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Elementary School

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Once upon a time, a girl named Fiona read the book “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

She thought it was funny and charming that a child could see what no one else admitted. But then, something strange happened: she thought she could also see things that no one else could.

“That’s sweet, Fiona, but focus on your school work and let your imagination run wild at other times,” her father told her that night.

Fiona did as she was told because she wanted to please her parents and her teachers. It was her teachers that caused problems for her.

It started with Mrs. Butler in her third grade class. A tall, thin woman with white hair and glasses, Mrs. Butler always wore high-heeled shoes. She looked directly in the eyes of every student. One day, her friend Simona fell and hit her head. When Mrs. Butler bent down and checked on her friend, Fiona saw the kind of coat doctors and nurses wear appear around her shoulders. Fiona rubbed her eyes, but the coat was still there. Mrs. Butler calmly told the class to go to their seats, sent Bill to get the nurse and kneeled on the floor near Simona.

When the nurse left with Simona, Mrs. Butler’s white coat disappeared.

The next day, Jeff couldn’t understand a math problem. He wrote numbers all over the paper, but he didn’t have the answer.

Fiona noticed a change again in Mrs. Butler’s clothing. Instead of her powder blue blouse, she had an orange vest and white gloves. With numbers on the smartboard, she directed Jeff away from all the dead ends.

When he got closer to the answer, Jeff smiled. Fiona looked back at Mrs. Butler, whose orange vest and white gloves disappeared.

Later, Doug and Andrew got into an argument near the stack of books at the back of the room. When Doug swung his arm to make a point, he knocked over several books.

Fiona saw Mrs. Butler’s clothing change again, this time into the kind of black and white stripes that referees wear in football games. She could even see a whistle dangling from her teacher’s neck.

The next morning, Jill and Amanda couldn’t agree on how to do a class project. Jill marched to the front of the classroom to complain. Amanda followed closely.

While Fiona couldn’t hear everything, she saw a black robe form around Mrs. Butler.

When the conversation ended, Mrs. Butler said something that made both girls happy. They shook hands and walked back to their desks, where they returned to work on their project.

One day, Fiona arrived early to class. She and her teacher were alone and she felt like she had to say something.

“Mrs. Butler?” Fiona asked.

“Yes?” Her teacher replied.

“I see all the clothing you wear,” Fiona said. “I don’t think anyone else sees it.”

Mrs. Butler narrowed her eyes and looked carefully at her student.

“What do you see?” Mrs. Butler asked.

She described the medical jacket, the orange vest, the referee’s coat and the judge’s robe.

“What do you think of all that?” Mrs. Butler asked.

“Is it real?” Fiona asked.

“Thank you for seeing,” Mrs. Butler grinned. Other students walked into the room and class started.

Just then, Fiona heard an alarm. Mrs. Butler reacted immediately. She held up a shield and directed everyone to the back of the room.

While they waited, Mrs. Butler told everyone to remain quiet. The class waited for the all clear.

“It was a drill,” Mrs. Butler said. “You can return to your desks.”

Fiona was the last to leave the classroom that day.

“Fiona?” Mrs. Butler asked. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes,” she said. “Thanks for … everything.”

Last month, Terryville Road Elementary School celebrated National Random Acts of Kindness Day. Guided by the school social worker, Tiffany Liebling, students practiced kindness by participating in Kindness Bingo. Boys and girls could check off a box on their board by paying a student from a different class a compliment or making someone smile.

“It’s an absolute joy to see how thoughtful Terryville students are! I feel blessed to work with such exemplary children,” said principal Annemarie Sciove. 

A student-created poster contest depicting thoughtful quotes and artwork decorated the building for the last few weeks and winners were just announced. Congratulations go to 5th grader Anderson Latt, 4th grader Paige Stonehill and 3rd grader Gia Ochoa. And a special acknowledgement to Mrs. Stoeber’s class who won the Kindness Bingo and will enjoy a pizza party next week. 

