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Board of Education

Newly elected Trustee Christine Biernacki takes her oath of office on Monday. Photo by Rohma Abbas

A new leader has taken the helm of the Huntington school board.

Trustee Tom DiGiacomo was unanimously voted the president of the school board at the board’s reorganizational meeting on Monday evening. Trustee Xavier Palacios nominated him for the position, and Trustee Bari Fehrs seconded his nomination.

Trustee Jennifer Hebert maintained her position as vice president of the board.

Newly appointed school board President Tom DiGiacomo is sworn in. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Newly appointed school board President Tom DiGiacomo is sworn in. Photo by Rohma Abbas

DiGiacomo succeeds incumbent President Emily Rogan, a nine-year member of the board, who has held the leadership role for four years.

After his appointment as president, DiGiacomo publicly thanked Rogan for her leadership, noting she’d “done an excellent job in helping our district improve.” He noted, at one point, that he had “big shoes” to fill.

When reached by phone on Wednesday, Rogan said she supported DiGiacomo.

“I think he will do a terrific job,” she said. “Tom has my support 100 percent. Did I still want to be president? I would have gladly been president. There were trustees on the board who wanted a change.”

In an interview after the meeting, DiGiacomo spoke briefly about his appointment.

“I’m honored and privileged that my fellow trustees have nominated me and made me president.”

Newly elected Trustee Christine Biernacki also took an oath of office at Monday night’s meeting, along with several other school officials, including Superintendent Jim Polansky and District Clerk Joanne Miranda.

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Mount Sinai school board Trustees Robert Sweeney, left, and Peter Van Middelem, right, are sworn in as board president and vice president, respectively. Photo by Erika Karp

The Mount Sinai school board has a new vice president this year.

At the district’s annual reorganization meeting on July 1, Peter Van Middelem, who just finished his first year on the board, was elected to the position in a 4-1 vote. Van Middelem, a retired New York City firefighter, succeeds former Vice President Donna Compagnone, whose term was up this year and decided not to seek re-election.

Van Middelem said his main objectives for the new year include keeping positive communications and relations with the community and the district’s teachers, seeing how new programs, such as Columbia University’s Teachers College Writing Project, which provides writing curriculum and professional development for teachers, is implemented, and keeping taps on the new full-day kindergarten program.

“I know that our emphasis right now is to make sure kindergarten is running and up to speed,” he said in a phone interview.

Van Middelem commended his predecessor for all of her work and stated that he had big shoes to fill as vice president.

Trustee Lynn Capobianco, who was re-elected to her second three-year term in May, cast the lone dissenting vote at the meeting. She said she couldn’t support Van Middelem as he allegedly did some political campaigning in his role as president of the Mount Sinai Lacrosse program. According to the Internal Revenue Service, 501(c)(3) organizations are “prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Lynn Capobianco takes her oath of office. Photo by Erika Karp
Lynn Capobianco takes her oath of office. Photo by Erika Karp

Capobianco said that in doing so Van Middelem jeopardized the tax-exempt status of the organization. According to an IRS database, Mt. Sinai Lacrosse Inc’s status had been automatically revoked in February 2013 for failing to file a return for three consecutive years. Van Middelem declined to comment on Capobianco’s concerns.

“I respect him greatly for the work he has done for that organization, but based on those issues I think the leadership comes into question,” Capobianco said.

While the board saw a change in its vice president, Robert Sweeney, who was elected to his second three-year term in 2014, is staying put as president. Board newcomer Mike Riggio was unable to make the first meeting and was sworn into his position at an earlier time.

Sweeney thanked the board for its vote and seemed to set the tone for the 2015-16 school year. He pointed out how the trustees were all wearing pins that read, “Respect public education.”

“This is an important statement that we are making about our teachers. … We respect them,” he said.

Sweeney continued to speak about the importance and need for public education.

“I wouldn’t be here and in my career without it,” he said.

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The district’s newest policies were brought forth by the school board’s policy committee, which is headed by Trustee Bob Ramus, above. File photo

Port Jefferson’s school board approved district policy changes on Tuesday night that mostly regulate student behavior.

After having a first reading of the 14 new or updated policies at a meeting two weeks ago, the board of education finalized the new language regarding the dress code, substance abuse, and student conduct and discipline, among other areas, at their meeting this week.

With the adoption of the new policies, the board also deleted five old ones — the outdated versions of some of them.

One of the most significant changes is in the district’s policy on school building visitors. Previously, visitors had to report to the school office and get a visitor’s permit. And “whenever possible, entrance to the school buildings shall be restricted to entryways most effectively supervised by building staff.”

But under the new policy, visitors will be allowed inside during classes only “through the designated single point of entry, have a clear purpose and destination, and report to the designated visitor sign-in area.”

Those visitors will have to surrender their photo identification while they are in the building and wear a school-issued badge at all times.

The student dress code policy has been changed from the original to specifically list inappropriate types of clothing, leaving the language less open to individual interpretation.

“Extremely brief garments such as tube tops, net tops, halter tops, spaghetti straps, plunging necklines … and see-through garments are not appropriate,” the policy now reads. “Underwear [must be] completely covered with outer clothing.”

Previously, the policy said only that clothing could not be too revealing, a health hazard or obscene in any way.

The restriction on obscenity will remain, as the updated policy bans vulgar or obscene items on the clothing, and things that denigrate others or promote illegal activities like drug use.

Much like the dress code policy added specific banned clothing, the updated policy on substance abuse adds language to the district’s list of prohibited substances.

The list already contained substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, LSD, cocaine, PCP, heroin and steroids, and now it also lists synthetic versions of those substances, regardless of whether they are illegal.

