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Middle Country Central School District

Centereach High School

Middle Country Central School District residents passed the district’s $257,435,446 budget, 1,513 to 545.

The 2019-20 budget stays under the tax levy and is a more than $7 million increase from last year’s budget.

The tax levy increase is 2.47 percent, and according to the board, there will be no reduction of programs or services and includes a multiyear contract for transportation.

Part of the proposed budget includes $189,419,536 for salaries and benefits, $19,514,657 for BOCES, $18,377,310 for debt service and $24,446,737 for contractual items, tuition and transfers.

In an uncontested board of education trustee election, Robert Feeney, Kristopher Oliva and Dawn Sharrock won their seats back, with 1,501, 1,424 and 1,463 votes, respectively.

Superintendent of Schools Roberta Gerold commented on the results in an email.

“Thank you to the entire Middle Country community for supporting the district’s 2019-2020 budget and the ever-expanding opportunities we are able to offer our students,” Gerold said. “The district’s board, central administration, teachers and staff members will continue to provide students with an educational experience — based on the principle of empowering the problem solvers of tomorrow — from the moment they enter pre-K to the day of their high school graduation.

“This is all made possible by the community’s continued support and years of thoughtful financial planning and sound decision making — allowing for a budget that was below the district’s tax levy cap while still offering our expansive programs and services. The district looks forward to many more years of playing a role in helping your children reach their goals and preparing them for a promising future,” she added.

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Members of the Centereach Cougears Victoria Heffern, Aidan Donnelly and Kumpu work on their robot. Photo by David Luces

For the members of the Centereach and Newfield high school robotics teams, they have spent months and countless hours building and perfecting their robots in hopes of getting to their ultimate goal they set out at the start of the season. After both teams performed well at Southern New York State VEX Championships earlier this month, the duo has earned a spot in the VEX World Championships taking place April 24-27 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jackson Mazer and Kevin Swayze test out the Newfield Roverines’ robot. Photo by David Luces

Nicholas Parrinello, Centereach Cougears Robotics adviser and technology teacher, said it all comes down to the student involvement.

“It is not a mentor- or teacher-built robot — it’s all them,” he said. “They come up with the design, test them and make sure it performs well.”

The second iteration of the CHS robotics club/team has been around for the past three years, and Parrinello said this has been the team’s best year culminating in the team being a semi-finalist at the state championship in March.

“To see your name on the screen in second place is a big deal,” he said. “It makes the time you put in worth it — it’s fulfilling.”

Cory Fitzgerald, Newfield Roverines Robotics adviser and technology teacher, said for his students it’s more than a club to them, it’s a culture that they get into and something they want to get better at.

“We had a very young team this year,” the NHS robotics adviser said. “We thought this would be a rebuilding year but we came in and did really well.”

The Roverines won the state championship in 2017 and 2018, and this is the third time the team will go to the world championship. Returning and new team members had some big shoes to fill after a majority of the team left for graduation.

Fitzgerald said initially in the beginning of the season the team didn’t fare too well in its first competition, getting eliminated in the semi-final. For some members of the team this was the first taste of defeat as up until that point they had never lost a competition, and they had made it to the finals of every competition they had been to in the past four years.

“It was a wake-up call for some of these students,” he said. “They came back to this room and disassembled the robots right down to the base and built another one from scratch.”

Members of the Centereach Cougears. Photo by David Luces

To the team’s credit, they bounced back winning, its next two regional competitions.

“The students have really progressed this year,” he said. 

Team members of both teams reflected on their accomplishment and journey to get to Worlds.

“It’s exciting. It’s only our third year and its rewarding [to get to Worlds] after going through so much,” Victoria Heffern, president of the Centereach robotics team, said.

The CHS senior said when they first formed the team everything was new to them, and they were testing the waters and gaining experience. The team got better in their second year and they built on that coming into this season.

“It’s amazing how far we’ve come,” 11th-grader team member Kumpu Ide said.

Team member Erik Swanson said everyone spends a lot of time working on the robots trying to make it the best they can.

“We have shown to the district what we can do and what we are capable of,” the 11th-grader said. “It has allowed us to do more things. Without their support I don’t think we would be able to do what we are doing now.”

This year’s VEX robotics competition challenge is called Turning Point. The game is played on a 12’ x 12’ square field and there are two alliances, one red and one blue, that make up two teams each. The alliances compete in matches consisting of a 15-second autonomous period, followed by a two-minute, driver-controlled portion.

The goal of the game is to get the highest score than the opposing alliance, and they score points by completing a number of tasks including shooting balls at a colored flag, flipping caps to their designated color and climbing on a platform.

