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Shoreham-Wading River

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Brook Roff. Photo from SWRCSD

Shoreham-Wading River High School senior Brooke Roff took part in a pre-college intensive course through Parsons School of Design where she created a set of posters to promote a topic of her choosing. Brooke chose to focus on anxiety awareness. She designed three posters digitally and showed them to art teacher Ms. Samantha Shepard, who thought it was a great idea to have them hung in the high school guidance office. 

Her three pieces, “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay,” “It’s Okay to Accept Help” and “It’s Okay to Have Anxiety,” proudly hang in the hallway of the guidance office as a graphically creative reminder to her peers who can recognize they are not alone in their feelings.

“Anxiety is not just being nervous or being nitpicky,” Brooke said. “It can manifest through panic attacks or the constant worry that you are not good enough. Anxiety comes in many different ways, but it is best to accept yourself as you are with the help of others. I wanted to portray that through this poster campaign.”

From left, Frank Franzese, Dr. Don Heberer and David Rebori are Comsewogue’s tech team responsible for transitioning the school into online/hybrid learning. Photo from Heberer

Sometimes it takes a village – sometimes it takes a whole district.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in North Shore school districts had to buckle down and create a new game plan from early on. March saw the closure of schools and the introduction of distance learning. September brought a return to in-person, but a host of new issues.

With constantly changing guidelines, they had to reconstruct their plans. Superintendents had to lead their districts to continue learning and to keep their students safe, while teachers, librarians, custodians, librarians and so many more worked and sacrificed to do the best they could, often exceeding what was expected. 

Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, said it was a collaborative effort. 

Superintendent Gerard Poole. Photo from SWR school district

“So much had to happen for all of this had to be in place for the start of the school year,” he said. “Administrators who didn’t take any time off this summer, to teachers who had to move around classrooms. There were a lot of things that had to be done.”

One of those things that were applauded by community members was the reopening of the vacant Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham, which helped increase social distancing and lower the class sizes.  Poole said that in June, after they learned the 6-foot requirement between students and their desks was going to be in place, by opening up the formerly closed school they could have every student in five days a week.

But the superintendent stressed they couldn’t have done it alone. The school board was instrumental in making this happen, maintenance workers helped move supplies and nurses were there early on ready to work. 

“It was an easy academic decision to make, but equally as important socially and emotionally,” he said. “This year seems now like a major win.” 

And while SWR had to implement a plan to reopen a closed school, Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of Three Village school district, said early in the spring the district formed a committee that would look at the narrative, and implement a school opening plan with the ultimate goal to go back to school, as normal, five days a week.  

“The issue of health and safety was most important,” she said. 

Pedisich said they initially developed a hybrid model, but the more she and her colleagues discussed it, they became concerned of the lack of continuity, also the mental, emotional and social impacts being on a screen would have on students. 

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich. Photo from Three Village Central School District

“We wanted to bring our students back to school,” she said. “What we experienced during the spring were a lot of students’ mental health [issues]. The children felt very isolated — it was hard to connect. There was a lot of frustration in terms in the remote learning.”

By creating an education plan early on that opened the school up to five days a week head on, the district was able to hire more staff, and prepare for socially distanced learning. 

“Even though they’re wearing masks, they’re happy to be there,” Pedisich said. “We’ve had cases like anyone else, but no more cases than districts that went hybrid.”

And schools that run independently also had to figure out how to cope with these unprecedented times, including Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station, a nonprofit that offers an alternative education program. The CEO, Carol Carter, said they had to work with staff to handle the change. 

“We provided support to the staff and a strong leadership to the staff, so the teachers felt comfortable,” she said. “Then we did training on it. They had to learn along with us as we’re learning — they’re learning how to run classes online, how to put homework online and how to communicate with the students.”

While their school has a very small staff, they continued to help kids who were struggling at home. 

 “We would try and reach out to students and their families almost daily,” Holly Colomba, an English and science teacher at Sunshine said. “We were trying to check in, whether it’s with their mental health or educationally, just trying to keep in contact with them and let them know we’re still here — and that we were there to help them.”

