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Three Village School District

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Ward Melville High School. File photo
School board hears statistics of drug and alcohol use — and perceptions

By Mallie Jane Kim

Three Village students generally report drug use at or below state norms, except for alcohol, according to results of a 2022 student survey by New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports.

“Alcohol is the primary drug of choice above any other substance for adolescents in our district,” explained Alison Herrschaft, the district’s lead social worker and drug and alcohol counselor, as she presented the data at an Oct. 25 school board meeting. “It’s also the only category in our district where we exceeded the state level.”

Among the Class of 2022 seniors, 20% reported having at least one drink within the past 30 days, and about 18% reported binge drinking, or having five or more drinks at a time. That’s compared to 19% and 11% respectively, statewide.

Vaping was another area of concern, with 10% of seniors reporting having vaped within the past 30 days, compared to 13% across New York, and 12% reported using marijuana in any form, compared to 15% statewide.

Herrschaft also shared data related to student attitudes toward drug and alcohol use from the survey, which 1,750 seventh-through-12th-grade students completed 18 months ago, during physical education class. She warned that legalization and broader cultural acceptance of marijuana could lead to increased use among students.

“We’re always stressing to students that just because a substance is legal does not mean that it’s healthy for a developing brain,” she said.

There was no reported use of methamphetamines, heroin or cocaine within the district or statewide. But Herrschaft said that since the opioid epidemic is still affecting the 18-25 age group in New York state, “it’s critical that we ask these questions anyway, and continue to educate students on the risk of use.”

She added that this education includes making students aware that deadly fentanyl is cut into many illicit substances.

Erin Connolly, head of pupil personnel services, said the data collected was anonymous and should be helpful to the district in knowing where to focus future efforts of student and parent engagement. “The hope was that the results provided to us by the state would help to improve our community’s understanding of our students’ strengths and risk factors,” Connolly said.

Families are integral to efforts to combat substance abuse, according to the survey, as more than 70% of secondary students reported “family attachment” as a protective factor against drug use, and more than 60% reported “family rewards for prosocial involvement” as protective.

“Parent involvement is crucial to healthy decision-making,” Herrschaft said. “We know that in our district, parents are very involved in their students’ education and well-being.”

The district’s chair of secondary health and physical education, Christina Driscoll, shared current efforts in drug and alcohol abuse prevention, including a recent sixth-grade-wide presentation about the dangers of vaping at Ward Melville High School and a “sticker shock” campaign last spring, during which high school students submitted designs for anti-vaping or anti-underaged drinking stickers. Students applied stickers with the winning designs to products at Setauket Pastaria, Setauket Beer & Beverage and the 7-Eleven on Old Town Road, in conjunction with the business owners.

While the survey has historically been done every 10 years, the presenters indicated there are plans to conduct it again in spring 2024 for better comparative data.

Residents can watch the full survey presentation on the Three Village Central School District YouTube page, under live videos. The PowerPoint presentation with the highlighted statistics is available on the district’s BoardDocs website, linked within the agenda of the Oct. 25 meeting under OASAS.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano
Moving 9th grade to high school logistically complex

By Mallie Jane Kim

Three Village Central School District needs more time before restructuring the grade makeup of its buildings, according to Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon, who officially recommended a delay on proposed changes until the 2025-26 school year.

“It’s best we do this right and not fast,” Scanlon told the board at a Sept. 13 Board of Education meeting. He also followed up with an email to district parents explaining the delay.

The board previously charged the administration with researching the feasibility of a proposal to move up sixth grade to junior high and ninth grade to the high school, based on the preferences of a majority of stakeholders in the community surveyed last year. 

At the meeting, Scanlon said administration staff spent the summer “working very heavily” to explore logistics of the proposed changes, such as secondary class schedules, staffing needs and classroom requirements.

The superintendent previously warned that restructuring likely wouldn’t be possible by the original target of fall 2024, and the summer research found enough snags to give Scanlon and his team pause.

The junior high schools would simply exchange one grade for another — ninth grade would move out to the high school and sixth grade would move in from elementary — a nimbler change than adding a fourth grade level to the high school, which currently houses grades 10-12. It’s not a matter of the number of students, Scanlon pointed out. Due to declining enrollment over time, the population at the high school with an added grade would be roughly on par with its population about a decade ago — just shy of 1,800 students, according to district data. But each grade has specific classroom requirements.

“Ninth grade does require some different courses — certified teachers in areas of science and languages — that need to be maneuvered around,” Scanlon explained, saying major considerations include the number of appropriate classroom spaces for art, music and science labs. “We just need a little bit more time to figure out those particulars.”

