys for Tots drive and to work… on such a wonderful program,” said John Cissel, Head of School for Harbor Country Day School.

Jim Malatras at Stony Brook University last year. File photo by Rita J. Egan

Jim Malatras, chancellor of the State University of New York, submitted his resignation last week following political pressure for him to step down after text messages showed him belittling one of the women who accused former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) of sexual harassment. 

Malatras faced bipartisan backlash over the last few weeks after new evidence was released by state Attorney General Letitia James’ (D) investigation surrounding the allegations against Cuomo. 

Part of the evidence included text messages from May 2019 between Malatras and other Cuomo officials disparaging Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development official who accused the former governor 18 months after the SUNY chancellor sent the text, The New York Times reported.

Boylan and Malatras then argued over Twitter.

Since the documents were released, the chancellor decided to resign, stating in a letter to the SUNY board of trustees that the controversies were taking him away from his work.

“The recent events surrounding me over the past week have become a distraction over the important work that needs to be accomplished as SUNY emerges from COVID-19,” he said. “I believe deeply in an individual’s ability to evolve, change and grow, but I also believe deeply in SUNY and would never want to be an impediment to its success.”

As chancellor, Malatras was tasked with overseeing the State University of New York comprehensive system of higher education. 

Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory. 

In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. 

Two of those schools locally are Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College. 

“I am aware that the chancellor has tendered his resignation and respect that decision,” said SBU President Maurie McInnis. “I look forward to working with the next leader of SUNY as we continue our important research and teaching mission.”

A representative from SCCC added that nothing will change at the college amid the scandal, and it “will continue to work with our partners at SUNY to ensure that high quality higher education remains accessible and affordable to students.”

Malatras’ resignation goes into effect on Jan. 14.

“The past two years have been among the most trying in SUNY’s history — and Jim’s leadership and collaboration with our faculty and staff have allowed our institution to continue to thrive and serve our nearly 400,000 students at 64 campuses across our state safely and in person,” said a statement from the SUNY board of trustees. “He has been a champion for our students, for access, for equity, and for deeper public investment in this great institution. The entire board expresses our gratitude for his dedication and leadership.”

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Photo from John Wilson

By John Wilson

Mount Sinai High School’s SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Holiday Magic combined for their 23rd year as a team devoted to making the holidays magical for children across Suffolk County.  

Photo from John Wilson

Holiday Magic, headed by Charlie “Santa” Russo, is a nonprofit organization that dedicates itself to making the holidays special for less fortunate children and their families.  

On Friday, Dec. 3, with 50 Santa lists in hand and $3,500 in cash from Holiday Magic, the SADD students descended on Walmart and the Smith Haven Mall in search of the requested gifts.

With the help of a donated truck from RTI Trucking, the gifts were delivered to the North Pole for wrapping. 

As always, SADD’s goal was to show these children that the community does care, which in the future will hopefully prevent them from making “destructive decisions.” 

Making this year’s shopping event even more special was that Mount Sinai High SADD presented Holiday Magic with a check for $7,000 from the proceeds of the 2021 Turkey Trot.  

It was simply magic! 

Those interested in donating to Holiday Magic can do so at holidaymagicli.org.

John Wilson is a teacher at Mount Sinai High School and the advisor for Students Against Destructive Decisions.

As part of a STEM Partnership with the School District, Smithtown HS West Marine Biology students in Kimberly Williams’ class get an inside look at real world dilemmas, which Long Island must face regarding future solid waste and recycling concerns.

The Town of Smithtown, in partnership with the Smithtown Central School District, embarked on phase two of its first STEM program partnership. On  Dec. 2, students in Kimberly Williams’ Marine Biology class at High School West, got an inside look at the Town’s Recycling and Solid Waste process at Smithtown Municipal Services Facility as it relates to the environment and the major challenge Long Island will face, once the Brookhaven landfill closes in 2024.

Sanitation Supervisor Neal Sheehan and Smithtown Solid Waste Coordinator, Mike Engelmann led a hands-on experiential learning trip with marine biology teacher, Kimberly Williams. Students saw the process of what happens to waste once it leaves the curbside, the many different materials which Smithtown recycles, challenges of fluctuating recycling markets, and the harmful impacts which can occur without personal awareness and responsibility.

