Tags Posts tagged with "Paul Casciano"

Paul Casciano

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Edward T. McMullen Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, visited Port Jeff High School Oct. 18. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Julianne Mosher

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School welcomed the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Edward T. McMullen Jr., as its 2019 Wall of Fame inductee, adding his name to the dozens of special alumni that graduated from the district.

On Oct. 18, McMullen visited his former alma mater, where he graduated from in 1983, and walked through the halls of his former middle and high schools. He commented on what has changed and reminisced about the fun times he had in these same classrooms. 

“The great thing is nothing has changed, it still feels as warm and welcoming as it did when I was a student here.”  

– Edward T. McMullen Jr.

After leaving Port Jefferson in the early ’80s, McMullen continued his education at Hampden-Sydney College, where he earned a bachelor’s in political science. In 1995, he was selected to participate in The American Swiss Foundation’s Young Leaders program, an annual conference that works to foster mutual understanding among the next generation of leaders in Switzerland and the U.S. 

“It’s always nice to honor alumni,” High School Principal Eric Haruthunian said. “It’s great to see them grow to make positive changes in the world.”

McMullen founded McMullen Public Affairs, a corporate advertising firm, before he was appointed by President Donald Trump (R) in 2017 to serve as U.S. ambassador to the two countries.  

When he visited the school on Friday, he brought along his high school friends and was joined by former teachers. One teacher in particular, Richard Olson, who taught U.S. history for almost four decades and retired in 2002, was ecstatic to show off McMullen to passing students and administrators throughout the halls.

Edward T. McMullen Jr. in front of the Port Jeff High School Wall of Fame. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“This is one of my students,” he’d say throughout the tour. During his speech when he received his plaque, McMullen acknowledged that the education he received from Olson was partly why he ended up on the path that he did.

“Mr. Olson was an inspiration for many students because of his love of history,” he said.  

The tour ended at the library where the celebration began. McMullen was greeted by members of the school orchestra and dozens of students and teachers sat in for his inauguration to the hall of fame, which was created in 1996 and honors Port Jefferson graduates who made a difference in categories like academics, fine arts, sports and community service. 

“To think that our school district had a part in this, having an ambassador, means so much,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said. “There’s so much prestige.”

Before he left, he had one piece of advice to the students sitting in the audience. 

“Go to college, learn languages and travel the world,” he said. “The world needs intelligent, smart people like you.”

 

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Outcoming and incoming supers speak on LIPA glide path, enrollment numbers and community

Jessica Schmettan is taking over as the incoming superintendent for the Port Jeff school district. Photo by Kyle Barr

Walking into the Port Jefferson School District administrative offices, it’s apparent changes are on the way. Jessica Schmettan, the incoming superintendent, has moved into the office where outgoing superintendent Paul Casciano once sat. Schmettan’s desk is like a blank slate, mostly bare save for a few files and pencil holder. Casciano, on the other hand, has moved into a back room and works off a laptop.

Just on the other side of a wall is Casciano’s temporary desk. As the man who was only meant to be an “interim superintendent” finishes up his third and final year as super, he is anticipating the coming of Oct. 31, his last day before retirement. He said he expects to take some much-needed vacation time and perhaps get down to writing a book or two.

The incoming super is a nine-year Port Jeff resident, and Casciano said she was one of the best first decisions he made when he came into the district.

“She’s bright, she’s a problem solver, and she’s younger than me, so she is likely to be around for a long time,” he said.

It’s the start of something new, but the continuation of the old, both exiting and incoming superintendents said, and there are many challenges the district will face in the years to come.

Impact of LIPA glide path

Closing on a year since Port Jefferson village and the Town of Brookhaven settled with LIPA over the Port Jefferson Power Station’s tax assessments, school officials said the decision is going to be a heavy deciding factor in every ongoing budget for the next eight years of the glide path. Later years will see even more challenges as the glide path increasingly reduces the tax dollars paid to the school.

Though the district expects it will maintain a tax rate that’s less than all other surrounding school districts, it also means local residents are going to make up a larger portion of revenues.

“This is not only a financial issue, but that issue impacts our core mission, which is teaching and learning,” Casciano said. “It has a lot of pieces — our position is the burden is going to need to be shared, that’s our take on it all along.”