The board opted last April to table any decision on officially adopting the proposed restructuring until the administration could present research on logistics and cost, and also find a way to address concerns over early start times at district secondary schools.

Scanlon indicated the logistical research should wrap up next month, and a committee looking into start times is in full swing, with plans to send out a survey early this fall to assess related community needs. A possible second survey with more specific proposals may go out by the end of the calendar year, he added.

When asked, Scanlon didn’t rule out the possibility of changing start times sooner than 2025, but indicated that particular conversation would take place in the context of the upcoming survey results.

Students and staff across the Three Village Central School District honored Patriot Day on Sept. 11. Through in-class lessons and activities, students reflected on the tragic events of 9/11 by remembering the lives lost, those who were impacted and the many heroes who made sacrifices.

At several elementary schools across the district, students planted American flags on the front lawn of their buildings. Meanwhile, the perimeter of the Ward Melville High School property was lined with flags as a display of remembrance. 

Along with the flag tributes, many students and staff dressed in red, white and blue as a show of unity.

R.C. Murphy Junior High School social studies teacher Kristin Stelfox participated in an invaluable experience this summer to learn new strategies to effectively teach Three Village students about 9/11. Stelfox was selected for the inaugural Institute for Educators at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, spending five days learning from first responders, museum directors and curators and leaders in their fields of study on terrorism about how to teach the history of 9/11 and ensure this fateful day may never be forgotten. 

Stelfox presented what she learned to her department so that her experience and knowledge gained could be shared with a greater audience of Three Village students.

“This experience was incredibly impactful, not only because of the level of access to and caliber of presenters over five days, but because our commitment to never forgetting means we dedicate the time to teaching the next generation of students about the sacrifices and heroism of the day,” she said.

Pete and Mary Hoban. Photo courtesy Bill Hoban

Dr. Pierce “Pete” Francis Hoban (1930‒2023), educator, age 93. Resided in Vicar’s Landing in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Blessed with a wonderful quality of life to his last day on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, when the doctors at Mayo Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, said “his heart just gave out.”   

Pete was truly a self-made man. He was born into a loving but humble family in New York City during the Depression on June 19, 1930. He served honorably after high school in the U.S. Coast Guard during the Korean War. He always said, if not for the benefits he received for his military service as part of the GI Bill, he never would have earned his undergraduate degree from Fordham University, his master’s degree from New York University or his doctorate in education from Columbia University.

Working as a high school math teacher while earning his doctorate, his talents and people skills were quickly recognized as he moved up the ranks of education, becoming a superintendent of schools at the age of 30. 

He spent the next 35 years serving as a superintendent of schools in increasingly larger and more complex school systems, including the Three Village School District on Long Island and the Skokie School District in the suburbs of Chicago. He was driven in his career by his deep passion for helping others succeed by achieving their educational goals. In this regard, he was lucky enough to have touched and impacted in a positive way too many students, teachers and other support staff to count. 

Although Pete loved helping others, by far the most important thing in his life was his family. He married Mary Connolly on June 19, 1956, in Corona, New York. They raised four boys, Tim, Mike, Pete and Bill. To no surprise, the values he instilled in his sons allowed them to achieve successful careers after earning college and postgraduate degrees. 

During their 64-year marriage, their home was always a bee hive of activity between family, friends and sporting events. During those early years raising his family, Pete loved traveling on family vacations in their Winnebago recreational vehicle. Whether traveling to national parks across the country, going on skiing or golfing vacations, he always viewed these trips as some of the best times of his life.

After retiring in 1994, Pete and Mary started a new chapter in their lives, moving from the Chicago area to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. An avid golfer and member of the Sawgrass Country Club, he spent decades trying to perfect his golf swing. Always with his self-deprecating humor, he would quip he did a much better job at helping others as superintendent of schools than he ever did trying to perfect his golf swing. 

Thankfully, Pete loved retirement and all the friends they made along the way. He and Mary kept active and traveled extensively to Europe and throughout the United States. They moved to Vicar’s Landing in 2014 and were regulars at dinner theaters and other activities. He was not shy about showing off his acting skills in plays and even winning a bocce ball tournament. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was hard on everyone, including Pete. In June 2020, he lost the love of his life Mary to cancer. Her loss was particularly hard as he was reduced to visiting her at Vicar’s Skilled Nursing Facility by looking in her window from outside the building and calling her on the phone due to strict COVID rules. Despite losing Mary, he never lost his zest for life. Instead, he adopted the motto “Keep active and enjoy life.” To that end, after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, he traveled with his sons on numerous adventures including trips to South Korea to visit his grandson serving in the U.S. Army (he even peeked into North Korea along the DMZ), boat rides in Los Angeles, Christmas in Lake Tahoe (with too much snow), New York City sightseeing trips, driving five days along the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Seattle, a train ride from Chicago to San Francisco through the Rocky Mountains and even a hot air balloon ride. 