Carlie Flanagan, president of the Newfield robotics team said the team is looking forward to the upcoming competition.

“It’s a great experience,” the team president said. “It’s a competition, and we take it seriously, but we also try to have fun. There are a lot of teams that go once, but we are really lucky that we’ve been able to go the past three years.”

Kevin Swayze, lead builder and driver for the team, said it can get nervewracking sometimes during the elimination rounds in events, but it also builds confidence and he believes it’s a good experience overall.

Members of the Newfield Roverines. Photo by David Luces

“It’s really great. You meet people from different states and countries,” he said. “It’s fun, and it’s something you don’t get exposed to often.”

With the rise in demand of STEM-based education curricula in schools, the high schoolers agree that the exposure from being in the club has increased their interest in robotics, engineering and programming. Also, it has opened doors for them in their pursuit for a potential career down the line.

“A lot of the kids in the club have an interest and want to pursue it,” Parrinello said. “It is very fulfilling for me to see students excel.”

The CHS teacher said when students start in 9th grade, they are kind of green, and he tries to push them in a direction beginning with showing them the basic fundamentals of building a robot.

“People graduate, and the next class comes in there’s always those couple of kids that are really interested in it and that’s what I look for,” he said. “You look for the students that are inventive.”

Fitzgerald expressed similar sentiments saying he has a great group of students and a lot of them have a passion of going into the robotics field as well.

“By being here they are getting hands-on experience, learning how to write code and build robots,” he said.

Both Heffern and Flanagan plan on attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall to study robotics. CHS senior Aidan Donnelly plans on creating a VEX robotics team at his college.

The returning members on both teams hope to expand the club and team in the coming years 

“We want to expand the program and possibly have multiple teams, so everyone can get hands-on experience,” CHS 11th-grader Ide said.

NHS team member Jackson Mazer said around 50 students expressed interest in the club this past year. A majority of them were freshmen.

“One of our goals [in the beginning of the season] was to make it to this competition. Now all of our goals is to go further and maybe win this thing,” CHS 11th-grader Swanson said.

Stock photo

For close to two months, more than 65 Middle Country Central School District bus drivers have expressed concerns over the district’s initial proposal to outsource bus drivers’ jobs to private bus companies.

At a recent board of education meeting March 27, district officials said they would be willing to work with the bus drivers and transportation department on the issue.

“We know you are concerned about the members of your department in light of the district’s request for proposal for vendor service options,” Karen Lessler, BOE president, said reading from a statement at the meeting. “We fully appreciate those concerns, and for that reason, we are willing to explore with the transportation department leadership whether we can make some meaningful changes in our operations that would enable us to continue to work together for the children of the district, and we hope to discuss that with you and the leadership in the coming days.”

The bus drivers, who are members of the Civil Service Employees Association, attended previous BOE meetings arguing that the proposal would be a mistake.

John Meyer, CSEA Middle Country school district transportation unit president, said that outside contractors don’t know the kids the way they do.

“We are not just bus drivers, we are like a parent, a friend and even a nurse to our kids,” he said at a BOE meeting March 13.

Angela McHale, a Middle Country school bus driver, argued outsourcing could lead to contracts with hidden costs.

“Extra expenses for field trips, special needs students and rising fuel costs could cost district the 10 to 20 percent more than what is budgetarily anticipated,” she said at the meeting.

Lessler said it is the board’s intent to reach out to leadership and begin to have some discussion regarding the inefficiencies of the department. The board president stated that it is not a targeting of the transportation department as the board looks at how every department can be more efficient and leaner due to the pressure of the tax cap.

“We certainly value the people that work in our district,” Lessler said. “At this time, we are opening that dialogue with the leadership of the department, with bus drivers, and hopefully, that will happen over the coming days, as time is of the essence for the both of us.”

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By Bill Landon

Middle Country boys track and field team opened its season at home but had its hands full against Sachem East March 25.

The standout performance came from Middle Country senior Josh Washington, who won the 100-meter race, placed second in the 200 and swept the long jump and triple jump competition, notching 18 of his team’s 55 points on the day.

The tandem of Bobby Ingraselino and Nico Lavazoli were the class of the field in the 4×400 relay, and Alec Weiss took the 110 hurdle event. Lavazoli crossed the line first at the 400 distance, but Sachem East with strength in numbers finished stronger overall to win the meet, 77-55.

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Students in the Middle Country Central School District returned to school Sept. 5, and readers responded to our request for first day of school photos.