Paul Casciano is leaving the Port Jeff school district after three years as its superintendent. TBR News Media file photo

Schmettan expects things will need to be cut, including potentially some certain classes with low enrollment.

An increase of taxes always brings the thought that some residents would be pressured to leave.

“It’s going to depend on how the community reacts — we don’t want to trim so much we have nothing left, we also don’t want people feeling they can’t live here anymore,” Schmettan said. “We’ll still maintain a low tax rate after those eight years, lower than other surrounding districts, but I think that as people start to see what may or may not happen, you’re going to get community support.”

Both superintendents emphasized the need for support from the community as the district moves forward in the glide path. Casciano said his belief is parents who may have had their kids graduate from school already have the responsibility to at the very least be active with the district, giving the same opportunity to those families who are just beginning their path in grade school. The outgoing super likened it to a balance, adding a school district’s strength will also show itself on home values.

“There are two schools of thought, there are people who look at it as, ‘Hey, I don’t have anything vested now,’” he said. “I don’t agree with that — the quality of the schools says a lot about your property values, whether you’re intending to sell or leave it to someone else when you go.” 

Because of these changes, the district announced it would be hosting School-Community Partnership meetings in a roundtable setting, looking to give local residents the chance to offer their opinions on where things could go during the next eight years.

Community involvement

The School-Community Partnership is the way the district hopes to gather interest in moving forward, both from people who have kids in the district, have seen their kids graduate, or for those who don’t have any children in Port Jeff.

“It’s really an open forum for community members, to express our concerns over the glide path,” Schmettan said. “It will really be like an open forum for people to share their concerns in smaller groups — not livestreamed — more open for discussion, and not as structured as a board meeting.”

The difficulty will be coming to a consensus. While some parents may look at a class with low enrollment and look to take the ax to it, another parent with a student in that class may think differently.

People are being encouraged to provide input on programs, facilities and financial challenges being reviewed by the board of education and administration. The first meeting is slated for Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. in the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School/Middle School library, at 350 Old Post Road, in Port Jefferson.

Future enrollment

This school year, the district dropped a kindergarten class because of generally low enrollment at the youngest level. Its total student population of 1,077 students is one of the smallest on Long Island. Last year’s graduating class was 97, but regularly fluctuates between the high 80s and 90s.

But thinking down the road, the new superintendent has to consider what it will mean when the smaller classes finally make their way to the high school senior level in 12 years.

And considering the LIPA glide path, she will also have to consider what will happen should lower grade enrollment continue to shrink. Schmettan herself has two children in the district, both in this current kindergarten class.

“We have to engage the community more, we have to show everybody, especially for people who don’t have kids what is the value of the school district and how does it impact your home value,” the incoming super said.

She added the recent homecoming events were a great way to get people more active in the district’s goings-ons.

The outgoing super said the important thing is keeping the district attractive to new homebuyers looking to settle down and raise children in the district.

“Right now, you have the best of both worlds, low taxes and a great school system,” he said. “We want to maintain a good school system, so it might come up some families might say I was staying here because taxes were way low, people with multiple homes will say I’ll own one, not three. The families that purchase may in fact have children, and that’s because of the quality of the schools.”

What makes Port Jeff special

Though Casciano is leaving Port Jeff after three years, he said he came to learn more individuals in the district than he had when he worked for years at William Floyd. Schmettan said the same for her time as assistant superintendent at the Sachem school district.

That small size means there are very few ways to keep a secret, but, as the outgoing and incoming supers agreed, it also means students are more accepting of each other. They referenced the recent shooting at the Port Jeff Liquors, as when they got the notification of the incident the buses had just left from the middle school. District officials went to the scene to make sure students weren’t going to walk through, and elementary principal Tom Meehan even walked some students home.

“I feel fortunate I’ve had the opportunity to work in Port Jeff, know the people who work in the community,” Casciano said. “There’s a real warmth, there’s a real caring for how the kids do, not only on the part of the parents but on the part of the teachers.”

Schmettan said the district is representative of the larger community.

“Our students are so diverse in what they approach,” she said. “Our kids are so diverse, and they mix and mingle so well, and they’re really open to each other. They’re so accepting of one another. That’s definitely something I see in our community as a whole. The school district is a microcosm of the entire community.”

