Back to School with Sag Harbor Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso

Posted on 11 September 2013


Sag Harbor School District bus driver Lamont Miller, Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso with children riding the bus to Sag Harbor Elementary School Monday morning, the first day of the 2013-14 school year. 

By Tessa Raebeck

“This is an amazing place,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso Monday as he greeted students entering Pierson Middle/High School, embarking on the first day of the 2013-14 school year.

“I come from a system that was mom and pop and they cared about all the kids, but it still wasn’t as personal as it is here,” he said.

After greeting the older kids at Pierson, the superintendent found Bus A and joined its driver, Lamont Miller, on his second ride of the day through Noyac and North Haven Village. This time, the bus picked up Sag Harbor’s elementary students, some riding the bus for their first day of school in the district as kindergarteners.

Miller, whose enthusiasm for the first day of school even rivaled Dr. Bonuso’s, has been driving this route since 2009. He has two daughters going into kindergarten and pre-kindergarten in Riverhead this year, so he said he understands the mixture of excitement and anxiety that accompanies the first day of school.

At Bus A’s first stop, Miller was greeted by name by a veteran fifth grader, Savannah, and her mom.

“We were hoping it was you,” Savannah’s mom told Miller.

He smiled back, “Savannah, you’re a fifth grader now, huh? You get to ride in the backseat.”

The seating on Bus A is divided by grades, with the youngest students in the front and the oldest in the back. Moving back a few rows on the first day of school is a tradition and the children know which rows belong to each grade.

Equipped with cameras, dogs and grandparents, the group of parents at the next stop waved hello to Miller and Dr. Bonuso.

“They’re happy it’s Lamont!” said a mom, as the neighborhood kids greeted their familiar bus driver, who reminded everybody to buckle up.

“I think this is one of the jobs that people could very easily underestimate, in terms of how important it is and how difficult it is,” said Dr. Bonuso. “The parents feel so comfortable because you know them so personally,” he told Lamont.

Since Sag Harbor owns and operates its own transportation system, the district is responsible for the training and oversight of all its drivers. Maude Stevens, the lead bus driver who supervises all district transportation, has established intricate routes through Sag Harbor.

“Maude does a remarkable job overseeing this and orienting our bus drivers to the community and the children they’ll be working with,” said Dr. Bonuso. “Maude literally knows each bus driver, has trained them, worked with them, met with them who knows how many times. She knows each bus driver, she knows each bus, she knows each stop…it’s hard to put that value into dollars.”

According to Dr. Bonuso, Stevens and her drivers know which roads are being serviced, which neighborhoods have late landscaping and which streets are prone to flooding.

“They even have a sense of what each month is like on each road,” said the superintendent.

The transportation office tweaks the routes in an ongoing review and especially during the first week of school, trying to ensure that no student is riding the bus for longer than 40 minutes.

As we travelled through Noyac, the school bus got louder and louder. At one stop, three brothers got on. The youngest, a kindergartener in a brand new blue backpack with brightly colored dragonflies, appeared absolutely terrified. His oldest brother — despite being allowed to sit in the back of the bus — buckled him into the front seat, across from Dr. Bonuso and sat next to him for the whole ride, letting him know what to expect on his first day.

“When you’re young, people always say, ‘Ah, you’re so young, life’s not a problem,’” said Dr. Bonuso. “But actually, when you’re young everything’s so strange, you’re doing everything for the first time.”

In Bay Point, several families were waiting for Bus A. “What’s up Brian? Hey Hannah!” Lamont greeted each child by name. “How you doing Riley? She’s a kindergartener?” he asked Riley’s grandma, Gail Ratcliffe. “She’s in good hands.”

As he buckled her in, Dr. Bonuso told Riley, “You’re going to love kindergarten.”

When the bus arrived at Sag Harbor Elementary School, some of the parents from the route were waiting for the bus with their cameras ready. “The people in this community,” said Dr. Bonuso, kissing his fingers and holding them out, “unbelievable. So kind and gracious to each other.”

