Shoreham-Wading River’s Class of 2017 seniors celebrated graduation day June 25.
Students lined up across the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field to receive their diplomas and toss their caps in celebration of the completion of high school.
Valedictorian Anthony Peraza and salutatorian Kyle Higgins addressed their peers, and other local officials and board of education members bid farewell. Special speaker Tim Sini, Suffolk County’s police commissioner, also shared some words of wisdom with the parting seniors.
Shoreham-Wading River voters may have passed the school budget Tuesday night, but residents made it clear they want change.
The district’s $74,842,792 budget for 2017-2018 was supported by residents with 1,112 for and 992 against, as was a second proposition to establish a 10-year, $7.5 million capital reserve fund with 1,282 voters in support and 813 in opposition.
With the capital reserve fund secured, the district will be able to fund complete facility renovations across its four schools, such as Americans with Disabilities Act features, upgrading athletic fields, bleachers, auditoriums, computers, energy management systems and gymnasiums, among other projects.
“It’s a great relief,” Neil Lederer, the district’s interim superintendent, said of the budget and capital reserve fund passing. “I’m very appreciative of the community … mistakes were made in the past, [and] we’ve corrected them for the future with this budget they voted on. The individuals who benefit the most from this are our students — we’ve got some very nice programs put in place next year.”
It was out with the old and in with the new when it came to the seven candidates who ran for four seats on the board of education.
Two incumbents, board president John Zukowski and trustee Jack Costas, were ousted with 524 and 563 votes, respectively, in favor of three school board newcomers — Katie Anderson (1,318), Henry Perez (1,303) and Erin Hunt (1,279) — who will each serve a three-year term.
Michael Yannucci, a former trustee from 2005 to 2008, received the fourth highest number of votes with 1,087, so he will occupy the vacant seat that belonged to longtime trustee Michael Fucito, who resigned in March before his term was up. He will serve a one-year term and was sworn in immediately after the vote.
Candidate James Smith missed the mark with 1,015 votes. Zukowski, who’s served on the board for six years, said he does not intend to run for the board again. Costas, who was up for his fourth term, also won’t run again.
“I did nine years, the community doesn’t want me, that’s it — I’m done,” Costas said. “I get the message. I’m glad the budget passed and I give the best of luck to the new board.”
Smith, however, expressed interest in running for Yannucci’s seat after the one-year term is up next year.
“There’s a very good possibility,” Smith said. “I’m disappointed, but I wish all the candidates well and hope they make the best decisions for the students and district and community.”
The board’s new crop of trustees, who were all smiles after the results came in, said they were excited to help guide the district.
“I’m on a high,” said Perez, a professional engineer. “I’m thankful that people have faith that I can hopefully provide further vision toward taking the school district to the next level. I’m hoping to work collaboratively with everybody.”
Hunt, a former secondary education teacher, echoed Perez’s call for collaboration.
“I think we have a diverse board and I’m thrilled to work with everybody,” Hunt said. “The main thing we can do is change the narrative in the district to a positive one. Shoreham-Wading River is a really great community and I think we can move forward by focusing on building on all the positive we have here. We can also do more to connect our communities.”
Yannucci said there’s a lot of work to be done to be a more transparent district.
“In my run, I think we had a strong message of bringing the community into the process and engaging a lot of people who were not engaged prior to the election,” he said. “There’s been a loss of faith over the last few years and I’m excited to be able to restore the faith and give the community a sense of pride in terms of the decisions and direction of the district.”
Anderson, a mother of two students in the district, is determined to get to work as soon as possible.
“I’m so thankful to the voters for how the vote went,” Anderson said. “I’m ready to serve.”
A student voice
By Kevin Redding
Jack Tressler wanted to try something new at the start of the academic year — so he threw his hat in the ring to be the student member of the Shoreham-Wading River board of education.
Tressler, a senior, was officially sworn in April 18 to sit in on board meetings and represent the student body by weighing in on district-related matters and discussions.
“I’ve learned a lot about how people conduct themselves and how things at the school are done and how people present their ideas,” Tressler said. “I don’t think a lot of people, especially students, know how these things work and now I have some idea. I’ve been able to present myself in front of professionals and act cordially and it’s helped me out in terms of public speaking, [something] I’ve always been weak with.”
But at his first board meeting, when a group of engineers proposed their plans to renovate the high school’s parking lot, Tressler was quick to speak up.