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Rendering of the Brockport apartment complex. Construction is expected to be complete in December 2020. Photo from the Gitto Group

As one of the latest apartment complex project in Port Jefferson inches closer to construction, another apartment complex has received tax breaks from an IDA.

Last month, the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency approved an economic benefits package, which includes a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes, to the apartment complex expected to be built out of the current Cappy’s Carpets building, to be known as The Brockport. Construction is expected to begin this fall. 

The site plan calls for a three-story structure with a total of 44 one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units. The $16.5 million project headed by Port Jefferson-based The Gitto Group, will have stores, office spaces and a restaurant on the first floor and apartments on the other two floors. 

The current taxes on the property, which was once occupied by Cappy’s Carpets and a boat storage lot are approximately $35,000 annually, according to Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group. The 10-year PILOT would see taxes increasing to $99,183 in the first year and then gradually escalate until the last year when it reaches $213,360. According to Gitto, the retail portion of the

property will be fully assessed as it is not part of the IDA program. 

“We are planning to commence the construction on the site within the next 30 days and we anticipate to be completed with the project by December 2020 — all of this is dependent on what type of winter we have,” Gitto said. 

Paul Casciano, Port Jeff Superintendent of Schools, made it clear he and the district are not against the planned project. 

“We just had concerns and questions,” the superintendent said. “As a district we have to do our due diligence to see if there is any potential impacts — this is what we do. It doesn’t mean we are against the project.”

As part of the response to the SEQR referral for the project in November 2018, the district sent in a letter outlining their questions and concerns. 

With the construction site close to the Port Jefferson high school, the district had concerns over access to the driveway on Barnum Avenue. Also, due to the  close proximity to the site there were concerns of potential dust, fumes and noise from the construction. 

Though questions were raised about how many students this particular apartment complex will bring, Casciano said it’s routine to ask how new developments will impact the district. Other complexes in the village have offered more two-bedroom options. The Shipyard complex has 18 and The Hills has seven. The upcoming complex on Main Street will have two.

The district sent the same letter for the July 17 Brookhaven IDA public hearing.  

Casciano reiterated that they support the project, adding the information is important for them to know for a variety of things including future planning of the district. 

“I think this project will benefit us [the Port Jeff community],” he said. 

Responding to concerns from the community about the impact of construction on the area, Gitto said they do not anticipate any major issues relating to the construction of the complex. 

“The project does not include any road improvements that would require us to close down the road,” he said. “There may be some minor work that needs to be completed by the utility companies, but that would really be it. We are the owners of the adjacent office building to the north [414 Main St.] and the mixed-use property located to the south of the subject property [464 Main St./50 Barnum Ave.] which will enable us to stage any construction equipment or materials without impacting the surrounding areas. The early stages of the project will include typical noise associated with a construction project.”

The development group, which also owns and manages The Hills and the Barnum House apartments, said Brockport will have a minimal impact to the student population of local school districts.  

“The two properties [the Hills and Barnum House] combined have 104 apartments [one- and two-bedroom units] and our records are showing that we only have two school-aged children within these 104 units,” Gitto said. “The majority of our units are one-bedroom apartments which typically do not work well with families with school age children.”  

Once construction on The Brockport is completed, Gitto said they are estimating the one-bedroom units to be around $2,650 per month and the two-bedroom units to be $3,800 per month. The building will be more than 65,000 square feet and have approximately 2,700 square feet of retail space.

 

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New upcoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan speaks to school board. Photo by Kyle Barr

Board approves 2019-20 district budget

The Port Jefferson School District named the first female superintendent to the post Tuesday, and to top it off, she’s a nine-year Port Jeff resident.

At the board of education meeting April 9, the board named current Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jessica Schmettan, 42, as the new superintendent effective Nov. 1 this year.

“I’m a resident, a taxpayer, and I have two kids in school,” Schmettan said of her connection to the village. “I’m just so excited to be chosen.”

The Port Jefferson School District welcomed new upcoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan, center with black coat, April 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

The upcoming superintendent beat out a field of over 20 candidates, many of whom Kathleen Brennan, the board president, said were highly qualified for the position.

“Just because she was an inside candidate, she was not tossed any softballs,” said Brennan. 

Schmettan holds a bachelor of science in special education from Long Island University, a master’s degree in instructional technology from the New York Institute of Technology, and School District Leader certification from the College of
New Rochelle.