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Park View Elementary School. File photo

Kings Park Board of Education incumbents Charlie Leo and Diane Nally said they will seek another term on the board, while newcomer Kevin Johnston threw his hat into the race with hopes of snagging a seat after the May 19 election.

Charlie Leo is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Charlie Leo is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Charlie Leo
Leo, who serves on the board as vice president, said he was seeking another term because of a pleasant experience with the district, and to make time to tackle several different issues in another term.
One of his goals is to bring tablets into the school, which he said would reduce costs by going paperless. He also would like to work on reducing class size throughout the district, he said.
“I am running for re-election because I see that it matters,” Leo said. “Local government is very important and there is still work to be done.”
One of the heated issues that has been brought up at board meetings over the last few weeks has been the voice parents feel the board is lacking when it comes to standardized testing.
Leo said he fully supports the district parents’ right to opt their children out of the English Language Arts, science and math standardized tests that come from the state Education Department.
“It’s a parent’s choice to opt out,” Leo said.

Diane Nally is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Diane Nally is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Diane Nally
Nally has held the position of trustee for three years and is seeking re-election to take on some unfinished business, she said.
“I am seeking re-election because it has been a pleasure serving the Kings Park community as a trustee,” Nally said. “We have a great district and community.”
The trustee has been very vocal about the need for a librarian at the district’s two elementary schools. Currently, there is no librarian at Park View and Fort Salonga elementary schools and that is something Nally would like to change.
“There are many issues that still need to be resolved,” Nally said. “I would like to be a part of that. I have a lot to offer.”
Nally said there are many issues with public education and she would like to be an advocate for the district if re-elected. She also said she would like to tackle lowering class size on the elementary and secondary levels.

Kevin Johnston is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Kevin Johnston is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Kevin Johnston
Johnston is currently a teacher at Kings Park High School and is hoping to gain a seat on the board this summer.
The English teacher is retiring in June and said he is hoping to take his newfound time and put it toward helping the community by serving on the board.
“I still want to put out the best education while recognizing the ability of the community to fund this education,” Johnston said.
Johnston said he has inside experience that he can bring to the board as he not only lives in the community but also taught within the district for 34 years.
If elected, he said he would like to work on technology improvements and lowering class size. He also said he would look for other sources of funding including an alumni committee and grant funding.
“I understand the need to raise the high bar in education for college readiness,” Johnston said. “As a board member I feel I can have a stronger voice in promoting Kings Park education.”
The father of two Kings Park High School graduates said the district does a very good job educating students but he believes “we can do a better job if I’m on the school board.”

BOE President Karen Lessler seeks sixth term

Karen Lessler is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. File photo by Erika Karp

When hitting the ballots in May, community members will be voting on more than the budget. They will also vote for Middle Country Board of Education trustees who will run the school board, help shape future budgets and make sure proper programs are in place. There are three seats open this year and three incumbent board members are running unopposed.

Karen Lessler
President Karen Lessler is up for re-election and the 15-year veteran said she is seeking another three years in office.
Lessler has held the position of president since 2003 and said being on the school board is a passion of hers.
“I’m very committed to being a child activist,” Lessler said in a phone interview.
The Kings Park school district teacher has been living in the community for 34 years and has had a son and stepson graduate from Centereach High School.
Lessler has been vocal about the fight to keep public education alive and critical of recent changes in education proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
If re-elected, Lessler said she would continue to be fiscally responsible for the community and fight for students.
“I think the issues I continue to focus on are the needs of students and making them good citizens,” Lessler said.

James Macomber is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. Photo from Middle Country school district
James Macomber is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. Photo from Middle Country school district

Rev. James Macomber
James Macomber moved to Centereach in 2010 and has served on the board for the last three years.
Currently, Macomber is chair of the educational advancement commission, which spearheaded the science, technology, engineering and math program, which is commonly referred to as STEM. Macomber has been very involved in the STEM program as he feels it provides students with the tools they need to be successful.
Macomber is seeking re-election as he enjoys the community he serves and the board he works with. He called it one of the strongest board of educations around.
“It’s a satisfying way to give back to the community,” Macomber said. “I’ve always been a fan of public education.”
If re-elected, Macomber said he would continue his work to advance the STEM program and work to create partnerships and internships through local businesses for the students in the district.
Macomber, a Vietnam veteran, previously taught business at the University of Tennessee, and has lived in Ohio, Tennessee, New Mexico and Georgia. He has four adult children who have graduated from other school districts.

Arlene Barresi is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. Photo from Middle Country school district
Arlene Barresi is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. Photo from Middle Country school district

Arlene Barresi
Arlene Barresi has been on the board for the last nine years and is seeking a fourth term.
Barresi said she has enjoyed her time on the board and is hoping to get a chance at another term.
“We’re in a good place now,” she said. “We have our bond and I want to see it through.”
Last November, the community approved an approximately $125 million bond for capital improvements and security upgrades to the district’s 15 schools.
“We’ve come through very hard times and now we’re doing good, and I want to be a part of that,” Barresi said.
In the past, the district has faced aid cuts, which forced the board and the district to make some cuts. The district, like many across Long Island, is beginning to slowly restore offerings and Barresi hopes to be part of it. On her wish list: an art and music teacher for kindergarten students. Currently, kindergarten teachers provide instruction on the subjects.
Barresi added that she would like to provide younger students who are struggling with additional help, instead of letting problems progress. In addition, she wants high school students to be prepared for life after they graduate, regardless of their path.
“I would like to see more technology programs so people are not only college ready but career ready,” she said.