Tag Archive | "Bob Schneider"

Call to Nix the Dogs

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By David McCabe

If the crowd that showed up at the Sag Harbor School Board’s special session on Monday is to be believed, the board has thrown the students of Pierson High school to the dogs.

At a meeting otherwise expected to be short and devoted mostly to personnel matters, the public input portion of the session was dominated by critics of the board’s decision to allow drug-sniffing dogs into the halls of the Pierson High School and Middle School building.

The most vocal in his opposition was former Pierson principal Bob Schneider, who stood and read a letter he said he had prepared for publication in the Express, but had not sent. He said at the beginning of his remarks that he had hoped that the board’s approval of the dogs policy would not actually result in searches being conducted.

“I naively assumed that the dogs would not come,” he said, “but they did come.”

His primary objection, he said, was that he did not believe the board had considered drug prevention research that indicates that drug-sniffing dogs do not prevent students from using illegal drugs.

“What was missing from consideration by the district was the evidence of what works to prevent drug use in schools,” he said. There is “not a shred” of evidence to suggest that using dogs would help curb drug use at the school, he claimed.

He also said he had sent pertinent research to board members, and accused them of not paying attention to important studies in the field of drug prevention.

Walter Wilcoxen, a board member and former board president, shot back that he had read the research that Schneider had sent and said he believed that its findings were consistent with the board’s decision.

“One of the points in that monograph, and this is just a small point, is that one of the first things you can do is ensure that the rules are enforced,” he said, going on to say that the dogs were a form of enforcement.

While other board members defended their decision, some also admitted they had not been proactive enough on the issue of drug prevention.

“We need an approach that goes beyond these walls. It has taken too long for this approach to get steam,” board member Chris Tice said. However, she questioned why it had taken so long for the administration to organize a meeting of community members to discuss the topic of drug prevention.

Mary Anne Miller, the president of the board, said that coordinating the meeting, which would involve a facilitator from an outside group, had proved difficult but that she hoped it would occur soon. The meeting has already been cancelled once, because the facilitator was ill.

Schneider was not the only person present at the meeting who voiced an objection to the fact that the dogs, which are provided by Suffolk County free of charge to the district, were brought into Pierson on June 7.

One audience member, Leah Oppenheimer, said she had been a working social worker servicing those hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She said that when dealing with those who were drug users, measures that degraded the trust between the patients and social workers were always detrimental to the former group. She also said that students with substance dependence are likely to find a way to obtain and use illegal drugs unless they receive counseling in school.

“They’ll go elsewhere, which is where you have no influence,” she said.

A student, Nick Dwoskin, also voiced his opposition to the policy, saying it fostered distrust between school administrators and students.

“As a deterrence it made sense,” he said “I don’t think it stops them from doing it anywhere else.”

Many present at the meeting called on the board to vote to suspend the policy until it can be reconsidered, but some board members seemed hesitant to take such a step, especially considering that the dogs will not be brought back into the school until school resumes in September.

Board members agreed to address the topic at their annual goal-setting meeting, which is being held this coming Monday, July 2, as part of a larger discussion of the district’s year-old wellness policy.

Peering Into the Reutershan Trust

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Hobie Betts

By Claire Walla


What is the Reutershan Trust and how does it work? That was the discussion at Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting which focused on the nature of the trust and was initially spurred by questions stemming from board members. Specifically, board members wanted to know what role does the school plays in overseeing costs related to the trust.

In the end, however, the presentation — given by Reutershan trustees Bob Schneider and Peter Solow — had little to do with funding. Schneider and Solow instead spoke at length on the merits of the privately funded art program created by Sag Harbor resident and architect Hobart “Hobie” Betts.

But it was just as well, said school board member Walter Wilcoxen, who in a follow-up interview noted that, coincidentally, Betts passed away Monday, the same day the trust was being presented to the school board. Wilcoxen felt it important to point out the program’s merits.

“Our art program would be decimated without it,” Wilcoxen said. “It’s so important that Hobie stepped up [to create the trust].”

The Reutershan Trust — named for Betts’ close friend Donald Reutershan, who until his death had been actively involved in the Sag Harbor School District — was established in 2000 with an endowment of $1.8 million. Each year, the fund generates somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 in interest which is used for the sole purpose of fostering artistic programs within the Sag Harbor School District.

According to Solow, who administers the program for the district, “The thing that makes the program effective is that, from the very beginning, there was a vision provided by Hobie of what art education should be — and that vision was connected to the idea of bringing professional artists into the district. The program was really designed to create authentic artistic experiences for kids.”