“Are you going to be here tomorrow?” Riley asked the superintendent.

“No, I’m going to be in school but I’m riding the bus today to make sure everything’s okay,” replied Dr. Bonuso.

With her first bus ride behind her, Riley hugged Dr. Bonuso goodbye, thanked Lamont and headed off to embark on her next adventure, the first day of school.

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20 Responses to “Back to School with Sag Harbor Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso”

  1. June Haynal says:

    Lamont is the best!! So glad he is doing our run another year. We are very fortunate to have him!!!

  2. bruce says:

    Maude Stevens represents whats so great with the Sag Harbor school distric

  3. Ipek Acar says:

    Yes Lamont is the best. You can set your clock to him. He’s to the minute every day.Courteous, friendly and a great driver to say the least..

  4. Torie Lyons says:

    Well written! Excellent article!

  5. Anthony Nivica says:

    The recognition of our school bus drivers is very nice and well deserved. And it is good for a superintendent to be visible, accessible and approachable. However I hear this district is paying this interim almost a quarter of a million dollars a year. Shouldn’t he be focusing more on how to come under the tax cap? How about several pending employee contracts that will expire? How about a consolidation with BH — as schools with less than 1000 students may find their doors shut by the state and be forced to merge? How about training your teachers do they can adapt to very difficult common core standards? I could go on and on. Wake up parents!! This isn’t leadership, this is window dressing! Look deeper! Demand you get your money’s worth!
    This is not a dress rehearsal, you don’t get do overs as your child goes thru the system. If they graduate with a 5th grade reading level and their options are limited leaving school , you won’t give a hoot that the interim super was friendly. Quality of programming, professional development, a vision for thr district, becoming more efficient. This is hard work but that’s why he is making thr big bucks. So demand more than riding the bus with students. Otherwise you can’t complain. You will have the school system you deserve and your child had his/her shot.

  6. Violet says:

    I have known Dr. Bonuso for 26 years. When he left Wantagh, teachers were asked what kind of Super they wanted. The resounding answer was Carl Bonuso. Nothing Dr. Bonuso does is “window dressing.” In Wantagh he didn’t just address the very challenging educational and economic issues the district faced, but he made sure students knew their academic welfare was key. Dr. Bonuso’s vision, proven success, and genuine compassion have established him as an exemplary administrator; his dedication and relentless work ethic are the antithesis of what’s wrong in education: He is a role model for what is right.

  7. Peter says:

    The teachers were asked…how about the parents?

  8. jetsfan says:

    Mr. Nivica please get the facts straight before you blog. Dr. Bonuso did bring the budget under the cap, and the community voted in favor 2-1, the district already settled a contract with little to no raises. The entire state is in a uproar over Core Curriculum with the math program, they are not alone. So sir the dress rehearsal is looking pretty darn good, and this show will win the Oscar (just look at those faces)! Just read the article in the Easthampton Star, where families move to be in this district. We are blessed to have such an amazing educator who loves being around children, who rides a bus before his day starts! Kudo’s to Dr. Bonuso and to the Board for doing a great job! And Mr. Nivica maybe you should try another theater, or better yet exit stage left!

  9. Violet says:

    Peter: Excellent question! As you know school boards are elected from and by the community. When the Board asked Dr. Bonuso to return to the district, they were representing the parents, the community. I could be wrong on this, but I believe that the “headhunters” the board hired also met with parents as well. No entire community will be in complete agreement on any issue, and education is not an exception. I, however, never saw more people more unified than when they agreed that Wantagh students were best served with Dr. Bonuso at the helm. Clearly people will differ in their opinions for any number of reasons–and not everyone is equally informed nor completely forthcoming about their “agendas.” I can only speak to what I observed and experienced. The time, energy, and heart that Dr. Bonuso puts into his job is incomparable.