Before coming to Port Jeff in 2016, she began her career as an educator in the Three Village Central School District. She also has experience with special education from the Roosevelt Union Free School District and United Cerebral Palsy of Long Island. She went on to work for seven years in the Sachem Central School District as administrative assistant for instructional support and programming and later assistant superintendent for elementary curriculum and instruction.

Though there was one other female interim superintendent in the past, Schmettan is the first full-time woman appointed to the position

“It’s exciting for my daughter so she can see what she’s capable of,” the upcoming superintendent said.

In August 2018, current Port Jeff superintendent Paul Casciano declared his intention to step down from his position. In the following months, continuing into the new year, the district worked with Suffolk County BOCES in the process of finding a new superintendent. Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said most of the costs to the district were from advertising in newspapers, including The New York Times. While he is still waiting for the bills to come back with precise amounts, he estimated the cost to be about $15,000 to $17,000 to the district. 

While Casciano originally intended to stay until July, he extended that until Oct. 31 to aid in the transition.

“I’m so proud of Jessica as the first woman to be appointed to the head of schools in Port Jeff,” the current superintendent said. “She’s proved she has a deep knowledge of our core mission, teaching and learning.”

During the meeting, Brennan spoke directly to Schmettan. “One of the things you said in response to one of the questions you asked was you’re going to have to have courageous conversations. And that phrase struck me, and that kind of describes Port Jeff going forward, we are going to have to have a lot of courageous conversations.”

“I’m a resident, a taxpayer, and I have two kids in school.”

—  Jessica Schmetta

Many of those conversations will revolve around the impact of the settlement with Brookhaven town and the Long Island Power Authority over the taxes levied on the Port Jefferson Power Station. The settlement agreement cuts LIPA’s taxes on the power station in half incrementally for the next eight years. 

Schmettan said she plans to resurrect the budget advisory committee, so the public can get involved in the process of crafting future budgets. She expects the district will continue to see cuts and will have to make some difficult decisions, but she is optimistic about the future of the district, saying “we’re up to the challenge.”

Board adopts 2019-20 budget

The Port Jefferson school board has approved a budget that, while consolidating programs, will still see a small increase. Along with the budget, the board is asking residents to approve the use of capital reserves to fix sections of the high school and elementary school roofs.

The board approved a $43,936,166 budget April 9, a $46,354 and 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget. The tax levy, the amount of funds the district raises from taxes has also gone up to $36,898,824, a $464,354 and 1.27 percent increase from last year, staying directly at the 1.27 percent tax cap. Officials said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations. If the district pierced the tax cap, it would need 60 percent of residents to approve the budget come the May vote, rather than the normal 50 percent.

Leister said the district has slashed and consolidated a number of items, including professional development for staff, private transportation allocation, and a $142,000 reduction through scheduling and enrollment efficiencies for staff. The district has also cut the teacher’s retirement system by $25,000 and staff retirement system by $60,000. The biggest increases in budget came from health insurance for staff, increasing by approximately $555,580, and benefits, which increased by $408,480.

The district also plans to use $400,000 in the general fund budget to relocate the middle school office into an existing upstairs science classroom for what district officials said was security reasons.

Leister said the district should be creating a tax calculator for district residents to roughly calculate their school taxes. The program should be available up on the district website in about a week.

The board is also asking residents to vote on allowing the board to allocate funds from capital reserves, the funds built up over time from money unused by the end of each school year, to fix portions of the elementary school and high school roof, equaling $3,600,000.

The board will have its budget presentation May 14 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium before asking residents to vote on the budget May 21. Residents can vote from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Most school district administrators and staff, like students and teachers, are able to take the summer to recharge and unwind. In Port Jefferson School District, Fred Koelbel, director of facilities and transportation, gets no such respite.

The overseer of all things buildings and grounds in the district was at the Sept. 17 board of education meeting to fill the board and the public in on the work done during the summer months and beyond. Some projects were completed using capital reserves while others were handled “in-house” by district employees, though virtually all were completed prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“We had the opportunity to see a lot of these improvements firsthand, and I certainly would commend the staff that worked on them, it was impressive,” board President Kathleen Brennan said.

Koelbel spoke about some of the bigger projects accomplished by his team of workers.