Solow proceeded to run through 60 slides featuring images of Pierson students making, presenting, or discussing artwork — from photography projects like “Me By the Sea,” in which students documented their lives in Sag Harbor; to drafting projects, like the Bell Monument; discussions with professionals in the art world such as Vogue editor Andrew Leon Talley and workshops with world-renowned Spanish painter Perico Pastor and Condé Nast photographer Francine Fleischer.

Earlier this year, board members discussed the program’s financial structure, questioning whether or not the program met state regulations and how the trust should be classified under the purview of the school.

“In a sense, it’s a little similar to Y.A.R.D. [Youth Advocacy and Resource Development],” Wilcoxen explained. “If the money is run through our accounts at the school” — as had been the case with Reutershan until this year — “then the purchasing policies have to follow our purchasing guidelines, and they’re pretty strict.”

For example, Wilcoxen noted that the school requires administrators to go out to bid before purchasing any goods or services. But for a service like the Reutershan Trust, which uses money to bring artistic professionals to the school to work with students, Wilcoxen said it simply doesn’t make sense to bid-out services.

“How do you put out three bids for an artist,” he asked.

In the end, the board decided to keep all financial transactions with the trustees themselves, rather than with the school’s business office. Trustees Bob Schneider, Greg Ferraris and Marsha Heffner now have the authority to sign-off on all expenditures, with financial decisions guided largely by Ferraris who is a certified accountant.

“With regard to the trust, that’s not really our money, so we didn’t feel that we should have to oversee that money as closely as the money that the taxpayers give us,” Wilcoxen continued. “We suggested that the fund itself approve the money [it spends], and in that way they can act however they see best.”

As Schneider pointed out, the program functions according to the vision and the values initially set forth by Betts: “Pride of Place, Service, Commitment to Community, Citizenship, Good Works, and Engagement with the Greater World.” And in the wake of Betts’ death, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said he didn’t see the trust functioning any differently in the future.

For Schneider, the value of the trust is clear. He noted the courtyard at the middle/high school — which took four years to construct and is still an ongoing project — and the fact that students can do photography, printmaking and drafting work as examples of opportunities the trust has provided.

“Students get to work with materials that would otherwise be too expensive for the school district to get,” explained Schneider, who was principal of Pierson Middle/High School when the Reutershan Trust was founded. He continued, “The art program without the benefit of the trust would not be the vibrant program that it is today. It really has distinguished the Pierson art program from any other art program that I know of.”

Discussion Starts on Future of Education

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By Claire Walla
In the Sag Harbor Elementary School gym, many speakers ran past their three-minute limit and the event spilled into over-time. But since the goal of the Education Forum held last Wednesday, December 8 was to bring a diverse range of voices from the community together to discuss the future of education in Sag Harbor, it would seem the event was a success.

The forum attracted nearly 90 people for just over two hours of public comments ranging from specific topics like implementing a gifted and talented program at the elementary school; to broader ideas, such as making the district more competitive in a global context; and even serious concerns, like making more of an effort to reach out to Sag Harbor’s Latino community.

Forum organizer and former Pierson High School principal Bob Schneider said the forum went very well, for its first run.
“I appreciated that there wasn’t a lot of criticism of the school district,” he said.

Although, in the interest of time, not every person who wished to speak had the opportunity to do so, Schneider added that school board president and forum co-organizer Walter Wilcoxen has received emails and index cards with as yet unvoiced comments. “These will be addressed at the next forum,” he added.

It was parent Leah Oppenheimer who first raised the issue of reaching out to the Latino population who, she said, make up 18 percent of the G.D.P. on Long Island. She expressed concern that Sag Harbor’s Latino families are not given the opportunity to learn about their cultural traditions, and many children are not coming to kindergarten with enough preparation because they aren’t able to afford the pre-schools in the area.

As a social worker in East Hampton who works with many Latino families, school board member Dan Hartnett echoed this sentiment. He also commented on the importance of the International Baccalaureate program, which Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols is investigating for next school year.

The idea of evolving the Sag Harbor curriculum is one that was touted by many who spoke at the forum. While Pierson senior Max Moyer thanked every one of his teachers for doing a great job, he expressed frustration that, often, times the scope of his school work does not leave the four walls of the classroom.

“It does not get to a state, a global or a national level,” he said.
Community member Chuck Neuman, who said he went through a baccalaureate program as a child in Germany, emphasized the need for rigor at the school.

“It has to be tough and it has to be demanding,” he said. “I went through six years of boot camp.”

Several parents, including Alison Scanlon, spoke of the need for classes on all grade levels to put more time and effort into developing reading and writing skills. Scanlon spoke of a school in Rockton High School in Massachusetts, which at one time had a drop-out rate of one in three students.

“Decades ago it was a case study in failure,” she said.
But after organizing a school-wide campaign to incorporate reading and writing into every single class, including gym, Scanlon said the school went on to out-perform 90 percent of high schools in the state.
“And it doesn’t cost a thing,” she added.

