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Port Jefferson Middle School

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. File photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson Middle School and Earl L. Vandermeulen High School had to go fully remote this week, after parents begged the district to allow their children back in four days a week. 

Up until recently, the district had students come to the high school and middle school twice a week. Parents, concerned about how the lack of in-person learning would have on their children, began asking why the district would not add more days. 

Jae Hartzell, a parent in the district, said she was one of a dozen who voiced their concerns. 

“We really worked, and fought, and emailed, and studied, and provided stats, and really researched to make sure we were fighting for the right and safe thing to do,” she said. 

And their wishes were granted at the latest board of education meeting on Jan. 8, when the board agreed on a vote to let middle and high schoolers back in four days a week. 

But just two days later, on Sunday, Jan. 10, the district sent out a notification that the four days will not happen, and instead, those two groups would have to go remote. 

The notice said that as of that day, there were 26 staff members, including teachers and teaching assistants, who are subject to quarantine due to COVID-19, for a variety of reasons related to their own health, in-school and out of school exposures, and positive family members. 

It continued that after careful examination of the school’s schedules and their available substitute coverage, they determined they do not have the staff to cover the middle and high schools this week. That being said, grades 6-12 will go remote Jan. 12 through Jan. 15, with no change to the Monday, Jan. 11 schedule as this is an asynchronous remote day in the district’s hybrid schedule.

The notice did not affect the elementary school, which will still be open for in-person learning, and staff coverage for the district’s 8:1:1 special education students have not been affected, as the in-person class schedules for these students remains the same.

“As a parent, you see your child go from super happy and over the moon to be able to go back to school, and then flattened a bit with that disappointment,” Hartzell said. “We all have to understand this is very complex and complicated and we don’t have the information, but it’s disheartening.”

Port Jefferson School District Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said the district understands this is difficult news to hear after the highly anticipated return to four days per week of in-person instruction.

“This determination is only for the remainder of this week and we expect to begin this next phase of our reopening plan on Tuesday, Jan. 19 – as long as circumstances permit – when we look forward to having all of our students back in our classrooms,” she said.

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Port Jefferson middle and high schools will be closing Nov. 12 after a middle school student tested positive for COVID-19. Photo by Elana Glowatz

*Update* The Port Jefferson School District announced it was reopening the middle and high schools for Friday, Nov. 13 for in-person learning. 

“Since the positive case had not been in school since last week, we were fortunate that students and staff were not exposed and did not have to quarantine,” the district said in a message on its website. “As the holidays approach, please remain vigilant with social distancing, proper hand hygiene and masks. These mitigation strategies will keep our schools open for our students.”

The Port Jefferson School District is closing its middle and high schools for Thursday, Nov. 12 and going full remote for both buildings after officials announced a middle school student tested positive for COVID-19.

The district said in a notice to parents Wednesday that since the Suffolk County Department of health is closed due to Veterans Day, and the district is unable to yet talk to officials about starting contact tracing.

All staff and students will be doing remote work, and only a few clerical, custodial and administrators will be reporting into the buildings.

“Although the student has not been in school this week, we would like official information regarding exposures from the Department of Health,” the district said in its message.

This post will be updated when more information becomes available.

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From left, Rotarian Kathy Taveira, teacher Christina Carlson, Narin Karakurum, Principal Bob Neidig and Rotary Club President Paul Vigliante. Photo from Larry Hohler

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Rotary Club of Port Jefferson welcomed Port Jeff Middle School sixth-grader Narin Karakurum at its luncheon at Cafe Spiga in Mount Sinai and presented her with its Most Motivated Student of the Month Award.  

Narin was accompanied to the luncheon by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christine Austine, Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister, Principal Bob Neidig, sixth-grade special ed teacher Christina Carlson and Narin’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Karakurum.  

Neidig introduced Narin to his fellow Rotarians, describing her as an excellent student with a GPA in the high 90s for the first two quarters of the school year, who is also well-appreciated by faculty, staff and fellow students because of her generous, sweet and kindhearted nature. 

Narin’s science and coding teacher praised that Narin goes above and beyond class requirements, seeks help when she has questions, and “brings her own background knowledge to the table when discussing different topics.” The teacher recalls during the Thanksgiving Food Drive, Narin “went out of her way on multiple days to bring in large boxes of food for those in need.”  

Narin’s teachers of writing, reading and math, as well as Carlson, who nominated Narin for this award, all lauded her cheerful disposition, her active participation in class, her excellent work ethic and her obvious desire to learn. Furthermore, school representatives said Narin reaches out to help friends and peers and is seen as being mature and bright, yet humble. The principal ended his presentation of this superlative youngster by thanking her for setting a great example for all of those around her and helping to promote a positive and caring school. 

Above, from left, Sara Freitas, Monica Consalvo and Marlo Pepe;


Port Jefferson Middle School students Marlo Pepe, Sara Freitas and Isabelle Chen had the opportunity to read their original poetry during the lantern dedications and opening ceremonies for Port Jefferson Village’s 24th annual Charles Dickens Festival last weekend. 