And technology was huge in every district as the COVID pandemic was navigated. Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent at Comsewogue School District, said the district wouldn’t be running smoothly without the help and initiative from the technology department.

 “These guys made it possible with going remote and doing hybrid instruction,” he said. “They orchestrated training every teacher in the district and worked around the clock to make sure kids were learning. They went way above and beyond to help us operate in time.”

From left, Frank Franzese, Dr. Don Heberer and David Rebori are Comsewogue’s tech team responsible for transitioning the school into online/hybrid learning. Photo from Heberer

Don Heberer, Comsewogue district administrator for instructional technology, said he remembered the day well. It was March 13 and he was at John F. Kennedy Middle School, scrambling and making sure every student had a device to use at home. They delivered about 300 Chromebooks to families who didn’t have devices. 

“I relied on my staff,” he said.  “And our number one focus was how can we make learning possible.”

Heberer and his colleagues — Jan Condon, David Rebori and Frank Franzese — made sure that communication was getting out to members of the community, students and their families. Teachers were constantly being trained and students were able to access their work online.

“We were in the middle of a crisis,” he said. “We have to remember people are losing their jobs, their lives, their entire livelihood. It’s important to be empathetic to that and doing everything we can to make it a little easier — students, teachers, parents and the community.”

He said they kept people in the loop using the districts app, which has roughly 7,000 people logged in. 

School librarians, too, had to change shape to keep kids reading. 

Monica DiGiovanni, a librarian at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point, said she and her colleagues focused this year on teaching students Sora, a reading app by OverDrive. 

She said that Sora is an electronic version of their library, so kids would still be able to access books and read them on their Chromebooks. 

Along with DiGiovanni, Rocky Point librarians Jessica Sciarrone, Catherine O’Connell and Bettina Tripp have been responsible teaching students how to use the system since the school library cannot be used due to the pandemic. 

Monica DiGiovanni, the school librarian in the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, was instrumental in getting kids e-books during COVID.
Photo from DiGiovanni

“As librarians, we were like, ‘Oh gosh we can’t give them books?’ That was a huge issue,” DiGiovanni said. 

After researching platforms to get them e-books, all four librarians decided to devote most of their library budget to the electronic reads.

“There’s so much that books provide that children get out of it,” DiGiovanni said. “They enjoy going to other places — fantasy worlds — so they can get that now with e-books.”

She said they’re definitely utilizing the service. 

“Some kids prefer them,” she added. “They like to be able to finish a book and go onto something new right away.”

At Port Jefferson high school, the Varsity Club is traditionally a group that inspires a sense of community involvement in student-athletes. Teachers and advisers to the club — Jesse Rosen and Deirdre Filippi — said that what their students usually do to get involved with the community was altered or canceled because of the pandemic. 

“As a result, some new events were created by our students and we found alternate ways of giving back to the community,” Filippi said. “We were especially impressed by the fact that our students saw this phase of their life as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.”

Along with reading programs paired with the elementary school, Edna Louise Spear,  and hanging of flags on 9/11 and Veterans Day, the club hosted a Halloween trick-or-treat drive-thru event at the elementary school. 

“Oftentimes, when we feel somewhat helpless about our own situations, the best thing we can do is help those around us,” Filippi said. “This event was a perfect representation of our club´s mentality.”

A good part of the community came to the school to experience a unique and safe trick-or-treating experience. 

Students from the Port Jefferson Varsity Club during their drive-thru trick or treat event. Photo from PJ School District

“The idea was simple, the communal impact was overwhelming,” she said. “This speaks to what we try to achieve as educators. Our students recognized an opportunity within our community and they developed and executed a plan perfectly.”

The impact the club and its students made was overwhelming for Rosen and Filippi. 

“As educators, the actions of our students often inspire us,” Filippi said. “It is rewarding to see our students take the initiative and do whatever they can to put a smile on the face of their fellow students and community members.”

Carter Rubin won the season 19 finale of The Voice Dec. 15. Photo by Trae Patton/NBC

One talented Shoreham teen is going to join the list of other famous Long Island artists. 

