Tag Archive | "Bridgehampton"

East End Motorists: Make Way For Turtles

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A painted turtle buried her clutch of eggs in a backyard in Montauk last week. 

Over the next few weeks, motorists on the East End should keep an eye out for wandering turtles, which will be moving around their territories during their peak nesting season, this month.

Melanie Meade, at the South Fork Natural History Museum (SoFo) explained this week that the painted, box and snapping turtles who live in and around local ponds are moving away from the water at this time of the year to nest and lay their eggs. Once they have laid their eggs, she said, they may return to lay more, or else they will leave the eggs to hatch on their own.

Usually in April, or whenever the air temperature gets warm, local turtles wake up from hibernation and feast on pond insects and plants before getting to work looking for a mate. Once they do, the female turtles travel great turtle distances to lay a clutch of around 20 eggs. Snapping turtles, the official turtle of the great State of New York, will travel up to 100 feet to find the perfect nesting spot, and so the eggs can be found a surprising distance from waterways.

Many turtles, specifically box turtles which have larger territories than many of their reptilian relatives, are killed by cars each year as they move around their stomping grounds.

“If people want to help, use great caution,” Ms. Meade said. “Carry them across the road in the direction where they’re already going,” she said, because otherwise the slow but stubborn terrapins will just make the treacherous trek again.

There are turtles all over the East End of Long Island, Ms. Meade said, but often hang out near wooded areas close to fields. Box turtles are often seen crossing the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike because of the many temporary seasonal ponds along the road, which is adjacent to the Long Pond Green Belt.

“If you have seen them there in the past, they’ll be there again,” she added.

Goodwater Farms Finds a New Home in Bridgehampton

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A 4,000-square-foot barn on the property will become the production facility for Goodwater Farms. Photo courtesy Brendan Davison.

By Mara Certic

After over a year of looking for land where he could expand, Brendan Davison, owner of Goodwater Farms, confirmed this week that his microgreen-growing operation would be moving to Bridgehampton this year and almost quadrupling in size.

In 2012 Mr. Davison began growing microgreens—plants that are harvested shortly after sprouting—at a house he was renting in Amagansett. The business quickly took off, he said, and after one summer he found a warehouse space at 6 Plank Road in East Hampton, where he was able to put up a greenhouse.

Goodwater Farms distributes its eight varieties of microgreens to 35 restaurants from Montauk to Brooklyn and also for the last year and half has had produce in 12 Whole Foods markets.

“I can’t take on any new people,” Mr. Davison said, explaining that he has outgrown his Plank Road space. He has had a deal on the table to expand his distribution to all Whole Foods markets between Maine and Florida for about a year but has not been able to go through with the expansion. Until now.

Over the next few months, Goodwater Farms will be moving from its current location across the town line to a 34-acre property in between Mitchell and Butter Lanes in Bridgehampton

“I was just getting very discouraged, looking everywhere,” he said. “Finally, I worked out a deal. I found someone who is allowing me to use his property.”

Mr. Davison explained that the town code in Southampton is more friendly toward agricultural uses than East Hampton’s, adding that the eastern town allows just 3 percent greenhouse coverage per acre, while Southampton allows 10 percent. He’s currently having a 100-by-24-foot-wide greenhouse designed that will be sent here and assembled after he receives the necessary permits.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “We’re finding out it’s going to be about four months to get the permit.”

A 4,000-square-foot barn, currently vacant on the property, will become the home to the farm’s production facility. Seeding, cutting and packaging will take place in the repurposed barn, and eventually that’s where a test kitchen will be located, he said.

Mr. Davison began growing microgreens when he was seeing clients and practicing shamanic energy medicine.

“Through those studies awakened my love for growing. When I was working one-on-one with clients it wasn’t enough for me, it wasn’t fulfilling me,” he said.

“How can I affect more people, and heal more people?” he asked himself, and the answer was clear: Heal them from within, with greens.

“I always loved the idea of growing food instead of buying things from the supermarket,” said Mr. Davison, who has worn many hats in his professional life, including growing marijuana in California for a spell in the 1990s, and spending time in India as a roadie for an American kirtan singer.

In fact it was when he was in India that Mr. Davison heard the words that are now the farm’s motto, uttered by a guru as advice on how to become enlightened: Feed people, serve people.

“That’s why I started all this,” he said, adding that microgreens were the perfect fit because he can grow them year-round, they have a quick-turnaround, they’re grown in a controlled environment and, of course, they have a high nutritional value.