“This was the first of several STEM programs, together with the school district and it couldn’t have been better received. This generation is very conscious of critical environmental issues, like protecting the watershed, and Long Island’s impending waste crisis. Bringing their lesson plans from the chalk board to the real world, so students can witness the benefits of their hard work before their eyes, is not only exciting… It’s beneficial to the community they call home. I’m especially grateful for the School Districts partnership in this phenomenal learning experience for our youth,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

The day began with a basic understanding of where solid waste and recycling goes once it leaves the curb at home. Students learned about the recycling markets, recent changes the Nation was forced to make once China closed the doors to the U.S. industry and the consequences of contaminated materials being disposed of in a country without the same regulations as the United States. The Smithtown HS West marine biology students had an excellent, previous understanding of plastics pollution happening in our oceans. Neal Sheehan and Mike Engelmann gave an in depth presentation on the upcoming closure of the Brookhaven Landfill, the harmful and invasive environmental impacts of trucking waste off the Island, and the possible solutions to expand recycling and removing ash off the Island.

“This was the most fun I’ve had at work in years. First, I can’t believe how engaged the kids are. This generation is so aware of the impacts we as humans have on our local environment and they are eager to solve the problems at hand. I’m very excited to work with the class on the final stage of the partnership. I have a hunch we’ll have some excellent new employees working in the various fields of environmental planning, and engineering in the very near future!,” said Neal Sheehan, Sanitation Supervisor.

The class toured the Municipal Services Facility (MSF) where they saw cardboard and paper being sorted, and learned the do’s and don’ts of recycling properly. Students got an eagle eye view of the various material drop sites residents can utilize, such as electronic waste and ​​household appliances, construction and demolition, and glass. From the top of the hill, they observed the massive wood chipping operation, which is made from residential brush and tree branch collection and given away to residents for free. Additionally, students got to see groundwater monitoring locations, located at the former landfill site. The Town is required to monitor the underlying groundwater as a part of the post-closure care period. At the end of the tour, Smithtown Environmental Planner, Liam Trotta took a drone up in the air to show students the Solar array and wind turbine located on the grounds.

“It really makes all the difference when you get to physically see the whole operation right in front of you. We could see the concern and surprise on each student’s face, despite their face masks.  Concerned when they learned that the average Long Islanders is responsible for almost five pounds of waste in one day… Pleasantly surprised when they saw just how much we in Smithtown reuse and recycle, and even happier to learn that their solid waste was being recycled into energy at Covanta. But, when we explained the environmental and economical impacts of trucking the remaining ash and C & D off Long Island, you could hear a pin drop in the room. They understand that a clock is officially ticking to implement a solution… and they are very eager to tackle the issue at hand,” said Mike Engelmann, Smithtown Solid Waste Coordinator.

The STEM Partnership takes a hands-on approach to real world environmental issues affecting the community, utilizing the branches of science in order to apply possible ideas or solutions to improve the problem. Such topics covered include solid waste & recycling, invasive species, stormwater runoff, nitrogen pollution and water quality. Phase One is a simple introduction video presentation for students to understand the scope of each issue. Phase Two involves site and case studies where students witness each issue in person and have the opportunity to ask questions which are answered by official Town experts in each field. Phase Three is conducted in the classroom where students will present solutions to each concern. At every stage of the partnership, the Town and School district work in tandem to help students apply lesson plans to each real world scenario. The Town of Smithtown hopes to expand this program to all local school districts who are interested.

Photos from Town of Smithtown

Photo by Andrew Harris

 

By Andrew Harris

As soon as Comsewoge High School Students and Staff found out that Michael Abatiello, class of 2021, graduated from his Marine boot camp last week, they excitedly reached out to him. 

When he came back to the high school students and staff cheered and presented him with gifts that students fundraised for our Comsewogue Active Warrior Network.

“It is a priority for us to stay connected to our military graduates serving all over the world,” said Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools. 

Teacher Katy Dornicik agreed, and was happy that Michael was able to visit and be recognized by his peers.

“Michael always had one vision and would do anything in his power to make his dream become a reality,” she said. “Since 7th grade, he had his mind set on becoming a Marine. His work ethic and desire to succeed made it all happen. I am so proud of him.”

Students and administration will continue to honor any Comsewogue graduate (or their family if they are not able to be there) who are active in the  military at the club and craft fair at the high school on Saturday, Dec. 11 at noon.

Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue school district.

This year as students returned to the classrooms full time, school officials are facing problems hiring enough faculty members.

Even before the pandemic, organizations such as New York State United Teachers, known as NYSUT, addressed the decline of people enrolling in the state’s teacher education programs. According to its website, enrollment has declined by more than 53% since 2009.

Gary Dabrusky, Three Village Central School District assistant superintendent for human resources, said the district “has experienced a shortage of teachers, which is reflective of regional and state trends.”

He said there has been a general decline in “the number of employees who have chosen to seek employment in the educational field. This includes areas such as tech, family and consumer science, global languages, substitute teachers, monitors, aides and food service workers.”

