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Middle Country school district

Centereach High School in the Middle Country School District. The district superintendent is just one of many concerned about impended state aid cuts. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Schools are staring down the barrel of funding cuts because of the COVID-19 crisis.

While students have been returning to their new normal of hybrid classes, remote learning and plastic barriers between desks, school districts across New York state are concerned about the news surrounding a potential 20% state funding cut.

Elwood Super Ken Bossert, pictured above before the pandemic, said every single school will need to make painful cuts if things don’t go their way. Photo from Heather Mammolito

According to New York State Education Department, the State Division of the Budget has begun withholding 20% of most local aid payments, forcing reductions in some payments to school districts across the state. The reductions in aid, combined with increased costs during pandemic times, could affect not only students, but community members too.  

“All public schools throughout New York state will have to make deep and painful cuts if federal assistance in the form of school aid is not secured,” said Ken Bossert, superintendent of Elwood school district. “The governor’s proposal of reducing aid by 20% will impact districts that rely heavily on aid in a devastating way. Not only will programs and staffing be redacted, the gap between the ‘haves and the have-nots’ will widen.”

Mark Secaur, superintendent of Smithtown school district, noted that during the height of the pandemic in New York last spring, the state adopted a budget that contained three review periods, in which local aid distributions might be reduced on a rolling basis, based on the revenues the state received. 

“On August 18, districts throughout New York state received a state aid payment for the 2019-2020 school year that withheld 20% of the expected payment,” he said. “Also included was a note that all future payments would be reduced by 20% in the absence of federal relief.”

Secaur added that for Smithtown, this equates to a potential loss of upward of $9 million in state aid. 

“When developing our 2020-2021 school budget, the district took into consideration the potential loss of state aid and made adjustments,” he said. “However, these losses, coupled with the unfunded expenditures required for the safe return of students, will likely force the district to significantly utilize the fund balance and reserves to balance the budget.”

In addition, the budget doesn’t cover the costs that are protecting children returning to their classrooms. 

“Cleaning supplies, dividers for rooms … the cost is close to $4 million,” said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country school district.

That sum didn’t include the cost to keeping the schools operational — even when students weren’t in them when the pandemic hit. 

“There was still a cost to keep the schools running,” Gerold added. “It was a rough couple of months.”

Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, agreed.

“In a time when students need more, we won’t be able to provide that,” he said. 

While Poole and his peers are trying to stay optimistic, and are pleased to have students back, he wonders if it will be sustainable. “It’s an uncertain time — it won’t be the easiest thing for districts to put a budget together this year,” he said. “We just have to take it day by day.”

“We’re trying to plan for a budget without knowing what’s going to happen.”

— Roberta Gerold

While each district is different on the Island, they can all agree that continuing to plan during an uncertain time is very difficult. 

“We’re trying to plan for a budget without knowing what’s going to happen,” Gerold said. “If we have the info, we can figure that out. … It’s a scary time for sure.”

Miller Place school district declined to comment but did release a letter Sept. 3 penned to elected officials, asking for their support.

“As our elected officials we implore you act quickly to stop any and all federal and state reductions regarding payments to New York state school districts,” the letter said. “As district leaders we remain focused on the mission of returning students to our classrooms, and providing them with the social, emotional and academic supports they need in order to achieve their 2020-21 instructional goals.”

The letter continued, “Please recognize any reductions in federal or state aid payments would dramatically reduce our ability to sustain our district’s fiscal health, as well as maintain the support needed to ensure our students and staff physical health.”

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Wendol received a prolomation from State Sen. Ken LaValle, from left, Kevin Verbesey, Director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Edward Wendol, Founding Director of Comsewogue Public Library Richard Lusak, Ken LaValle’s aid Jeff Kito; Comsewogue library director Debbie Engelhardt. Photos by Debbie Engelhardt

For Ed Wendol, of Port Jefferson Station, time is not marked in years, but in decades.

