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Bridgehampton School Race Heats Up with Seven Candidates

Posted on 23 April 2009

By Marianna Levine

Seven Bridgehampton community members have filed petitions to run for the Bridgehampton School Board. With elections set for May 19 and three school board seats up for grabs, the candidates, Joe Conti, Doug DeGroot, Laurie Gordon, Nathan Ludlow, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, Ron White, and current board president James Walker (the only incumbent running) agree they want the best education for the district’s children and would like all members of the community to be involved with the school and its progress. However there are clearly defined differences in the way in which candidates want to realize these goals.

Already within the first week of campaigning the debate about class sizes and whether to close the high school that has dominated previous Bridgehampton School Board elections has surfaced. Conti, a former board member, Gordon, and Ludlow are running together on the premise that the school needs to fulfill its potential, through improving test scores, and focusing its efforts on a pre-K through 8 program. In order to do this, they note, the school would need to look at the possibility of tuitioning out high school students to neighboring districts. This was an idea that Conti has proposed in the past, and which he explains has been misrepresented.

“We’ve never said we want to close the school down. We want to improve the school,” said Conti who believes the best way to better the school is by focusing on the lower grades.

Ludlow, who grew up in Bridgehampton but graduated from Southampton High School explained, “We want to provide more opportunities for students — not just educationally but socially and extra-curricularly as well.”

Conti, Gordon, and Ludlow agree that to this end, size matters and that the small size of the high school classes in their opinion negatively impacts the students’ experience.

“Kids here should be able to get the same educational opportunities other districts have, and size matters,” said Gordon, a former lawyer with two children at Ross. “I want to see the kids be competitive, successful, and thrive beyond school.”

Gordon said currently there are 62 high school students in Bridgehampton, of which there are just seven in the tenth grade class. “So we’re not talking about tuitioning out a lot of students.”

The other candidates, DeGroot, Tyree-Johnson, White, and Walker believe in continuing the school as a pre-K though 12 institution. As a matter of fact DeGroot and Tyree-Johnson said they felt compelled to run for school board once they heard there would be a team of candidates once again running on the idea of eliminating the high school.

“We’re forced to deal with people who want to do this too often, and who believe they know how best to run the school, but they don’t know the kids or the parents here,” said Tyree-Johnson, a bookkeeper whose husband is the coach of the Bridgehampton Killer Bee’s basketball team. “Bridgehampton [School] has a problem of perception with people who’ve never set foot in the school, and often they have the money to opt out of it. But the school is a little gem really.”

DeGroot, an entrepreneur who has four children attending the Bridgehampton School agreed by saying the school, “has some characteristics that people pay for at private schools such as smaller class sizes.”

He finds the average class size of about 10 students is an advantage not a disadvantage, although there are classes that are larger such as the ninth and eleventh grades, which have about 20 students.

“There are people running who say bigger is better, but I don’t know of any parents who would agree,” said DeGroot. “Large schools such as East Hampton have social problems such as bullying which we just don’t have because of our size.”

Current School Board President Walker also agrees, and adds “We also recognize the need for things we cannot provide so we have arranged for our students to share with other districts without giving up their own home school.”

DeGroot points to the fact that the school has a mixture of ethnic and socio-economic groups that more realistically represent the America the students will live in as adults.

“I have breakfast at the school every day and it’s so great to see all the kids getting along so well together,” says DeGroot who also agrees that Bridgehampton suffers from a less than favorable past reputation and hopes people will actually come in and see it’s changed. “There’s been a big focus on test scores recently and we have seen the scores rise in the past few years.”

Walker concurred by saying, “I have seen some excellent progress going on at the school, and want it to continue.”

White, a real estate broker and graduate of Bridgehampton School, also agrees and hopes people will actually take a look at the school.

“When people come to the school and visit, they leave so happy with big smiles on their faces once they see what we do,” said White, who has a son at the school. He would like to see the community come together and rally around the school instead of continually debate whether the high school should be closed or not.

“There needs to be less distinction between north and south of the highway,” he said. The benefit of a small school is that it becomes like family. We should be able to knock on our neighbors’ doors and talk with each other. And we shouldn’t have to prove constantly that the school needs to exist.”