“They’re an excellent source of enzymes, high in amino acids, they’re anti-oxidant rich. They’re rich in chlorophyll and all kinds of phytonutrients,” Mr. Davison said.

A recent University of Maryland study found that there were up to 40 times more nutrients in the microgreens than in their full-grown counterparts. A box of broccoli microgreens, for example, nutritionally, is the equivalent to eating a whole bushel of broccoli.

“I hate the word, because it bothers me, but they’re superfoods,” he said.

Mr. Davison says he eats them, of course, in salads, but also juices them and puts them in smoothies, and that they’re great on sandwiches.

“My other goal is to have them be a staple in the American diet,” he said.

“People who aren’t eating a balanced diet aren’t eating living food; they’re eating dead food. They’re malnourished and don’t even realize it,” he added.

In addition to continuing to preach the gospel of microgreens, Mr. Davison hopes to turn the rest of the 34-acre property into a biodynamic farm within the next three to five years.

Biodynamic agriculture, he explained, is the farming philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, and treats different aspects of farming as interrelated tasks, such as land fertility, livestock care and plant growth.

But that is still a long way off, Mr. Davison said, adding that he is going to have to hire people for the upcoming expansion.

“It’s going to take some time, it’s just not easy to find workers out here, there’s a ton of organizations and all these kids who want to farm, but there’s no place to live out here,” he said.

“This is probably is the hardest place in the United States to build a business and to sustain it year-round because of cost of labor, rents, and all that stuff,” he added

Southampton Town Board to Demolish Dilapidated House in Bridgehampton

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The house at 54 Sawasett Avenue in Bridgehampton will be demolished in the next few weeks. Photo by Mara Certic.

By Mara Certic

The Southampton Town Board agreed to demolish a dangerous and dilapidated house on Sawasett Avenue in Bridgehampton on Tuesday.

“We’ve watched a steady decay of this house since 2000,” explained Chief Fire Marshal Cheryl Kraft at a town board meeting on Tuesday, May 12. The house is located at 54 Sawasett Avenue, about a block from the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.

According to Ms. Kraft, the house has not been occupied for at least 20 years. In 2000, the fire marshal’s office became aware of the building, and would do spot check from time to time, she said.

Then in 2007, the town authorized the house to be boarded up and four years later it ordered the removal of a front porch. A town fire inspector checked the property again on March 17, spurring this week’s hearing.

“At this point, the house has deteriorated beyond being salvageable,” Ms. Kraft said in a phone conversation on Tuesday.

“It’s not something we take lightly, but it’s at the point where the structure just isn’t safe,” she added, saying that she had been in contact with the homeowner, who had not managed to get a demolition permit.

For many years, Ms. Kraft explained, the owner of the house was a woman who this year died at the age of 102. “She had childhood memories here and always thought she’d be able to come out here again, I think that colored the picture for her son,” she said.

The son, now in his 80s, has not visited the property for years, either.

“He is kind of living her dream,” Ms. Kraft said. “I don’t think he understands the state of disrepair the house has fallen into.”

Right now, the roof is pressing the windows outward, Ms. Kraft explained. The second floor has almost completely collapsed, except for a portion which is currently suspended in mid-air, held up by a mess of electrical wires. The electricity was cut off in 2011, so fears of a fire are not an issue. The floor is rotting out, the fire marshal even said that it was “turning to dust.”

Ms. Kraft said she did not know how old the house is, but the she said the fact that it was built without central plumping indicates that it quite old. Still, she said, the house is beyond salvageable, and nothing would be achieved by giving it historic landmark status. The venting actually went straight up to the attic, which the fire marshal believes could have contributed to the house rotting from the inside out.

Although boarded up eight years ago, the house has man-made entryways, and there are often nearby signs of activity, such as an old shopping cart and water bottles, Ms. Kraft said.

And the homeowners have been paying taxes on the property all along, without setting eyes on it for at least two decades. “That’s the other thing,” she said, “He really cannot believe the economic conditions have changed that much in Bridgehampton.”

Ms. Kraft said she has tried to explain that someone on the East End would pay good money for an empty lot in Bridgehampton, but the homeowner simply does not buy it. “He’s not living in the same world we are,” she said, adding that he has all his faculties, but has been maintaining in his mind the idea of a long-gone Bridgehampton.