Carter Rubin won the season 19 finale of The Voice Dec. 15. Photo by Trae Patton/NBC

Carter Rubin won over the hearts of Americans after they voted him as season 19 champion of NBC’s singing competition, “The Voice” the night of Tuesday, Dec. 15.

The 15-year-old Shoreham-Wading River High School sophomore is the youngest male winner on the show, who participated on Team Gwen, headed by No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani. 

“Gwen’s taught me so much, but the best piece of advice she’s given is for me to be myself when I perform and just in general,” Carter said the morning after his victory. “She’s helped me believe in myself more and she’s boosted my confidence.”

Carter began his “Voice” journey over the summer at just 14, when he auditioned for the show. He previously told TBR he had to keep it a secret until the show’s airing early October. And since then it’s been a whirlwind for the teen, spending months away from Long Island, his family and friends while performing and competing on the show. 

“For the blinds, battles and knockouts, I stayed in LA with my mom for almost three months,” he said. “It was hard being away from the rest of my family, but I knew I was there for a reason. Luckily, I got to go home and see my family and friends before coming back to LA for the live shows.”

But after weeks of singing and traveling, the two-part season finale aired eventually on Nov. 16 and 17. Carter, along with his competitors, performed one last time and waited for America’s votes. 

During the finale, Carter premiered his own new song, “Up from Here,” and then sang alongside Stefani on her — and fiancé/fellow judge Blake Shelton’s — hit Christmas song, “You Make It Feel Like Christmas.”

This was Stefani’s first win as a judge while Shelton’s team with singer Jim Ranger, came in second place. 

And while singing his original song was incredibly special, he said, his favorite performance came from the semifinals last week, when Stefani asked him to sing “Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie.”

Carter was ecstatic and dedicated it to his autistic older brother, Jack. 

Carter Rubin performed on Team Gwen with Gwen Stefani on the season 19 of The Voice. Photo by Trae Patton/NBC

“He could not be more happy for me,” Carter said. “He’s been so proud and understanding throughout this whole experience, and I’m so happy to call him my brother.”

Carter’s mother, Alonna Rubin, founded the Shoreham-based nonprofit Families In Arms, which helps to support families with autism. 

“I am so grateful that Carter was given the opportunity to show the world his God-given talent on such an iconic stage,” she said. “But more importantly, the world now sees how beautiful he is on the inside as well. Proud is not a big enough word to describe how I feel. We will be forever grateful for all of the love and support out there. This is just the beginning for him.”

Carter added that as his coach said, it’s time to start writing and recording more music. 

“Gwen says that it’s time for me to start writing songs, and that’s exactly what I plan on doing,” he said, enthusiastically. “I also want to get in the studio, record some music and I want to perform for live audiences again — once COVID is over.”

Confetti poured around Carter when Carson Daly announced his name. He buried his face in his hands, while Stefani repeatedly yelled, “You won!” Carter was in disbelief. On camera, Stefani was heard asking if she could hug her winner but, due to COVID-19 guidelines, they had to celebrate while social distancing. 

Miller Avenue School second graders and teacher Courtney Von Bargen
congratulate Shoreham-Wading River’s Carter Rubin. Photo from SWRCSD

“I’m still in shock,” he said. “It hasn’t hit me yet, but I just want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who’s voted for me and supported me throughout my entire journey on this show. I couldn’t possibly be more grateful.”

And his community couldn’t be prouder. Earlier this week, the new star met virtually with second-graders in Courtney Von Bargen’s class at Miller Avenue School. In Google Classroom, they listened to Carter talk and asked him questions. 

Claudia Smith, principal of the school, said, “Carter is bringing so much joy to the Shoreham-Wading River school community.”

The second-graders created posters and banners to continue cheering on Carter before the finale. 

“I come from a small town where everyone knows everyone, and the support that I’ve gotten from my community means everything to me,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly thank them enough.”

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A video of two Shoreham-Wading River students using racial slurs and making racially derogatory comments on social media has led to significant backlash online and from district leaders.