There are a few more things all the candidates have in common. All of them attended public schools, and they all say they are big supporters of the public school system. Even Gordon who has children currently at private school says she is running for the school board because “I would like nothing better than to send my children to public school.”

All candidates agreed the school was doing some things right. Gordon who has toured the school said, “I think the school is physically beautiful, and I support Jack Pryor and what he’s trying to do. We all support Jack.”

Conti and Ludlow feel the school has tremendous potential, and that the lower grades are improving.

DeGroot, Tyree-Johnson, Walker, and White feel the school is improving academically with the help of individualized teaching. They also hope the community can put the arguments about class and school size behind them and come together in support of the school whatever the outcome of this spring’s election.

“At the end of the day, when things get tough, all any of us have is our education and our family,” said Gordon.

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16 Responses to “Bridgehampton School Race Heats Up with Seven Candidates”

  1. People4BHS says:

    Its great to see that since Ms. Levine and Laurie Gordon are such GREAT friends, your article is professional and doent come off bias in any way.


    Laurie Gordon claims she supports BH k-8 but sends her kids to elementary aged children to private school. WHY?

    Nathan Ludlow went to SH high school while living in BH School District…..why is it ok for the Ludlows to not pay tuition but they make such a stink about it here?

    Why when Joe Conti said last year in him campaign race that if the appeal was dropped and he was not elected he would not persue closing the school? But yet now he is? A man who puts his word in writing, but oepnly goes back on it!

    Has Nathan, Joe or Laurie ever spoken to the parents and students of BHS to see what they want? NO!!!!!!!

    Why are they all lying about the lower taxes! Come down to the Budjet Hearing!!! The proof is in the PUDDING PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!

  2. People4BHS says:

    Sorry for all the typos. LOL. Its just that its personal and typing with anger! :)

  3. Bridgehampton Voter says:

    Mr. Conti claims he has been misrepresented….was he misrepresented when he signed the petition to get the referendum to CLOSE our high school….was he misrepresented when he APPEALED the boards decision to deny the referendum [a frivolous suit that has cost the district over $25,000].

    In Mr. Berhalters letter to the papers, was he misrepresented last year when they PLEDGED the following:

    “Joe Conti and I have taken the heat on the tuitioning of our high school students to other districts. That’s fine; we can take it for the sake of the education of our young people. NOW it’s time for the voter to decide if we are on track. There is a major effort to unseat Joe in this election. If that happens, it also means we may not have the voter support to pass a tuitioning out petition. So here’s what we pledge to you, the voter: you get Joe reelected, and we will do what it takes to let you decide this issue. If Joe doesn’t get reelected, we will accept your decision.”

    These were their words……so please stop whining about being misrepresented, we can read through the lines and we KNOW you are not trying to help our kids…..if you were you would actually know who they were and who their parents were…..

    Shame on those of you who think that you know better than the many, many parents who’s children attend BH School. Shame on you for making the kids, the parents, the wonderful staff and administration fight each year for their existence. We have OUR kids best interest at heart. We actually know them and are in total support of our school. Why don’t you join us in taking our school to the next level. It is sad that many of you don’t really know the quality education that is happening at Bridgehampton and base your opinions solely on the few naysayers. I urge you to come take a look at what is happpening here. You will be sold, I PLEDGE THIS TO YOU and unlike the Joe’s, I won’t go back on this pledge!!

  4. Noah says:


    Maybe Gordon sends her kids to private school because of the horrible test scores at BH. Maybe she wants better education for her children. Maybe she wants better education at BH so her children can go there instead or private school.

    Maybe Ludlow went to SH because there were no opportunities for him in BH. Maybe you should ask him about it instead of casting insinuations.

    As for the “THREE CANDIDATES TO TELL PARENTS WHAT IS BEST FOR our CHILDREN”, that’s exactly what you and the current the BOE are doing. You claim to want everyone to come to the school, but you don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say about it.

  5. Bridgehampton Voter says:


    What horrible test scores???? Get your info right, buddy……the fact is we are not telling Laurie Gordon where to send her kids, just stop telling us where we should send our kids and why when they have no facts to support a negative view of the school or the facts to support their suppossed promise of lower taxes, they continue to spin misinformation……which is clear since you have been convinced……when is the last time you were at the school??

