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Superintendent Gerard Poole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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The SWR High School parking lot is finally completed as part of the ongoing bond project. The district is looking to see if the fitness center will use extra bond funds. Photo by David Luces

With construction of a new parking lot at the Shoreham-Wading River High School complete, school officials are chomping at the bit to receive the guard booth they already ordered by the start of the school year.

Entering into the new parking lot, drivers are greeted with two routes, one for buses and the other for parking. 

The SWR High School parking lot is finally completed as part of the ongoing bond project. The district is looking to see if the fitness center will use extra bond funds. Photo by David Luces

“The biggest question a person will have to ask is whether I turn right, or I go straight,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “There’s plenty of signage. … It should be very clear.”

Some of the new spaces are designated specifically for student parking, while other spots are designated for library patrons, marked with green lines, of which there are 20. Each space, except for handicapped spots, are numbered, which will correspond to senior student’s assigned parking values. Otherwise there are a number of spots for parents dropping off items or for expected mothers.

The other major piece of the parking lot, however, still has to arrive. Arcuri said they ordered their mobile guard booth, one that is attached with a trailer, after the school budget passed several months ago but has yet to arrive, with the company citing delays. 

Otherwise, the guard booth will be set up at the drive in toward the new parking lot. It will not contain a lowering bar, and instead a security guard will ask each incoming car why they’re there. All North Shore Public Library users will be asked to park in a marked section, while others who are dropping off items will be directed, and the guard will radio they are coming. The booth will be up during school hours, but it may also be used during larger events. A permanent booth could be added using money from the New York State Smart School Bond Act, which the district finalized plans for at the end of 2018.

The mobile booth is a test, the assistant super said, for what may become a permanent booth not just in the high school but in other district buildings.

During school hours, the recreational facilities like the football field and tennis courts, along with the trails to the southwest of the high school, are off limits, Arcuri said.

“It pushes any imminent threat further out, and that’s the goal of the visitors booth,” he added. “We are learning as we’re going.”

Arcuri said the district should be releasing a map of how to navigate the new parking lot sometime before the start of school.

Shoreham-Wading River school district is considering converting the closed fitness center into a wrestling center. Photo by Kyle Barr Photo by Kyle Barr

Robert Badalian once woke up early in the morning on weekdays to make it to the aging Joe Ferreira Fitness Center at the Shoreham-Wading River High School. For close to 20 years, from 6 to 8 a.m. men and woman walked through the door, quickly becoming friends and regulars. Most were older in age and already retired but found a community where they could exercise without judgment.

“I got through cancer thanks to the exercise of the gym.”

— Peggy Loscalzo

More than a year since the fitness center suddenly closed after an engineer’s report showed the floor was not up to code, the fitness center regulars are continuing to shout their support at board meetings for their small group to be able to use a fitness center at their school. Though current plans to move the fitness center into the school building has many of those residents feeling they’re being pushed out, as now the temporary facility is located inside the school in rooms A101 and 102.

“If the fitness center stays where it is or moves to the auxiliary gym, it will remain a single use facility,” Badalian said. “It’s just not logical that you would move a fitness center from an external building, that’s self-contained, and move it into the high school.”

Officials have already floated the idea to move the fitness center into the school building where the current auxiliary gym resides. Though the district had definitive plans to renovate the old fitness center, a proposed plan is to create a wrestling center in that external building where the old gym room sits vacant.

Board Vice President Katie Andersen said much of it has to do with the security issue of having people walk outside the building during school hours to reach the gym. Students also have limited access and could suffer injury outside from adverse weather.

SWR Superintendent Gerard Poole gave a presentation at the Aug. 20 board meeting recommending gym hours be separate from students’ hours, and that if the gym were to be moved into the school it would only be open for outside residents two days a week in the evening hours and Saturday morning. He also offered the idea of a structured community program for fitness education.

Shoreham residents like Jim and Peggy Loscalzo, who had used the old gym for more than a decade before it was shut down, vehemently opposed the idea of limited times to use the gym. They said the only times they could attend gym hours were early in the morning, as later in the day they may be too tired to go to a gym. 

“I got through cancer thanks to the exercise of the gym,” Peggy Loscalzo said.

Poole presented there was an average of 30 weekly resident users of the previous gym, and most were regulars. Of those 30 only eight users exceeded three days a week in attendance.

Badalian vehemently disputed those numbers, calling it closer to 70 paid members.

“The staff was never even questioned about this,” he said.

Some residents questioned why the wrestlers should need their own specific space, though those parents with kids in the wrestling program called it a year-round sport, with training taking place throughout the year.

“We students don’t have the money to buy a gym membership.”

— Connor Blenning

Several residents said they have bought gym memberships in the meantime, but they find it hard to schedule their times, so they could be there with the old compatriots of the old gym.

SWR student Connor Blenning, a wrestler, said lacking a fitness center hurt them last wrestling season, and having a specific space for their sport would be invaluable.

“We didn’t have a gym to do strength training,” he said.

He added that he thought that if the gym is easily accessible to students, who might walk by it multiple times a day, they could be influenced to use the fitness center where they may not have previously.

“We students don’t have the money to buy a gym membership,” he said. “School kids could staff it.”

Board President Michael Lewis said they are still working on the proposals and have not made any final decision yet what will become of the old or a new fitness center.