A post Jovan Bradley put on Twitter about his interaction with two SWR students. Both student’s faces were intentionally blurred. Image taken from Twitter post

The video in question was on a platform called Omegle, which pairs random people for video chat. That interaction was then published to other social media apps TikTok and Twitter Nov. 10.

The video shows two unidentified young men, who have been named students in the Shoreham-Wading River school district, paired on the social media platform with a man named Jovan Bradley, who according to his Twitter profile lives in Poughkeepsie. Bradley started off the conversation with a greeting, then the young men started with “My N*****” and “What’s up, N****.” The video continues with one of the two young men calling Bradley “slave” and saying, “I’m going to whip you” and mimicking cracking a whip.

Bradley, who is mixed race, later posted a video of the interaction to Twitter and TikTok. In it, he repeatedly asked the young men, “Why?” The Twitter video has been viewed over 38,000 times. The TikTok video has been seen over 417,000 times as of Nov.16.

The names of the two young men have not been released or could not be independently confirmed by press time. People on social media went on trying to find the names of the two students, but some supposed names of the two young men involved have been mistaken for other social media profiles.

Superintendent of Schools Gerard Poole released a statement Nov. 12 saying the video was “reprehensible” and that it was “in clear violation of the core values of our school district.” Poole said the matter will be addressed with both students for further disciplinary action.

The superintendent added that the district is rooted in teachings of “tolerance, acceptance and the importance of embracing diversity,” and they have tried to “cultivate a sense of unity and inclusion in our school community.”

Like many North Shore school districts, Shoreham-Wading River is predominantly white. The district is 87% white, 1% Black, 8% Hispanic or Latino and 2% Asian, according to New York State Education Department data. Long Island has a long history of de facto segregation, and advocates most commonly express this discrepancy by comparing districts like those on the North Shore with places like Brentwood, which is predominately Black and Latino.

Bradley posted to Twitter that at least one parent had contacted him with an apology by one of the students. The other student has yet to send an apology, according to the Poughkeepsie man’s latest TikTok post. Bradley has posted that he has gone on Omegle to debate people and also publicly shared his response to the apology Nov. 13, saying he hopes the young man takes “positive things from this experience” and that he hopes the young man sees fault with his actions “at a human level.”

“Take this experience to continue to educate yourself on what has and is happening in our country,” Bradley said in his post. “I do wish you a bright future if you can make those changes. Everyone deserves a second chance.”

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

All school districts passed their budgets this year, though all are anticipating potential changes in state aid later in the year. In addition, all district voters decided to reelect incumbents in contested races.

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District 

SWR passed its 2020-21 budget, 2,146 to 801. Its budget is set at $77,164,774, a 1.6 percent increase from last year’s $75,952,416. The year’s tax levy is $55,391,167, a $1,013,510 increase from 2019-20.

The district will maintain all current programming despite potential state aid cuts. Its state aid package would be $12,789,308, a $112,843 increase from last year. In the event of potential state aid cuts midyear, 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.  

In the board of education elections all three candidates were incumbents and ran unopposed. Board president Michael Lewis secured another term on the board with 2,292 votes, Katie Anderson, who finished her first term this year, was reelected with 2,324 votes. Henry Perez was reelected to another term as well and garnered 2,300 votes. 

Rocky Point Union Free School District

The 2020-21 budget passed 1,961 to 952. Its budget is set at $84,586,600, with state aid reduction resulting in a $2.1 million decrease in the overall figure. Expenditure decreases are across the board to reach the reduced budget. The budget sets the tax levy at $52,483,059,

setting itself directly at the tax cap, a very slight increase from last year’s figure.

A capital reserve proposition was approved 1,998 to 893. The district is 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. Due to the result of the vote, the district will gain access to the funds. The capital reserve does not increase the tax levy.

Incumbents Sean Callahan and Jessica Ward secured reelection to a three-year term. They garnered 1,955 and 2,094 votes, respectively. Challenger Kellyann Imeidopf fell short with 960 votes.

