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Mount Sinai School District

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The Mount Sinai School District released its preliminary reopening plans July 31, and though documents state the district would prefer to have all students in school five days a week, it has instead put forward a hybrid model for all students in grades 1 through 12.

Documents state that Mount Sinai simply does not have the building space to comply with New York State guidelines on remaining six feet apart. All students will be put into two cohorts separately in the elementary, middle and high schools. Cohorts will be alphabetically based in order to keep students in the same family going in at the same time.

Monday through Tuesday and Thursday through Friday will be taken up by one of the two cohorts, and all students will share Wednesday for remote learning.

Meanwhile, students in kindergarten will be able to attend in-person four days a week, with remote learning one day a week. In the elementary school, each room will need to be thoroughly disinfected in between cohorts usage.

Students in special education which normally learn in “self-contained classrooms” will be able to attend in-person instruction four days a week, with remote learning one day a week.

Kindergarteners will be assigned to classrooms of 18 to 20 on average, which the district said it should be able to do with current accommodations. For Grades 1 through 4, students will be placed into cohorts of 10 to 15 students depending upon the physical size of the classroom. This will be accomplished by taking a traditional classroom of 20 to 25 students and splitting into two groups alphabetically. The elementary school will prevent intermingling across cohorts by limiting movement of the cohort throughout the day. The only movement of the cohort will be to lunch and potentially physical education. Faculty may travel in and out of the classroom for art and music instruction.

During remote learning, the district said attendance will be taken through Google Classroom recording a student’s logon. Remote learning may consist of synchronous, with a teacher present live online, and asynchronous instruction dependent upon the course or teacher.

Teachers are also expected to communicate with parents weekly, for elementary students, and biweekly for parents with kids in the middle and high school.

In order to attempt to maintain social distancing, the district will put signage and markings on the floor to designate traffic in the hallways and for standing on lines in places like the cafeteria.

Cohorts in the middle and high school will be broken up into last names starting with A through Kh and Ki through Z. Music lessons will be created within each cohort group. Students will also be assigned one of several doorways in each building to both enter and exit the school, and no student is allowed to use their gym or hallway locker, and they will often rely on online textbooks.

Upon arrival, students that do not have the required proof of temperature from home will be directed to a screening area. The district will conduct temperature checks outside the building at a designated location upon arrival via touchless thermometers. If the student has a temperature above 100 degrees, the nurse will be called by radio to escort the student to isolation waiting room for pick up.

The district’s survey showed that out of 1,085 responses, 86 percent said they would send their children to school for in-person instruction in the fall. 66.5 percent said they would need to use buses for transportation.

Still, some number of respondents said they would require district help. Approximately 112 respondents said their child does not have access to a computer, tablet or laptop for use in the online component.

Mount Sinai 2020 Valedictorian Aaron Angress and Salutatorian Skyler Spitz. Photos from MSSD

The two young men heading up Mount Sinai’s Class of 2020 are mathematically minded individuals hoping to reach new heights in their careers. 

The top of Mount Sinai’s class this year includes salutatorian Skyler Spitz and valedictorian Aaron Angress.

Angress, with a total weighted grade point average of 105.17, has been a member of the National Honor Society, the decorated Ocean Bowl Team, active in STEM ROV building and a National Merit Scholarship finalist. On the artistic side, he is a member of All-State and All-County symphonic band, a member of the pit band and mini-ensemble group.

The valedictorian said one of his favorite activities during high school was his participation in the school’s Ocean Bowl team, which participates in quiz-bowl competitions based around oceanography. The team qualified for a national competition in Washington, D.C. 

The graduating senior, who moved to Mount Sinai when he started fifth-grade, said growing up in the hamlet was “pretty great,” and the district “played an integral part in my process of growing up.”

His best memories from high school, along with the Ocean Bowl team, was playing saxophone with the various groups around New York and his senior trip to Disney World.

Angress plans to attend Northeastern University to study mechanical engineering and physics. He said he would enjoy being involved in scientific research, and if the stars align, his dream is to visit space as an astronaut.

Spitz finishes the year with a weighted GPA of 104.86. He spent his high school years as a student council vice president, a National AP Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society, varsity tennis captain, member of Mathletes and Future Business Leaders of America All-Sate winner. He said the best part of his extracurriculars are the memories and friends he made.

He too felt the best moment of his high school career was being able to take his senior trip despite the start of the pandemic.

The salutatorian will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to major in statistics and analytics in the hope of becoming an analyst at a quant in the future. 

Though their years were cut short because of the pandemic, Angress said those students entering their senior year should figure out what it is they want to do and prepare for the future.

“Personally, the pandemic has taught me to take nothing for granted — I’ll certainly cherish everything much more now, even the little things,” Angress said.

Spitz said that the year had been nothing but disheartening, but he suggested students look to take advantage of their senior year to have at least some fun.

“I was looking forward to creating many more memories this year and can now only hope that I will be able to graduate alongside my friends,” he said. “Everything will work out, and you might as well enjoy your final moments in school rather than worrying about the small things in life out of your control.”

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr

It very well could be a challenging next few years for school districts all across Long Island, let alone the North Shore. Districts await with bated breath any announcement from New York State regarding any new mandates, let alone the announcement for when schools could potentially let students back into buildings. Not to mention, the potential drastic cuts in state aid due to major state budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set up committees headed by billionaire Bill Gates and others to look at “reimagining” education, though what that will mean down the line could have major impacts on school district operations.

With that, only two of four local school districts have contested elections, but all still face similar issues. Given these challenges, The Village Beacon Record has given all board candidates the chance to say what challenges they see ahead for their districts.

For more information about districts’ 2020-21 budgets, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com/tag/school-budgets.

Shoreham-Wading River

Three incumbents are looking to return to their seats at the SWR school board, and no challengers have presented themselves to contest those positions this year. Each seat is for a three-year term. 

Michael Lewis

Current board president Michael Lewis has been on the board for four years, and with two children in the district, he said that while the position is stressful, “It is very rewarding to see the board’s impact when students attend our meetings and display their accolades, achievements and success.”

Lewis, a senior project manager for an architectural firm on Long Island, said the biggest concerns for the future are the potential for state aid cuts and for what he called “unfunded mandates” caused by new physical distancing regulations.

What may help the district into the future is what Lewis called their “very healthy” capital reserves, which may allow for more flexibility in uncertain and potentially lean times. 

“Having a very supportive community which has consistently approved our annual budget, a four-year average growth of only 1.52%, is a huge advantage as well.” he said.

Lewis said he is hopeful for full student attendance of buildings come the start of fall, but still the district has purchased Chromebooks for all elementary students, with secondary school students already having them. 

“Our administrators have offered multiple professional development opportunities which a majority of our teaching staff has taken advantage of,” he said. ”There is always room for improvement in everything we do as a district.”

Katie Andersen

Katie Andersen, who is finishing her first term as trustee on the SWR BOE, said difficulties the district will face in the coming years will be issues of mental health and gaps in student knowledge from distance learning.