The need for ecological programs, as well as health and wellness initiatives, was brought up by teacher Kryn Olson who said she wanted to focus on developing more energy efficient techniques within science courses. Similarly, Eco-Walk creator and parent Ed Bruehl and parent Barbara Kinnier of the Wellness Foundation of East Hampton were passionate about increasing health and wellness within the district.

While Bruehl mentioned his desire to form a committee of parents who might work together to tap into the fresh food sources available here on the East End, Kinnier spoke about further improving the district’s approach to nutrition. She lauded the school’s efforts to incorporate organic milk and healthy vending machine options.

But, she added, “It breaks my heart to hear that we have Pop Tarts in the vending machine because it keeps us out of the red.”
Technology was another hot-button issue, prompting many parents to address the lack of adequate options at the school.
“We’re a very low-tech/no-tech school,” said parent Gay Snow. “It’s time we start introducing laptops and computers.”

Snow added that she wants the board of education to approve a foundation so that parents can start soliciting corporations for grant money and donations. She added that the school should do “anything to help educate and simulate kids in the district,” including appealing to corporations, “because that’s what the times require.”

Speakers differed on the scope of the education problems afflicting the district, some blaming national issues and some blaming problems closer to home. But, most audience members seemed to agree with what teacher Peter Solow had to say at the end of the night.

“We’re not going to change the education system [in the country],” he said. “But one of the students that goes to this school may in fact change the world.”

While the event brought a good-sized crowd to the elementary school, both Schneider and Wilcoxen said they’d like to see more people at the next forum on January 12. Wilcoxen added that although there were 10 teachers at Wednesday’s event, he wished there had been more. Wilcoxen also said he was surprised that the science and math curriculum was not mentioned during the forum, but there’s always next time.
And Schneider noted that for the next forum he and Wilcoxen will specifically try to do more outreach to members of Sag Harbor’s Latino community.

For the next meeting on January 12, half the time will be devoted to comments that were not heard at last Wednesday’s meeting (all will be limited to three minutes), and the rest of the time will be devoted to small group discussions centered on eight umbrella topics: Enrichment, Careers/College Prep, Technology, Reading and Writing, Ecology (including health and wellness), Pre-K, Communication and Curriculum Enhancement. Each group will be moderated by a teacher, administrator, school board or community member.

Forum on Education Hopes to Get Direction From the Community

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By Claire Walla

“What do we want to be as a school?” asked former Pierson Principal Bob Schneider. It was a rhetorical question, but it’s one he’s hoping to answer. And soon.

In fact, he added, it’s an important question for everyone in the Sag Harbor community to ask, from teachers and students to parents and tax payers. And it’s at the crux of the forum he and Sag Harbor School Board President Walter Wilcoxen have organized at Pierson High School this Wednesday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m.

At a time when the state of education in New York and across the country is being questioned, and, as Wilcoxen mentioned, students are being challenged more and more to compete on an international scale, Schneider and Wilcoxen have organized this forum to address educational concerns and, together with all facets of the Sag Harbor community, work to fix them.

The idea is two-fold, combining public concerns with fact-finding missions aimed at educating everyone involved, and ultimately helping the school district to make well-informed decisions about the future of education here in Sag Harbor.

To spark conversation, Schneider and Wilcoxen imagine the first meeting as a time for community members to voice any and all concerns they have, so long as they involve what they think the future of education in Sag Harbor ought to look like. Each speaker will have about three minutes to speak.

Once all the issues are on the table, Schneider and Wilcoxen will collate the information and determine roughly six umbrella topics to discuss.
Schneider elaborated: “For example, I would say [before the group] that what we need is a problem-solving, creative curriculum as opposed to a curriculum that emphasizes knowledge of factoids. And if enough people expressed concern over this same issue, it would be a topic of investigation, or research.”

A research group, he added, might be composed of a teacher and a couple of community members who are interested in that particular topic and—more importantly—are committed to taking the time to investigate that issue.

“The group would take a look at how you measure achievement in that area; then, at some point, we’d make a recommendation to the board of education.”

Wilcoxen said he and Schneider have reached out to members of the school and the community at large, including Superintendent Dr. John Gratto.

Dr. Gratto said that 90 percent of the ideas that have gone into crafting this forum come from Schneider and Wilcoxen; but, he added, he shared some feedback of his own, namely “that we need to make sure that all interested parties are involved, particularly the teachers.” Schneider and Wilcoxen got the PTA and PTSA on board, and Dr. Gratto sent an announcement to the heads of around 25 organizations in the community, including local government officials and grass-roots organizations like Save Sag Harbor.

The biggest hope the superintendent has for the forum is that there’s a clear consensus from the public about what they would like to see the district accomplish.