“They wanted to renovate the lot and most of their renditions would make for less parking spots, and being a student myself, the parking’s already a bad situation — there aren’t always enough spots.”
With just another month as a board member, Tressler, an AP physics and AP environmental science student, said he’d like to implement some change in regards to the school’s environmental standards, like switching to glass bottles in the district.
“In his role as a student board of education member, Jack has proved to be invaluable,” interim Superintendent of Schools Neil Lederer said. “He has provided the board with a unique student perspective that is important to consider when making decisions. I have also been impressed with Jack’s willingness to contribute and self-confidence.”
Tressler will serve on the board until the end of June, when he’ll pass the torch to a new student representative. In the fall, he will be studying physics and engineering at James Madison University in Virginia.
The year’s race for the Shoreham-Wading River’s school board is a crowded one.
With four openings, seven residents — including two incumbents — are hoping to win a seat. Candidates Katie Anderson, Henry Perez, Erin Hunt, James Smith and Michael Yannucci are running, while incumbents Jack Costas and President John Zukowski are seeking re-election. Michael Fucito, a former school board member, resigned earlier this year, leaving a vacant one-year term available.
Zukowski has served the board for the past six years. He also serves on the policy committee and space and facilities committee, and has a law firm with his wife in East Setauket. He was heavily involved in finding the district’s newly-appointed superintendent, and said it would be his duty and pleasure to serve alongside him for at least another term if the voters will have him.
Zukowski said the district has been moving in an uphill direction.
“We’ve made some great strides this past year,” he said. “We’ve added robotics and are continually expanding offerings to our kids to ensure that, whether it’s college or the service or trade, they have the skills available to make a living. Since I’ve been here, the board has functioned as a cohesive unit, we pass budgets the voters approved, we pass propositions and, for the first time ever, we’ve passed a bond.”
He said, moving forward, it’s imperative the district continues to seek the input of residents, provide an exceptional education while navigating what he sees as an ill-conceived and poorly implemented Common Core and maintain a strong fiscal position.
Coming off his ninth year on the board, Costas is seeking a fourth term because, he said, “contributing a tremendous amount of time to the schools, volunteering in the classroom and cafeteria, fuels me.”
Costas, a self-employed general contractor and 13-year resident of Shoreham, said his time on the board has given him valuable insight and knowledge into the educational, fiscal, legal and personnel functions of the district.
When he was first elected, he said, the district was in disrepair both facilities-wise and fiscally, but said he thinks great progress has been made.
“We’ve improved our facilities, passed several propositions, passed the bond and I think morale is higher overall,” Costas said. “Giving up four to five nights out of the month is a small price to pay because I have a vested interest in this district. Not only am I a homeowner, but I have three children currently in the high school and I believe in giving back.”
Anderson, a mother of two young children in the district, has been active in the schools as a member of the Miller Avenue School PTO and Wading River School PTA. She decided to run for the board to serve as a positive communicator and bring people together.
She said she wants the district to take advantage of all its active parents, and that communication between administration and residents is the key to success.
“Communication with the community could definitely be improved,” Anderson said. “We are very reactive at this time, and I think we need to be more proactive in communication and unify the community. I would like to promote the mission and vision of our school district, which is whole child-focused.”
As a licensed real estate associate broker working from her home office, Anderson said she would be able to actively participate and attend all board meetings. She also said as a realtor, she wants to safeguard the district’s budgetary reputation, protect the community’s property taxes and use the taxpayer’s contributions to the district in a fiscally responsible way.
President of the Miller Avenue School PTO, a member of the Shoreham Civic Association and a mother of four, Hunt has decided to run for the board to continue to serve her community.
“I think we have a really awesome community and great schools, and I want to ensure that continues,” Hunt said. “I think we have some of the best teachers on Long Island here in Shoreham, [but] there’s a disconnect between school and board and administration and community, so I’d like there to be more positive dialogue and transparency as to what’s going on. I feel called to serve.”
The former New York City secondary education teacher said she wants to fight to preserve tax rates and serve residents with a lean budget.
“I am committed to contributing a fair perspective that represents all district stakeholders; children first, but inclusive of parents, teachers, staff, administration, coaches, volunteers, taxpayers, board members and residents,” she said.
