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Buses

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File photo

By Desirée Keegan

The Middle Country Central School District announced several new programs to engage the students throughout the Centereach and Selden communities for the 2016-17 school year.

The new programs — including specialized music, art and math curriculum for kindergarten students, as well as extra physics classes and the introduction of a Capstone Project — are made possible by the district’s strategic budgeting practices and financial planning. The academic improvements are meant to prepare students for life at the next level.

“At Middle Country, we are dedicated to educating ‘the whole child,’” Superintendent Roberta Gerold said. “We are proud of the many programs we have put in place this year that will help provide students with the resources to excel in the classroom and in the community. These brand new classroom offerings will challenge our students to think critically and prepare them for successful futures beyond the classroom.”

Students at Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center walk into the school building on the first day. Photo from Middle Country school district
Students at Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center walk into the school building on the first day. Photo from Middle Country school district

During the first day of school, students throughout the district took advantage of the many new opportunities provided. Kindergarten students from Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center participated in the new art and music classes, as well as their math literacy program. These initiatives are intended to introduce students to essential Science Technology Engineering and Math concepts.

Other students are also experiencing the excitement of new programs.

Fifth-grade students throughout the district embarked on a newly introduced Capstone Project. The Capstone Project is a two-semester independent research assignment that spans fifth through 12th grade. Designated time for research is granted to seventh- and eighth-grade students, and the eighth-graders will now be able to participate in physics classes.

Outside of the classroom, other exciting news is underway, such as completed projects from the district’s 2015 Bond Referendum.

At the beginning of the school year, students and staff benefitted from the completion of roof replacements, security vestibules, high school track resurfacing, the installation of Smart Boards in the classrooms and new buses and two-student vans.

For more information about academic programs available at the Middle Country school district and a calendar of events, visit www.mccsd.net. To learn more about the student experience and news from the district, also visit www.mymiddlecountryschools.net.

From left to right, school board trustees Dan Tew and Kevin Johnston, Superintendent Timothy Eagen, board vice president Diane Nally, school board trustee Joe Bianco, and transportation supervisor Steve Lee smile with one of the new buses. Photo from Timothy Eagen

Kings Park Central School District is continuing its commitment to the environment by introducing more propane buses to the school’s fleet.

Last year, the district joined a handful of Long Island school districts in going green for transportation in the form of propane-fueled school buses.

Thanks to the support of the community, Kings Park expanded its fleet of propane buses from four to eight for the start of the new school year.

Supervisor Timothy Eagen said the additional buses will help the district cut costs and contribute positively to the environment.

“For the second year in a row, the community overwhelmingly supported the purchase,” he said in a statement. “This choice is yet another way that the school district is looking to save taxpayers money. The transition to propane has gone very well for us, and I look forward to continuing this initiative.”

The purchase of the buses was a separate voting proposition in this past May’s budget vote.

The old diesel buses, originally purchased 15 to 20 years ago, were traded in for $2,500 each. The district owns a fleet of about 60 buses, and it is necessary to purchase buses on an annual basis to maintain the fleet.

Propane is seen as a positive alternative fuel for school buses because it is widely available and costs significantly less than diesel or gasoline. The newest propane engine technology is considerably more cost efficient, quieter, requires less maintenance and is more ecofriendly than either diesel or gas.

In cold weather, diesel engines need to idol for 30 minutes or longer to achieve the proper engine temperature prior to operation. This means wasting gas and paying workers overtime to warm up the bus fleet on cold days. This is not necessary with propane engines.

Moving forward, the administration said it intends to continue to slowly replace its fleet with propane buses.

Eagen said the district will always need a few diesel buses however, for longer sports and extracurricular trips.

“Propane is a fuel that is currently not readily available at gas stations,” he said.

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Jack Blaum speaks at a Three Village board of education meeting. File photo

In the years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — a horror further punctuated by recent college shootings — safety continues to be a top priority for Three Village school officials.

Security & Safety coordinator Jack Blaum detailed the district’s efforts at a recent school board meeting. The past year has seen the installation of vestibules in school lobbies, card key entryways, emergency training for staff and safety drills with students during school hours.

Blaum said an analysis of the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon reveals that such tragedies have three things in common: motive, means and opportunity.

“The one thing we have total control over is opportunity,” Blaum said, last Wednesday. “The opportunity is keeping our buildings closed when we’re in session.”

That is ensured by posting additional full-day security officers at each elementary school, as well as an additional full-day and half-day officer at the junior highs, he said. Security guards are also posted at each entrance to the high school.

The security staff — which is made up of either active or retired law enforcement personnel — checks visitors who must enter an enclosed vestibule before entering a building. Greeters are responsible for late arrivals, early dismissals and helping visitors once they’ve been allowed to enter.

Blaum said that he and his team would begin to train district staff to use the CrisisManager app, which holds the district’s protocol for dealing with different crises. The app offers the advantage of being easier to reference during a real crisis than a paper flow chart, Blaum explained. Parents and students can also download the free app.

In other details, Blaum said the district is constructing a “command center,” with 11 video monitors at the back of the North Country Administration Building. He said the center would make it easier for the superintendent to monitor incidents remotely and help with any investigations.

Across the district, emergency phones — “bat phones,” according to Blaum — connect directly to the Suffolk County police communications supervisor in Yaphank.

“Lockdown buttons,” located throughout each building, will trigger an automated lockdown message, disable key card access to all but emergency personnel and set off sirens and a blue strobe light to alert those outside the building that the school is on lockdown.

Besides the additional cameras installed throughout the district, including the Ward Melville High School football field, there is also a law enforcement presence on weekends and holidays, Blaum said.

Though the district’s advantage is in controlling opportunity, Blaum emphasized the importance of recognizing and reporting changes in student or staff behavior. He reminded the community to use the Safe School Helpline to report safety concerns.

“If you take out one part of motive, means and opportunity, the shooting can’t happen,” he said.

As mandated by the State Education Department, building emergency plans and layouts have been filed with New York State police and distributed to Suffolk County police and the Setauket and Stony Brook Fire Departments.

Buses for all

In another move aimed at student safety, the district will provide busing for everyone. Currently, Three Village provides busing for all elementary school students, but not for junior high students who live less than a mile from school or high schoolers less than a mile and a half away.

“It is the single biggest complaint,” assistant superintendent for business services Jeff Carlson said.

He pointed specifically to the danger posed to students crossing Nicolls Road to get to R.C. Murphy Junior High School. He also mentioned those who have to walk along Christian Avenue, Quaker Path or Mudd Road — which have no sidewalks— to P.J. Gelinas Junior High School. There is also an issue of safety for high school students walking along Sheep Pasture Road, he said.

The three additional buses would cost $220,000, but transportation aid from the state would be around $100,000, he said. With more state aid to further lower the cost, the increase to the tax levy would be around $10,000, Carlson said.

Residents must vote on an amendment to the busing guidelines in a proposition that is separate from the budget.

The school board unanimously voted to add the proposition to the May ballots.

“That’s our duty, our obligation to keep all our students safe,” said board trustee Jeff Kerman, who seemed to sum up the sentiments of his colleagues.