“The biggest project we undertook, and it actually started before the summer, was the complete renovation of the electrical distribution system in the high school,” Koelbel said.

Beginning during spring break, Hauppauge-based All Service Electric Inc. re-fed power lines through underground trenches. Previously, power lines from outdoor polls into the school were fed along overhead lines, susceptible to the elements and to trees. The job was completed during the summer.

“This did two things for us — now if our power goes out, part of the grid went out and we’re much higher priority to get restored,” Koelbel said. “Before when it was, a tree knocked down a line on our property, it was just our property was out, and the neighborhood might still be on and we might not be as high of a priority. But now we also have more reliable service because it’s underground, so it’s not affected by the trees.”

He said the task wasn’t easy for the vendor and commended the job.

“It snowed on them, it rained, the trenches filled up with water, their boots were getting stuck in the mud and the clay, but they persevered and got lines in,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier with the work they did.”

The new underground feeds will soon also house the school’s cable and phone lines, eliminating the need for any cables fed to the school overhead.

Many of the projects were simpler to complete, though not necessarily less time consuming. The high school track was torn up and resurfaced. The second phase of a multiyear roof replacement project continued. Sidewalks in front of the high school were replaced, as were crumbling bricks in the façade of the exterior of the building. The section of the high school driveway nearest to the main entrance on Barnum Avenue was repaved.

One of the more visually noticeable upgrades took place in the high school gymnasium. Koelbel said a new sound system and video board were installed, and the walls were repainted purple and white.

“It really has a flavor of ‘welcome to our house,’” he said of the refurbished gym.

In the elementary school, the floors of two classrooms were removed and replaced, as were the carpeted floors in a couple of hallways.

“It’s like a huge Petri dish, it’s not a good choice,” he said of carpeting in elementary school hallways, which was replaced with tile flooring.

Several doors to classrooms in the elementary school were replaced as part of another multiyear implementation, as many were beginning to show their age, according to Koelbel. Door locks in both school buildings were upgraded as well.

Blinds on the windows of classrooms in both buildings were replaced with rolling shades. Additional security cameras were added across district buildings, as were fire extinguishers for every classroom, and several fire alarms were also upgraded at the high school.

District Superintendent Paul Casciano and Assistant Superintendent Sean Leister each commended Koelbel and the district’s staff for completing the projects in time for the start of school.

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano addresses the Class of 2018 during graduation June 22. File photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District will be looking for new leadership following the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Paul Casciano announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year, effective July 1, 2019, during an Aug. 29 board of education meeting.

“As we had discussed with the board in the fall of 2016, I was willing to complete the 2016-17 school year and two additional school years as your superintendent,” Casciano wrote in a letter dated Aug. 28, which was released publicly by the district in the aftermath of the meeting.

Casciano was hired during the summer of 2016, initially under an interim designation that was removed in Dec. 2016, effectively making him the permanent superintendent. Casciano took over for outgoing Ken Bossert, who transferred to a position leading the Elwood school district.

“Having the opportunity to serve the Port Jefferson School District is truly an honor and privilege of which I am extremely grateful,”Casciano wrote. “We have amazing students who attend our schools and the sky is the limit to what they can and will achieve. I am proud of what we have accomplished so far during my tenure.”

BOE President Kathleen Brennan said the board regretfully accepted Casciano’s resignation.

“I would like to thank Dr. Casciano for his service to Port Jefferson,” she said. “I had the opportunity to speak to the staff at the opening of school and shared with them that Dr. Casciano did not come looking for Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson went looking for Dr. Casciano when we were looking for an interim superintendent and he agreed to stay beyond the one-year interim that we had initially discussed. In fact, the board of education, the night he was interviewed, asked when he left the room, ‘Can he stay?’”

Casciano, a Stony Brook resident, had previously served as superintendent in William Floyd school district. He retired from the position about a year prior to starting with Port Jeff on an interim basis.

The board will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the next steps to search for a new superintendent of schools, according to a district press release. Casciano said in his letter he is willing to assist in the transition to a new superintendent’s tenure beyond his set retirement date.

“When Dr. Casciano was interviewed he said, ‘I have two speeds, go and stop, and what you see is what you get — I’m not going to come in and tread water,’” Brennan said. “The board was very happy to hear that and very happy that he didn’t tread water … So on behalf of the board, I would like to thank Dr. Casciano for his service to Port Jefferson.”