Andersen, who is vice president of the board, said she has several children in the district, including a seventh-grader, fourth-grader, first-grader, and a brother who is a junior in high school. She is a member of several committees and is involved with the PTA and SEPTA. Outside of work on the board, she is a marketing consultant.

“I’m deeply committed to serving our community in this role,” she said. “In spite of the challenges and extensive donation of time, I do enjoy it.”

Though she said the most significant issue is students’ emotional well-being, she added the district will also be facing issues from complying with new unfunded state mandates, such as having to provide distance learning on the fly, that will be a challenge “while becoming increasingly creative at stretching every dollar so that we can continue to enhance our programming and move forward with the maintenance projects for our buildings,” she added.

While Andersen said the district will continue to improve upon lessons taught by rolling out distance learning, she felt the district did everything it could with what it had.

“The resources provided to students and parents, the ongoing professional development provided to teachers, and the tireless efforts of our administration and staff has been nothing less than remarkable,” she said. “Our district will continue to provide for the needs of our students, staff and families as creatively as possible under these less than ideal circumstances … A growth mindset isn’t just something we teach our children — it’s at the heart of everything we do here in SWR.”

Henry Perez

With his third year on the board under his belt, Henry Perez, a mechanical engineer for a national architectural/engineering firm and near 20-year Shoreham resident, said the district is trying to be fiscally responsible despite the current hardships.

“The current pandemic will impact New York State’s financial ability to support local education,” Perez said. “I expect reduced funding from Albany in the next few years.”

He added the pandemic will likely change how students are taught in the future, and with the fear of additional unfunded mandates, it will mean a greater challenge to the district as it attempts to continue its current levels of education. 

“Shoreham-Wading River is already positioned to continue providing this level of education,” he said. “However, going forward requires careful planning to navigate these changing times. Listening to the community and receiving timely feedback in this time of social distancing is extremely important.”

Perez, who has two children in the district, said distance learning remains a complicated topic. The biggest issue is despite current efforts that he and others in the district are proud of, “it requires months of planning and feedback to develop and fine-tune a distance learning platform.”

However, the district has made major strides with its virtual classroom through its Chromebook initiative. Rolling out the distance learning structure in “a matter of days” showed the district’s quick response time, and feedback helped fine-tune the services. 

“I am confident we will only see improvements,” he said. “It seems in this day and age many expect things to be perfect from day one, myself included. However, it’s this expectation that results in change. It is change that brings opportunity.”

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District has three candidates running for two at-large seats for the 2020-21 school year. Each seat is for a three-year term. This year two incumbents and one newcomer are looking for the public’s nod.

Sean Callahan

Sean Callahan, the current board vice president, has sat on the BOE for six years. Himself a labor lawyer specializing in education and school issues, he said he and the board have spent the past years “transforming” the district by hiring people in central office and in principal positions, adding the board has worked to maintain balanced budgets and improve communication between the board, administration, staff and community.

“I am running once again to continue the transformation into the next generation,” he said.

Callahan, a Rocky Point resident since 1975 and father of three sons, two graduates and one in middle school, said he has experience in school auditing districts. He added he is also a certified school business official. On the local side, he has been a member of the Rocky Point civic, PTA and was a 10-year member of the North Shore Little League board of trustees.

As for upcoming issues due to the pandemic, the longtime resident said the board has already worked, even prior to schools closing, to tighten the belt. This year with a tax levy cap set at 0.08 percent and having prepaid part of their bonds of over a million dollars, which meant little had to be changed due to the pandemic with no loss of educational programming. While there is a chance state aid can be cut down the line, he said his day job offers him insight others may not have. 

“During this pandemic through my employment I am privy to many internal discussions from the governor’s office as well as having access to many other school districts,” he said. “This enables our district to learn from others’ mistakes and borrow their ideas.”

Jessica Ward

Trustee Jessica Ward has been on the board for one year, having run last year to finish the term of another trustee who had resigned.

She works at the William Floyd School District as an office assistant at William Floyd High School, which she said gives her insight into the ground-level view of what districts are having to do during this unfortunate time. She has four children who attend Rocky Point schools at every level from elementary to high school.

She sees the issues that districts all across the island will face in the near future as maintaining programming despite potential drastic cuts in state aid, following the guidelines for and ensuring the health and safety of staff and students in the aid of social distancing and trying to create a balanced budget to facilitate all that. Districts also face the challenge of ensuring equal access to technology for all students in the event that distance learning becomes more cemented in the future.

“We need to make sure that we are using our resources wisely, examining existing contracts to ensure fiscal responsibility, thinking outside the box in terms of schedules and extra-curricular activities, researching grant opportunities for technology needs, and partnering with other districts and Eastern Suffolk BOCES for staff training and curriculum needs,” Ward said.

With that, she added she feels Rocky Point has done an “excellent job” in rolling out distance learning. The district identified students in need of electronic devices in their homes, and the English as a Second Language department “ensured non-English-speaking students received the help and support they needed.

Some teachers in the district have been presenting audio and video lessons, and the guidance department, she said, has been reaching out to students who need additional assistance.

“There is always room for improvement though, and in the future, I would like to see every student at Rocky Point receive a Chromebook or device to assist in distance learning should we need to continue this in the 2020-21 school year,” she said. “I would also like to see all of our teachers doing some form of live interaction with our students via Google Meet or another platform in the future.”

Kellyann Imeidopf

A 10 and a quarter-year resident in the Rocky Point school district, Kellyann Imeidopf said her two main jobs are as a real estate salesperson and as a mother. She has four students in the district, with one in kindergarten, with the others in first, eighth and 10th grade. She said she decided to run because, “I ultimately have the children’s interest at heart. I want to be part of the team that shapes how our children get ready to become productive and active community members themselves. I want to create a shared vision for the future of education.”

She said the main challenges the district will face in the coming years will be regarding the mental health of both children and staff, and how they will “maintain social distance, but not emotional distance.” 

She said there will be setbacks from online learning, adding there needs to be a look at how to adapt the physical classroom to a virtual environment that can both engage children without leaning on parents. She said she has other ideas for how to prepare seniors heading off for college, even though seniors don’t have the same access to guidance departments they had when students were in school buildings.

In terms of distance learning, she said the district is working with the resources it had on hand, and both teachers and parents are “all dealing with this transition in not only professional ways, but personal, social-emotional and economic ways. I believe every staff member has our children’s best intentions at heart.”

She added the district can come together as a team to develop ways to ease the burdens on parents.

Miller Place 

The Miller Place School District has two seats up for election, and two incumbents are looking to fill them. Trustees Richard Panico and Lisa Reitan are the only candidates asked to be put on the ballot.

Both could not be reached before press time. The two candidates will be included in a follow up article if they respond before the June 4 issue of the Village Beacon Record.

Mount Sinai

This year, Mount Sinai voters will be asked to cast ballots for three at-large board seats with a total of four candidates running. Three incumbents and one newcomer are looking to fill the at-large seats for the next three years.