In the last two months of his life, he especially enjoyed his 93rd birthday bash on Long Island with 70+ relatives and friends attending as well as a seven-day Caribbean cruise. Lastly, he was scheduled to go with his sons on a trip to Switzerland in September but unfortunately God had other plans for him.

A life well lived. Pete is survived by his sons, Tim, Mike, Pete and Bill and six grandchildren.  

Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 1, at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. A military honor guard ceremony will take place immediately following the funeral service outside the Columbarium followed by interment. A reception will be held at 1 p.m. in the Parlor Room at Vicar’s Landing. All are welcome at the reception.

In lieu of flowers please consider giving to the Andrew Connolly SJ Scholarship Fund, which provides educational scholarships to needy students at Xavier High School in Truk, Micronesia (located in the South Pacific by Guam, where Mary’s brother served for 40+ years as a Jesuit priest). Donations can be made via their website: www.sjnen.org/donate-now-xavier-high-school-chuuk.

Indicate in the comments section of the website that your donation is for the Andrew Connolly Scholarship Fund. 

Donations can also be made by mail by sending a check to: USA East Province of the Society of Jesuits, 39 East 83rd St., New York, NY 10028 (make check out to: “USA East Province” and in the memo section indicate for “Andrew Connolly Scholarship Fund at Xavier HS in Micronesia”).

Students raced balloon-powered Lego cars in the Lego Science Lab. Photo courtesy TVCSD

School may be out of session for the summer, but the classrooms at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School in the Three Village Central School District are bustling for the district’s summer enrichment program. 

Students entering kindergarten through seventh grade can take part in the program that provides opportunities for hands-on experiences in several special interest areas. From classes focusing on academic interests, such as Science FUN-damentals and Eat a Good Book Club, to arts and crafts-themed classes, to food fun-focused sessions like the Summer Snack Squad, there is something for everyone to take part in.

Each class enriches the district curriculum and provides opportunities for creative expression. Students have been excited to learn new skills, create projects and meet new friends throughout the summer.

Submitted by Three Village Central School District

The Ward Melville Class of 2022 came together for a final time on June 26 to celebrate their graduation. Graduates marched through balloon arches onto the front lawn of the school to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance,” as family and friends cheered them on.

Commencement exercises began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by student government president Riley Meckley, followed by a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by student-musicians. Ward Melville Principal William Bernhard welcomed the crowd, as Board of Education President Deanna Bavlnka gave opening remarks.

Bernhard introduced this year’s keynote speaker, Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Pedisich. This marked Pedisich’s first and last graduation address, as she is retiring. She noted that she feels a special connection with the Class of 2022, as they are entering the next chapter of their lives together. Pedisich touted the graduates’ resiliency and strength as they navigated high school amidst a pandemic.

“We had much to learn from our students, as they did from us, and together we continue to prevail as a district that celebrates unity, respect and collective strength led by the motion, the message invoked and exemplified by the Class of 2022.”

Meckley returned to the podium to reflect on the graduates’ time at Ward Melville High School. She presented the school with a gift — a new, updated Mr. Patriot mascot costume.

Class of 2022 valedictorian Claire Yang and salutatorian Alexander Lin both delivered speeches, saying farewell to their high school careers while looking forward to the future.

“Today, as we end one chapter of our lives and prepare to embark on the next, I hope you will all continue to embody the ideals of resilience and understanding,” Lin said. “With our resolute determination, I’m confident that this class is well-equipped to tackle grander issues in the future.”

“I know how bright and driven our class is,” Yang said. “We are visionaries with big ideas. It goes without saying that the future is in phenomenal hands. But more than that, this is a class of people that can inspire change and goodness in others.”

Following their remarks, the graduates were called on stage by assistant principal Vince Cereola to receive their diplomas from Bernhard, alongside the board of education and district administrators. Class of 2022 President Alexa Moore led the turning of tassels, and students tossed their caps into the air as the Ward Melville High School bell rang, signifying the end of an era.

Photo by Rita J. Egan

After a confusing week, parents across the North Shore have been upset by the state’s constant changing rules on mask wearing in schools.