  10. BoniBonaker says:

    Wow… bringing in almost $250K annually on top of a nice pension….so your district extended the contract of an interim (probably giving him a raise too), at a time when every district will be hard pressed to stay under the tax cap in this coming budget cycle…who gives out this kind of compensation to an interim during these economic times? Sure doesn’t seem fiscally responsible…when your district finally hires a permanent superintendent, you all surely realize that the next person will want to make even more money, right? And someone who is here for the short term doesn’t have to worry about whether things really get done because he won’t be held accountable when those contracts you need to negotiate haven’t been settled–he’ll be long gone…people in his position can make a lot of promises and tell people what they want to hear without any real follow through, because they aren’t going to be around long enough to be evaluated on what they did or didn’t accomplish. Not saying this is the case in Sag Harbor but for that kind of money, I would just be careful that he doesn’t take off without meeting whatever short term goals you have required him to fulfill…I hope your community is carefully reviewing your district goals and asking for periodic status updates. I’m surprised there aren’t more public documents on your website — anyone could FOIL your superintendent’s contract but many schools put this information on their website now. Transparency is always a good thing. Then you have nothing to get defensive about. As far as Common Core being an issue for everyone — it’s true but that doesn’t give school districts a pass. You will have an even bigger achievement gap if you don’t prioritize your school day so more time is devoted to core subjects and less to music and art. Unfortunately you don’t have an option. And you need to provide your staff with training and materials so they can teach the new standards. You try to coast along on auto pilot and things will fall apart very fast. Especially for schools with a growing Latino student body. And that is one reason Sag Hbr is more attractive than EH and South and HB…fewer Spanish speaking students pulling down your test scores. Sorry to say. Nothing against them, I feel for them
    and their families. And every district should be making sure that with the adoption of the Common Core, they review their budgets closely so they can provide additional assistance to students. After school help (even if you have to pay your teachers to stay late) and summer school. These kids are working at a grade above now and if they were already behind, it’s going to be much much harder for them. I hope when Sag Harbor does finally hire a permanent (and it’s insane that they are letting down these kids and their families by delaying this), that they find a real innovator with a strong financial background. It’s not enough to be an educator nowadays. There are too many challenges. And you need to find someone who is looking to stay long term to carry out a long range vision for bringing together all these small school systems. Consolidation will be the future. And if your interim superintendent isn’t at least making some moves to bring this discussion to neighboring districts and elected officials, then you really need to re-think a few things. The window dressing thing mentioned above, yeah well, I think that guy was on the right track. Make sure to remember when you consider candidates for permanent superintendent — it’s a job interview, not a date. :)

  11. jetsfan says:

    I wish he was permanent. Budget under the cap, no cuts, and a contract with no large increase, and likes kids, Yes I say make him permanent.

  12. GiantsFan says:

    I think BoniBonaker should apply for superintendent and let the current interim drive a school bus, LOL! And when they get around to negotiating those contracts, propose to all mid-level teachers a nice big big pay raise in exchange for doing away with tenure. Not all, but many teachers become lazy when given this kind of job security. You will never turn around the present state of our educational system in this country unless you take some drastic measures. What was once a necessary measure to protect a teacher when say, she goes on maternity leave or sabbatical, from losing her job, has now become a firewall to removing a poor performing and burnt out teacher. But school systems are contributing to the mess by not giving them flexibility to move within the system and professional development to keep them qualified — anyone teaching high school math for 20 years is going to burn out and become ineffective. Board members, administrators, and teachers all need to work together to ensure that teachers are 1. not untouchable from being removed 2. Are not evaluated based on bogus state tests 3. Have the opportunity for continued growth during their careers. Only then will you start to see the attitude of “I’m not doing that, it’s not in my contract” start to disappear. Chances are they didn’t become teachers for the compensation or because they wanted their summers off. They were most likely inspired by a teacher themselves. The reality is most teachers are at their best into their fifth year and after that, they go downhill. And I imagine that is the case with any career. We need to help keep them fresh so they can give their absolute best to our children. Here’s another crazy idea: when you negotiate those contacts, ask them all to take a pay freeze across the board, administrators too, in exchange for professional development (the training and the resources needed) to deal with this latest crisis known as the common core. You certainly would be supporting what they are facing in their classrooms……