Ed Wendol has spent 48 years on the Comsewogue Public Library board of trustees. Photo by Debbie Engelhardt

How long was he a teacher in the Middle Country school district? Nearly three decades. How long was he on the Comsewogue Public Library board? Two years shy of five decades. 

On his last day on the library board, the institution’s administration and a few lifelong friends held a short reception for Wendol to celebrate him serving his community, and Suffolk libraries, for year after year after year.

Now Wendol, 78, is planning to move down to Florida to be closer to his family. He, like so many other Long Islanders who are part of the exodus down to places like the Sunshine State or North Carolina is doing it with a heavy heart, knowing he’s moving from the place he has lived in and cared for over the past 50 years.

“What I’m particularly proud of, of being a trustee of the Comsewogue library, is that I’ve been elected to that position over the years,” Wendol said. “The public to me is important to recognize what we’ve been trying to accomplish with the library, and to me it’s the cultural center of the Comsewogue community.”

He is a past winner of TBR News Media’s Person of the Year, in 2003, for his work in Civics, specifically the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association when he vehemently opposed the closure of the DMV location in PJS. That DMV still stands today, partially thanks to his activism. Alongside his work in the civic, he has been an active member of the Polish-American Independent Club in PJS. 

It’s rare for people to have such an immediate reaction to hearing about a community member simply taking the well-worn trek to sunnier pastures, but Wendol’s work with libraries goes well above and beyond what’s normally expected with a library board trustee.

Richard Lusak, of Port Jefferson, was Comsewogue library’s first director and stayed in the position from 1966 to 2003. He saw Wendol as one of the most instrumental people for the library’s longtime success. 

When the library first came into being back in 1966, it was conceived to serve the residents of the school district, forming a five-member library board setting up in a rented 1,000-square-foot trailer a year later. Wendol had moved to the area from Queens in 1967, learning to live in a near-rural place like PJS where the sound of crickets kept city slickers like him up at night. He had long been a lover of libraries and books, he himself being an English teacher. Shortly after the Comsewogue library’s creation there was turnover on the library board, and that’s when Wendol stepped forward, being elected to the board in short order in 1972.

Throughout the years, Lusak said the venerable board member became a beacon for what a trustee could be, almost epitomizing everything the library trustee handbook — yes, it is a real book — stood for. While Wendol was working full time, he took night classes and gained a degree in library science, for what he described as wanting to be more knowledgeable and more helpful in the month-to-month decision-making process.

“He was instrumental in keeping everything on an even plane,” Lusak said. “He was a role model for the other board members.”

Current library director Debbie Engelhardt said that the past eight years in her position have been effective and “gratifying” thanks to Wendol’s steady presence and positive attitude.

“Ed understands well and is a true model of excellence in trusteeship,” she said. “Ed is steadfast, a voice of reason and has vast experience. He speaks his mind and is also a great listener. Ed’s positive influence helps us to keep moving forward. The healthy board dynamic Ed helped shape will remain.”

In his time on the library board, he also came to be recognized regionally for his service. He has several times been elected to the Suffolk Cooperative Library System board of trustees, helping oversee all libraries in the Town of Brookhaven. He has also previously served as that board’s president. Doing that he said his priority was to make all the libraries from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket to Longwood Public Library come together to benefit the whole in their shared mission.

“Ed Wendol has been, for 48 years, the model of what a library trustee and public servant should be,” said Kevin Verbesey, SCLS director. “Ed always understood the critical role that a public library plays in the educational, intellectual and cultural life of a community. He was always informed, polite, active and firm in his support for and belief in libraries. Everyone in Suffolk County who cares about public libraries owes a debt of gratitude to Ed Wendol.”

Along with being active in Port Jefferson Station, for 27 years he was an English teacher in the Middle Country school district. In 2019, Wendol came across a host of copies of Newfield High School’s newspaper, The Quadrangle, sitting in his attic. The dates ran from 1970 to 1976, when he was the newspaper club’s adviser. The ex-Middle Country teacher donated his large collection of papers to the Middle Country Public Library for it all to be digitized.