The house will be demolished within the next few weeks, Ms. Kraft said, after a bid and a purchase order are submitted. A tax lien will be placed against the property for the cost of the demolition, she explained.

“It’s sad,” she said.

Sharp Decline Expected in Bridgehampton School Taxes

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By Tessa Raebeck

Bridgehampton residents can expect to see lower taxes next year, as property assessments in the hamlet are expected to increase significantly, according to preliminary estimates from the Town of Southampton Assessor’s office. Although the number is not finalized, town Assessor Lisa Goree confirmed on Tuesday, April 28, that the Bridgehampton School District’s tax base will see an increase of about $252 million—or nearly $100 million more than in the three years prior.

“It’s not final, but the numbers are staggering,” said Robert Hauser, the district’s business administrator. The expected windfall is welcome news for the district, which had to ask voters to approve a budget that breached the tax cap last year. This year’s $12.8 million budget is below the tax cap, and the school’s impact on taxpayers will likely be minimal, as the tax levy will be more widely dispersed due to the influx of new commercial and residential properties in Bridgehampton.

“It’s almost as if [on] people’s school taxes they won’t see an increase, just because the increase in our budget is being spread among so much more property,” Mr. Hauser said at a school board meeting on April 22, adding, “We’ve got a lot of activity going on here.”

To the chagrin of some and the delight of others, Bridgehampton is abuzz with construction. A drive around town offers a glimpse into the extent of home renovations and new construction, as well as new commercial activity including the proposed CVS on the southeast corner of Ocean Road and Montauk Highway. Across the street, the completion of the Topping Rose House alone accounts for $25 million of the expected increase, Mr. Hauser said.

After hearing the news, school board member Jeff Mansfield joked, “Thank you Joe Farrell,” referring to the developer with signs on the lawns of shingled houses across Bridgehampton.

Even with the influx of new development across the hamlet, some tried and true Bridgehampton locals remain in town. Dr. Lois Favre, Bridgehampton’s superintendent and principal, has started a new tradition to honor those graduates. With help from the spouse of a graduate of the Class of 1965, she is inviting the class to celebrate its 50th reunion this spring by returning to their alma mater for the high school graduation.

Graduates of the class of ’65 who would like to attend graduation should contact Dr. Favre at (631) 537-0271, extension 1310. The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2015 is Sunday, June 28, at 4 p.m. at the Bridgehampton School, located at 2685 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. The next meeting of the board of education is Wednesday, May 27, in the school’s café.

Test Refusal Rates Soar Across the East End

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By Tessa Raebeck

For the first time, the New York State Education Department has asked the Board of Cooperative Educational Services to compile data from school districts to learn what percentage of students in the state refused to take its tests in grades three through eight. Parents who opposed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to linked overarching and controversial educational reforms to the state’s budget and the amount set aside for school aid, have voiced their dissent by having their children “refuse the tests,” or not sit for the exams, which cover English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics.

Nearly 40 percent of Sag Harbor students in grades three through eight did not sit for New York State’s standardized tests on Common Core mathematics last week, according to Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves. The numbers represented a 9- percent increase in test refusal from the English Language Arts (ELA) in the same grades earlier this month. The decrease in participation is likely attributed to the increased publicity of the refuse the test movement statewide.

Although much higher than in previous years, test refusal rates on the East End were not as high as those in western Long Island, where refusal rates reached nearly 80 percent in some districts.

Some administrators fear the substantial non-participation rates seen across the state this month—the largest in recent memory, if not ever—will affect not only teachers’ jobs, who could be rated as ineffective and fired if enough students opt out, but also the data some schools use to drive curriculum.

But teachers’ unions, involved parents and education experts from around the country say the reforms are threatening the human, interactive aspects of education so many students need. By raising the high stakes on standardized tests even higher, they say the governor is encouraging “teaching to the test,” which they fear replaces creative projects and interactive lessons with redundant workbooks and monotonous drills, substituting “tricks” for ideas.

Both the overhaul and the reaction could leave many teachers and administrators out of jobs should their students not perform up to par—regardless of the socioeconomic environment they teach in. Many of the students refusing the tests are the same students who perform best on them, and schools like Sag Harbor, where students traditionally excel, could see their scores plummet as refusal rates rise.

Yet, since the governor’s budget passed at the end of March, advocates for public education—including many teachers who could lose their jobs as a result—have declared refusing the test as the only means of resistance left.