Mark Barden, a founder of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, presents violence prevention strategies to a room full of Suffolk lawmakers and school officials during an Aug. 16 event at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue as Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. looks on. Photo by Alex Petroski

On Dec. 14, 2012, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut left more than 20 people dead, mostly first-graders, shocking the world and changing it permanently. Much of that change can be attributed to the efforts of those who were most personally impacted by the tragic events of that day.

Parents from Sandy Hook were invited to St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue Aug. 16 by Suffolk County Sheriff’s office to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools to a room packed with Suffolk County school district superintendents, administrators and lawmakers.

Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization, was founded by parents including Mark Barden, a professional musician originally from Yonkers who had moved to Newtown in 2007 with his wife to raise their three kids. His son, Daniel, was seven years old  when he was killed during the tragedy.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life,” Barden said of his son.

He said Daniel was known for trying to connect with other kids he saw eating alone, for holding doors for strangers in public, and for picking up earthworms from the hot sidewalk and moving them to safety in the grass, among other instinctual acts of kindness he regularly displayed.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life.”

— Mark Barden

“That’s how I’ve chosen to honor his life is through this work,” Barden said.

Sandy Hook Promise’s approach to carrying out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths can be viewed as an extension of Daniel’s legacy of caring for those in need. Barden was joined Aug. 16 by two other members of the organization — Myra Leuci, national account manager, and Marykay Wishneski, national program coordinator — who detailed the initiatives the nonprofit pitches to school districts interested in improving their prevention strategies.

The four strategies , which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk.

Say Something is an anonymous reporting system that teaches kids how to recognize warning signs, especially on social media, and gives them an outlet to get adults involved. Start With Hello is a training program that teaches students how to be more inclusive and connected to peers. Safety Assessment & Intervention program is geared toward adults and aims to teach them how to identify, assess and respond to threats of violence or at-risk behavior prior to a situation developing. The Signs of Suicide program teaches people how to identify and intervene to get help for those displaying signs of depression or suicidal behavior. The nonprofit offers in-person training for each program, though Say Something and Start With Hello are available to be downloaded and self-led by interested districts.

Since assuming office in January, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said he has made improving school safety and developing uniform, countywide approaches a top priority. Just a few weeks into his tenure, the country was rocked by the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed by a lone gunman.

“It’s an obligation that I feel I have as the Suffolk County Sheriff, to work with all of our partners, but I do feel I cannot stand on the sidelines and just watch,” Toulon said. “We really have to be proactive. Everyone from our police departments, our school administrators, everybody’s taking this banner on. Thankfully we’re all working together to really keep our communities and our children safe.”

Toulon has offered free safety assessments on a voluntary basis to interested districts. Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has taken several steps  already to improve schools’ safety including starting an initiative that allows interested districts to grant access to in-school security cameras to the police department, and securing funds for a mobile phone application for municipal workers and school district employees that can be activated and used in the event of an active shooter situation to notify law enforcement. Bellone announced new initiatives to increase police patrols in school buildings, assign additional officers to the SCPD’s Homeland Security Section and establish a text tip line to report troubling activities this month.

“We are educators, so partnering with law enforcement and those with the skilled lens of how to best ensure the safety of our students has been paramount,” said Ken Bossert, president of Suffolk County Superintendents Association who leads Elwood school district. “So the focus and attention that law enforcement has paid on our schools is just greatly appreciated.”

Representatives from districts across the North Shore attended the informational forum and expressed interest in implementing some or all of what Sandy Hook Promise has to offer, including Huntington Superintendent James Polansky and Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents.”

— Kara Hahn

“A lot of what we heard today I’m going to roll out just informationally to my administrative staff,” Polansky said, adding Huntington has taken up Toulon on his offer to assess building safety already. “We’re actually looking to pursue a lot of the initiatives Sandy Hook Promise has to offer.”

Casciano expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a great resource, and we’re very interested in pursuing it,” he said. “We’ll be making our contacts.”

Several attendees commended Toulon for embracing a leadership role on school safety, including Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D), who was among the wide array of lawmakers at the event along with the school officials.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who is a licensed social worker. She called Toulon’s approach incredibly important. “It shows that he has the recognition that when you have a shooter at the door of a school, it’s too late, and this really needs to be about prevention. We cannot police this, we need to prevent this. And that’s what this is about.”

