By Tessa Raebeck
Although less than 10 community members stayed for the full duration of Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) meeting, those in attendance – most of them regulars – were passionate about the needs of village schools.
One need, according to parents in attendance and many who are active on the Facebook group “Sag Harbor School District Parents Connect,” is for an active student newspaper at Pierson High School.
A newspaper for the Pierson Middle School was officially created on Monday with the board’s appointment of Jason LaBatti, a math teacher, as advisor to the new club.
According to Gary Kalish, vice principal for Pierson High School, the middle school newspaper club has been dormant for “a few years.” A literary magazine, “sort of a compilation of students’ artwork and stories,” ran in the meantime, said Barbara Bekermus, director of pupil personnel services for the district.
“It’s a position that’s been available to middle school students but [there] hasn’t been a lot of interest,” Kalish said Monday. “So, recently, I guess a group of students got together and approached [Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson Middle/High School] and asked if they could have a middle school program.”
Kalish said the high school newspaper is no longer running because “there wasn’t a significant interest this year.”
The high school newspaper, The Leviathan, ran from October 2011 to May 2013. The May 2013 issue had seven contributors, at least three of which are still attending Pierson High School.
Each edition of The Leviathan was both published in hard copy and posted to the district website, which describes the paper as “a club designed to provide students with an authentic experience in journalism and publishing. Members of the Newspaper Club are editors, photographers, reporters and graphic designers for the school newspaper.”
The paper’s contents included reviews of movies, books and school plays, a sports page, a photo spread, interviews with teachers and department representatives, a “whale quote,” and such thorough political examinations as a May 2013 piece by Mari Chavez titled “The Dreamers: The Complex Issue of Immigration and Pierson Students.”
Prior to The Leviathan was Folio, a student-run publication that was printed for free in The Sag Harbor Express. Led by advisor Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson, the full-page spread included editorials, articles, photos and information concerning the district, all written and designed by students. The last printed issue, from early May 2010, outlined possible contingency budget cuts and news on the school board elections and budget votes, as well as district announcements and upcoming events.
At Monday’s board meeting, BOE member Daniel Hartnett recalled Folio, mentioned a neighboring district similarly utilizes its local paper and wondered whether such collaboration might be available for the middle school.
“Instead of something going home in kids’ backpacks or lost on the bus or whatever, it actually gets printed in the paper,” Hartnett said.
“Yeah,” replied Kalish, “I remember the high school would partner up and it was really kind of amazing, so I’ll talk to the advisor about that.”
In other school board news, the board defended their decision to hire the public relations firm Syntax Communication Group for “communication services.” Syntax, which worked for the board in communications regarding the capital bond project propositions passed in November, is a Bohemia-based firm that provides marketing communication consulting services and specializes in working with school districts.
At the December 2 BOE meeting, the board approved an agreement between the district and Syntax, effective January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014 for $9,500. At Monday’s meeting, community member John Battle asked the board to explain its intent in hiring the PR firm.
“They will do everything from press releases to touching base with the media representatives to crisis management,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, responded, adding the firm will work on the school calendar, write articles, cover various events, write budget newsletters and press releases and communicate with “various constituents.”
“We’re going to take a look at how it works out for the rest of the year,” said Dr. Bonuso, “and see whether or not – you know, we’re always evaluating the bang for the buck – we’re going to see…whether it’s cost effective and whether we have the dollars to do so.”
Hartnett said “most districts” use PR firms and Sag Harbor has employed a similar firm in the past.
“It’s an issue that the Communications Committee has been talking about,” added Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “There’s a lot of great things happening at the school and the community doesn’t always know about them.”
Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said with changes in technology, the type of communication has changed and many schools have hired “in house communication managers.”
The BOE will hold a budget workshop and educational meeting on January 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School library.