It’s been a long ride for Wendol, and looking back from how the Comsewogue library progressed, first from its rented trailer location and now into a center where he loves to note that it serves everyone from preschool age all the way up to senior citizen. Libraries now are touchstones for local events, for helping people navigate an increasingly digital world, and all the while still giving people access to his beloved books. Next on the libraries’ plates, he said, is to emphasize culture, and offer people more real-world experiences on some kind of excursion, even if it takes them away from a library’s brick-and-mortar location.

“I think it was a fabulous thing we were able to accomplish,” Wendol said. “I think the aspect of people coming into the library, and wanting to come into the library … I’m happy to say with Debbie Engelhardt and my fellow trustees on the board, we are open.”

Evan Jenkins, Centereach Salutatorian and Gianna Gurovich, the Valedictorian. Photos from MCSD

Evan Jenkins — Centereach High School Salutatorian:

Jenkins finished his high school career with a 101.91 weighted GPA. The senior was an AP Scholar with Distinction, recipient of the Rensselaer Medal and the Centereach High School AP Platinum Award. Jenkins served as National Society treasurer, a Tri-M and All-County percussionist and a member of the All-State symphonic band. 

The Centereach native plans to attend Lehigh University in the fall and will study engineering.  

“I’m going to miss Centereach, I’ve met some of my best friends here and I’ve gotten to know some amazing teachers- especially this year,” he said. 

Jenkins said the decision to take physics this year helped solidify what he wanted to pursue in college. He credited his physics teacher, Al Levik. 

“Taking his class really had a positive impact on me and led me to want to be an engineering major,” he said. 

Jenkins is excited to get on Lehigh’s campus saying that the school is planning on opening back up in August. 

“I’m really looking forward to meeting new people and having that college experience,” the senior said. 

He plans to be involved in performance arts at the college either joining the wind ensemble or jazz band. 

Jenkins gave advice to incoming freshmen. 

“I would say to get involved as much as possible and take advantage of a free public education,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to take AP or college level courses, you learn so much valuable information and it can help you find your career path. Also, it’s important to stay motivated.” 

Gianna Gurovich — Centereach High School Valedictorian: 

Gurovich finished her college career with a 100.36 GPA. The senior was an New York State champion gymnast, recipient of a Silver Medal in World Championships and President’s National Service Award, member of the National Honor Society, Science Olympiad, vice president of the Italian Honor Society and Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar. 

Gurovich will attend Cornell University in the fall where she will be studying biomedical engineering. 

The Centereach native said she’ll cherish her time at the high school and enjoyed being around her friends and getting to know her teachers. 

“We just found out that Cornell will allow us to move onto campus, I’m looking forward to getting involved in their club gymnastics and staying active in the community,” she said. 

Gurovich credits her family, friends and teachers for helping her get to where she is. She also shared some advice for incoming freshmen and lowerclassmen. 

“Be involved as much as possible, go to every event,” she said. “It is also important to stay focused and set goals for yourself.”

Selden residents lay out candles to spell Jenna’s name on the Newfield High School football field. Photo by Kyle Barr

On the green turf football field at Newfield High School, the Selden community, also swaddled in different shades of green, laid out candles in the grass. The crowd came together like a tide. As they stepped back, the candles spelled out the name “Jenna.” Underneath her name, the flickering yellow and green electric candles and tealights also framed a heart.

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Jenna Perez, 17, a Selden resident who worked at the Five Guys in Port Jefferson Station was killed Aug. 24 while crossing Route 347 southbound at around 9:25 p.m. She crossed around 300 feet west of Terryville Road, police said. The driver who hit her sped off, and police said they are still searching for that person.

“She was one incredible kid from the day I met her,” said Scott Graviano, the Newfield High School principal. “A very quiet spirit, but always with a smile on her face, always saying hello. And with that sweet, soft quiet personality, she gained the love of support and respect of this entire community.”

For the hundreds of community members looking for ways to heal, remembering Perez as the loving and outgoing high schooler was the best way to deal with their pain. Wearing green, Perez’s favorite color, friends, family, faculty and more from the community held glowing electric candles while the sky slowly darkened Aug. 31. Several friends spoke for her, talking and remembering her fun-loving personality.