Middle School teacher Monica A. Consalvo coordinated the event by having students submit their poetry centered around the themes of community, family and Charles Dickens. This yearly tradition allows students not only to be a part of the community event but also to extend learning beyond the traditional walls of the classroom.

Monica Consalvo with Isabelle Chen


By Isabelle Chen, Grade 7

Presented at Lantern Dedication

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Where nights are filled with colorful lights

And land filled with white gold and plenty of cold

With a huge tree bringing great glee

With joy and peace where all problems seem to cease

Where children are playing and nothing is dismaying

For snow is here and Santa is near

But this beauty is only in one place, for there will only be such beauty and joy in the one place, we call 


Where families are brought together, and love is spread.



By Sara Freitas Grade 7

December comes a near,

And so shall the reindeer.

The holiday season bringing all the cheer.

Snowflakes fall from up above, 

Coming in all shapes to love.

Bewildered in the coldness, 

Remain the glorious reindeer, 

All covered in snow all so perfectly.

The children admire the first snow.

Laughing and giggling,

The sounds of jingle bells jingling, 

soon filling the air with all the happiness one could possibly imagine.

They head outside,

Smiles brighten on their amazed faces, 

Their cheeks bright red from the cold crisp air.

They flock and prance all around, 

Leaving footsteps in the clean new snow.

They throw snowballs for hours, 

Perfecting each ball with care.

The sun begins to set,

Leaving the children baffled from the new coldness.

They said their farewells,

And each headed home for the evening.

Though they were sad to go home,

They were very happy to greet their beloved families with joy.


The Spirit of Christmas

by Marlo Pepe, Grade 7

Presented at Saturday Opening Ceremonies

The exhilarating sleigh ride speeds throughout the bright glistening snow

While the carolers sing until the sparkling stars appear

Bright twinkling Christmas lights dance around the Christmas tree

Sparkling memorable ornaments overlook the brightly wrapped gifts waiting to be opened.

Joyful laughter weaves in and out as the warm fire crackles its message about the gift of family 

Amidst this laughter you can smell the new batch of cookies baking just for Santa

Heavy eyelids announced bedtime has arrived

As the sleepy heads make their way to bed you can hear Santa’s sleigh bells echo throughout the midst of night

Off they go into a dream of presents and Christmas pie

To wake up to silver bells, candy canes and the miracle of Christmas.


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Benjamin Perez-Flesler is honored at a board of education meeting with board member Ellen Boehm and Superintendent Paul Casciano. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

An 11-year-old at Port Jefferson Middle School is using technology to improve his preparedness for quizzes and exams, but he’s also looking out for the school’s entire sixth grade.

Benjamin Perez-Flesler was preparing for a test on ancient civilizations in his social studies class in November when he decided to create a study guide modeled after one he’d seen created by his LOTE (languages other than English) teacher Robert Farenga to get himself ready to ace the exam. Once he was finished making the quiz list, he though he’d share it with his classmates.

“I think initially it was mostly for myself, but I decided it was easier to share with everyone,” Benjamin said.

His classmates were grateful for the emailed study guide they received, according to Benjamin, so he decided to create more. That’s when he borrowed another idea from Farenga, to take the studying to the next level. His teacher hosts the study guides on a Google site accessible to anyone with the address, so Benjamin decided to make a website of his own.

“Over the Thanksgiving break I thought about how much the first study guide had helped my classmates,” Benjamin said during a presentation on technology in the classroom, made to the board of education Feb. 14. “I decided I would continue making study guides for more tests as they came and realized I would need somewhere to put them … after making the site I shared it with everyone in the grade and all of my teachers. Some of my teachers showed everyone how to get to it and what it was, so many more people started using it.”

He said soon after, a few of his friends asked if they could help with the website.

“With their help, many things were added to the website such as calendars, a feedback page, more study guides and games,” he said.

“I’m very, very partial of course, I’m the proud mom. He really likes challenges, and he’s fascinated by computers and the things you can do with them.”

—Daniela Flesler

Currently, the site has three social studies guides, two for science, three for math and four for LOTE, and Benjamin is still going strong. He and his classmates who helped with the site also offer extra help sessions for students in need at the high school library.

“I was surprised and amazed — kind of in awe of the things that he’s doing by himself,” Benjamin’s mom Daniela Flesler said. “I thought it was wonderful. I was so moved that he decided to share this with everyone else in his class.”

Benjamin’s father Adrian Perez said he would be very curious to see how his son’s endeavor has impacted test scores of student throughout the grade, and praised his son for taking on the responsibility of helping the entire sixth grade.

Benjamin’s parents were far from alone in heaping adulation on the 11-year-old.

“Benjamin, I see a business endeavor in your future, but most of all I would say congratulations on being such a wonderful peer mentor and peer supporter,” school board president Kathleen Brennan said after the presentation. “What a great idea to try and help your fellow students — truly impressive. Thank you for that.”

Middle School Principal Robert Neidig expressed a similar sentiment.

“I am so proud of Benjamin’s commitment to assisting his fellow students with their academic success,” Neidig said when Benjamin was honored by the board earlier in the school year. “His actions demonstrate his selflessness and compassionate nature.”