“It’s good to take care of the world,” said 3rd grade winner, Gia. 

Photo from SWRSD

How many opportunities are there to celebrate the number 100? Miller Avenue School staff and students celebrated the 100th day of school with STEM projects galore, dressing as if they were 100 years old, having a 100th Day Parade and so much more.

Science, art, technology and, of course, math skills were used throughout the building to celebrate this exciting milestone. 

Students in Vicki Radonavitch’s kindergarten class used their growing imaginations to build whatever their engineering skills would allow out of 100 different manipulatives. Cara Behrens and Janelle Belotti’s first grade students built with 100 cups, Legos, pattern blocks and snapping cubes. They also organized stickers and fruit loops into 10s to make necklaces. 

“We had so much fun,” Ms. Behrens said. “It was an exciting day with the students collaborating together to work as a team and develop their interpersonal skills.” 

Other classes completed various center activities throughout the day, incorporating the number 100 and signifying the successful move forward in the academic year.

Kathy McLeod retired back in 2013, but she still kept a tradition of mailing her former students a keepsake when it was their turn to graduate. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kathy MacLeod taught in the Miller Place School District for 36 years. 

Mostly a fourth-grade teacher, she created years ago a project that would eventually become a tradition for her students and their families. 

“The students had to write a letter to themselves that I would save and mail to them when they were ready to graduate from high school,” she said. “And they were just adorable.”

MacLeod would have the students write to their future selves about their families, hobbies, what they learned in school and what they thought they’d be doing as a senior.

Ariel’s self portrait.

“Sometimes, they were very funny, like, I’ll be driving a Lamborghini or, you know, I’ll be playing Major League Baseball,” she said. “And some would be more realistic, saying that I’ll be driving a car or working at McDonald’s.”

The first batch of letters had to wait eight years to eventually be mailed out, with a reminder of the graduating year when they were to be dispatched. 

And the majority of the time, MacLeod said, the students forgot the assignment from their elementary school days. 

The Miller Place High School graduating class of 2021 was different, though, as this was MacLeod’s last batch of letters. 

In 2013, she decided to retire, but retirement didn’t mean stopping from sending out the last eight batches of letters her students wrote. Over the last eight years, she sent the envelopes back to them with copies of what the children wrote to themselves. 

Sadly, this was her last group to graduate.

“The parents love it,” she said. “They’re very emotional when their kids are getting ready to graduate, and it’s like a voice from the past.”

MacLeod is so devoted, she always finds a way to get the letter into the right hands — one former student she had to track down in Arizona, and the girl was thrilled. 

“Teaching there was the best job I could have had in the best school,” MacLeod said. “It really was a wonderful place to work.”

Along with the letter and the self-portraits she encouraged them to draw, MacLeod attaches a photo from the students’ fourth-grade class picture. The kids look different now. 

“I remember them like it was yesterday,” she said. “It’s so funny seeing them grown up.”

Of the class that has just graduated, the students recently received their letters that their previous teacher mailed out. 

Andrew’s self portrait.

Andrew Bova, 17, said the blast from the past was very different than what he previously remembered. 

“I wrote to myself that I’d be a professional Islander player,” he said. “Now I’m going to Emerson College for musical theater.”

Bova said it was a blast from the past and reading what he thought of his life when he was 8 years old was nostalgic. 

He said can’t thank her enough for this fun memory. 

“She’s by far my favorite teacher,” he said. “I really appreciate her.”

Ariel Martin, another student, said that her 8-year-old self thought she would have pink streaks in her hair and would be going to Harvard after high school.

She decided instead to Chapman University in California for film production. 

“I just want to give her a big ‘thank-you’ for holding onto these and sending them out to all of us,” she said. “To this day, she’s my favorite teacher.”

MacLeod said it’s bittersweet that she won’t have to head to the post office with a large envelope in 2022. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“I just wanted to remind them how proud I am of them, how creative and fun the class was,” she said. “But this class in particular, they were such a creative, loving bunch. It wasn’t an easy last year and a half, and I just think they came through with flying colors.”