Edward Law

Ed Law, also a nine-year member of the Mount Sinai BOE, said he has decided to run again because with the district facing unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the district will need to navigate the pandemic and continue offering the same level of education. That, he said, will need experienced hands. 

“During my time on the board of education, we’ve been able to improve on the objective metrics of success for our district as well as providing for the specific needs of students who have developmental delays and disabilities,” he said. “Our track record of success of our students earning admission to competitive colleges and universities has been improving year over year while our district has expanded choices and options for those who choose career over college. We need to continue to improve on these.”

Law, who works full time as a management consultant, said the biggest challenge for the district will be in potential loss in state aid. The ongoing crisis might also result in other unfunded mandates, but he called those “nothing new.”

He added that the district has crafted its 2020-21 budget with consideration toward potential state aid cuts, while still keeping the tax levy increase minimal.

“As a district, we have evaluated every line item of our operating budget to ensure that we can provide continuity of our program,” he said. “This current scenario has been reflected in our proposed budget.”

In terms of the future of education at Mount Sinai, Law, who has one child in the middle school and two recent graduates, said that the district has tried to address concerns with how the district is doing distance learning. Though it’s hard to tell what may be in the future, the district must plan for everything.

“We have had a few issues raised by parents and we have it addressed directly by the teacher and principal,” he said. “Since we don’t know yet whether in person instruction will be able to be provided in the fall as per Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] guidelines and the governor’s directives, we need to continue to improve on how instruction is being provided, and have a plan for remote/distance learning in the new school year, whether through existing technology solutions or alternate technology platforms.”

Peter Van Middelem 

With six years already on the job, trustee Peter Van Middlem said the district must try to maintain its high standards of academics and other programming while facing potential financial challenges from the pandemic.

Van Middelem is a retired New York City Fire Department member and current financial auditor in various Suffolk school districts. Among his three children, his son, Jacob, is a junior at the high school.

“As a lifelong resident who attended Mount Sinai Schools and a 35-year volunteer of the Mount Sinai Fire Department, service to this community is my guiding force,” he said. 

He cited the district’s efforts already with hiring a teacher for the school’s robotics program, a new special education director and the new elementary school principal he described as a “literacy expert,” along with the implementation of Columbia Teacher College Reading and Writing programs for middle and elementary schools. He cited his and other members ability to deal with crises, including new security efforts such as armed guards and perimeter fencing.

However, now with the ongoing pandemic, he said the district’s efforts to generate savings through the district’s retirement incentive program and use of the capital plan to make improvements to facilities are important. 

He said the district must also be there to support community members facing financial hardships in this time.

“Our students and their families potentially will experience financial difficulties and we will be there to help any way we can to support them,” he said.  

In terms of the future of learning at Mount Sinai, he said the district has done well with limited New York State guidance, and will continue to improve on distance learning.

“With basic at best guidance from New York State, our teachers and admin have had to create a new learning environment,” he said. “The vast majority of our staff have done a great job considering the circumstances. We can always do better and will strive for that goal.”

Karen Pitka

Karen Pitka, a Mount Sinai resident since 2011, works as a fourth-grade teacher and said she can bring that experience in education matters, especially at the youngest grade levels, to help Mount Sinai in these difficult times. 

Pitka said she has taught second and fifth grade as well. While she has considered running for school board before, she said the pandemic has made the choice all the more clear.

“My extensive experience in education allows me to be well versed in what our children need,” she said. “Our youngest children will suffer greatly from the closure of schools during this unprecedented time and I feel I will be an asset to the community and will be able to offer the proper guidance being that I am an elementary school teacher and mother of young children.” 

Having the proper protocol for distance learning is one of the most important issues districts will face. Pitka said districts need a “proper plan” for distance learning should students not return to school buildings in September. Plans, she said, need to adhere to the Free Appropriate Public Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which needs to take into account the type of technology students have at home or have at their disposal so all can have access. 

However, she said the district has done everything it could with the time it had to create a distance learning experience. Still, now that the district has had time to collect its bearings, she said Mount Sinai should look at programs that can offer a similar experience to all users.

“Moving forward, now that we know we need to be prepared for circumstances such as these, I feel it would behoove the district to look at their plan for 1:1 student devices and ensure that a developmentally appropriate online learning platform is put into place for distance learning,” she said.

She added the district will face the challenge of an academic gap caused by school closures, and Mount Sinai should look into a specific mental health program to assist students with coping with the “new normal.”

“More pull-out remediation services may need to be offered and class sizes will need to be smaller in order to provide direct remediation from the classroom teacher,” she said.

In terms of finances, Pitka said if state aid changes the district should look at “every single line in the budget and decide which areas are absolutely critical to the development of all Mount Sinai students from the elementary level through the high school level.”

Robert Sweeney

Robert Sweeney, the current BOE president, has been on the board for nine years. Himself the managing partner of a law firm, he said he has the longtime and intimate experience of the school district, from both the administration side and from the student’s perspective.

Sweeney, who currently has two children in the district plus one who’s graduated, said this year’s budget was modified in response to the pandemic. He said he advocated for the lower tax levy increase of just over 1 percent, a full percentage point below the tax cap, especially since many residents will be hard pressed financially in the coming months. He added that the board has helped negotiate teacher retirement plans that can reduce the budget in the future without making cuts. Knowing when people will be retiring and enrollment numbers, he said, allows them to know how to staff going from year to year.

“There’s a balancing act of keeping the programs and keeping teachers in place,” he said. “We really tried to focus on a point where it makes sense for the district but some people may have jobs lost, lost a second income or have seen payroll reductions …  We can’t just keep going on as if nothing’s happened.” 

He also cited use of the capital reserves to work on projects like refinishing the high school roof as another example of the district trying to maintain its infrastructure without laying the burden on taxpayers.

With the potential for state aid cuts looming somewhere later into the year, the board president said the budget was designed for some amount of flexibility. He added the district is dedicated to long-term strategic planning to think several years ahead.

“I don’t know of any school district that could survive, as is, with a 20 percent drop in state aid — that could be huge,” he said. “We’ve drawn a bit more out of fund balance — that’s what it’s there for — and that will take us to a position next year.”

Sweeney called the term distance learning “a misnomer,” adding that programs looked different mid-March into April and then into May. Schools will have to remain flexible, he said, in case months down the road they will have students in schools, then have to reduce attendance in schools should the state require it. Most importantly, though, is to regain the social and emotional interaction between students and teachers.  

“It is providing support to the students, I do not think of it as distance learning,” he said. “The classroom teacher is important not just because of the material and the textbook, but because of the social and important interaction that the teacher has with the students. We have to make sure that we have classroom teaching in some form. Going forward every building and grade will be different.” 

SWR Assistant Superintendent Glen Arcuri talks to the school board about precautions the district has made toward COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

With school district budgets and board elections on the docket for June 9 with an extension from New York State, this year’s crop of district spending and revenue plans have had to contend with many unknowns.