Academically but not legally, test data is considered invalid if participation is limited. The federal government calls for 95 percent participation on a state’s standardized tests, but it is unclear whether any action will be taken. New York State has made no announcement as to what will happen to districts that have high refusal rates—now nearly every district in New York—and some fear school districts that did not play ball with the governor will see their state aid slashed.

“I hear that there will be no action taken,” Ms. Graves told the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Monday, April 27. “We have not gotten any guidance documents from New York State yet, I will just keep everybody posted.”

“So at this point we don’t know if we lost the school aid or not,” explained Chris Tice, vice president of the school board.

In the Bridgehampton School District, 37 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 refused to take their respective mathematics exams and 34 percent refused to take the ELA tests, Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre reported.

“Parents are genuinely concerned about the tests,” she told the board of education at its April 22 meeting.

Southampton Middle School Principal Tim Frazier said 54 percent of his students had not sat for their mathematics exam and estimated the district wide refusal rate was 55 percent.

East Hampton had far lower refusal rates, with 9 percent of student opting out of ELA and 15 percent not taking the math exams. Last year, all but 2 percent participated.

“As a building principal, the testing gives us good data to support and help children, and to improve the teaching and learning in the building,” East Hampton Middle School Principal Charles Soriano said Wednesday, adding, “The Common Core linked testing provides another opportunity for our students to develop comfort and familiarity with the genre of times, standardized testing.”

At the Montauk School, 46 out of 208 students, or 22 percent, refused to take the mathematics exam, versus about five refusals last year. Principal Jack Perna said on Tuesday, April 28, that he has “no idea” how the test refusals will affect teacher evaluations and state aid for next year and that “the state seems to be ‘confused’ as well.”

“While the Common Core standards are good, the assessments are not,” he said, “and using them so strongly for teacher evaluation is wrong.”

The governor had voiced his desire for half of a teacher’s evaluation to rely on students’ scores—even if they do not teach the subjects that are tested—but the final percentages will be determined by the State Education Department.

Bridgehampton CAC Weighs In On Konner Project

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By Mara Certic 

Members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday weighed in on aspects of the proposed development at the gateway to Bridgehampton across the street from the Bridgehampton Commons shopping center.

Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins presented the members of the CAC the draft plans of the development that he discussed with the Southampton Town Board last week.

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Councilwoman Christine Scalera, planner Amy Pfeiffer and landscape architect Tim Rumph also attended the meeting, and were on hand to answer the many questions and concerns community members had about chain stores, potential restaurant capacity, landscaping and land use.

Many of the questions revolved around the type of restaurant that could turn up in the development. Mr. Collins explained that by looking at the proposed septic system, as well as the number of housing units included in the plan, the town had determined that a maximum of 125 restaurant seats would be permitted on the 13.3-acre lot.

The developers said the county health department would have a hand in determining how many seats would ultimately be allowed—it must account for 30 gallons per seat for the advanced denitrification system currently being considered with the development.

Some community members were concerned that even though fast food and drive-in restaurants were listed as prohibited in the town’s land-use table, a McDonald’s or Burger King might be able to dress itself up enough to fit into the aesthetic of the development, and end up there.

Supervisor Throne-Holst assured members of the community that “even if they make it look like Versailles,” a McDonald’s would not be allowed at the development.

The supervisor and Mr. Collins explained that the very stringent façade and space requirements mean that the formula-based architecture one might see at chain restaurants along Route 58 would not be allowed in the project, and added that the developer had wanted to find an appropriate family-style restaurant.

One Bridgehamptonite thought perhaps there were too few trees on the plans, and suggested that more be placed to block the development from the road, but Mr. Rumph said the planning department had actually asked him to remove some of the trees.

“We didn’t want to just hide the thing,” said Mr. Collins, “We wanted to create a streetscape you’d actually want to see.” The development will be surrounded by a three-or-four-railed fence, reminiscent of what one might see on Mitchell or Lumber lanes.

But when it comes down to it, Supervisor Throne-Holst reminded residents that, “The truth is, [the developers] don’t have to take any of our guidance.”

“This has to be a viable entity for them,” she said, adding that the CAC should continue to explain to developers exactly what they’d like, but leave some leeway in terms of what could be allowed a few years down the line. The town is moving forward with plans and hopes to finish a traffic study in June with plans to hold public hearings in July and August.