Last week, Leg. Caracappa spoke at Stagecoach Elementary School in Selden proposing the removal of polling stations at elementary schools. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden) announced the first step in an ambitious effort to remove polling sites from all schools in the county. 

At a press conference March 5, Caracappa announced that Stagecoach Elementary School in Selden would be the first school in his district to be eliminated as a voting site starting in April. 

“Today marks the day that we strike a better balance between the safety of our school children and logistical needs of our voters,” said Nick LaLota, commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections. 

Suffolk has more than one million voters, with over 333 polling sites. Two thirds of sites are currently schools. Logistically, schools are highly accessible sites for voting given their sizable parking lots, handicap access and large open spaces for voting machines.

As local alternatives, nonschool buildings will be used as polling sites to accommodate voters. Up for consideration are the Selden Fire Department’s main station and substation, as well as the New Village Recreation Center in Centereach. Utilizing high and middle schools have also been proposed as alternatives to elementary schools. 

“Eliminating schools as polling sites has been a high priority in this community since I sat on the Middle Country school board over 10 years ago, which makes today such a special day,” Caracappa said. 

The proposed overhaul comes after reports that school leaders and parents are worried about voters interacting with young students on voting days, potentially putting them in harm’s way. That’s in addition to the costly increased security required for schools on voting days, which comes out of the school district budget. 

Shaun Rothberg, principal of Stagecoach Elementary School, said, “This was a collaborative effort over many years of hard work and dedication to bring awareness to the safety concerns of using schools as voting sites, and I hope is the beginning of removing school voting out of all three buildings.”

Voters will at minimum receive a postcard in the mail alerting them of a polling place change along with the effective date. 

“We want to ensure that when we make this change, we’re not only doing it on the focus of the safety of the kids, but we also want to ensure that votersw are fully aware and how they can participate in our great democracy,” LaLota said. 

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Board member Pam DeFord pushes for the implementation of another full-time librarian. Photo by Barbara Donlon

After incorporating all but one wish list item in its 2015-2016 budget, some Kings Park board of education members insisted on raising the tax cap to add a full-time librarian position.

On Tuesday, the district presented its last budget presentation, which included a tax levy of 2 percent — lower than the maximum 2.27 allowed by the state. The district was able to keep the levy low and still add all the items it wanted, except a librarian that would split time between both Park View Elementary School and Fort Salonga Elementary School.

“So on the wish list, the only thing we didn’t do was the librarian for Fort Salonga and Park View,” board trustee Diane Nally asked. “If we had gone to the 2.27 and we did do the librarian, would there be additional monies also in there to go towards the applied fund balance?”

The district’s superintendent, Timothy Eagen, addressed Nally’s question and said increasing the levy to 2.27 percent would leave the district with roughly $170,000 that could potentially pick up the last wish-listed item.

Increasing the tax levy to 2.27 percent would cost the average homeowner $22 per year, which is something board members Diane Nally and Pam DeFord were advocating.

“I am disappointed that the librarian to be split between Park View and Fort Salonga is not included in the budget because I do think that is important,” Nally said.

During the discussion, board trustee Pam DeFord spoke about a staff member being hired to fulfill an unfunded mandate from the state and said if the district did not have the mandate, the librarian position could have been fulfilled.

DeFord pushed to allow the tax levy to increase to 2.27 percent; she feels since the state is allowing it, the district should take full advantage of it.

“By going up to the 2.27, which is well below what budgets have passed historically here in Kings Park, we could possibly bring back a full-time librarian,” DeFord said. “Now is the chance to restore, start to restore what our kids have been missing for so long.”

Board President Tom Locascio and Vice President Charlie Leo said they felt uncomfortable maxing the allowable tax levy. Leo mentioned that the district originally projected a 1.71 percent increase and raising it to 2 percent was enough of an increase.