In fact, budgets may change from now until June 1, as the current pandemic holds much in the air. COVID-19, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) estimates, could result in approximately $61 billion less revenue for New York State from 2021 to 2024. The hope rests on the federal government supplying the state with emergency funding.

“It’s very, very hard to plan for the unknown,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District.

The governor has three look-back periods for revising state aid. The last period is Dec. 31.

Though one certainty is the start of next school year will weigh heavily on officials, as many still do not know when students will again walk through facilities’ doors.

Additionally, complicating this year’s votes is everything must be done outside of polling locations. Suffolk County Board of Elections, based on an executive order, will mail ballots to each residence with a prepaid return envelope.

There are still many unknowns, even as districts craft budgets. Nobody could say whether students will have a fall sports season, whether students would have to wear masks and remain apart in the classroom, or whether there will even be the chance for students to learn in-person, instead of online.

Numbers floated by Cuomo for state aid reductions have not inspired much hope. The governor said without state aid, school districts could see an upward of 50 percent reduction.

“A 50 percent reduction would be very painful for our school district, it would be insurmountable for any other school district,” said Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister.

All that comes down to whether the federal government will provide aid to the state for it to maintain current budget figures.

All budget information provided is the latest from the school districts, though if it does change based on any state decisions, an update to this article will appear in the June 4 issue.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai residents will see a marginal increase in budget but only a slight increase in taxes, despite the lingering question whether students will even be in school next September. The district voted to approve its budget at its May 18 board meeting.

The 2020-21 budget sees a $61,769,870 budget, a $760,100 and 1.25 percent increase from last year. The tax levy is set at $41,396,602, an increase of 1 percent and well below the 2.43 percent cap set by New York State.

The largest increases come in the form of operations and maintenance by just over $84,000 because of contractual obligations, as well as oil and electric increases. Employee benefits increased by $272,695, mostly from employee and teacher retirement requirements. 

“Every participant in the retirement system is given percentages based on the market performances from the comptroller’s office,” said board president Robert Sweeney.

Though much of the budget remains the same in presentations from the past 3 months, officials said that this year’s budget has had to account for the fact many, many residents have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. 

“Our community is not in the same financial position five weeks ago,” said Superintendent Gordon Brosdal.

A second proposition the district will ask voters to approve $1.2 million for capital projects from the reserves. This does not increase the tax levy.

Current projects still include continuing the high school roof replacement for $865,000, replacing the middle school water heater for $100,000, among others for a total of $1,200,000. 

The district is currently set to receive $17,653,079 in state aid this upcoming school year, a some $135,000 decrease from last year. Brosdal said it was due to decreased building aid from continuing to pay off loans and bonds from building projects.

Brosdal said the question of whether the governor will cut state aid, that is still up in the air, could mean massive upheaval for the district.

“He has talked about a further 20 percent school aid cut, which would be devastating, devastating,” Brosdal said. “Things are not what they were, this is a brand new game.” 

Should the state budget change mid-year, that would also cause issues for the district, the superintendent said, as they would then have to revise the budget midstream, potentially leading to staffing cuts and program changes.

Brosdal, who in his time working from home has grown a mustache since the start of quarantine, also added, “I need to go back to school because I need to shave.”

Mount Sinai will host its budget hearing June 2 at 8 p.m. A link to the online meeting can be found at mtsinai.k12.ny.us. Votes must be received by June 9 at 8 p.m.

Miller Place

For a budget that was originally meant to be displayed and voted on earlier this month, not much has changed between then and the pandemic which has pushed the vote back to May 9. 

The district adopted its budget at its March 17 emergency meeting, but has reallocated resources in order to better meet the needs of students as they handle distance learning, and potentially when they are allowed back into school buildings.

“We reviewed all of our expenditures reallocated from areas that we can regress,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano.

The budget for 2020-21 is set at $75,713,895, a $1,755,288 or 2.37 percent increase from last year. Though the district also cites using about a million dollars in capital project funding, which would mean this year’s increase is $754,612, or just over 1 percent.

The largest increases come from the usual suspects such as a $390,137 or 2.38 percent increase in employee benefits and a $134,659 increase in health insurance budget.

The district’s 2020-21 tax levy, or the amount of money the district raises through area taxes, is set at $47,616,059, which sits directly at the state tax cap limit for this year of 1.46 percent. It’s an increase of $687,471 from last year.

Miller Place’s state aid was set at $23,144,911, but the district also has leftover building aid of $792,666 and will be receiving an additional $208,010 for 2020-21. Cartisano said that million or so dollars came in response to the high school gym floor, which was remedied last September. Now that aid, along with saved funds, will be used to help offset any potential reductions in state aid, should the state revise its budget somewhere down the line. 

“It’s not an advantageous place to be in to have a huge unknown, but we are fortunate that we can plan for it — the school district is very financially solid,” the superintendent said. 

In terms of programming for this upcoming year, the district plans to continue with all current classes and clubs along with adding more time to middle school math labs and new courses of AP Calculus BC and non-regents chemistry. These two new courses are being funded by reallocation of resources and will only run if there are enough students enrolled. 

The budget also adds elementary sections in an effort to lower class sizes in the third, fifth and sixth grades. These sections were seeing an average of 26 students before, but that will be reduced to 22 or 24.

The district is also adding an extra 10 minutes of “specials” time in the elementary school, or the daily activities where one day may be gym and the next day art. These activities are going from 30 to 40 minutes for physical education, art, music or library time.

The district has also allocated for a 1 to 1 technology initiative with each student receiving a district laptop or otherwise electronic device, which will also go towards distance learning if state mandates remain in place. Going along with this thought, the high school will receive an additional 3:05 p.m. late bus for students who stay after school for extra help. In addition, the district is adding two counselors to expand mental health options and assist with the transition back to classes.

This is alongside an overall enrollment that continues on the gradual declining trend. May 2019 saw a size of 2,581 students. Next year is projected to have 2,531.

Miller Place is hosting its budget hearing May 26 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Residents can go to the district website millerplace.k12.ny.us/District to find the link. All mail in ballots must be received by 5 p.m. June 9.

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District adopted its budget at its May 19 board meeting, though the 2020-21 budget has seen some significant reductions since it was last seen by board members in April.

Things have changed since then, with a reduction in New York State aid resulting in an even larger cut in overall budget by some $2.1 million to the new 2020-21 total of $84,586,600.

The reductions in budget coincides with a loss of state aid funds compared to last year, seeing a reduction of nearly $1.5 million. 

Expenditure decreases are across the board to reach the reduced budget. This is also to reduce the budget thanks to a tax levy cap of just 0.08 percent this year, a figure Christopher Van Cott, assistant superintendent for business, said was due to expiring debt service, which is no longer allowed as an exclusion. The budget sets the tax levy, or the amount the district raises in area taxes, at $52,483,059, setting itself directly at the tax cap, and is a very slight increase from last year’s figure. 