In other action, the CAC celebrated news that the hamlet will soon be getting a new crosswalk in front of the Hampton Library, like the ones on Main Street in East Hampton. Town officials had initially thought the location would not work for a crosswalk, which will have lights in the road that flash when pedestrians wait to cross.

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst explained that by reengineering the crosswalk to traverse Montauk Highway at an angle, the high-tech crossing will no longer interfere with infrastructure or existing trees. The town issued a request for proposals for the crossing two weeks ago, and expects responses by the middle of May.

 

Bridgehampton’s Rookie Robotics Team Brings Home Trophy

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Bridgehampton’s Team Supreme and Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz with their trophy. 

By Mara Certic

They spent countless hours building and rebuilding, learning the rules of the game, and just four weeks ago they didn’t even know if they would be able to afford to get to the national championship in St. Louis, but last Sunday, against all odds, Bridgehampton High School’s rookie robotics team came home triumphant from the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship with a second-place trophy in hand.

“It was simply amazing,” said Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, a tech teacher at Bridgehampton and one of the staff advisors who accompanied the students on the trip.

Bridgehampton’s team 5659, also known as Team Supreme, flew to St. Louis last week to compete in the national competition, which took place from Wednesday, April 22, through Saturday, April 25.

Robotics teams that compete in the FIRST tournaments are given a specific challenge in January, and then have about a month until “Stop Build Day” to build a robot capable of completing that task.

This year, teams were told to build a robot that is able to stack totes on top of one other, and for even more points, to place garbage cans on top of the totes.

The rookie team surprised fellow Long Island teams when it qualified for the national competition by finishing among the top eight at a regional tournament at Hofstra University in March.

When team members got back from Hofstra, they were almost euphoric, but got to work designing a tie dye flag to match their uniforms as well as figuring out how to raise the $15,000 needed to get to St. Louis.

In the end, the school district covered the cost of the air fare, and the team managed to raise an additional $3,000 from a fundraising website and the local community.

The flag, on the other hand, proved to be a little bit of a challenge, but team members Matthew Hostetter and Milo Youngerman worked together to design and order a flag to match their uniforms, which arrived at the St. Louis hotel the day the competition began.

“The flag was excellent,” Milo said. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added.

According to Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz, the first few days of the competition did not seem to be going the way of the tie-dye-clad Team Supreme.

For the first few days, the teams played in randomly appointed alliances within randomly selected divisions. A few unfortunate pairings, and the scoring system, which took an average of the alliance points as a whole rather than looking at the individual teams left Bridgehampton far back in the pack, in 61st place out of the 76 teams in its division.

The top-ranking team from each of the eight divisions would then go forward to the quarterfinals, with each choosing three non-qualifying robots to join their alliance for the remaining competitions. Proud that they had gone that far, Bridgehampton students and teachers were preparing themselves for a day of sightseeing and exploring St. Louis when they almost missed Team 4488 (or Shockwave) from Oregon ask them to be the fourth member and alternate to their alliance. The other teams in their alliance were teams from Highland, Michigan and York, Pennsylvania.

Luckily, team member Matthew Hostetter heard the invitation and “graciously accepted” over the microphone, as stipulated in the rules of the competition.

“We were just in shock, I thought it was a mistake,” Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said.

Team Supreme soon found out that the team from Oregon had chosen them for their alliance, in part because of the “cheesecaking” opportunities their robot provided.

“Cheesecaking is when they look at the robots and try to find one they could easily attach a part to, to make it do what they need to do,” team member Harriet DeGroot explained. The Oregonian team wanted to add a long pole onto Team Supreme’s robot, in order to more easily grab the recycling containers that act as multipliers when stacked.  Cheesecaking, the team explained, is just one way that many teams find loopholes in the rules.

“Our robot had a strong frame, and it weighed only 90 pounds without their modification. With the modification it weighed 110.2,” said junior Dylan Breault, co-captain of the team. Robots in the FIRST competition have a weight limit of 120 pounds.

Unfortunately the Bridgehampton team never got to see if the cheesecaking would work, because their team was kept on standby for all of their alliance’s games. After taking first place in the quarterfinals and semifinals, their alliance lost by a couple of points in the finals.

Asked what they would have done differently with the hindsight they have now after their first national tournament, the team’s answers ranged from “nothing” to “zero.”

Staff advisor Kenny Giosi made one observation: the most successful teams had all thoroughly studied the rule books and found loopholes to help them win points.

“I know there were certain things we saw people doing that we had no idea we could do,” Mr. Giosi said. Members of the team agreed that might be one way they could improve their chances next year.