The father of two has lived in the community for more than 15 years and has served Shoreham-Wading River and other school districts as a professional engineer, working with teachers, parents and administrators to help develop K-12 educational facilities that foster better learning environments for students.
He believes his 23 years of professional experience in design and construction, and position as chairman of the district’s space and facilities committee, will enhance the board of education.
“I think the environment the children are learning in is just as important as what they’re actually learning — classrooms should align with curriculum,” Perez said. “A board is a collaboration of people, so there should be a good balance of people with different backgrounds and I don’t think there are engineers in administration or on the board. I can help provide some guidance when it comes time to making decisions on how to plan things out.”
Smith, a father of four, said the school district has provided a great education, and he values his small community that comes together when needed.
Aside from serving as a coach for the Sound Beach Soccer Club and North Shore Little League, Smith was a former vice president of the Briarcliff PTA, where he set up events like the fall festival, book fairs and parent-children dances.
“When I first came into the district, I wanted to become actively involved and get a better sense of what it had to offer my children,” Smith said. “I have a vested interest in seeing our schools and community succeed.”
In a letter to the district, Smith said one of the most important issues facing the district is transparency between the district and community stakeholders.
“I envision a district where communication is a top priority,” he said. “We must promote programs that are focused on the future, are educationally sound, and are fiscally responsible. To that end, we must create a district focused on 21st century skills enabling our students to be productive and successful members of the 21st century-society.”
The Shoreham-Wading River graduate serves as an assistant principal in the Plainview Old-Bethpage school district and is an adjunct professor of teacher preparation at Concordia College in Bronxville. He served on the Shoreham board as a trustee from 2005 to 2008, where he was involved in getting state aid and installing solar panels within the district.
Yannucci said he’s running again to bring more passion to the board. If elected, he wants to have an open-door policy and talk with any member of the community, as long they’d like, on any given issue.
“As a trustee, my contribution will be a commitment to the community to respectfully listen, be honest, be reflective and be responsive,” Yannucci said. “I’ve sat at board meetings where I too often saw reactionary responses with sometimes rude feedback to our neighbors. I believe to foster a strong community of pride, we should listen to and respect each other.”
If elected, he said he wants to implement more technology into the district to share ideas and communicate with residents and even have live broadcasts of meetings so parents unable to attend them can still stay informed.
The Shoreham-Wading River school district’s school budget and board of education vote will be May 16 from 7 a.m to 9 p.m. at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
After a grueling months-long search, Shoreham-Wading River school district has finally found a new superintendent.
Gerard Poole, who has served as Freeport School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction since 2013, was officially appointed at the top of Shoreham-Wading River’s April 18 board of education meeting.
He will be the district’s full-time superintendent, taking over for interim Neil Lederer, effective July 1.
An educator for more than 20 years, Poole, 50, started out as an elementary school teacher and instructional coach in the Riverhead Central School District and eventually landed an administrative position in Valley Stream school district before transferring to Freeport.
“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to have the chance to collaborate and build upon the successes of the school district.”
Although Poole has been a lifelong resident of Mattituck, where he lives with his wife and two sons, he said it was an easy decision to apply for the Shoreham-Wading River position. He said he believes it’s one of the best districts on Long Island.
“It’s truly a privilege and an honor to have the chance to collaborate and build upon the successes of the school district,” Poole said during the meeting. “I’ve met many parents, teachers and administrators and [got] a warm welcome and sense of community from everyone.”
When he was interviewed back in February, he said it was clear he and the district saw eye to eye.
“I thought it was a great fit,” Poole said.
There are some key things for every superintendent to be successful, he explained.
“[The most important thing] is to be really open, accessible, forthright, collaborate with the community — to really find out exactly where we want to head, figure out the programs and what the student needs to really reach their full potential,” he said. “It’s not just really important for me to look at documents or student outcomes, but to really listen and hear from parents, staff and students, and work with the board to continue to come up with the great work that’s already in place here in Shoreham.”
Poole’s outlook falls directly in line with what parents in the district asked for.
Bob Freier and Joann Kaplan of District Wise Search Consultants were hired by the district in November not just to find a new superintendent, but to gauge the community on what kind of characteristics they should seek in finding a permanent replacement for previous full-time superintendent Steven Cohen, who retired last summer after holding the position for five years.
Kaplan said the group interviewed more than 30 prospective candidates and narrowed it down to Poole.