“One of my concerns is we have put forth a budget where we were always talking 1.71, and I think the community kind of started to get a nice feel the budget was going to be 1.71,” Leo said. “I don’t want to hire a librarian, then have to reduce a librarian.”

According to Eagen, the district has a contingent position in the budget in the event that kindergarten registration is higher than normal. If the registration is lower and the position is not needed, there is a chance the position could go toward a librarian.

“We could absolutely take that contingent position and dedicate it to the librarian,” Eagen said.

Parent Bill Claps addressed the board in support of adding a librarian and said he feels the school needs one. He said he is embarrassed that the district can’t offer a librarian to its students.

“You’ve all had librarians in your school, so why can we not afford that for our children,” Claps said. “I don’t want to pay taxes anymore than anyone else does, but we have to bring the district back to certain standards.”

Chris Philip, president of the Kings Park Classroom Teachers Association, also took to the board in favor of a librarian.

“It’s really incomprehensible under the common core rigor that we don’t have one [a librarian] in every school,” Philip said.

Philip said librarians do more than fund books and it’s crucial for their education that students have access to a librarian.

As of Wednesday, no decision had been made on whether the district will go to the 2.27 tax levy to add a librarian.

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Gordon Brosdal addresses parents about full-day kindergarten on Wednesday. Photo by Erika Karp
A small contingent of parents erupted into a round of applause at Mount Sinai’s Wednesday night school board meeting, as Superintendent Gordon Brosdal announced that full-day kindergarten is included in his 2015-16 budget proposal.
Gordon Brosdal addresses parents about full-day kindergarten on Wednesday. Photo by Erika Karp
Gordon Brosdal addresses parents about full-day kindergarten on Wednesday. Photo by Erika Karp

The meeting marked the first time district administrators committed to making the jump from half-day kindergarten. However, they were quick to remind parents that the move helps more than just the youngest students.

“It’s not a full-day K budget,” Brosdal said. “By giving our kids full-day K, you’re benefiting our entire program.”

The school board still must vote on whether to adopt the budget next month before it goes to a community vote on May 19. The proposed $56.7 million plan increases spending by a little more than 3 percent over the current year and stays within the school district’s tax levy increase cap of 1.86 percent.

Last month, a group of residents spoke in support of full-day kindergarten, saying students need the additional classroom time to meet the new Common Core Learning Standards.

Supporters of the plan had previously expressed concerns that students would fall behind under a half-day program, as there isn’t enough time to cover all the topics required by the Common Core. This was also a worry for Brosdal, who said under a full-day program students would have extra time to learn and would benefit down the line, as would their teachers, who will no longer have to worry about playing catch-up.

Last month, Renee Massari, one of the parents who supported the full-day plan, said she supported full-day kindergarten because she is seeing her son struggle this year as a first-grader who went to a half-day program. On Wednesday, she thanked the district administrators for proposing the change.

“I think I am speaking on behalf of plenty of people when I say thank you and we are excited.”

While the district is receiving $459,125 in state aid to help implement the program, it will still have to spend $90,000 of its own funding to cover the cost. In past budget presentations, officials had estimated a higher district cost.

At previous meetings, school board members agreed that full-day kindergarten was important for student success, but were hesitant to propose the change, as they wanted to make sure the district’s current Kindergarten through 12th grade offerings were maintained and the full-day program would be sustained in the future.

“The board and myself annoyed you perhaps, but you have to look at the budget down the road,” Brosdal said.

On Wednesday, school board President Robert Sweeney spoke about some of the challenges in budgeting for the upcoming school year, as the district grapples with a dwindling surplus, which could run out by 2017-18.

Even so, he said he remained optimistic about the future, as the school board members advocate for additional education aid and legislators move to restore the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a reduction in aid for each school district that was once used to plug a state budget deficit.

Sweeney thanked residents for their patience, but was blunt about the importance of voting in the future.

“Where will you be in the future, as a community, in terms of supporting your school?” he asked.