Even though they were exhausted from the 12-hour days they worked, team members said they “couldn’t be happier” with how the weekend played out. In addition to the competition and meeting fellow students from all over the world, the students also got to see last year’s winner from the Voice perform at the closing ceremony and got to hear industry giants speak throughout the weekend. President Obama even pre-recorded a video which was played at the closing ceremony.

“I think the coolest guy who was there was the guy who controls the whole Mars Rover,” Dylan said.

“Without robotics, a lot of things wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “The Mars Rover was inspired by a team that made a robot in FIRST. The way the robot drives came from FIRST. So without FIRST, the Mars Rover wouldn’t look the way it does now.”

With just two members, co-captain Claudio Figeroa and Jada Pinkney, graduating this spring, the Bridgehampton robotics team is likely to have a lot of the same names on the roster next year. Their handmade tie-dyed uniforms, they said, will definitely stay the same. “We’ll just maybe make some more,” said physics teacher and staff advisor Helen Wolfe, who accompanied the trip and made students do practice Regents papers on the plane.

“The teachers really made it possible for the students to go,” Mr. Giosi said.

They won’t be able to work on next year’s competition, of course, until the challenge is unveiled next January.

For now, the team is thinking up ways to thank their sponsors for helping them get all the way to St. Louis. Team members studying culinary arts are planning to prepare and organize a dinner for their 30-something sponsors, to take place later this spring.

Candidates Come Forward for School Board Races in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton

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By Tessa Raebeck

Voters in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton  will return to the polls next month to cast their ballots for school board candidates and approve or deny districts’ proposed budgets.

SAG HARBOR

With three seats up for grabs in Sag Harbor, five candidates have come forward. Incumbents Thomas Schiavoni and Chris Tice are running to keep their seats and have been  joined in the race by challengers Stephanie Bitis, James Ding and James Sanford.

The top two vote getters from among the three candidates will serve three-year terms starting on July 1, and ending on June 30, 2018. Ms. Tice and board member David Diskin, who is not running again, currently hold those positions. Both Ms. Tice and Mr. Diskin were elected to two-year terms in light of resignations in the spring of 2013.

The candidate who receives the third highest number of votes will serve the balance of an unexpired term, starting on May 19, the day of the school board elections, and ending on June 30, 2016. The third, shorter term is a result of the board’s appointment of Mr. Schiavoni last August to temporarily fill the position vacated when Daniel Hartnett resigned after moving out of the school district. Mr. Schiavoni’s appointment expires on election day, May 19.

A lifetime resident of the Sag Harbor area who is known as “Tommy John,” Mr. Schiavoni now lives in North Haven with his family. A Sag Harbor parent, Mr. Schiavoni is also a teacher of middle and high school social studies in the Center Moriches School District. He is an active member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department and a North Haven Village trustee, as well as a former member of the North Haven Village Zoning Board of Appeals and past president and treasurer of the Bay Haven Association.

Since he was selected out of a handful of candidates vying for Mr. Hartnett’s position last summer, Mr. Schiavoni has acted as legislative liaison to the school board. Last month, he traveled to Albany to lobby state legislators in support of public schools.

The parent of two Sag Harbor students and a Pierson graduate, Ms. Tice is the school board’s vice president and has been on the board since 2010. She is a real estate agent with Corcoran’s Sag Harbor office and a past president of Sag Harbor’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and a past board member of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Prior to relocating to Sag Harbor full time in 2004, Ms. Tice worked in various marketing and management positions for companies such as American Express, Cablevision and SONY.

Newcomer Stephanie Bitis is also a real estate agent, having worked at Sotheby’s in Sag Harbor since March. She has a master’s degree in business administration from St. John’s University and was previously the general sales manager of WFAN Radio, an affiliate of the CBS Corporation, in New York City from 2006 to August 2014. Before that, Ms. Bitis was the vice president/general manager of Univision.

Challenger James Ding, of Noyac, is an active member of the Noyac Civic Council and has been vocal in the opposition to helicopter noise from the East Hampton Airport. He was a member of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee of the Town of Southampton in 2013.

The third challenger, James Sanford, is the founder and portfolio manager of Sag Harbor Advisors, which he launched in New York City and Sag Harbor in 2012. A CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), Mr. Sanford has worked on Wall Street since the early 1990s with companies including Credit Suisse and JP Morgan. He is also chief financial officer for fragrance company Lurk.

