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Joe Coniglione

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New Artwork Four Years, 2 Million Pieces in the Making

Young people at the Comsewogue High School, both current students and graduates, looked down at their feet with a unique sort of pride. There on the floor, amongst a mosaic of approximately 2 million pieces, they could see all the time they spent on hands and knees, carefully laying each and every shard of stained glass and colored pebble by hand. 545 square feet of space, all of it spread out to create an image exemplifying what the students, teachers and admin say make Comsewogue unique.

The new mural, on the other side of the high school’s front doors and vestibule, displays a large Native American man, which the district says represents the area’s historic roots; a tree of knowledge to represent the growth of learning; and a rendition of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” to represent the artists that were at Comsewogue and all those who will eventually find their way there.

High school Principal Michael Mosca said the project started in 2016 when current Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione was still principal of the high school. As assistant principal, Mosca walked the halls with Coniglione, who would pause at the entrance to the high school, thinking of what it could be.

“Every time we would walk past this space, he would always stop and he would look at it, and I would see the wheels turning and I could tell something was going on in there,” Mosca said. “It’s something a lot of our students could be proud of and say, ‘This is ours, we did this, and it’s going to showcase our Comsewogue pride.”

Comsewogue senior and first president of the Arts Honor Society, Alexa Bonacci, said “it’s incredible” to see all the hours she and her classmates have put into it come to fruition. Whether it was after school or even during, she said she has gotten 90 hours of community service hours working on this project alone.

Many of those who worked on the project have already graduated, but many came back to their alma mater to see the hours upon hours of work they put into it realized.

Gianna Alcala, a Comsewogue graduate and past president of the Art Honor Society, worked on it for three years, spending time on it even during the summer to help get it all completed. When she started on it during her sophomore year, there was only a section of the Native American’s head and some of “The Starry Night” image. She remembers cutting tiles into fourths or eighths in order to get better detail.  

“I’m in awe,” she said now seeing it all complete. “I could always see it finished in my head, but the fact that it’s actually come to life, it’s amazing.”

Coniglione said creating something new was a learning process, from having to redo a part of it after the floor cracked, and some redesigns of the mosaic from its original design.

“Every tile was glued down one at a time, nothing was on a mesh,” he said. “It took place over multiple graduating years, so to have a vision, and to have multiple years complete it with that same vision, is pretty impressive to me.”

Art teacher Gina Melton, a now-20-year veteran of the district, has been at the head of the project since its inception, helping lead the students in the project. The last year saw a huge bulk of the effort go to the mosaic.

“For all the high school kids who put so many hours into this, I’m really so proud of them,” she said.

Coniglione said it’s teachers like Melton who have made such a difference in the beauty of their schools.

“This building was built back in the ’70s, and it’s beautiful because of [Melton] and other art teachers like her doing creative projects within the school,” he said.

Mosca thanked custodian staff for helping to preserve the mural as students were walking around it and for helping finish its border.

Also included in the mural is a small but noticeable mint green homage to former Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella, who passed earlier this year, as well as a butterfly in homage to Rella’s wife Jackie, who was well known for her love of bright, fluttering insects.

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The mosaic includes the Comsewogue logo and the notorious cherry tree. Photo by Leah Chiappino

By Leah Chiappino

Comsewogue High School’s lobby will soon receive a unique face-lift. The Art Honor Society and students in the advanced studios and murals class are putting the finishing touches on a mosaic that spans the entire center of the room. Fully designed by students, it consists of intricately placed pieces of hand-cut glass that reflect in the light of surrounding windows, making the whole piece sparkle.

The high school’s Art Honor Society with art teacher Gina Melton and Assistant Super Joe Coniglione on the right. Photo by Leah Chiappino

The project, which began construction three years ago, was the brainchild of Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione. 

“It has been a labor of love,” he said

The area on which the mosaic now sits was once a pit where students could sit and socialize. Eventually, it was filled in with concrete and a mural was painted over it. However, over the years the floor aged and the concrete began to crack, prompting Coniglione to push for something sturdier. 

“My thought process was rather than to paint it and have it crack again, we could have our amazingly talented student do a mosaic,” he said.

He brought his vision to Gina Melton, an art teacher at the high school, who ran with it.

“Both [Coniglione] and I are Italians so we appreciate mosaics,” she said jokingly. “However, mosaics are beautiful, and we figured if they could last through Pompeii, hopefully they will last through Comsewogue.”