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, some parents in local school districts opted out of sending their children to class with a mask after a New York State Supreme Court judge struck down Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) mandate.

The mask mandate was first enacted in December by the governor, requiring face coverings in schools and other public places after the omicron wave hit the state with rapid numbers.

On Monday, Jan. 24, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademaker of Nassau County wrote that Hochul does not have the authority to impose the mandate since emergency powers are no longer in place. He then decided that the statewide mask mandate was deemed unconstitutional. 

Parents across the state heard this and decided to either unmask or mask up their kids, despite letters being sent out from superintendents in local areas stating that masks were still mandatory as they awaited an appeal.

Rocky Point school district

Rocky Point parent Michelle Salz said that her district sent out a notice late Monday night saying that mask mandates were still in effect. However, when her children came to school Tuesday, administrators and staff were not enforcing the face coverings.

“My kids and myself try to do what’s best for society,” she said. “I rely on science to make my decisions and I taught my kids to care about others.”

Salz added that she was disappointed to hear from her children that students in the school were not wearing masks properly, or at all. 

“It seems our district who we entrust our children with, they’re supposed to be educated and use critical-thinking skills to make their decisions,” she said. “They’re supposed to be keeping our kids safe.”

The next day, she sent a letter to Superintendent Scott O’Brien and the board of education.

“To the utter disbelief of most parents in our school district, Rocky Point Union Free Schools has decided to ignore the directive of the NYSED to continue mask wearing in schools until an appellate court has issued a final decision regarding the Nassau County Supreme Court matter January 24,” the letter read. “We believe this to be reckless endangerment to our children and to the families in the community. Please advise what remedies are available to us through your office, as we are considering legal action on this matter and would like to avoid it if possible.”

Salz added that she is so disappointed in the way the school has handled the COVID-19 pandemic that she is planning on leaving the district.

“I don’t want to live here anymore,” she said. “I want my kids to have a good education.”

Scott O’Brien, superintendent of Rocky Point school district, said in a statement that the district is adhering to all state mandates in place with regard to the mask requirement for school districts.

“At this time, the Appellate Division has granted New York State’s motion for a stay of enforcement of Judge Rademaker’s January 24 decision pending hearing and determination of the appeal, on the condition that the appeal is perfected on or before March 2, 2022. As such, while the stay is in effect, the New York State mask regulation remains unchanged for our district.”

O’Brien added, “We understand how this changing information can be frustrating to families and confusing to students. We appreciate our community’s patience as we await further Appellate Division decisions that impact the mask mandate.”

Three Village school district

Monica Balsan, who has three children in the Three Village school district, was one of many parents who told their children to say “no thank you” when asked to cover their noses that Tuesday.

Balsan said she was unhappy with Three Village still implementing the mask mandate after the court ruling.

“After the court ruling that said the mask mandate was unconstitutional, they still requested the kids wear masks,” she said in a phone interview Friday morning. “I told my kids to be respectful and not argue with their teachers, but if they were uncomfortable to call me.”

Balsan said that her second-grade son, Jameson, has been “emotionally drained” by the pandemic, and has been begging his mom to be homeschooled as he is tired of wearing a mask at his desk.

“He can’t take it anymore,” she said. “It hurts his ears, he can’t breathe.”

But for the days following the update on the mask mandate, Balsan said her third-grade son, Jackson, was holding his ground in and out of school by joining his family and friends at a rally outside the Three Village North Country Administration Building Friday, Jan. 28. There, he said wearing a mask has been “terrible,” and he was hoping he wouldn’t have to wear a mask this week.

The rally, which had dozens of community members voice their concerns against the mandate, occurred just hours before the appeals hearing went live. 

During the rally, children held signs that read, “I Wish I Could See My Friends’ Smiles,” “I’ll Never Get These Years Back” and “No More Masks,” while parents held signs that read “3V Parents for Choice.” 

Many in attendance also wore sweatshirts bearing slogans such as “Make America Free Again,” “Fighting for My Freedom” and “Freedom Fighters.”

Jessica Rudin, whose son is in kindergarten and has two younger children, said while she doesn’t believe in the mask mandate, her son has worn the mask every day to school. However, she added, it’s time for the masks to come off.

“We have been standing up for parents’ choice against the mandates for quite some time,” she said. “We’re looking to make a statement in our community.”

Later that evening, the governor was allowed to extend the indoor mask mandate until Feb. 10. On Monday, the court officially extended the stay, allowing Hochul to keep the mask mandate in place until March 2. 