Van Cott said the district is “taking a very conservative approach” toward this year’s budget, adding there will be cuts in several areas while still being able to maintain current instructional programming, along with athletic and cocurricular programs.

“We looked at staffing and enrollment, and made decisions based on that enrollment, looking for different ways to deliver the same service in more economical ways,” Van Cott said. “Despite fiscal challenges, and lack of guidance and the numbers we need from the state, we were able to achieve budget goals.”

There are cuts across the board, though the biggest decreases are from administration and central services, as well as a $250,000 decrease in athletics and PPS. Van Cott said the district plans to reduce the number of sports teams at the middle school level. Though not removing any sports from the roster, multiple sports that have two teams will be reduced to one, Van Cott said. 

The district is also planning to use the capital reserves to repave the front driveway area in front of the high school with a cost not to exceed $350,000. Rocky Point’s current reserve balance is set at $1,590,368. In a separate proposition to the budget, the district will be asking residents to vote to gain access to the funds. The capital reserve does not increase the tax levy. 

The potential the state could further reduce state aid is real, and Van Cott said the district is looking to use its capital reserves, along with the described expenditures reductions, to plug any holes that come up. If state aid does not decrease, he added some of those staff positions expected to make reductions in might not have to be.

Rocky Point is hosting its budget hearing June 2 at 6 p.m., but residents will also be mailed a budget brochure and six-day notice shortly after. That same document will be available at the district website May 26. Ballots are due by 5 p.m. June 9. 

File Photo

Shoreham-Wading River

SWR’s 2020-21 budget boasts it will maintain all current programming despite looming fears state aid will be cut in the near or distant future. The district adopted the revised budget at its May 19 meeting.

The district’s $77,164,774 budget is a 1.6 percent increase from last year’s $75,952,416. The year’s tax levy, or the amount of funds raised from resident taxes, would stand at $55,391,167, a $1,013,510 increase from 2019-20.

This tax levy represents an overall decrease from what the district showed in its March presentations by almost $300,000.

Though the district boasts its maintaining its programming, the overall cuts to the planned budget have left an impact. Recent program initiatives, including several new art, wellness, jazz band and world languages clubs, have been axed. The planned SWR 101 class, which would have been a new kind of basic overview class for incoming freshmen, is no longer on the table for the year’s budget. Replacement equipment for the Wading River school’s gym wall pads and outdoor basketball hoops, as well as middle school smart classroom furniture and high school volleyball standards will not arrive as originally planned. In addition, travel and conference funding will be reduced by 50 percent if the budget is approved.

Assistant superintendent Arcuri said those funds are being redirected to applying additional “structural” support for distance learning due to COVID-19, as well as additional sanitizing equipment and supplies. He added, optimistically, there’s a possibility if funding stabilizes bringing in these proposed clubs mid-year.

The budget relies on a $12,789,308 state aid package, which would be a $112,843 increase from last year. To make room for the very real potential the state could make cuts to state aid midyear in the fall, the district has placed certain items in the budget that would not be purchased before Dec. 31, including multiple infrastructure projects at Miller Avenue elementary and the middle school, as well as work on the districtwide grounds and asphalt repairs.  

“These are not items that are absolutely essential,” Arcuri said. “They are important to get completed, but they are not more important than losing instructional support or any student related program and/or any staff within the district.”

Of course, with so much still unknown, the district does not know if the approximately $5,235,229 of a $24,114,734 five-year contract with bus company First Student will even be used.

The district is planning to host its budget hearing presentation May 26. For mail-in ballots, all must be received in the clerk’s office by 5 p.m., June 9.

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The Strovink family, including, from left to right, youngest son Kyle, dad Eric and oldest son Brennan. Photo by Christine Strovink

By Rich Acritelli

“As a major league scout for over 38 years and the last 18 for the New York Mets, the Strovink family is without a doubt the finest players and people that I ever scouted.”

Eric Strovink playing baseball with his two children at a young age. Photo by Christine Strovink

So said longtime baseball scout Larry Izzo, who watched some of the best talent to emerge from Long Island to play in the major leagues. Izzo wrote the earliest scouting reports on Houston Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio from Kings Park, career hitter and Smithtown native Frank Catalanotto and over the last couple of years Ward Melville talent and pitcher Stephen Matz of the New York Mets. Izzo repeated several times how wonderful his relationship was with the Strovink family from Rocky Point over the last several decades. Armed with the ability to hit the ball over many different fences and a trademark smile, Eric Strovink and his two boys, Brennan and Kyle, always present a natural passion and respect for this game.

As a kid growing up in the 1980’s, it was likely that when you read the local papers and Newsday about the prominent players in Suffolk County, Eric’s name was a constant presense. During his first season playing the game, he only made contact once and it seemed as if baseball might not be the sport for Eric, but through the guidance of his father who coached his earlier teams and a strong determination, Eric began hitting the ball consistently and became a feared player on the local fields and teams of Wading River. His talent was noted when Eric as a fifth grader hit a homerun 325 feet in a game.

His father was not originally tied to the game, but he went to work at an early age, was an ROTC army officer after he graduated from college and was a noted photographer and film maker that worked on projects for Brookhaven National Laboratory and Grumman. But his father loved the game and believed in the importance of analyzing baseball statistics. It was this aspect of the game which allowed Eric to identify his own strengths and weaknesses and for him to closely watch the opposing pitchers. He also learned about the unique way of harnessing “visualization” from his dad, who taught his son how to properly concentrate about future playing situations.  Eric always credited the devotion of his father for helping prepare him for the most stressful games.

Always smiling, this 50-year-old physical education teacher from Mount Sinai School District vividly recalled his earliest moments of success on the diamond as if it just happened. After his varsity game was over, it was observed by his coach, mentor and friend Sal Mignano during an at-bat junior varsity game in Easthampton the explosive potential that Eric held. He was amazed at the past ability of the then-13-year-old to hit a homerun that completely surprised the older members of the varsity team. Mignano marveled at the strength of his former player and the extensive knowledge and motivation that Eric held in his early years. 

As a junior, Eric’s batting average was .465, where he drove in 45 runs and batted in and hit another nine homeruns. During his senior year, his average climbed to .516, and while pitchers attempted to throw around him, he was continually on base. He was a three-time all league, two-time all-county, featured as a Daily News all-star and was an all-state player. Along the way, he guided his team to many winning seasons in league, county, and capped it by achieving a New York State Championship title in 1987. Eric recalled the benefits of the visualization that his father taught to him and the lessons his good friend Keith Osik taught him about where they saw themselves in pressure game time situations. Izzo recalled Eric’s father and believed that “he was one of the kindest and sincerest parents that was extremely supportive, and he could always be seen taking pictures at the games with a high-powered camera.”