A “Meet the Candidates Night” for the Sag Harbor Board of Education, sponsored by the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA and Pierson Middle and High School PTSA, will be held on Thursday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the Pierson Library, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor. The Sag Harbor School District budget vote and school board elections are on Tuesday, May 19.

 

BRIDGEHAMPTON

The Bridgehampton race is thus far uncontested, with three incumbents, Douglas DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, and Ronald White, all seeking reelection. If no other candidates come forward, they will each serve three-year terms starting July 1, and ending June 30, 2018.

First elected to the Bridgehampton School Board in 2009, Mr. DeGroot is president of Hamptons Tennis Company, Inc. and has facilitated many tennis clinics and athletics-oriented field trips for Bridgehampton students. His four children are all students or alumni of the Bridgehampton School.

Mr. White is a lifetime Bridgehampton resident, and both a past graduate and current school parent. He has been president of the school board since 2013, and was vice president beforehand. Mr. White is a real estate agent at Prudential Douglas-Elliman.

Also elected in 2009, Ms. Tyree-Johnson became vice president of the school board when Mr. White became president in 2013. A bookkeeper, she is also an avid Killer Bees fan—her husband, Coach Carl Johnson, led the Bees to the New York State Class D Championship this winter.

Because the race is uncontested, the district will not host a “Meet the Candidates” night this year, but will hold a budget hearing and school board meeting on May 6, at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Bridgehampton School, located at 2685 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. The Bridgehampton School District budget vote and school board elections will be held Tuesday, May 19.

 

Refuse the Test Movement Growing on the East End

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Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

A grassroots movement of parents who say the government is taking the creativity out of learning—and doing so in impractical ways that help neither students nor schools—is growing statewide and across the East End, with many parents refusing to let their children sit for the tests the state uses to judge public education.

Advocates for local control of education were outraged when Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through sweeping education reforms as part of the New York State budget last week (see related story), which include further linking teacher and school performance with student performance on tests written by a private company, Pearson, rather than educators.

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) sent parents a letter last week clarifying its position on test refusal.

According to the letter, TASH “strongly supports a parent’s right to advocate for his/her child and refuse the New York State ELA and Mathematics assessments in grades 3-8. As a collective body, TASH believes that the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers and lifelong learners who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to live good and purpose-filled lives. We believe that the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice. TASH opposes the over-reliance on high-stakes testing that is currently being pushed by both the federal and New York State governments because this testing has not been used to further instruction, help children, or support their educational needs. These commercially prepared assessments are not transparent and teachers, parents, and students are not permitted to discuss the content or to know which questions students answered incorrectly.”

These tests are administered over the course of several weeks each spring in addition to other state-mandated tests throughout the year. Last year, the State Education Department administered the tests on the new federal Common Core curriculum before providing lesson plans or textbooks. This year, schools are more familiar with Common Core, but unions and school boards alike have expressed concern over the connection of a teacher’s or administrator’s employment with a test that doesn’t take into account outside factors such as poverty, non-English speaking students or parents, or what a teacher does in their classroom aside from drilling students for the test.

Parents can “refuse the test” by writing a letter to their child’s school requesting their child be excused from the tests. When other students are taking the test, those who have excused are provided with another space to be so as not to disturb the testing.

Shona Gawronski has had five children attend Sag Harbor’s schools, and this year she is  refusing the test for her youngest two, a son in fourth grade and a daughter in seventh grade, as a form of activism in support of strong public education.

“I’ve been a parent [in the Sag Harbor School District] for 18 years and I’ve seen such a…decline in not the quality of the teaching but the parameters in which the teachers can be creative in their teaching,” she said. “Everything is evolved around these state tests—math, science and reading—and not so much the arts and…the more creative aspects of education.”

Tim Frazier, principal at the Southampton Intermediate School, said that, as of the start of the April break last Friday, about 10 percent of his students had refused, and he expects that number to increase by test time next week.

Aside from the political message it sends Albany, the movement to refuse the tests could have big implications on the performance of teachers and schools. Often, the students refusing to take the test are those who will do the best.

“Those scores will be reflecting the performance of my school and the performance of my teachers, so it’s really not a good place to be as an administrator at a public school right now—especially if a high percentage of students refused to take the test,” he said.

“There are so many other factors that go into making a ‘highly effective’ or highly performing teacher than just how…students do on a test score,” he added. “The state minimizes it to look at just that number instead of looking at all the other factors.”