  13. FedUp Parent says:

    I’m with you, GiantsFan & BoniBonaker! We have some serious issues that face our school system right now. There is not even enough space to list them all here. People think that we have this fabulous school because its small, but the fact is that we don’t provide much support for students beyond the bare minimum. Why don’t we have more support materials for Common Core? Why don’t we offer AP classes in middle school (East Hampton does)? Why is there no more summer school for kids who are struggling? Why is there a separate superintendent for each school? This is ridiculous and a huge waste of money. How is this defensable? The east end has (at least) 5 superintendents! Maybe “JetsFan” should watch less of the Jets and go to a few more board meetings!Or, better yet, try to advocate for more services for our students, most of who barely passed the Common Core exam!

  14. Vinnie says:

    My, My, you Monday morning quarterbacks are all so cavalier about besmirching the reputation of your brilliant, dedicated, creative teachers and administrators. They make too much money, they haven’t solved ALL the problems of the Universe before the school bus arrives on the first day, they have tenure, they are worthless after five years on the job……. blah blah blah . Yes, Bonibonker or whomever you and Giantsfan are, PLEASE become the next Superintendent. I would love to see you attempt that job without the experience or training needed to be the head of a school district and see how that works for you! You have plenty of criticism to spread around, but as far as anyone can tell, no answers of substance. Alas, I don’t really blame you. It is SO much easier to complain about everything than to actually do something constructive. It takes an exceptional person with a unique skill set to be an effective CEO (Chief Executive Officer of Schools) and you are fortunate to have one of the best, if only for a little while. If you really knew what a Superintendent was responsible for, I doubt that all you CICs (Complainers in Chief), would go near that job with a ten-foot pole. The job is daunting to say the least: Board of Education Liaison, District Leader of Assistant Superintendents, Principals/Assistant Principals, Teachers/Coaches, and Support Personnel, Financial Manager, a complicated task that changes from year to year especially in the realm of public education, Daily Operations Chief in charge of Building Improvements and Bond Issues, District Curriculum Mastermind, honchos District Improvement, always looking for methods, both large and small, to improve the district, is responsible for writing new District Policies and revising and/or reviewing old ones, submits District Reports the State requires concerning teacher and student data throughout the school year, negotiates Student Transfers, facilitates Transportation, walking routes, and snow routes, Lobbies for the District, Builds Community Relations, Works with the Media, Builds Relationships with Other Districts and with Politicians, etc. I don’t see anyone complaining about Eli Manning pulling in almost $12 million bucks (Salary: $1,750,000 Prorated signing bonus: $4,850,000: Roster Bonus $5,250,000, and he throws a ball down a field for a living. Dr. Bonuso impacts your children’s lives and our nation’s future. I dare say it is a much more commendable occupation and he deserves compensation commensurate with the responsibilities. And Sag Harbor is hardly at the top of the pay scale! You usually get what you pay for, but in Dr. Bonuso’s case, you got a LOT more. Good luck with cheapskating your next pick. The grumbler who insinuated that Dr. Bonuso doesn’t care because he is an interim is insulting and ignorant. But please, don’t let that stop you from belittling him. If you think that ALL of what he does is “window dressing” and that being “nice” is somehow a weakness, you are sadly uninformed. Dr. Bonuso makes what he does “look” easy and remains a caring and affable soul despite putting up with pointless doubters and disparagers. You think it befitting that a celebrated educator with over 4 decades of experience and a stellar record in educational innovation should be driving the school bus instead? I suggest you should all go work in the sewers… seems befitting for those who feel an affinity for dirt and mucking around.