Eric Strovink was a renaissance man of sorts, playing Tybolt in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo from Strovink family

Always with a genuine manner, Eric laughed that he was not even the best player within his own household. For a time, Osik lived with his family and he is considered a brother to Erik and an uncle to the Strovink kids. Osik was a phenomenal athlete and a dominant pitcher that was recognized as the best baseball player in Suffolk County through the Yastrzemski Award winner, while Eric was the runner up. These players were a dynamic hitting duo that saw Osik constantly reach base and Strovink drive him home numerous times during a game. Osik played at Louisiana State University and was later a professional ball player for several years with the Pittsburg Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, and Baltimore Orioles. Both Osik and Eric’s hitting skills tormented the best pitchers in state.

Eric also demonstrated his athletic presence as a feared Suffolk County Wrestling Champion at 215 pounds. Although he did not wrestle until the sixth grade, Eric held his own against all-state and national wrestlers like that of Adam Mariano from Comsewogue High School. And when he was not playing sports, Eric was a devoted thespian within his school’s drama program. He performed in an arousing performance as Tybolt in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” 

Eric was motivated to further his baseball career in college where he garnered interest from the powerhouses of Clemson, Georgia Southern, Nebraska and North Carolina State. When a scout from Louisiana State University watched Osik during a high school game, Erik showed his own skills by hitting three homeruns. In 1988, this powerful tandem left the to play baseball within the deep south in Louisiana.

At college, Eric was amazed about the vast amount of instruction that was given to each player through every part of this game. Always a student of this game, Eric always absorbed the intricacies of baseball information from this college and when he was an instructor for Mignano’s clinics and camps. For years as a coach, he constantly presented tidbits of wisdom to his players. 

“You can learn more baseball tips in one practice from Eric, compared to what others learn in a season,” Said Rocky Point’s athletic director Charlie Delargy.    

At LSU, he became good friends with pitchers Ben McDonald who played seven years for the Baltimore Orioles, and Russ Springer, a pitcher for 18 years who played for 13 different teams that included the New York Yankees.  

As Eric enjoyed attending LSU, he had to leave school and play closer to home. It was a hard time for him, as his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to be near his family.  While he was dealing with this sickness, he played for a junior college in New Jersey and eventually made it to C.W. Post in Brookville. This was a bittersweet moment for him, as he dealt with the sickness of his beloved mother, Eric once again excelled in front of local fans by hitting 17 homeruns and driving in 50 runs to help his team win their conference.

This was a painful time for Eric, while he played well, his mother passed away after a battle with cancer. While he dealt with this heavy loss, it was Izzo that wrote the scouting report on Eric that allowed him to be signed by the Texas Rangers to a free agent contract. Leaving CW Post and Wading River, Eric was sent to Port Charlotte, Florida. He earned $850 a month, lived with several different teammates and was a “starving” rookie within this league. Eric was on the field with ball players that were just drafted and were rehabbing from injuries. His time with this organization came to an end after the following spring training, after it was explained to Eric that while he was a solid player, he might not have the chance to reach the major leagues.  With baseball behind him, he returned home to finish his college education, to coach wrestling at Shoreham-Wading River and to work for his father. By May 29, 1994, he married his high school sweetheart Christine and they looked to start a family of their own.

Resembling his father, Brennen Strovink was also a dynamic figure within the Rocky Point High School baseball and wrestling teams. Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, this 2014 graduate of Rocky Point was a three-year starter on the varsity team. Brennan immediately made his mark as a sophomore who attained a .370 average and led the county with six homeruns. As a senior, Brennen was a finalist for the Yastrzemski Award, and he was named most valuable player for his league. Many teachers and coaches enjoyed having Brennen in their classes, club’s and teams. 

These warm thoughts were echoed by his former baseball coach Andrew Aschettino, who said he was a “larger than life personality and incredible role model. My kids simply look up to him and I can’t think of someone better in that role.”

Like his father, he was an aggressive wrestler who enjoyed the competitiveness of this sport.  During his junior year, he took first place as a heavy weight in his league and was the runner-up as a sophomore.  He wrestled extremely well through the difficult Eastern States Tournament where he placed sixth in the contest. While he established himself as one of the premier heavy weights, Brennan was unable to reach his goal of possibly being a county champion because of a necessary back surgery.

Brennan Strovink rounds a base during his time on the Rocky Point Varsity baseball team. Photo from Strovink family

As an all-state baseball player, Brennan received a scholarship from Division I Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He was excited to hit against some of the best college pitchers in the nation, but after a year, Brennan suffered another back injury that led to a second surgery. Brennan had to stop playing baseball and for a brief time he came home and attended Suffolk Community College. At this moment, his grandfather believed that his lefthanded hitting grandson had the chance to change his luck by hitting righty. In an amazing accomplishment, Brennen resurrected his college career by learning how to hit from the right side of the plate.

With his best friend Joseph Zabbara who was a college baseball player who was recovering from a serious arm injury, both young men had the opportunity to suit up for Hudson Valley Community College. With a positive mindset that enabled him to become a switch hitter, that old feeling of consistently making contact returned to Brennan as he attained an over .300 batting average. In a short period of time, his confidence returned, and he again faced pitching from the left side. When this happened, Brennan in his first eleven hitting lefty, he was on base with eight hits. Once this rejuvenation occurred, both Brennan and Joseph hit the road again as they enrolled into Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina.  

During his first at-bat for this school, he hit a homerun and was a fixture in the lineup as a first baseman and a designated hitter. Although he was in a different atmosphere, Brennan was nagged by reoccurring back injuries that made him make the permanent decision to stop playing.  Always with a positive demeanor, Brennan was pleased with his time at Limestone where he was able to become a first base coach and attain a degree in physical education.  

Finally, Kyle is the youngest Strovink to continue the family tradition of playing this game hard and doing it with a smile. Like his dad and brother, Kyle was a dominant varsity player during the extent of his high school years. As a capable catcher, Izzo stated Kyle has a “major league arm” to quickly prevent base runners from stealing bases.  

With grit and determination, he handled the pitchers and challenges of this strenuous position.  Like the two elder Strovink’s, he was a fierce competitor that opposing pitchers struggled to get out. As a sophomore, Kyle hit .392 with two homeruns. As a junior, his average climbed to .429 with four homeruns and eight doubles, and while he batted .349 as a senior, he was playing with a broken hand. Kyle was Rocky Point’s first All-American and one of his proudest moments was playing in front of a thousand local fans in the semi-finals set against Shoreham-Wading River.

During the winter months, Kyle, like his brother and father, was a tough wrestler. Unlike the other males in his household, Kyle wrestled only for one full year and still he placed second in his league at 195 pounds. Though he had limited experience, Kyle pinned two all-county wrestlers during his senior year.  Longtime assistant wrestling coach and a state champion Billy Coggins was always pleased with the progress. 

Kyle Strovink during his time on the Rocky Point Varsity baseball team. Photo from Strovink family

“Kyle was a rare athlete that you could plug into any sport and he would find a way to succeed.  He was an important factor that helped our team secure a county championship,” Coggins said. 