Miller Place School District 

The Miller Place School District passed its 2020-21 budget convincingly with a vote of 2,156 to 860. The budget is set at $75,713,895, a 2.37 percent increase from last year. The district’s 2020-21 tax levy is set at $47,616,059 and an increase of $687,471 from last year’s amount. 

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. Officials said they plan on using leftover aid and funds from repairing the high school gym floor to help offset any further reductions in state aid. 

Proposition 2, which comprised the library budget, passed overwhelming as well:  2,464 to 548. 

Board Vice President Richard Panico was reelected to the board with 2,407 votes. Trustee member Lisa Reitan was also reelected to another term with 2,420 votes. 

Mount Sinai School District

Voters passed the 2020-21 budget, 2,108 to 857. Its budget is set at $61,769,870, 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.

A second proposition asked voters to approve $1.2 million for capital projects from the reserves. It passed 2,365 to 595. Projects will 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.

Three board seats were up for grabs this year. Incumbents Edward Law, Robert Sweeney and Peter Van Middelem all secured reelection with 1,635, 1,915 and 1,675 votes, respectively. Newcomer Karen Pitka came up shy in her bid to get on the board securing 1,597 votes.

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.” 

File Photo

Shoreham-Wading River school district officials announced Monday the schools would reopen Tuesday following their closure over fears a staff member had contact with someone with the virus.

On the district’s website a notice from Superintendent Gerard Poole read:

“Please be assured that the decision to close today was not one that the district made lightly. The information we received early this morning was limited and initially indicated that a member of our security team might have been exposed to an individual with the coronavirus. In many of my messages to you, I have stressed how the safety and security of our students and staff is our district’s top priority. Those are not just words to us — we truly mean them, and thus was the basis for our decision this morning. As we were waiting for further clarification from the Department of Health and the start of the school day was imminent, we felt it prudent to close in order to be overly cautious and in the best interest of our students/staff health.  Please note that it was further confirmed by the Department of Health that no individual in our district has tested positive for the coronavirus as of this writing.

While the situation today developed, please be assured that the district worked internally to take several proactive steps to further our past efforts. We once again completed a thorough and deep cleaning of all surfaces in our schools and our buses went through a deep disinfecting process. All afterschool activities for today will remain cancelled, as our custodial staff prepare our schools for tomorrow.”

*Original Story

Shoreham-Wading River school district has closed all schools early this morning as a coronavirus case was confirmed on a High School staff member’s spouse. The call went out to parents in the early morning as some students were on the bus on their way to class.

Residents in the Shoreham-Wading River school district reported receiving a robo call 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 have students dropped off at home. First bell for the high school is 7:20 a.m.

“The Shoreham-Wading River Central School District is closed today due to a potential suspected case of coronavirus with a high school staff member’s spouse,” Poole said in a statement. “The district has been in contact with the Suffolk County Department of Health and while we await confirmation and guidance from them we have decided to cancel classes at all schools today out of an abundance of caution.”

The district has not yet released information about how long they expect school to be closed, but in a letter on the district website, officials confirmed the first two days of school being absent would eat up the last remaining snow days. Any days schools are closed after that would impact the school calendar, including spring break which runs April 6 through 14, superintendent’s conference day, April 28, and the friday before Veterans Day, May 22.

The district also confirmed they were considering plans for online learning options in the event schools were closed due to the Covid 19 fears. 

The options include using Google Classroom and learning platforms such as I-Ready. The district encouraged parents to confirm the logins 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. 

District officials also said they have placed an additional cleaner in each building to disinfect surfaces. 

Yesterday, Suffolk County confirmed its first case of coronavirus. A man described in his early 40’s is being hospitalized in the Stony Brook/Southampton hospital.  

As of Sunday, the total number of confirmed cases of Covid 19 in New York has jumped to 105.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

The Shoreham-Wading River Gay-Straight Alliance Club, including co-advisors Ed Stock, center, and Brittany Davis, far right. Photo by Kyle Barr

One may think the LGBT community in Suffolk County is a small minority, until there are more than 100 of them and their allies together in a room celebrating what makes them, them.