“She lived a short life but clearly left a significant imprint,” said Asia Austin to the crowd gathered at the vigil. “As someone who has been grieving recently, I want those to understand that we should not follow down that road in thinking we have no purpose … with support from family and friends, you will find yourself and you will be OK.”

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Donna Austin was her guardian for the past three years, taking care of Perez and her twin sister Janell in Selden. She had met the twins in 2008 when they were 8 years old living in the Bronx as she went there to take care of one of their relatives. Austin would eventually run a community center out of the building where the Perez family lived, and the twins would always be there to decorate her offices for whatever holiday came up. When their grandmother died, she took both sisters in to live with her back in her hometown of Selden.

“Jenna’s face would have lit up, and she would have been smiling, looking at all of her friends who had come to her like this,” Austin said.

Their caretaker said Jenna thrived in Selden, making innumerable friends and rising higher at Five Guys. She was set to take up her first supervisor training sessions at Five Guys on her birthday Sept. 6. Austin said she had been extremely excited and proud. 

Naziyah Dash, one of Perez’s high school friends, said she has been heartbroken since she learned of her friends death.

“Your story will always be cherished,” she said. “I will keep you alive in my heart.” 

The community is helping monetarily with three separate GoFundMe pages that have been set up in  Perez’s name. The first, which is donating funds to twin sister Janell, has reached close to $9,500. The other two GoFundMe pages are for funeral expenses.

Newfield High School Principal Scott Graviano speaks at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The Newfield community is an amazing place — deep rooted, full of love and support, and that’s evident here tonight,” said the principal. “Janell, we love you very much as a community, I hope you know that. We will continue to love and support you.”

An additional memorial service will be held Sept. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Church on the Sound, 335 Oxhead Road in Stony Brook.

A funeral for Perez will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home, 524 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx Sept. 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. Burial will be at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx Sept. 12 with a time still to be determined.

Members of the Carol Putahl Literacy Foundation have access to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which is a collection of classic childhood books. Photo from Carol Pufahl Literacy Foundation

Students in the Middle Country Central School District’s Universal Pre-K program are receiving the gift of literacy from the Long Island-based Carol Pufahl Literacy Foundation. 

Thanks to state funding secured by the office of State Sen. John Flanagan (R), the foundation is providing free, age-appropriate books each month to the children, in keeping with the foundation’s mission to increase early childhood literacy. The grant will help offset the cost of the program.

The literacy foundation delivers what’s known as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to each child enrolled in the UPK program as part of a system that includes access to books and family literacy. Founded by the country singer in 1996, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a set of books beginning with the children’s
classic “The Little Engine That Could.” Each month, a new carefully selected book is mailed directly to the home of children enrolled in the program. Registration is free, with no cost or obligation to the family.

“Studies clearly demonstrate that early literacy is the key to academic and lifelong success.”

— Roberta Senzer

The Middle Country UPK is the largest program on Long Island, serving more than 400 youngsters from Centereach, Selden, Lake Grove, Lake Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson Station and Farmingville. Participating family members have been overwhelmingly positive about the program’s impact on their children since it was first introduced last month.

“My son gets so excited to open the mailbox to look for and get his monthly book,” said mother Jennifer Capinigro. “Thank you.”

Flanagan is a long-standing education advocate, having previously served as the chairman of the New York State Committee on Education.

“It is my pleasure to be able to assist the Carol Pufahl Literacy Foundation in its mission of providing children in our community with a strong educational base,” he said. “By delivering books directly to young children in the Middle Country school district, the foundation helps ensure that these children enter school already acquainted with reading. This will help them reach their full potential and allow them to succeed in the coming years.”

Research has shown that children raised in homes that promote family literacy grow up to be better readers and do better in school than children raised in homes where literacy is not promoted. This is also supported through the Carol Pufahl Literacy Foundation’s Family Literacy workshops, which teach families how a child can be an active participant, rather than a passive one while reading with parents.