“The district has limited funds and, likewise, people are about saturated with their willingness to pay taxes,” he said. But, if the district knows what they want and don’t want, he added, then it can make decisions to improve services without imposing unnecessary costs.

According to Wilcoxen, the school’s five-year plan calls for about a seven percent tax increase each year, which means that in order to operate the school as is without added costs, town taxes would have to double in the next 10 years. Though Dr. Gratto said he this figure isn’t set in stone and, in fact, he hopes it’s wrong, the fact remains that the district is currently strapped for cash.

“The budget constraints are so incredibly pervasive, we want to get to the level of actually budgeting things,” Wilcoxen said. “This [forum] is a way to check in, get a healthy debate going and get fact-based answers” before actually dealing with the budget.

The other component to the public discussion is public access to information. Wilcoxen has created a website, www.educationforumsagharbor.com, which welcomes visitors with the words, “You are invited to participate in public deliberation of the future of community based education in Sag Harbor.”

The website includes relevant articles and recent findings based on education issues on a local and on a national level, but it will also track the progress of the forums, charting discussion topics and reporting study group findings.

In addition, those community members who cannot make it to the actual discussion session will be able to view and / or listen to the session online. Wilcoxen said that Pierson students will record each session for the Web.

In addition to Schneider and Wilcoxen, Dr. Gratto, Principals Nichols and Malone, as well as the presidents of the Sag Harbor PTA and the PTSA will sit before the crowd of people, but not necessarily in seats of power; they will be there mostly so that participants will have someone to address when speaking.

Though only Schneider and Wilcoxen are confirmed moderators the first meeting, Wilcoxen confirms they will in no way create or sway discussions. “It’s not about us,” he said. “We’ve had our say.”

As Dr. Gratto mentioned, Schneider and Wilcoxen hope these discussions can generate some consensus within the community before these issues are tackled by the board, and ultimately by the district.
“[The point is] not to think of this as a school board function,” Wilcoxen added, “because the community is running the show and making the consensus-based decisions.”

In addition to the first meeting on December 8 in the Pierson library, another forum in scheduled for January 12. Wilcoxen said he and Schneider imagine around two additions forums to take place before the end of the year.

“We want to demonstrate that we’re serious about getting something done,” Schneider added.

Students Seeking Internships With Local Businesses and Organizations

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web interns

As a college freshman, Bob Schneider believed he was destined to become a lawyer. But after attending a pre-law course, Schneider decided the profession wasn’t for him. For Schneider, the theory of law was more intriguing than the day-to-day practicality of the field. And so he pursued a different path — education — and went on to eventually become the principal of Pierson High School. Now Schneider hopes to give Pierson seniors a chance to explore different professions in the field and is in the midst of coordinating an internship program for seniors.

“I want to bridge the gap between what goes on in school and what goes on in the real world,” explained Schneider. “We all have impressions of some kind of career. The reality can turn out to be something else. It can be better or worse. But I want to give kids a chance to explore and get a realistic idea of a profession.” 

Schneider added that the focus of the internships aren’t to help students choose a career at a younger age, but expose them to many different experiences before they decide which field to pursue.

According to guidance counselor Linda Aydinian similar programs exist for high school students throughout the state and internships aren’t a new concept to Pierson.

In previous years, explained guidance counselor Eileen Kochanasz, students participated in a child development internship where they helped out in an elementary school art, physical education or music class, and even created lesson plans. 

Schneider hopes the senior program will expand upon this idea to include a mentorship aspect. Though Schneider is still solidifying the nuts and bolts of the program, Pierson senior David Horn will soon begin an internship with music teacher Eric Reynolds. Horn hopes to pursue a career in music performance, but has left himself open to exploring the field of music education. 

“I want to give [David] a mock budget. I want him to look at the percussion instruments and see what equipment he thinks we should buy,” said Reynolds in describing what he has in mind for Horn’s upcoming internship. “I might have him design a concert program. He might sit in on a [faculty] meeting.”

For Horn, music has been a passion for most of his life and it’s something he plans to concentrate on in college, but he still sought out a hands on experience in his potential career. Student Kyla Kudlak is organizing her internship at a local law office, while Aly Bori and Jessica Warne plan to work with the Sag Harbor Express to hone their writing and photography skills. 

Schneider added that he is still looking for local businesses and professionals to volunteer to mentor these seniors. Many of the interested students are still finishing up SAT tests and college applications, so Schneider says the program should be in full swing by the winter. In the future, he imagines students enrolling in the program throughout the year as it works with their schedules.

Kochanasz added that internships help round out students’ applications for college.

“It makes their resume and college application stand out,” remarked Kochanasz. “It shows they have already pursued [a career].”