  15. jetsfan says:

    Touch Down Vinnie!!

  16. NotDrinkingTheKoolAide says:

    Last I checked, we have a free press and live in a free society…Why do you think this comment section is even here? Should it say, “submit comment only if you agree”? It is certainly our right to voice our concerns as taxpayers who foot the bill for this school system. No one is Monday morning quarterbacking or ruining anyone’s reputation here. We are dedicated members of the this community who do our best to be informed, attend meetings,and sit on committees and try to assist in introducing real solutions to real problems within the system. We don’t expect change overnight, but we don’t expect to be ignored or dismissed or put off or complete inaction. We certainly do understand what the qualifications and responsibilities are to be a superintendent and the magnitude of the job. Many of us are just as accomplished and manage equally challenging careers. And even if we don’t, we still pay the super’s salary. And it’s because we understand just how critical the super’s role is that we are concerned that the search for a permanent super is on hold. No one doubts that the interim is a lovely man with excellent credentials and years of dedication in the public system. But we do not see the necessary leadership to run this district. And there are many obvious examples of this. There are also a lot of people living in this district who come from other parts of the country or state and we have been paying close attention to what is happening in other school districts. We know that class sizes are much bigger in other schools. Without teaching assistants. Middle school sports have been cut. Or families pay to play sports. Music and art vanish. Or you pay and take it after school (which actually is a good idea – more classroom time for core subjects). Elsewhere teachers contribute 50% into their healthcare. Pay freezes year after year. Lay offs. Budgets get voted down. The salaries of teachers and administrators don’t come close to what we see out here on the eastern end of Long Island. And those schools systems are bigger and are all doing more with much less. So this is really a dream job in the land of The Hamptons. Reality hasn’t touched us here. Go to places like VT and NH and ME and you will see 3 schools the size of Pierson all under one superintendent and one BOE. One purchasing agent, one lunch program, one transportation system, etc. Not a bad idea…The point being that we have it pretty good (right now). And it shouldn’t be taken for granted because it won’t last forever. And nothing that the community is asking for is over the top. It isn’t unreasonable to expect some planning and action on the school’s part to help implement the adoption of a new curriculum. The makers of the Common Core did not provide a system for schools to adapt the classrooms to the new standards. So that means we really have to step up our game and this requires leadership from the top. This is just one example. Remember, the communities have demonstrated that they support our school systems out here. We vote in favor of the proposed budget year after year. We vote for everyone in these systems to get their pay raises and cover the increases in their healthcare — while we all take a pay cut as our property taxes go up and our own healthcare premiums go up (if we have healthcare), and our income stays the same or lessens. So we show our support. And if you want us to continue to support the schools, we sure as hell have earned the right to voice our concerns and expect those we employ to give more than the minimum. Because we certainly give more than the minimum. It’s a two way street.

  17. Vinnie says:

    Last I checked, I noticed we had a free press too. Express away. Disagree and argue to your heart’s content, but be INFORMED and stop with the bogus criticisms. We need knowledgeable voices, not white noise. There are quite a few who have levied complaints about things that are already taken care of or certainly in the process. If you don’t know that, it speaks to your ignorance or non-participation. THAT is the enemy, not our dedicated school officials, personnel, parents, community members and Board. Although you say you don’t expect change overnight, your whining bespeaks otherwise. WHAT exactly is being ignored? IF, as you say, many of you have challenging careers and leadership positions as well, then you should understand full well that organizational problems don’t materialize overnight and are not solved that way either. It is a process that needs planning, implementation and tweaking. The community should question, support and assist, not nag and berate. BTW, there are far more supporters and motivators than the few grumblers on this blog. Seems like some of you are Johnny One Notes- SO upset that you don’t have a NEW superintendent in place, as if the NEW person is going to wave a magic wand and poof- all will be well. Wishful, but not credible thinking. You see the present situation devoid of leadership; others have eyes and see the reality–excellent leadership, that we will only be lucky to duplicate. How odd that some of you want to make the learning environment more challenging by cutting services and offering lower salaries and benefits, as if THAT is the answer to improving education. HA! Then you compare Long Island with other states where the cost of living, populations, culture and demands are so much less and different than here. Faulty logic, to say the least. And for those who think that implementation of the Common Core and requisite materials are being ignored, sadly, you just don’t know what you are talking about! Complaints with no substance once again. Yes, it’s a two way street. The administrators and teachers ARE doing their jobs, no matter how much you insinuate otherwise. If you support the schools, great. If you get involved and do things that will motivate instead of tear down, great. Otherwise, travel down another road. We don’t need your energy drain.