Bossert said superintendents in the county have been working to put together a uniform blueprint for school safety and are planning to roll it out later this month. For more information about Sandy Hook Promise, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.

Danielle Turner was previously the assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place. File photo from Danielle Turner

Athletics in the Port Jefferson School District reached unprecedented heights during the last few school years, and now one of the people who oversaw part of the rise is moving on.

Danielle Turner, the district’s director of physical education, health, athletics and nurses since 2016 will not be returning to the district this fall. She said in an email she had accepted a similar position in the Locust Valley School District.

“I would like to thank the board of education, district staff, students and this great community for taking a chance on me as a new AD,” Turner said. “I am confident that the tools, knowledge, and skillset I’ve acquired here in Port Jefferson will serve me well at my new home in Locust Valley, and throughout my career. Port Jefferson will always have a special little place in my heart, and I could not be more thankful that my career has led me through it.”

During her time with the Royals, the girls varsity basketball and soccer teams each reached New York State championship rounds, with the soccer team bringing home its second straight trophy in 2016. It was the team’s third straight appearance in the finals. The basketball team fell just short in the 2017 title game, though it was the first time it had won a county crown since 1927. Quarterback Jack Collins broke numerous school records and became the first football player in school history to be named League IV Most Valuable Player. The wrestling team went undefeated and won the League VIII championship during the current school year. Shane DeVincenzo put Port Jeff’s golf program on the map, winning the Suffolk County individual title in 2017.

Turner was the assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place prior to taking the position in Port Jeff. She received her first teaching and coaching positions at Longwood Middle School, where she was a physical education teacher and varsity volleyball coach from 2008-12, while also coaching lacrosse and basketball at different levels. She later served as assistant principal at Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ Premm Learning Center and Sayville Academic Center.

While at Port Jeff, she was known for attending nearly every sporting event, posting updates on social media and serving as a promoter of the district’s athletes.

Superintendent Paul Casciano wished Turner well in her new endeavor in an email.

“We’ll miss her energy and vision,” he said. “We thank her for her contributions to our successes over the past two years.”

The district will conduct a search for a new athletic director.

District hoping for details on Brookhaven, LIPA settlement before finalizing 2018-19 spending plan

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

An announcement by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) April 3 was supposed to provide clarity, but it has done anything but.

Romaine announced during his State of the Town address Brookhaven had reached a settlement with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. While in the midst of preparing its 2018-19 budget, Port Jefferson School District officials said in a statement they were caught off guard by the announcement and, as a result, the board of education moved to delay
adopting its proposed budget during a meeting April 10. The board will hold a special meeting April 18, when the budget will be presented before a vote to adopt. School budgets must be submitted to New York State no later than April 20.

“We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement.”

— Paul Casciano

“When you plan to make reductions, you need to know how much to reduce,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the meeting. “That is the problem with what the town announced, because essentially what the town announced was that they reached a tentative deal. We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement. That’s what we have learned. There are a lot of things that have been talked about at the town level. We have been spending a lot of time trying to find out what the details are.”

Town spokesman Kevin Molloy refuted Casciano’s claim that a deal is not in place.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed,” he said in a phone interview. “The town has sought state aid as part of this agreement. This state aid was not included in the recently adopted budget. We are continuing to work with LIPA for a settlement to this case that is fair for our residents and uses any funds from this settlement to reduce electrical charges to ratepayers.”

The town has not shared details about the agreement in principle publicly.

Casciano was asked by resident Rene Tidwell during the April 10 meeting if the district had long-range plans to address the likelihood it will be losing a chunk of the annual revenue the district receives as a result of the power plant’s presence within the district.

“I’m deeply concerned that this potentially devastating issue has not been more proactively addressed in the years since it was first initiated,” Tidwell said during the public comment period of the meeting.

Casciano strongly pushed back against the idea the issue hasn’t been a top priority for the board and administration.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed.”

— Kevin Molloy

“The plan is very simple — you cut staff, which results in cutting programs,” he said, though he also put the onus on residents to prepare for possible future tax increases. “There comes a time where it’s not all going to be the school district
cutting programs and cutting staff. At some point, taxpayers — and it may be this year — are going to see an increase in their taxes. We don’t assess. The town assesses. The village assesses.”