Smithtown Central School District is also experiencing shortages of certified and noncertified staff members, according to Neil Katz, assistant superintendent for personnel. In the Cold Spring Harbor district, Superintendent Jill Gierasch said her schools are also among the ones facing hiring issues. The superintendent said while they haven’t had major problems with their teaching staff, finding substitute teachers, special education and library aides has been a challenge for the district that has 1,700 students, which she added is small compared to others.

“We even increased the salaries to try to draw more folks for the first time,” she said.

Reaching out

Gierasch said while they have advertised in local publications, the district has also taken out ads in The New York Times “to try to spread our scope.”

Dabrusky said he “created a human resources Facebook page to help cast a wider net in an effort to reach a greater number of potential candidates.” The search has also led to the Three Village assistant superintendent revamping the human resources tab on the district’s website and using other sites such as the BOCES online application system, SchoolFront and Indeed.

In addition to online and social media, Katz said the Smithtown district also seeks “new and creative ideas on how to promote our vacancies in an effort to attract the most highly qualified candidates to join our staff.”

He added recommendations are also welcomed.

“While many online sources attract candidates, referrals from current staff are also very helpful,” he said. “The use of virtual interviews has also allowed us to meet with candidates from a farther distance more easily and to interview more candidates quicker in order to expedite our onboarding process.”

Solutions

Katz said the district has been utilizing all staff members.

“Many part-time aides are working double shifts and covering various positions as lunch monitors and classroom aides,” he said. “We have hired a number of full-time aides to provide the necessary support. Teachers are covering classes during their lunch and preparation periods. Other certified staff are providing coverage in classrooms, as necessary.”

Gierasch said the Cold Spring Harbor district has put together skeleton crews to ensure each space is covered. In the past, for example, when the school librarian would go to lunch an aide would cover the break. Now, the library is closed during the librarian’s lunch period.

The superintendent said they have also looked at the IEP [individualized education program] aides for students who need them to see if they require someone for all periods or just certain ones so they can adjust who the aides work with throughout the course of the day.

Dabrusky said Three Village has been resourceful in managing the shortage as he described student instruction and supervision to be of “paramount importance.”

“For example, in our elementary schools, every teacher volunteers for two coverage periods,” he said. “In the secondary schools, extra class coverage is offered to our teachers to cover a class during their lunch and preparation periods. In addition, we employ permanent substitute teaching staff, and human resources leadership has expended robust effort to recruit and maintain substitute teaching staff.”

Possible reasons

Gierasch said some of the faculty positions aren’t always high paying and many people take them for health insurance coverage. With COVID-19, she feels many are hesitant to take a position due to health concerns.

“I don’t think it’s just germane to school districts,” Gierasch said. “I think, in all industries, staffing is an issue.”

Dabrusky agrees that many may be reluctant to return to the field due to the health crisis.

Katz also pointed to the overall decline.

“It appears that fewer people are entering the profession and that has caused some difficulty with securing teachers in certain areas of certification,” he said. “The number of vacancies that are posted for school districts throughout NYS is much greater now than I’ve seen in years. There definitely seems to be a supply and demand issue.”

Book trailers are the latest rage being used to grab the attention of potential readers who rely on social media for their news. Just like movie previews, an eye-catching trailer can jump start a book’s title recognition, broaden its audience, and pump-up sales.

“We live in a visual culture where people connect through imagery,” said author, Jerry Mikorenda. “With the pandemic limiting social interaction, I needed something that could viscerally connect readers to my novel on an emotive level.”

That book, The Whaler’s Daughter (Regal House Publishing), a historical seafaring novel, complicated the visual storytelling.

“To convey the story in a meaningful way, I needed experienced outdoor videographers,” added Mikorenda. “I thought nearby Five Towns College has a Visual Arts program with students looking for real life experience in producing the kind of scenes my trailer needed. It seemed like a good match.”

The result is an evocative, two-minute video shot on Long Island; acted, and produced by Long Island students.

“For me, the most rewarding part was seeing how these young artists embraced the material and the extra effort they put into bringing the story to life,” added the author. “I hope it gave them a glimpse into the business side of the Arts.”

You can watch the book trailer for The Whaler’s Daughter by clicking on the YouTube link below. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urEJWXPbI2c

The Whaler’s Daughter takes place in 1910 on a whaling station in New South Wales, Australia, where twelve-year-old Savannah Dawson lives with her widowed father. The story is about unexpressed grief, and how friendship can turn revenge into repentance, anger to empathy, and hurt into hopefulness.

Author’s Bio: Jerry’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Herald, The Gotham Center History Blog, and the 2010 Encyclopedia of New York City. His biography America’s First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights was published in 2020. His short stories have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, BULL, Cowboy Jamboree, and Gravel Magazine as well as other journals. His historical novel, The Whaler’s Daughter was published this fall.

Read a TBR News Media review of the book by Jeffrey Sanzel here.