On Jan. 28, after close to half a year of planning, the Shoreham-Wading River High School Gay-Straight Alliance club hosted a Gender-Sexuality Alliance Leadership Conference, the first in all of Suffolk County. They were joined by over 100 students from 14 different schools as well as a score of adults, including teachers, parents and school administrators.

Well over 100 people from different Gay-Straight Alliance clubs throughout Suffolk County at the Shoreham-Wading River High School Jan. 28 conference. Photo from SWRCSD

“Not only did it bring together a group of kids that were not only like-minded, but were also there to support each other,” said club co-advisor Brittany Davis. “It really felt like there was a sense of community that was just beautiful, that we did something that changed everyone’s outlook on this and really changed the whole dynamic of the comfortability in the school.”

Senior and club member Ray Colon said it was an event unlike any he has experienced at the school setting. Students who felt they were marginalized or pushed to the boundaries in their own schools could talk freely.

“It was awesome to hear them share their own stories and their own struggles back at home,” he said. “At school, they don’t have that space to be free always — it allows them to open up.”

Between the discussions and presentations, Davis said students flooded into the upstairs balcony in the library for an impromptu dance party.

“They might be that quiet kid in class, but when they’re with others they can finally feel comfortable,” Davis said. “It was really cool to see them be themselves — their energy went throughout the room and made everyone smile.” 

High school senior Emily Mulcahy, the club president, said while they were initially unsure how successful an event it would be, upon reaching out and getting a score of immediate responses, their doubts were eased. In fact, they had so many responses they could simply not fit all into the small space of the library.

Nearly five months of planning led to an event that included discussions about themselves and their place in the LGBT community, but also the recognition of administrators, including high school Principal Frank Pugliese and Superintendent Gerard Poole.

“In our building and district, we celebrate diversity, we don’t look down on it,” Pugliese said. “The fact so many districts felt the same way, I think even strengthened that message even more.”

The principal added he hopes this event will become “a normal part of the calendar.”

Fellow club co-advisor Ed Storck has been at the head of getting the whole event started. The fact that two school administrators could show such open support, he said, means a lot considering where the LGBT community has come from, especially in schools.

“So many kids were saying, ‘I didn’t know how many people were in support,’” he said.

SWR High School senior Ray Colon, of the Gay-Straight Alliance club, is flanked by GSA co-advisers Ed Storck and Brittany Davis. Photo from SWRCSD

Storck said the idea for the conference originally came to light when the club invited Jeremy Thode, an assistant principal at Center Moriches High School and the president of the Smithtown board of education, down to the school to speak to the club. Thode has been advocating for and educating about LGBTQ for little less than a year now. His son, Noah, came out as transgendered last January, and Thode has taken his experiences with his family’s path toward transition and acceptance and used it to advocate and educate both districts and parents.

“This event clearly told us that these kids, when with people who understand them, they are authentically themselves,” Thode said.

The club is planning future events for this year, including a visit this month to the LGBT Network of Long Island, a nonprofit support network that connects services on Long Island and Queens, where club students speak about the importance of allies in the community and how they wish to be treated by them. Later this year the club is planning a positivity week, which the club started three years ago. That week ends with a day of remembrance, where any participating student remains silent throughout the day to honor the people who have lost their lives due to discrimination in the past. On June 5, the district is also hosting the third annual Unity Dance for the other GSA clubs in Suffolk.

But club members also understand they have started something that may become a “legacy,” as Mulcahy put it. With Thode at the helm, the Smithtown school district is planning a similar event May 5. With more space in Smithtown High School West, they are able to fit the districts that were unable to come to the original event due to space.

“Ultimately, what needs to happen is more awareness, education and acceptance, not only in GSA’s, but in the wider community.” Thode said.

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Above, Mount Sinai senior Matt Campo won the day at the state wrestling championship March 1. Several other North Shore wrestlers placed on the day. Photo by Mel Jacoby

The wrestling season came to an end this past weekend at the Times Union Center in Albany with North Shore wrestlers making way at the 2020 Championship.  

A sellout crowd was in attendance for the two-day, three-session event featuring the best wrestlers throughout New York state. All of the Division II County Champions plus a few wildcards competed.