Always with a big smile, Kyle was the President of the Rocky Point Varsity Club where he made two speeches for the 9/11 and Veterans Day programs. This genuine young man shook the hands of the rescue workers, veterans and alumni and thanked them for their service to our nation.

Like his brother, Kyle had the plans to play at Lamar University, but he decided to play at a junior college in Douglas, Arizona near the Mexican border. Kyle played in excessive, dry heat of 110 degrees — vastly different from the conditions at Rocky Point. At Cochise College, Kyle was 2,500 miles from home, and he wanted to transfer to play at the east coast school of the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. Right away, he enjoyed his head coach that still calls Kyle during special moments and holidays. After playing extremely well, Kyle was offered a scholarship to play ball at Limestone, where he was reunited with his older brother Brennan.  Again, Kyle demonstrated his ability to hit with a commanding .308 average and he eventually became the clean-up hitter for this team through a shortened season due to the COVID-19 virus.

At Limestone, Kyle continued to demonstrate his catching prowess in throwing out opposing runners through his impressive arm strength. During a pro-day scouting program, it was estimated that Kyle had an extremely quick release from home plate to second base that was only 1.8 seconds. Izzo was not surprised about this catcher’s abilities and he believes that Kyle is a “special player.” While Kyle has lost part of his season, he is pleased to be spending time with his family. Looking at the Strovink’s, it is easy to see why people are always drawn to their good will. Every year Kristine Strovink organizes a team community service trip to a soup kitchen, she helps run the Live Like Susie fundraiser baseball game against Mount Sinai and serves the team an annual breakfast. While this family is led by these likable big men, Eric credits the devoted role that his wife and daughter Katie play in running their household.  

Retired social studies teacher Brooke Bonomi loved to joke with the boys and talk sports with them on a regular basis. As the teacher that created the Live Like Susie Kindness Award Night, Bonomi enjoyedStrovink’s participation to help honor the character of Rocky Point High School students through the outstanding memory of Susie Facini.  Bonomi glowingly stated that the “spirit of happiness runs deep in each Strovink. Their good cheer always inspires others to become better people.” Similar feelings towards this North Shore family has also been described the by the decades of respect that Izzo holds within these local ball players. This long-time major scout sums up the make-up of this family whom he considers to be the absolute best, saying “the way you play the game, is the way you’ll live life.”

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

The Shoreham-Wading River School, Rocky Point and Miller Place school districts announced they would be keeping their schools closed early next week. Rocky Point, Miller Place and Mount Sinai will be closed Monday March 16, while SWR is shutting down both Monday and Tuesday, March 17.

All districts are closing just to students, while staff will still be made to report to school in preparation for the possibility of all educating going online.

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O’Brien said in a statement that while they do not have any cases in the district, the possibility of a longer term shutdown where students will have to learn online is real.

“While learning in our district primarily occurs inside classrooms with face-to-face teaching by certified instructors, please be assured that our district has been planning viable options should a long-term school closure be necessary,” the Rocky Point superintendent said. “Students were asked to bring materials home or travel to and from school over the next several weeks with textbooks, workbooks, and work packets so that needed materials for online learning may be facilitated by our teachers should a long-term closure be necessary.

Earlier in the week, SWR Superintendent Gerard Poole said they were still working out their plans for potentially bringing all learning online. The SWR board of education held an emergency meeting earlier today.

Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said the time will also allow them to perform a “deep cleaning” of school buildings.

In terms of sports, Section XI has notified districts it has suspended all athletic games and scrimmages until April 3.

 

SWR Assistant Superintendent Glen Arcuri talks to the school board about precautions the district has made toward COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

Two local school districts have closed up shop two separate days this week over concerns staff had been in contact with people with coronavirus.

Parents on social media confirmed receiving a call the evening of Tuesday, March 10, that all schools would be closed Wednesday due to a district member having had “third-party” contact with somebody who was confirmed to have the virus. The district website said schools would return to normal Thursday, March 12.

Despite the closing, the planned senior trip to Disney World in Florida went along as scheduled. Students left on nonstop planes early Wednesday morning, according to district parents.

School district officials were out of office and did not respond to repeated requests for comment by press time. 

Earlier in the week, Shoreham-Wading River school district closed all schools early Monday morning over coronavirus fears. The call went out to parents as some students were on buses on their way to class.

While SWR students were back in class by Tuesday, the event paints a picture of the decisions schools are having to make as all look to manage public places during the spread of COVID-19.

Residents in the Shoreham-Wading River school district reported receiving a robocall from Superintendent Gerard Poole in the early morning of Monday, March 9. Students that were on the bus by a little after 7 a.m. were being kept on the bus, then being turned around to be dropped off at home.

Poole said Tuesday the decision to close Monday was made shortly after they received information about one of their staff just before 7 a.m. Instead of reaching out to the New York State Department of Health and awaiting any of their recommendations, the superintendent said they made the call based on information they had at the time. According to district statements, a member of the high school security team might have been exposed to an individual with the coronavirus. The district said the DOH has said no individual in the district has tested positive for the new virus.

“School districts don’t have the luxury of waiting two or three hours for a conference committee call for officials to make those decisions,” he said. “We have to make those decisions immediately.”

The district received further guidelines from the DOH and Department of Education late on Monday, though the superintendent said there were still holes in those guidelines he wished they could fill, specifically any recommendations about students going on field trips. The district has already canceled two that were to happen this month. They will be rescheduled for later in the school year.

“They leave it as an initial 24-hour closure in consultation with state health officials and county health officials,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Glen Arcuri said the district is well stocked on cleaning supplies at least for the next two months. The district has also invested in doing additional cleanings of commonly touched surfaces throughout the day and additional cleanings at night.

In fact, every district now has on its website a link or notice about precautions districts have taken toward the coronavirus. Most speak about additional sanitary measures.

Events, at least in SWR, have calmed since that Monday morning, split-second decision making, though the threat remains real. SWR simply has become one of the first few test cases for the kinds of decisions districts all across Long Island may have to make in the future, especially as the coronavirus story develops.

SWR officials have said that any days the district is closed after that would impact the school calendar, including spring break, which runs April 6-14; superintendent’s conference day, April 28; and the Friday before Memorial Day, May 22. The lack of snow days this past winter has been a boon for the district, at least in this regard.

“Fortunately, this year we have had it very easy with the weather,” Poole said.

If the school were to close for any amount of time past a threshold of days that it could stay closed, then the district would have to consider moving all education online. 

The options include using Google Classroom and learning platforms such as i-Ready. The district encouraged parents to confirm the log-ins for i-Ready and ALEKS are functioning on home computers. Those log-ins can be found in the Parent briefcase in the Infinite Campus Parent Portal. 

Schools in Seattle have already made the decision to close schools and host all learning online. The New York Times has reported how the sudden shift has impacted schools in and around the city that has been an epicenter for the outbreak of COVID-19. Instead of crowding around desks in a classroom, teachers and students hover over individual screens, though educators found they were spending many more hours working to reach students.