Students then began the design process, making sure they included the school’s warrior logo, and aspects of the surrounding area of Port Jefferson Station, including the signature cherry tree outside the school’s window. They also added a starry night sky, as homage to Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, “The Starry Night,” which is a favorite among many students.

The mosaic includes the Comsewogue logo and the notorious cherry tree. Photo from Gina Melton

After the design was approved, students began to install the 2 million pieces, transitioning from glass to tile over time. They have to cut the pieces, lay them out and glue them down. 

Melton admitted the project has been a learning curve. 

“The first year the students were a little hesitant because it was so new,” she said. “545 square feet of space is a daunting task, but now that they’re seeing everything coming together, they’re very proud of it. I can’t even tell you how blessed I am to have the kids I have.”

For students who built the project, the process has had its good and bad times.

 “It’s certainly resulted in many cuts and scratches over the years,” Art Honor Society Vice President Alexa Bonacci said. She added that it was worth it to be able to look back and see what was created. 

While the Art Honor Society only meets once a week to work on it, several students within the club devote their free period and time after school to the mosaic. Bonacci works on it every day. She does not participate in any sports and said most people she knows work on it at least three days per week. She estimated Art Honor Society President Gianna Alcala has worked on it for at least 70 hours.

“This is something so many people are attached to,” society secretary Maison Anwar said. “When you see all the different techniques throughout the piece it makes you feel like everybody has a piece of themselves.”

The project was delayed because of the floor crack and the group of students subsequently having to redo the backboard. The original design was thrown out over the summer, forcing students to have to design much of the  project themselves. This has led the district to host what they call “mosaic workshops,” enabling students to work on the project for entire days at a time. “We made a lot of headway in those days,” Melton said.

Coniglione praised the impact of the program on students. 

“You would be surprised if you sat in Gina’s classroom for a day and saw students who struggle elsewhere in school,” he said. “They excel in her class because she allows students to find their creativity, and finds something good in every person,” he said.

Melton struggled to hold back tears. 

“They are amazing kids,” she said.

The Miller Place and Rocky Point school districts saw community members come out with enormous support for each of the 2017-18 budgets.

In Miller Place, voters passed the $126.2 million spending plan 763 to 162.

“On behalf of the board, we thank the community for supporting our proposed budget with a passing margin of 82 percent for the second year in a row,” Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said. “We look forward to partnering with the community to provide relevant and challenging instructional and noninstructional opportunities to our students, while supporting our staff, and maintaining fiscal sustainability.”

With no challengers, Lisa Reitan and Richard Panico were elected with 726 and 709 votes, respectively. Other write-in candidates totaled 23 votes.

“I’m very happy and honored to continue to serve for the next three years,” Reitan said in an email. “This board has worked so well together that now we can continue on without skipping a beat. I look forward to continue working with the administration and staff here to make Miller Place school district better everyday.”

Rocky Point school district will hold a technology meeting Jan. 26 to gain public input on the preliminary Smart Schools Bond Act spending plan and how to spend leftover funds. File photo by Desirée Keegan

In Rocky Point residents approved the $83,286,346 budget with 663 yes votes and 246 no’s. The district also sought voter approval to access $3,385,965 from its capital reserve fund in order to complete facility renovations across the district. For that proposal, 600 voted for and 312 against.

“We are extremely grateful for the community’s support of our proposed budget and capital improvement plan,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said. “The educational enhancements included in this budget are ones that we believe will further support the needs of Rocky Point students while also providing them with opportunities to succeed at even greater levels, while still maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Incumbent board of education member Sean Callahan and newcomer Joseph Coniglione, who is the principal of Comsewogue High school, were elected with 713 and 641 votes, respectively.

“I’m honored that the people had confidence in me,” Callahan said. “We’re just trying to continue to communicate with the community, continue what we’ve done and have a more open dialogue. It’s not about me, it’s about what we can do for them.”

Coniglione has two kids in the community, and another on the way.

“I just really want to make sure it’s a wonderful district,” he said. “Rocky Point is already wonderful, and I hope to be a great part in continuing that.”

He said juggling two positions won’t be too much of a challenge, especially with support from the Comsewogue school district, and he’s also hoping to keep the communication lines open.

“I work in a district that’s very, very accommodating — they believe in education not just for their kids but for any community,” he said. “I think [this board] will be a nice team. We’ll collaborate to make good, healthy decisions for kids. We want to make sure we have their best interests in mind.”