“One of the things that stood out for me was how do we become one of those special districts on Long Island? One way is to pick a leader that has a vision. For me, he had that vision.”
“It was very important for the superintendent to be a face in the community and be a part of the fiber of the school — not just somebody in the office but somebody who would become a part of the culture of Shoreham-Wading River,” Kaplan said. “We actively recruited [Poole] because he’s brought so many incredible things to Freeport. He met our goals and excelled.”
During his four years in Freeport, Poole focused on providing world-class opportunities for his students, believing that all of them should receive core foundational skills before graduating.
He partnered with local universities to implement a challenging curriculum to prepare students for college, which included elementary-level introduction to technology, advanced science research and expanding college credit opportunities.
Board president John Zukowski said Poole stood out above the rest of the candidates.
“He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the district — he knows the culture here,” Zukowski said. “He has a lot of enthusiasm and incredible ideas. One of the things that stood out for me was how do we become one of those special districts on Long Island? One way is to pick a leader that has a vision. For me, he had that vision.”
Zukowski ended the meeting by referring to Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance artist, who for three straight years slaved away at a massive piece of marble deemed too defective by other sculptors to create something out of. Michelangelo eventually sculpted his renowned David statue out of that rock. When asked how he did it, the artist said, “I see the angels in the marble, and I carve until I set them free.”
“On those days in this job when you feel you are just pounding rocks,” Zukowski said to Poole, “I’m going to ask you to keep carving because we definitely have angels here that you can set free. On behalf of the board, welcome aboard … we look forward to working with you so we can develop the potential of every kid in this district.”
At the end of last week’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting, it bid farewell to its “rock of reason” — a member who’s devoted 27 years to bettering the district and the lives of its students.
In announcing the retirement and resignation of Michael Fucito, 79, who first joined the school board in 1977, board president John Zukowski said Fucito had an incredible commitment to the community and had always been prepared for every meeting, leaving the job with the same dedication he started with.
“When we get this job, we’re all sent out for this training [in Albany] and they tell you how to be a board member,” Zukowski said. “What they ought to do [instead] is say, ‘go follow Mike Fucito around for a couple days’ … he’s always applied his common sense and his logic and he kept everybody on track.”
Fucito, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Wading River, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 until 1959 working on radio systems and learning about electronics before becoming an electrical engineer at Northrup Grumman Corporation in Calverton, where he worked for 34 years. He married his wife Joan in 1960 and together they had three daughters, all of whom went through the school district.
Fucito decided to join the board, and served for two terms from 1977 until 1993 and then from 2006 until last week, because he felt it was his responsibility to give back to the community and improve the district as best he could.
During his tenure, he was a mover and shaker when it came to building maintenance, budget and overall safety for the students, serving on the main board of liaisons on the safety committee formed in the late 70s and 80s, when the much-opposed Shoreham nuclear power plant stood in East Shoreham.
The safety committee, consisting of concerned residents, board members and teachers, was formed to discuss the district’s evacuation plans in the event of a serious nuclear accident at the plant, in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident.
“Mike is the epitome of what a trustee should strive to be. He’s always prepared … he’s always willing to serve, go the extra mile, sit through the ardor of every different committee and always comes out with his same smile.”
“He was always an incredibly conscientious, hardworking, reflective guy and that’s what you want in a board member,” said Ed Weiss, a former board member and Fucito’s longtime friend. “You’re there to help kids and that’s the way he worked.”
He didn’t anticipate his early March resignation. He planned on finishing out the school year before retiring, moving from Wading River to his summer home in Wells, Vermont, but his house ended up selling in just three days.
Board trustee William McGrath, who’s worked alongside Fucito on the board for nine years, said his friend’s early resignation is New York’s loss and Vermont’s gain.
“Mike is the epitome of what a trustee should strive to be,” McGrath said. “He’s always prepared … he’s always willing to serve, go the extra mile, sit through the ardor of every different committee and always comes out with his same smile … He has been the glue that has held this district together for an awful long time.”
Upon receiving a plaque presented by the board, Fucito humbly stated his accomplishments weren’t a one-person effort, and said it takes a whole board to work to get something done.
“It has been my pleasure to serve the community all these years and I also have a great deal of respect for each of the members I’ve served with,” he said. “I wasn’t on the board to try to be a superhero or anything, I just tried to work with the staff and see how we could improve the situation for the students.”
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