“Studies clearly demonstrate that early literacy is the key to academic and lifelong success,” foundation CEO Roberta Senzer said. “The Imagination Library is one way our foundation is working to foster a child’s love of
reading and to put books in the hands of all Long Island children to ensure they have the advantage they need when starting kindergarten.”

To learn more about the foundation or to make a tax-deductible donation visit www.cpliteracyfoundation.org.

Dawnwood Middle School's boys basketball and cheerleading teams. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

Seventh-grader Chris Buzaid may be the smallest kid on the basketball court at 4-10, but when it comes to drive, hustle and spirit, there’s nobody bigger.

During a midseason game against Brentwood North this past December, the 12-year-old guard for Centereach’s Dawnwood Middle School dove onto a loose ball with some physically imposing players from the other team. He ended up with the ball, and a bloody lip. But when his coach, Tim Dowler, tried to take him off the court, worried about the injury, Chris begged to be allowed to keep playing.

Dawnwood Middle School student Chris Buzaid with current New York Knicks NBA player Joakim Noah. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

“I ended up having to take Chris out for a bit, and then, when he eventually went back in, he just took the game over,” Dowler said.

Within a couple minutes Buzaid had three steals in a row and hit three jumpshots to lead Dawnwood to victory. The team of seventh- and eighth-graders would end the season in January undefeated for the first time in school history since 1974 — a feat Dowler said Chris contributed largely to.

“He just went right back out there and faced the same bigger kids, showing no fear,” the coach said. “It would be very easy for someone like him to want to play a little softer and feel a little afraid, but that isn’t him.”

Chris isn’t just a star athlete — he started playing travel basketball in fourth grade, has been on three of the best Amateur Athletic Union boys teams in the New York metropolitan area and is an accomplished cross-country runner. He is also among Dawnwood Middle School’s brightest students; he’s currently in the National Honor Society and has a 99.5 GPA, with a particular interest in science and history, and a tendency to help fellow students who may be struggling in certain subjects.

“He’s an amazing student and such a good Dawnwood citizen — Chris always does what’s right,” Dawnwood Middle School Principal Kristi Leonard said of the district’s former student of the month. “He’s definitely a natural leader and just has a great inner confidence. Chris has so many commitments in and out of school, balances clubs and sport activities while maintaining near-perfect grades.”

Chris Buzaid Photo from Cindy Buzaid

So it makes sense that Chris has been chosen as one of six finalists in a special competition presented by the Brooklyn Nets All-Star Awards recognizing junior high school basketball players within the tristate area that “demonstrate grit, determination and a desire to succeed both on the court and in the classroom.” His mother and coach nominated him in the fall and he was announced as a finalist in January, with Dowler saying he “was the perfect person to represent Dawnwood.”

Chris and the other five finalists, some from Brooklyn and Nassau County and others from Connecticut, will be attending the Brooklyn Nets Summer Basketball Clinic and a Brooklyn Nets v. Chicago Bulls NBA game in April. The finalist with the most votes will be announced during that contest, and win a $3,000 grant for their school’s athletic program.

“Chris is such a hardworking, competitive person and always tries to be the best that he can,” said mother Cindy Buzaid. “And now, I think he’s just in the competitive mode of wanting to win this for his school. He really wants to be able to say, ‘I was able to win this for Dawnwood.’ He loves his basketball coach, he loves Dawnwood and he’s really excited.”

Cindy Buzaid said she felt her son exhibited all the required traits of a stellar scholar-athlete when she put his name in the ring — grit, dedication, character, academics and teamwork. In her nomination letter to the organization, she wrote of her son’s maturity and strength through tough situations. Between the ages of 3 and 6, Chris witnessed his father, Jim Buzaid, be diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin
lymphoma. While his father is now in remission, Chris carried a lot of those early memories with him as he grew up.