North Shore wrestlers from John Glenn, Mount Sinai, Shoreham-Wading River and Mattituck participated.  

Mount Sinai’s Matt Campo, the No. 2 seed, wrestled Mickey Squires of Norwich, the No. 1 seed, in a rematch of their Windsor Christmas tournament where Squires won 6-4.  The finals was the seventh time Campo and Squires faced off, with Squires wining four and Campo winning two.

The match started with Squires scoring one point in the first period with an escape and took the lead 1-0. Campo responded in the second period with a takedown, scoring two points and a 2-1 lead. Squires responded with a third-period escape, scoring one point. This tied the score at 2-2 and sent the match to overtime. Both wrestlers knew the other’s style and adjusted accordingly. The crowd was in a frenzy during the overtime, knowing the first one to score would win the championship. In a dramatic finish, Campo scored two points on a takedown and won the match 4-2, becoming the New York State Champion at 170 pounds. Campo also recorded his 200th career win during the tournament.   

Campo credited the win to the strategy set up by his father, Mike Campo, coach Matt Armstrong and assistants Kurt Wagner, Eric Strobeck, Ralph Menchino, Jim Walker and two outstanding wrestling training partners, Joe Goodrich and Adam Shrata.    

Also placing in the tournament were Brayden Fahrbach and Mike O’Brien of Mount Sinai, who finished third. Craig Jablonski, of Shoreham-Wading River, placed fifth, while Joe Goodrich, of Mount Sinai placed sixth.

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SWR Also Gives Strong Showing

Mustangs wrestling gave it their all at this year’s Division II wrestling championship Feb. 14. Photo from Mel Jacoby

Center Moriches High School was home to the Dr. L Robert “Doc” Fallot Memorial Suffolk County Division II Wrestling Championship Friday, Feb. 14. Competing in the tournament were teams from Mount Sinai, Shoreham-Wading River, John Glenn, Mattituck, Hampton Bays, Bayport-Blue Point, Port Jefferson, Southampton and Babylon. 

A capacity crowd was in attendance to watch the boys compete for the coveted championship and a trip to Albany for the New York State Championship finals. 

In a close battle at 99 pounds, Brayden Fahrbach of Mount Sinai narrowly defeated a tough Chris Colon from Shoreham-Wading River 2-1.

At 106 pounds, Craig Jablonski of Shoreham-Wading River took down Anthony Mirando of John Glenn 2-1 in a tight battle. 

At 120 pounds, Joe Sparacio of Bayport-Blue Point outlasted Connor Pierce of Shoreham-Wading River, 8-3. 

The 126-pound match featured Jordan Titus of Center Moriches, who ranked third in the nation, against Jack Tyrell of Mount Sinai. Titus won in a tech fall 18-3.

The boys from Mt. Sinai won the next two matches with Brenden Goodrich outlasting Jake Jablonski of Shoreham-Wading River 6-2 and Mike O’Brien overwhelming River Orlando of Hampton Bays 15-4.

Mount Sinai powerhouses Matt Campo, at 170 pounds, and Joe Goodrich, at 182 pounds, who have been pinning machines all year, won their respective matches by pins. Campo stuck it out, winning over Ben Brown of Southampton in 1:25, with Goodrich defeating Ethan Schmidt of Mattituck in 4:53.  

Mount Sinai’s five winning wrestlers will compete in Albany Feb. 28 and 29.

The Rick Herrmann Most Outstanding Wrestler Award in the tournament went to Joe Sparacio of Bayport-Blue-Point, while the Jack Mahoney Champion of Champions Award went to Goodrich of Mount Sinai. The Most Pins in the Least Amount of Time Award went to Campo of Mount Sinai, ending with a total of four pins in 2:7.

The Bill Knapp Award went to the Mustangs, whose team score was 261 to Shoreham-Wading River’s 248. John Glenn had 219 while Mattituck had 201.

The New York State Championship will take place Feb. 28 and 29 at the Times Union Civic Center in Albany. Mount Sinai will be sending the most wrestlers from either Division I or Division II to the tournament.