    Majority ruled last year when this same issue of tuitioning out our students came into play……do you really think that our intelligent parent base who want the best for their children would fight SOOOO hard for a school that was failing their kids???? That just makes no sense at all.

  6. Noah says:

    “they have no facts to support a negative view of the school”

    Here they are. No wonder Gordon doesn’t send her kids there.

    Grade 4 English test score ranking

    92 Sag Harbor
    189 East Hampton (John Marshall)
    276 Tuckahoe
    329 Springs
    336 Bridgehampton
    366 number of schools on list

    Grade 4 Math test score ranking

    202 East Hampton (John Marshall)
    207 Sag Harbor
    270 Tuckahoe
    279 Bridgehampton
    366 number of schools on list

    Grade 8 English test score ranking

    2 Pierson Middle School
    55 East Hampton Middle School
    85 Southampton Intermediate School
    111 Bridgehampton
    137 number of schools on list

  7. Noah says:

    Oh wait there’s more.

    Mathematics A Regent scores, 148 out of 157
    Mathematics B Regent scores, 114 out of 114
    English Regent scores, 93 out of 114
    Global History and Geography Regent scores, 108 out of 114
    Physical Setting/Physics Regent scores, 100 out of 111
    Living Environment Regent scores, 131 out of 144
    Physical Setting/Earth Science Regent scores, 168 out of 194
    High school graduate ranking, 106 out of 115

  8. people4bhs says:

    Nobody took mathematics B, but you wouldn’t know that because you don’t know anything about the school. Of course you didn’t mention US history; Bridgehampton 18 out of 114, Sag Harbor 64, East Hampton 66 and Southampton 93.
    All this is very misleading, If you only have 9 kids in the grade and just 1 scores at a level 2 (i.e. just below grade level), which may mean that they miss passing by just 1 point, you then only score an 88.8% of kids at grade level. This would automatically put you at 140 on the list you are quoting. All because of 1 kid missing 1 question on a test. Now consider that that kid may have only been in the school for a couple of months and, in fact, may not even speak English. If that 1 kid were in one of these other schools they would only represent about 1% of the total and if they failed you would still be at 99%.
    How did the Ross School fare? Oh of course we don’t know because they don’t take any tests! Nor do they get real grades on their report cards. How can Ms. Gordon know how well her kids are doing without any test scores. If she decided not to put her kids in Bridgehampton because of the test scores and feels the school needs to be closed because of these scores, how did she decide to put them at the Ross School without any scores to base her decision on?
    It is all so pathetic. They parents and children who attend Bridgehampton School are overwhelmingly happy with the school. How many schools can say that?

  9. people4bhs says:

    By the way using Noah’s logic, Sagaponack school is 366 out of 366 in several categories. Oh and they are a small school too!

  10. people4bhs says:

    To back up my point, on the grade 4 math; Bridgehampton ranked 279, but Springs was 283, Shelter Island 304, and Southampton 307. Yes Bridgehampton beat Southampton, one of the schools they are thinking of bussing our kids to, because, let me get this right, Bridgehampton’s test scores are so bad and Southampton are so much better!
    Moreover, if you look at Bridgehampton’s score in Math grade four, 88.8% of the kids passed and 11.1% were slightly below grade level. This is exactly the scenario outlined above – there are 9 kids in that grade, 8 passed and one failed. What’s more 4 kids achieved a level 4, i.e. above grade level! Just because there is one kid in this class who (for what could be a number of reasons, only just arrived in the country, doesn’t speak english or learning disabled) finds it very difficult to pass a standardized test, then Bridgehampton School should be closed down. And Ms. Gordon couldn’t possibly put her kids at the school, because she is afraid that that 1 kid might represent her kid rather than the 4 who excelled in the test, or the other 4 did also did well? It doesn’t make sense. We could go through all of the test scores in this way and the story would be the same.
    Some people are very closed minded and judgmental.

  11. Mother of 6 BHS students says:

    Every school has it pros and cons. I have six children who all attend the Bridgehampton School. No two of my children are exactly alike and yet they are all thriving at BHS. They are provided with amazing opportunities and have new programs offered them each year. I could go down the list of accolades and test scores of my own children to demonstrate the fact (but I’ll spare you those bragging rights for now). Even the majority of their peers could show you a similar list. These students love their school. The families love the school. The students ARE thriving, and growing, and learning in a wonderful and positive environment.