Poole said they have been working on those plans for potentially going online in the case of school closure, though they were still working out details, including giving access to students who may not have that technology at home.

It was fun for all ages at the annual Mount Sinai faculty basketball game March 6. Bill Landon photo

The Mount Sinai middle school All-Stars squared off against the high school Elite varsity squad in the annual Battle of the Educators faculty basketball game March 6. The fundraiser was organized by Diane Tabile and Carmella Stein, the respective president and treasurer of the Mount Sinai Booster Club, and again drew a capacity crowd for the 18th year running.

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Seniors Aaron Angress and Kayla McFadden are the school’s first National Merit Scholar finalists. Photo by David Luces

For the first time in its history, Mount Sinai High School earned the distinction of having two National Merit Scholarship Program finalists in its ranks. 

Seniors Kayla McFadden and Aaron Angress were named finalists earlier last month. 

“When we first found out it was definitely a big moment for us,” McFadden said. “We were pretty taken aback that we made it so far and that there are two of us.” 

“Stay true to who you are, stick to what you have been doing and you will definitely find some opportunities.”

— Kayla McFadden

 

Angress added that it was a great honor to be selected.

The process of becoming a finalist began when they took the Preliminary SAT. 

“This wasn’t really on our radar until our junior year, when our teachers started to tell us that your PSAT [score] can get you this scholarship,” McFadden said. 

In September 2019, the duo were named semifinalists in the competition for scoring in the top 1 percent of all juniors completing the PSAT in October 2018. 

In addition to test scores and maintaining grades, the students had to send in an application which included writing an essay, school activities they’ve been involved in and awards they won, among other things. 

Angress plays saxophone and went to All-States for the first time. He is the class secretary and is a member of the oceanography team that will be going to nationals later this year. 

McFadden has been a member of the cross-country and winter and spring track teams since her freshman year, and she plays violin in the school’s orchestra and has been dancing since she was three years old. 

The seniors will now compete for a number of scholarships which will be offered and announced later this month. They can be awarded three types of scholarships: a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship, Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarships and College-Sponsored Merit Scholarships.

Angress said he would like to pursue mechanical or aerospace engineering when he goes to college next fall. 

“I’m still waiting to hear back on nine [admission] decisions to come over the next month, but of the schools I’ve been accepted to, I’d probably want to go to Northeastern,” he said. 

McFadden said she wants to study biology and pursue either premedicine or something in genetics. 

“I’m waiting to hear back on four decisions still, but of the ones I’ve been accepted to and deciding between is Quinnipiac [University], Binghamton University and Stony Brook University,” she said. 

Peter Pramataris, Mount Sinai High School principal, couldn’t have been more proud of the duo. 

“I’ve been in education for 24 years, but in my opinion, you can’t find two better quality character kids,” he said. “They are really well rounded, and it is a testament to their families — it really makes me proud to call them Mount Sinai High School students.”

The two students gave their advice to fellow peers who might want to compete for the prestigious scholarship. 

“Stay true to who you are, stick to what you have been doing and you will definitely find some opportunities,” McFadden said. 

Angress said it is important to take the process seriously and he would advise students to start preparing ahead of time. 

Pramataris said he is excited to see what the future holds for the two students. 

“We can’t wait to hear about their future accomplishments, because I know they are going to have a ton of them,” he said.

Former Yankees professional Dana Cavalea came to the Barnes & Noble in Lake Grove to promote his book to a full crowd. The Mount Sinai native has had a long career in both professional baseball and in books. Photo by David Luces

Dana Cavalea, Mount Sinai native, is passionate about coaching. For 12 years he spent time as the New York Yankees strength and conditioning coach, and along the way got to pick the brains of some all-time
great athletes.  

Former Yankees professional Dana Cavalea came to the Barnes & Noble in Lake Grove to promote his book to a full crowd. The Mount Sinai native has had a long career in both professional baseball and in books. Photo by David Luces

He didn’t think he would eventually become an author, but he views his book, “Habits of a Champion: Nobody Becomes a Champion by Accident,” as an extension of coaching. 

“I never had the intention of writing a book, but I was reading these self-help books and I felt there was a gap from what I was reading and what I was seeing on the baseball field working with these athletes,” he said. “That’s what drove me toward writing this book, I wanted to write a handbook, that people can use as a utility as they navigate life.”

Interactions with Yankees fans also inspired him. 

“It also came about being at the stadium and fans coming up to me asking me questions about their own lives, about how they could improve their performance in a certain area,” Cavalea said. “I’d give them an answer, and then they would come back to another game during the season and they would ask another question.”

The Mount Sinai native pointed to a family friend, coach Billy King as a big reason why he chose to pursue his career path and started his training journey. 

“He was a big influence on me, when I learned what he was doing, he was in the gym training, watching what he eats, and I was like wow that’s pretty cool,” he said. 

Cavalea was 19 years old attending the University of South Florida and working as a strength and conditioning intern for the school’s football team when he was offered an unexpected opportunity. 

A professor at the university told him that the Yankees, who were in the midst of spring training at nearby Legends Field in Tampa, were looking for an intern to help out. 

Cavalea, who just so happened to have visited the ballpark as a fan the previous day, drove over the next day and was put into Yankee gear and was on the same field stretching with pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. The Mount Sinai native worked as an intern for three years, then became an assistant, before becoming a coach at 23 years old. 

“The Bronx is only about 60 to 70 miles away from here but I had to go 1,800 miles away in order to get there,” he said.  

The performance coach said he took those experiences and wanted to write something in his own style, so people could tell it was written by him and it was authentic. 

“[Coach Billy King] was a big influence on me, when I learned what he was doing, he was in the gym training, watching what he eats, and I was like wow that’s pretty cool.”

— Dana Cavalea

“Habits of a Champion” is split into 15 lessons designed to help the reader succeed in different aspects of life. Cavalea shared some of those lessons at a Feb. 8 book-signing event at the Smithaven Mall in Lake Grove. 

Those included: “If someone doesn’t respect your time, they don’t respect you,” something Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter would say, stressing the importance of being on time. Another was “never get too high and never get too low.” Cavalea mentioned that a person’s attitude or mood can determine their daily success. 

“It all comes down to how you control your own emotions,” he said. “Whether you are an Olympic athlete or a high schooler that has a big test or presentation.”  

In addition to writing books, Cavalea now works as a life coach and motivational speaker. Some of the clients he coaches are business executives, athletes and CEOs of companies. He has been asked to speak at a number of big corporations, nonprofit organizations and schools. 

“The messages and lessons are very universal,” he said. “When you’re a coach you are trying to learn as much as you can, and how you can maximize human potential.”

Despite the busy schedule, Cavalea said he enjoys writing books and has plans to release a children’s book sometime in April. He has already written two children’s books: “Champion Kids: Johnny ‘The Jet’ Saves the Day” and “Girls on the Run: Starring
Mighty Melina.” 

“It’s fun for me, It’s great being able to share these lessons with others,” he said. “If the best of the best need help, so does everyone else.”