“My primary responsibility as governor is to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said in a statement. “Mask regulations keep our schools and businesses safe and open, protect vulnerable New Yorkers and are critical tools as we work to get through this winter surge. Thanks to our efforts, including mask regulations, cases are declining and we are seeing major progress in the fight against COVID-19.”

But anti-maskers are still going to fight for their right to choose.

“We don’t want them masked anymore,” Balsan said. “We’ve had enough. We can’t deal with [our kids] frustration. Everyone is trying to do their part.”

Balsan said that if other families want to wear a mask, that should be their choice.

In a statement Tuesday, Three Village Central School District said it is “working to follow all current directives related to COVID-19 practices in our schools, including the mask wearing mandate. At this time, the district does not have any intention of creating or joining a lawsuit challenging these state directives. We appreciate our students, staff and families understanding and cooperation as we work together to keep our schools safe, supportive places for learning.”

But across the state, educators were happy with the court’s decision.

“We are pleased the Appellate Division granted the application by the Department of Health and the governor’s office, confirming the lower court’s decision is stayed pending further proceedings,” said Betty Rosa, commissioner of education with the New York State Board of Regents in a statement. “As such, the mask mandate remains in effect for schools across the state. We support Governor Hochul and the state Department of Health as they continue with the appeal. We thank the members of our school communities for their patience during this process.”

Other school districts

Superintendents in other districts released statements that they will continue to monitor the ever-changing protocols.

“The Port Jefferson School District has always made it our priority to follow the law and respect the process of our state,” said Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan. “As we are committed to fostering a school environment that is not only lawful but considerate, the district is continuing to comply with the NYS school mask mandate, as we await any further updated directives.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district also commented: “The district continues to follow all NYS requirements regarding mask wearing in schools and will monitor the situation for any updates to the matter.”

From left, Jeffrey Hendel and Michael Ferrara, Three Village Dads Foundation
From left, Jeffrey Hendel and Michael Ferrara, Three Village Dads Foundation

Hendel Wealth Management Group, 95 Smithtown Blvd. , Smithtown recently delivered nearly $1,000 worth of food donations to the both the Three Village School District and Our Daily Bread food pantry at St. James RC Church in Setauket to support families in the local community suffering from food insecurity.

“Not only as a Long Island business-owner, but also as a member of the Three Village Dads Foundation, I understand importance of doing as much as possible to help the families in our neighborhoods,” said Jeffrey Hendel, President & CEO, Hendel Wealth Management Group and Sr. Financial Advisor, Raymond James Financial Services. “Our team is so proud to have the good fortune to be able to make a difference.”

To learn more about Hendel Wealth Management Group and its commitment to community outreach, please visit www.hendelwmg.com.

Photo from TVSD

Cycling for a cause

Arrowhead Elementary School student Joseph Peritore once again joined his father’s team this September on a ride to fight childhood cancers by taking part in the Great Cycle Challenge.

With the amazing support from the Three Village community last year, Joseph was able to raise $3,406 for Children’s Cancer Research Fund. This motivated him to ride a total of 53 miles and also earned him the rank of #1 in his age group in the state and top 10 in the nation. This year, he has raised more than $2,290 and has rode more than 20 miles. 

Joseph was recently honored by Three Village Central School District Board of Education for his altruistic efforts and is pictured with, from left, Arrowhead Assistant Principal Tanya Hurowitz, Principal Marisa Redden, Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Pedisich and Board of Education President Deanna Bavlnka.

For more information about his work or to donate to Joseph’s team, please visit: https://greatcyclechallenge.com/Riders/JosephPeritore

Photo from TVSD

Ward Melville High School junior, singer-songwriter and former Broadway actress Ava Della Pietra has been named a winner in the New York State School Music Association’s 2021 Calls for Creators Competition. Ava won with her two original songs, “Moon” and “Optimist” in the Songwriters Showcase category.  

An introspective single about saying goodbye to her brother, a source of comfort and inspiration, “Moon” is a poignant ballad about impermanence and coming of age. “Optimist” is an uplifting and inspiring song about overcoming negativity and keeping a positive mindset. 

For the first time, NYSSMA held three calls for student musicians in three categories — composers, electronic music and songwriters. Students received a written evaluation of their music and each submitted work was also considered for inclusion in one of three concerts at the All-State Winter Conference in Rochester. Student creators were also invited to participate in coaching workshops and a post-concert discussion. 

Above, Ava is pictured with Ward Melville High School Principal William S. Bernhard (on left) and District Director of Music Anthony Pollera.