Benjamin, who’s father is from Spain and mother is from Argentina, said he hopes to be a teacher or a marine biologist when he grows up.

His mom had a hard time holding back her pride in her son’s accomplishments.

“I’m very, very partial of course, I’m the proud mom,” she said. “He really likes challenges, and he’s fascinated by computers and the things you can do with them.”

Students and parents interested in accessing Benjamin’s study guide can visit https://sites.google.com/a/portjeffschools.org/6th-grade-study-guides/home.

Far left, historian Georgette Grier-Key; second from left, teacher Monica Consalvo; second from right, alum Michael Tessler; and, far right, Mayor Margot Garant with seventh-grade students from the Port Jefferson Middle School. Photo from Monica Consalvo

MAKING HISTORY: On Dec. 22, seventh-grade students of the Port Jefferson Middle School attended an assembly that focused on how the village’s residents aided the efforts of the Patriots in winning the Revolutionary War. Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant, historian Georgette Grier-Key and alum Michael Tessler engaged the students in a fascinating display of how the Culper Spy Ring operated as well as having the opportunity to view Loyalist soldier Nehemiah Marks’ letter informing his comrades that Phillips and Nathaniel Roe, among others, helped supply Setauket-based spy Caleb Brewster with information to pass on to the Patriots.

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Port Jefferson Middle School has a new interim principal. Photo by Caroline Biondo

A familiar face will guide Port Jefferson Middle School as the district searches for a new principal.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday night, members approved Leonard Bozza to serve as interim principal effective July 1. The board resolution stipulates that Bozza will be in the role for no more than 100 days, and will be compensated $600 for each day.

According to a Wednesday letter from Superintendent Ken Bossert, Bozza was previously an interim assistant principal in the district and an interim high school principal. Before stepping into those roles at Port Jefferson, he had retired from his position as the Longwood High School principal.

The district is searching for a permanent replacement for outgoing Principal Antonio Santana, who announced earlier this month that he would not return for the 2015-16 school year, instead going to work for a Nassau County high school beginning in July.

Santana’s news came about three months after the high school principal, Matthew Murphy, announced his own departure at the end of the current school year, saying he was going “to pursue other educational opportunities.”

Murphy and Santana had been hired together three years ago to jointly replace Roseann Cirnigliaro, who had served as principal of both the middle and high schools.

Despite the pair’s coinciding resignations, the district has said the two schools will retain separate principals. Officials have already filled Murphy’s spot — Christine Austen, the Pre-K to grade 12 assistant principal, will take the helm of the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.

Until a permanent middle school principal is chosen, parents can reach Bozza at the school’s main office, at 631-791-4431.

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Port Jefferson Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson school district officials announced on Thursday that middle school Principal Antonio Santana would not return for 2015-16, making him the second building leader in the last few months to step down.

In a letter to parents and staff, Superintendent Ken Bossert said Santana would leave Port Jefferson Middle School for a role at a Nassau County high school beginning in July.

“While this news is disappointing, we are happy for Tony that he has chosen to continue to shape his career in the manner that he believes is best for him and his family,” Bossert wrote.

Antonio Santana, above, is leaving his role as Port Jefferson Middle School principal after three years. File photo
Antonio Santana, above, is leaving his role as Port Jefferson Middle School principal after three years. File photo

The same day, Santana sent out an email to parents about his departure.

“I cannot emphasize enough what a pleasure it’s been working with my students, staff, and parents,” he said. “As I have mentioned at many school functions, it has been a true privilege working in such a great community and all of your efforts in raising such wonderful children have been much appreciated. Having said this, I can’t help feeling a great deal of sadness when I think about all of the people I will miss, especially my students.”

Santana’s news comes about three months after high school Principal Matthew Murphy said he would resign at the end of the current school year, “to pursue other educational opportunities.” Murphy and Santana were both hired three years ago to jointly replace the combined middle school-high school principal, Roseann Cirnigliaro.

The district has filled Murphy’s slot — it announced recently that Christine Austen, the assistant principal for all grade levels and a Port Jefferson graduate, would succeed him at the helm of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.

“It is wonderful to be given this opportunity to come home and give back to the community this way,” Austen said in a statement.

Austen said she wants to introduce more technology into classroom learning and implement new technology-related courses.

“Our goal is to prepare our students with skills that will last a lifetime,” the incoming principal said.

Bossert said in his Thursday letter that the search is already underway for a new middle school principal, but “due to the timing of this vacancy, it is likely that there will be a gap between Mr. Santana’s departure and the appointment of a new principal.”

Parents may reach out to Bossert, Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister or Executive Director of Curriculum Maureen Hull with any questions.

“Further information about the progress of our search for Mr. Santana’s successor will be shared with our community as it develops.”

At the time of Murphy’s resignation announcement, the superintendent said the district did not plan to return to its previous system of having one principal for both the high school and the middle school. The district was able to operate in that manner for the two schools, which share a building, because it had a waiver from the state education department but that waiver has expired. Bossert has previously said the two schools are different learning environments that require “separate and distinct” principals.