Board president, Kathleen Brennan, also disagreed with the idea the board has not been prepared to deal with the LIPA situation.

“I’ve been a board member for eight years,” she said. “Going back those eight years on that board and every subsequent board, this board has addressed the issue head on and has done things that you haven’t read about on our website.”

Board member Vincent Ruggiero first motioned to remove budget adoption from the BOE agenda.

“Given the uncertainty and the fact we don’t have a clear answer from Brookhaven, we have a week that we can adopt this budget, I’m just proposing that we wait as long as we can for some type of response, although we probably won’t get one, and hold the vote next week,” he said.

The public portion of the special April 18 meeting of the BOE will begin at 6:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education Betsy DeVos has been met with opposition from North Shore educators. Photo from Senate committee website

Many North Shore superintendents and educators are concerned with President Donald Trump’s (R) nominee for secretary of education: Betsy DeVos, chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately-held investment and management firm based in Michigan, to serve as secretary of education. According to her website, the Michigan resident has a history in politics spanning more than 35 years. She was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times, and worked in a leadership capacity for campaigns, party organizations and political action committees, her website states.

DeVos went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for a confirmation hearing Jan. 17.

“Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it … do not have my support.”

—Paul Casciano

“I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve,” DeVos said during her opening remarks at the hearing. “Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children? I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children. The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

DeVos’ views on public education created a stir around the country, and superintendents from the North Shore and county as a whole joined the chorus of those skeptical about the direction she might take the country’s education system.

“I have devoted my entire adult life to public education and believe it is the bedrock of our democracy,” Port Jefferson school district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it or that offer alternatives that are not subjected to the same strict standards and scrutiny that public schools must live by, do not have my support.”

Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagen echoed many of Casciano’s concerns.

“I find President Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to be unacceptable,” he said in an email. “Education in this country is at an important crossroads. As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education that will prepare them to be active, contributing members of society.”

“As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education.”

—Tim Eagan

Eagen also has concerns about DeVos’ qualifications.

“I believe that Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the U.S. Department of Education,” he said. “She is a businesswoman and politician without any experience in public service or public education. She does not have an education degree, has no teaching experience, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended public school or a state university, and did not send her own four children to public school.”

Middle Country Central School District  Superintendent Roberta Gerold stressed that she does not support the appointment of DeVos, stating that she believes all of DeVos’ actions to date evidence a lack of support for, and understanding of public education.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework,” Gerold said. “She couldn’t seem to, for example, understand or explain the difference between growth and proficiency — very basic concepts. And her answer to whether guns should be allowed in schools — please.”

The superintendent said, though, that she is most disappointed that DeVos would even be considered for the position.

“It seems clear to me that this is purely a political appointment, not an appointment that recognizes merit or values authentic education,” Gerold said. “John King — who I don’t believe was a great champion of public education, at least had credentials that deserved respect. The new nominee does not. It’s worrisome and disconcerting….and insulting to the public education system, K–12 and beyond.”

She said her teachers, several who are community residents, are preparing a petition that requests the board of education adopt of resolution in opposition to the appointment.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework.”

—Roberta Georld

“I believe that our board will be supportive of that request,” she said. “I know that our board president is in agreement with opposing the nomination.”

The Miller Place school district’s administration and board of education drafted and passed a resolution opposing DeVos’ appointment. Superintendent Marianne Cartisano addressed the appointment in an open letter on the district’s website.

“Our concerns are twofold,” she said. “The first reservation we have is regarding the candidate’s lack of first-hand experience as an educator or administrator within the public school system. Since the majority of the children in the United States are currently being educated within the public school system, we feel that this experience is very important for an effective Secretary of Education.”

Cartisano elaborated on her other issues with DeVos.

“Her record also shows a clear bias towards private, parochial and charter schools and the use of vouchers to attend these schools,” Cartisano said. “This bias leads us to our second overarching concern with Betsy DeVos as a candidate for Secretary of Education. The concern is that Betsy DeVos has been a strong advocate for the use of public funds to attend private schools through vouchers, and this would have a direct negative impact on our public school system’s fiscal stability if it is put into effect on a national level.”

The committee will vote to either approve or deny DeVos’ nomination Jan. 31.

Victoria Espinoza and Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.