“Chris knew what cancer was before any kid should,” his mother said. “It made him a tough kid — made him grow up a little faster than others. Chris is such a fun-loving kid, but I believe the whole thing made him a more serious person and learn not to take things for granted. He was always very protective of me at that time and worried a lot about me getting sick, too.”

Jackie and Chris Buzaid. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

She said it makes sense that her son fell into basketball, as his older sister, Jackie Buzaid has spent most of her life playing the sport.

A Centereach High School graduate, Jackie Buzaid played basketball throughout her adolescence and currently plays as a senior at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland.

She remembers her brother always tagging along with her for pickup games at the park and watching her play from the sidelines at school. It also didn’t take long for him to develop his own competitive spirit, she said.

“Christopher doesn’t settle for mediocrity,” Jackie Buzaid said. “I remember when we would go shoot at our local park, he would always have to make three 3-pointers before he could leave. My brother’s determination to constantly improve and excel are what make him stand out from others. But he’s also kind and generous, and has a way of making people smile.”

It’s still up in the air as to what exactly the grant money will go toward within the athletic department, but whatever it is, Chris said he just hopes it will help the school.

“I’m really happy that I might have a chance to win money for Dawnwood, because I really want my coaches and friends and all the other kids in my school to be able to have something new,” he said. “Being a good student and athlete is important to me because I get to be healthy, active, one of the top kids in my class and I really like to help others who need help.”

To vote for Chris visit the Brooklyn Nets website www.nba.com/nets/community/2017-18/allstarawards.

Chris Crespo scores 16 points in victory

Denis Sullivan carries the ball toward the basket. Photo by Bill Landon

By Jim Ferchland

Senior guard Chris Crespo was the catalyst for Smithtown West in a 57-42 victory over Newfield Jan. 23. He had 16 points on the night, scoring seven of the Bulls’ 19 first-quarter points.

Chris Crepo squeezes between defenders for a bucket. Photo by Bill Landon

Newfield head coach Anthony Agostino said Crespo made solid plays for his team all game.

“He makes everybody else around him better,” Agostino said. “He sacrifices his own individual points to get the ball where it needs to be. That’s why he’s a scholarship player.”

Crespo said he loves getting everyone involved in the game.

“I’m pretty sure every single one of my points were a layup or a foul shot,” Crespo said. “We hit a lot of threes today. When everyone is involved like that, it makes things a lot easier. It definitely feels good to get the ball moving and everyone scoring.”

Three players scored in double figures for the Bulls. Matt Behrens and Michael Gannon each added 11 points and combined for five 3-pointers. The team made eight triples on the night.

With the win, Smithtown West improves to 8-1 in League III, just behind undefeated Half Hollow Hills East, which outscored the Bulls in the county finals last year.

“It’s really about playing good basketball and us being able to hit our stride toward the playoffs,” said Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino, Anthony’s brother. “We played well. The core kids who got a lot of playing time played great.”

Xavier Martinez shoots. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior Paul VonVoight contributed for nearly half of Newfield’s points. He led all scorers with 20. He got rolling in the fourth quarter, knocking down three 3-pointers to help Newfield outscore the Bulls 16-6, but it wasn’t enough.

Newfield falls to 2-7 in League III play and 4-11 overall. The Wolverines have lost three of their last four games. Despite the loss, Tony Agostino took some positives from the game.

“My guys fought till the very end,” he said. “Our goal was to keep them under 59 points. They scored 57, so we achieved one of our goals.”

Crespo said Newfield sat in their zone defense, which Smithtown West is used to seeing, so his team exploited that.

“Teams tend to struggle when playing us man-to-man,” Crespo said. “We have a lot of weapons. When teams play zone, we like to shoot threes. That’s what I like about us. When you play us, we play defense as hard as we can. We play a team-oriented style of basketball. In Suffolk County, we are a dominant force. That’s why we’ve won back-to-back league titles.”

Newfield is scheduled to play at Huntington (2-7, 3-12) Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m. Smithtown West will host crosstown rival Smithtown East (3-6, 6-9) the same day at 5:45 p.m.