  18. DolphinsFan says:

    As someone who moved to BH from FLA and knows what’s happening back there, I don’t’ understand why these two communities do not put there heads together and try to consolidate. Ask your legislators for help with this. I hear there is a grant that would assist with this? Couldn’t the superintendents spearhead this initiative? Shouldn’t such an initiative be a district goal? I think the commenter’s point about what is happening in other districts is not to say we should just cut salaries but for teacher’s and administrator’s union to think about the fact that in other school systems they have been squeezed pretty good. But not here. But that will probably change as it will be tougher to come under a tax cap each year. So when you do go into those negotiations and you know the school needs to save a couple million or whatever it may be to make the cap, please don’t assume your supportive community will just override it and absorb the financial burden into their own households once more. Think about taking a pay freeze as opposed to cutting summer school or textbooks or teacher workshops or whatever it may be. I think the commenter meant that the community supports your budget so please support them. When you are faced with finding savings, which is probably inevitable, think about protecting your student programs as opposed to your own compensation. If that isn’t a sacrifice you are willing to make then you probably don’t belong in education.

  19. Burt says:

    Consolidation can be an agonizing process for school districts and parents who do not want to see their neighborhood schools shuttered. It’s a favorite concept among tax activists on Long Island, but joining doesn’t necessarily save money for taxpayers, because varying tax rates could mean consolidation would raise the property tax bill for some as it lowers the burden on others. In addition, combining the collective bargaining agreements for separate teacher unions can make the process extremely difficult.
    Historically, separate districts have been maintained to keep affluent areas apart from poor areas and to maintain racial and cultural segregation of schools among segregated communities. But there are other factors, such as the significant costs associated with retiring capital bonds held by each district, and the high cost of “leveling-up” teacher and civil service contracts after merging districts. Reserves are another factor; if one district has $5 million cash reserves and another a paltry $100,000, they would have to be commingled.
    Long-term obligations and deficits also weigh-in, especially post-retirement obligations for employee health care, and fiscal deficits. Then, once districts are merged, teachers can be assigned to any school for which they are certified, and students can be assigned similarly if magnet programs are devised.
    And after all is said and done, you just might experience a decline in educational improvement.
    It sounds good, but when you take a closer look, crunching school districts together in the pursuit of dubious or non-existent financial savings is risky.
     There are also intangibles that might be lost by consolidation. Residents of small districts take pride in their intimate, homey atmosphere, where each student and family are known very well and you can meet the special needs of each child.

    Instead, some back-office operations could be consolidated without necessarily consolidating districts.
    Then you have to consider if this is what you want to focus on. Too many goals and you do none of them well. Do you want to work on implementing Common Core Standards and improving instruction in the classroom or set in motion expensive studies and never-ending discussions on mergers?

  20. Allison Scanlon says: Check it out. It says teachers need more effective professional development to meet new standards. We have district goals from last year that were not completed. Analysis and improvement plans for K-12 Spanish, Math. A staff development plan. Others. It’s important the community gets involved and supports our leadership so these are being addressed. Also, Southampton and Tuckahoe schools paid for their own consolidation study. It’s going forward and public forums are soon. Yes there are huge obstacles but we should be watching and talking with them to see if we can also move in this direction.

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