Many teachers don’t actually teach the subjects being tested and are evaluated based on students they have hardly any contact with. A special education, technology or health teacher will get a score linked to how their students do in English language arts and mathematics.

But with the bill already passed and the governor showing no signs of changing his mind, advocates for education say refusing the test as their best option.

“When Washington, D.C., linked 50 percent of teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, teacher turnover increased to 82 percent, schools in communities with high poverty rates showed large or moderate declines in student outcomes, and the combined poverty gap for D.C. expanded by 44 scale-score points, causing poor students to fall even further behind their affluent peers,” said Anthony Chase Mallia, a seventh grade mathematics teacher at Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor. “It is time to begin to acknowledge that the accountability movement has failed.”

 

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor is inviting those seeking more information on test refusal to attend a forum on Thursday, April 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Whalers’ Church, located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. For more information on test refusal and other commonly asked questions, visit the New York State Allies for Public Education website, nysape.org.

DEC Denies Sand Land Application To Expand

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Sand Land

The DEC denied a Noyac sand mining facility’s application for a 20-percent expansion after environmentalists spoke out. Photo by Mara Certic.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, citing several major objections, last week rejected the expansion of the Sand Land mine and mulching facility in Noyac.

The operation, located on a 50-acre site off Millstone Road and Middle Line Highway and owned by Wainscott Sand and Gravel, has been the source of controversy for years, as the surrounding area has been transformed from woods to housing and the old Bridgehampton Race Circuit gave way to the exclusive Bridge
golf club.

Last year, the company sought a permit to expand the area it is mining for sand and dig another 40 deeper. The property’s current elevation is about 175 feet above sea level, and it has already dug some 65 feet below grade.

Although the regional office of the DEC originally ruled the expansion would not have serious environmental repercussions, environmentalists, neighbors, and town and county officials begged to differ and eventually convinced the DEC to hold a hearing on the application last November.

Primarily, concerns were raised that pollutants from the mulching operation would leach into the groundwater below. The area is designated as an aquifer protection district.

“This is the way the system is supposed to work,” said Elena Loreto, the president of the Noyac Civic Council, which opposed the expansion, after announcing the decision at the group’s meeting this week.  “Sand Land cannot expand. The DEC honored Governor Cuomo’s commitment to clean water, and this is why we have a DEC. It was a bipartisan effort to make sure that the DEC in Albany was notified because a lot of what we said to the Stony Brook regional office fell on deaf ears.”

Bob DeLuca, the president of the environmental organization the Group for the East End, concurred with Ms. Loreto. “I’m very happy that the Albany office had the foresight to take a closer look” at the application, he said. “If nothing else, it is a vindication of everyone who testified.”

Mr. DeLuca said it “defied logic” that the regional office focused solely on the application for the expansion of a mining permit and failed to take into consideration “the giant composting operation right on top of it.”

But John Tintle, the owner of Wainscott Sand and Gravel, who has steadfastly maintained that operation has not caused any pollution and is an important resource for the East End, said he was stunned by the DEC’s decision and suggested it implied political meddling.

“This was something that was basically approved and then was denied by the Number 2 at  the DEC,” he said of the denial letter written by Marc S. Gerstman, the DEC’s executive deputy commissioner. “It’s not very often that the Number 2 comes down and weighs in on a mining permit decision.”

Mr. Tintle has charged that Robert Rubin, the owner of the neighboring Bridge golf club, who is required to provide extensive water monitoring on his own property, has stirred up opposition to Sand Land because it abuts a number of house lots that are part of his development.

He added that the reason the regional office did not take into consideration his mulching was that it has no jurisdiction over it. And he added, the DEC considers the construction debris recycling to be a minor use that requires a simple permit application.

Mr. Tintle has 30 days to appeal the decision, but said he did not want to discuss his plans.

Besides citing environmental concerns, including both the town’s and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ worries about groundwater pollution, Mr. Gerstman cited the death of a worker last year at another operation Mr. Tintle owns in East Quogue as well as other safety violations.

Although Mr. Tintle insisted that he has always remedied yet any violations he has been cited for, Mr. DeLuca said the DEC was wise in denying the application because if the operation were to pollute the groundwater, taxpayers would likely be on the hook for the for cleanup.

“We’re all better served by this approach,” he said. “If there is a way to protect the groundwater, we ought to do it now instead of waiting.”