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Jill Webb

Ryan Bloom and Leo Chen have been announced as Newfield High School Class of 2017 respective valedictorian and salutatorian.

Bloom has managed to handle a full plate of academics, extracurricular clubs and a top student government position while amassing a 101.9 GPA to be named valedictorian.

Ryan Bloom

The senior graduates with 42 college credits and was fully engaged outside of the classroom with his extracurricular activities. Not only was he the president of his senior class, but also held positions as  secretary of the Thespian Honor Society,  co-president and editor of the newspaper club, and  PSTA council delegate. He was also a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and World Language Honor Society.

Community service efforts Bloom has been a part of include serving as a religion education catechist at St. Gerard’s Majella Church in Port Jefferson Station for five years, and volunteering for a special needs bowling program during the summer.

He believes his personal goals along with his family’s support has driven him to attaining top-of-the-class status.

“The combination of those two has really pushed me towards success and has made me want to always go one step further than I already have,” he said.

Theresa Bloom, the valedictorian’s mother, recalls the perseverance he demonstrated from as early as 3 years old.

“He was always a child that was very organized and very detail-oriented in the way he actually did anything,” she said.

Bloom credits his time as class president as having a huge influence on learning useful skills for his future.

“You’re working with over 350 students and trying to have those communication skills and also leadership skills,” he said. “It’s taught me a lot [about] the virtue of patience”

Leo Chen

He notes his leadership positions and involvement with clubs during high school have led him to  explore career options in law or government. He will be majoring in political science at Northeastern University.

Like Bloom, Leo Chen has cultivated an impressive resume, which includes a GPA of 100.2 with 45 college credits.

The senior has been recognized as an AP Scholar with Distinction due to his performance on multiple AP exams. Outside of academics, Chen was a very active member at Newfield, as a member of the book club, Tri-M Music Honor Society, National Honor Society, select jazz band and  chamber orchestra.

Chen also is a promising athlete, and captained  the varsity track and field and cross-country teams.

One of his proudest accomplishments was achieving a personal best in the mile, with a time of 4 minutes, 32 seconds. Chen grew up with asthma, saying it was a “good achievement to feel like I overcame that.”

He said for students looking to be at the top of their class in the future, they shouldn’t think about it too hard.

“I don’t think your goal should be to achieve the ranking,” he said. “You should just find yourself — do what you like to do.”

In the fall, Chen will be a computer science major at Yale University.

Scenes from Centereach's Class of 2017 commencement ceremony June 25. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Jill Webb

Leading Centereach High School Class of 2017 are valedictorian Demi Lambadis and salutatorian Kelly McLaughlin.

Lambadis divided her time between a busy academic schedule, student government involvement and extracurricular activities.

Since seventh grade, Lambadis has had it in the back of her mind that becoming valedictorian was “more of a personal goal as opposed to anything external.”

Demi Lambadis

She  graduates with 10 AP classes under her belt, along with three additional college-level courses. Her extensive AP course load has earned her recognition from the College Board as an AP Scholar with Honors.

In addition to academic success, Lambadis has served  as both the president and vice president for her class. She was also acting vice president of the school’s Leaders’ Club.

Agnieszka Taciak, an AP Environmental teacher at Centereach  whom Lambadis was close with, said she’s proud of the dedication her student continued to give to her curriculum.

“There’s no secret to it — she simply does work, and is very proud of the quality of the work,” Taciak said. “And she’s very humble about the approach to work.”

Dance is one of Lambadis’ favorite hobbies, and this year she’s once again on the road to nationals. She noted she also placed at every regional and national dance competition she entered.

Taciak recalls one instance where Lambadis’ work ethic stood out to her. The teacher had given an assignment over the same weekend her student had to travel to a dance competition.

“I was reasonably expecting that she would have to be asking for a time extension,” Taciak said, but was surprised when instead, Lambadis came into school that Monday smiling with the assignment ready in hand.

For students looking to be a future valedictorian, Lambadis said, “the main thing to focus on is to not worry about everyone else, and to worry about yourself.”