    Could they thrive elsewhere? Probably. Would they adjust? My kids would definitely adjust, but that doesn’t mean they would benefit MORE from a different environment of learning than at BHS? They are NOT SUFFERING from any of the claims Noah suggested i.e. a worse education than the surrounding districts or very few opportunities.

    Case in point, I have a son who’s going to Argentina this summer on an exchange program, a daughter who just performed this weekend in the Young Playwrights Theater, another son who is valedictorian of his class, another daughter who is performing at Guild Hall in Anything Goes in a few weeks. They do sports with BH as well as other schools, they have senior class trips whereas other schools cannot because of being too large. The younger students are involved in so many things; cooking clubs, intramurals, student government, drawing contests, having International penpals, etc., etc. and they would not tell you that there is nothing for them at BHS (at least no more than any other kid would say in any town throughout the USA).

    Would our students greatly miss their amazing teachers? VERY MUCH!

    Would the process of closing the BHHS increase our property taxes in a very noticable way? MOST DEFINITELY! The studies have been done. The numbers have been documented by a committee that Mr. Berhalter and Mr. Conti insisted upon establishing, and yet the results of the committee have not turned out in a way that supports their agenda… so the small band of cohorts look for other ways to misconstrue numbers and percentages to make our school appear to be failing–when its, in actuality, THRIVING!!

    WHAT IS THEIR REAL AGENDA???? That’s what I am left to wonder.

  12. taxpayer says:

    leave Bridgehampton alone….great school,great community…….tax those ocean front homes more and basically hire more teachers to up your test score…..sag harbor on the other hand needs to test the high priced teachers…….

  13. wilson says:


    BH Staff to student ratio 1:2
    BH teachers pay: 10th highest in the state
    BH test scores: near the bottom in nearly every category


    nobody said close the school, they said provide more programs and activities. you act like this is a bad thing. is the district paying for your kid’s trip the way it did for the board president’s kid a few years ago?

    Mother of 6 BHS students:

    couple years ago a majority of students surveyed said they wished they had more activities. the board won’t let that out!

  14. Kathryn says:

    I don’t know where you have been but this isn’t just about providing more programs and activities for the students. If it were, everyone would be happy. The three candidates Conti, Gordon and Ludlow are campaigning on the promise of closing the High School at Bridgehampton. That is absolutely why everybody is so upset. To try and represent people as irrationally “not wanting what is best for their kids” and “not wanting to provide more programs and activities” for their kids is completely disingenuous.

    The trip by the board president’s child I think you are referring to was actually the vice president’s child. The board subsidized a class trip to Italy for a student partaking in an AP art course at Sag Harbor School. This student went from Bridgehampton to Sag Harbor for an AP art course because we didn’t offer one. The board has worked hard on expanding opportunities for students through shared programs with other districts and the board often subsidizes all sorts of trips for student groups. Isn’t that part of the expanded programs and activities which you seem to advocating?

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Wilson: Any normal district would not put custodians or office secretarial staff in the classroom. So when you say the Staff to Student ratio is 1:2 you should be mindful of this fact. You refer to an old student survey that you must have received from Joe Conti or Joe Berhalter who were both in the Strategic Planning Committee. The comment was made by one student. Not a majority. So please be mindful here as well. And yes, it was my daughter who participated with her Pierson AP Art class on a trip to Italy. The reimbursement of this trip was in accordance with district policy. I abstained from both the discussion and the vote on this item. And as is expected of any student, my daughter made a presentation to the Board of Ed upon her return. She also prepared a lesson and shared her travels in a power point presentation with the sixth grade History class who were studying ancient Rome. The money that was reimbursed then allowed her to attend a summer science camp program (Science Awareness Research Seminar) at Stony Brook Medical Center. My daughter has had a rich and varied educational experience as a student at Bridgehampton High School, including taking two college classes at Stony Brook/Southampton. She received an A in both of the classes. She is a talented young woman who is looking forward to starting her studies at Mount Holyoke College this fall as a Leadership Award merit scholar.
    Elizabeth Kotz

  16. Lost Blogger says:

    Well for my first year as a student my cooking rarely went beyond beans on toast but I have been making more of an effort!

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