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The Cutinella family and Superintendent Gerard Poole cut the ribbon on the new concession stand as Frank Fontinell and Peter Christ watch. Photo by Kyle Barr

The first two people to place an order from the new Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field Concession Stand April 12 were members of the Cutinella family themselves. Frank and Kelli Cutinella, who lost their son from a head injury in 2014, asked for something simple, two small cups of coffee.

Frank Fontinell, a Shoreham-Wading River high school student, was one of two students first to run the stand that day. As the small team inside the new concession stand started making up the family’s order of coffee, Fontinell shouted, “The concession stand is now officially open.” 

There on the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, the concession stand is just another piece of the community coming together to honor the legacy of the young man who died in 2014.

Frank Fontinell and Peter Christ give out the concession stand’s first order. The first cups of coffee went to the Cutinella family, far left. Photos by Kyle Barr

“It’s really a testament to our community, to the Shoreham-Wading River community and to Thomas,” Frank Cutinella said. “This school has been open since 1975, [the new structure] is in 2019, that’s a big accomplishment.”

The new concession stand has been a long time coming. Though the district first broke ground on the project in 2017, plans for the new structure have been ongoing for more than one district administration. Former district board members and now retired superintendent Steven Cohen were recognized for helping get the structure’s plans off the ground.

“The previous board of education, as well as this one, kept it alive, and we’re thankful for that,” Frank Cutinella said.

District officials said the total cost for the new stand was $800,000, though the district estimated 99 percent of those funds came from multiple individuals and businesses, either donating materials, money or time to building the project.

Superintendent Gerard Poole said the entire exterior brickwork was completed by a contractor who wanted no money nor recognition for the deed. Many of the same people who assisted in the project, giving thousands of dollars in time and materials, didn’t ask for recognition for their help. At the April 12 ribbon cutting, the board handed out framed acknowledgments to the people who were involved, yet at the end of the ceremony, many remained unclaimed.

“It came together with a lot of donations,” Kelli Cutinella said. 

A plaque thanking all those businesses and individuals who donated to the project. Photo by Kyle Barr

The stand will be run by two to three students at a time, with an adult supervising, as part of the high school’s career development program. Students can earn vocational credit by helping to operate the new stand, according to Poole.

The Cutinella family and the school have been working hand in hand to help build the new structure with the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation, with the organization helping to add extra funding for construction, according to Frank Cutinella.

The foundation, which was founded in 2015, has since raised over $50,000 in scholarships for students, which goes out to graduating SWR high schoolers and to others from throughout Suffolk County. The family has also had a big hand in changing the rules in New York State for high school football, namely the manner in which tackles are legal out on the field.

Shoreham-Wading River’s superintendent, Gerard Poole, speaks during an April 18 board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Shoreham-Wading River school district is looking to get smart, with the help of New York State funds.

The district is finalizing plans to use the state’s Smart School Bond Act, which makes up to $2 million available for every school district in the state to improve its technology and security infrastructure. The district has been allocated $1,003,429 to make improvements to district computer server infrastructure; purchase new computers, projectors, security cameras; and to install a new security booth at the entrance of the high school parking lot.

The district laid out its plans at an Oct. 23 board meeting, where Peter Esposito, the director of technical services, said the district plans to replace several pieces of data storage equipment to maximize storage capability in switch closets for $430,000. The district also plans to replace all district computers, 450 in all, last upgraded in 2013, with more modern machines for $425,000. The district will replace its 120, 10-year-old classroom projectors with new LCD projectors for $65,000 and add additional security cameras for $18,000.

“It’s been on my desk for the last three years, so it would be good to move forward with this,” Esposito said.

A prefabricated visitors booth for the high school parking lot will be installed for $65,000. While Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district is still working out the final plans for the booth, it could possibly be located along the high school driveway where the road forks to the administration entrance and to the main parking lot. The booth could include a guard-operated gate so school officials can monitor who is entering the high school grounds, even if they are going to use the trails to the south of the school or the North Shore Public Library.

“The way we envision it is it will help somebody get to the high school, get to the library or make the left to come up to administrative offices,” Poole said.

The final version of the plan will be submitted to New York State by the end of November, but Poole said the committee that reviews the plan has been taking about one year on average to approve those documents. He said he expects the visitors booth to be installed sometime after the district revitalizes the high school parking lot over the summer as part of a 2015 capital bond referendum, but that those plans will be changed to allow for the new booth.

At prior board meetings residents have expressed frustration about new speed bumps installed on the driveway to the high school, saying they’re so hard and short that it forces most cars to slowly roll over them. Residents have said the slowdown has increased traffic going into the school, especially in early mornings, but the superintendent said the speed bumps are working as intended to slow down traffic to 15 mph or less. He added the school has had no problem getting all students in class by first period, though officials will be reviewing the safety protocols for the guard booth as the district develops plans for the new parking lot, with that stage of the bond project going out to bid in January.

At the October meeting, board President Michael Lewis asked if the computers the school would be buying would have to be replaced in another eight years. Alan Meinster, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said there was no way to tell where technology would go in that amount of time.

“I can promise you if you do this in another eight years you will have the same budget,” Meinster said. “I don’t know where we’re going to be in the next eight years technology wise — what we’re going to be using later on.”

Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the school could pay for future technology through capital reserve funds.

The investment plan is available to view on the district’s website, and district officials are currently asking for feedback on the proposal. The board will vote on the finalized version of the plan at its Nov. 27 board meeting.