Come September, Lambadis will be a freshman at Lehigh University, studying biomechanical engineering.

Kelly McLaughlin

Salutatorian Kelly McLaughlin, like Lambadis, has completed an extensive amount of AP courses, finishing with 11, and adding four college-level classes onto that list.

Outside of academics, McLaughlin had a busy schedule. She balanced her time between serving as  president of her school’s National Spanish Honor Society and as an active member of the National Junior Honor Society.

Laura Melfi speaks very fondly of McLaughlin’s presence in her AP calculus class, regarding her as sometimes being a secondary teacher.

“Kids would ask her questions ‘Kelly, how’d you do this? What’d you do?’ if I was busy helping someone else,” Melfi said.

In the future, McLaughlin hopes to become a math teacher, citing her teachers, including Melfi, as inspiring her to take that career path. Melfi said she feels McLaughlin possesses the traits needed to be an effective math teacher.

“She doesn’t let her intelligence make her feel like she’s better than anybody else,” Melfi said. “She will help everybody and anybody.”

McLaughlin also sets aside time to give back to her community by volunteering as a tutor for students at the Middle Country Public Library. Her volunteer experience has landed her some tutoring jobs, usually in math and science.

McLaughlin said she enjoys being able to help out.

“For me to make someone understand it — that feels really good that I have that impact on them,” she said.

This experience will be handy as McLaughlin goes off to study mathematics and education SUNY Geneseo.

By Desirée Keegan

Residents in the Middle Country school district chose to pass the $243,590,487 budget 1,658 to 418.

Doreen Feldmann

“We thank our community for its support,” Middle Country Superintendent Roberta Gerold said. “The budget will continue to provide the students of Middle Country with the highest quality educational experience while fulfilling our financial duty to maintain careful control of expenses on behalf of taxpayers.”

The district will look to expand upon its 22 AP and College Tie offerings, add lab space for eighth grade living environment, add math periods for students in sixth through eighth grades, increase K-5 literacy and continue the full-day, pre-K program.

Board of education candidates Dina Phillips (1,523), a newcomer; Doreen Feldmann (1,512), an incumbent; and Ellie Estevez (1,380), also a newcomer won their uncontested races, with 17 write-in votes.

An active member of the PTA and a nine-year board member, Feldmann is also the chairperson of the Selden Centereach Youth Association; serves on the Middle Country Education Foundation; and has served or is continuing to serve on district committees such as the audit, anti-drug coalition, policy, legislative, PPS advisory council, safe schools and school business advisory boards.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve Middle Country,” she said. “I want to continue my work supporting children and the school board.”

Dina Phillips

Dina Phillips, a 17-year resident and stay-at-home mother of two, was in the accounting field for 12 years.

She’d been an active member of the PTA for many years, holding the position of treasurer, and is currently vice president at Stagecoach Elementary School and recording secretary at Selden Middle School, which she said gives her the skills needed to serve on the Middle Country board.

“I feel very honored to be elected to represent the community,” Phillips said. “I was a little disappointed on the turn-out of how many people came out to vote. We are a big district and I was hoping to see more voters. They need to realize that it starts at the local level to make changes. I would like to bring parents, educators and lawmakers together and begin to find solutions for the benefit of all students. I’m excited to continue to advocate for the children.”

Ellie Estevez

Estevez, a three-year resident and a senior at Newfield High School, said she wants to continue to offer students opportunities for success and academic excellence.

The president of the mock trial team is also a member of the jazz choir, jazz band, pit orchestra, Tri-M Honor Society and leadership club, and is also a volunteer at Stony Brook University Hospital. She said she likes the unique student, soon-to-be graduate aspect she brings to the board.

“As the district looks ahead to the 2017-18 school year, we will continue to offer our wide-ranging educational programs aimed at preparing students for success, today, and long after their time at Middle Country has concluded,” Gerold said. “District-wide STEM programs, math literacy initiatives, music, arts and athletics programs — all aid in this mission to deliver an education that offers students a foundation to make positive contributions in the world.”