Tag Archive | "Bridgehampton School"

Bridgehampton Community Conversation Focuses on Budget Cuts

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Residents gathered at the Bridgehampton School last Wednesday, March 13, to discuss the proposed 2013-2014 budget and where cuts can be made. Photo by Amanda Wyatt

By Amanda Wyatt

With less than two months until its spring budget and board of education vote, the Bridgehampton School held its second annual “community conversation” last Wednesday for the public to help the district explore ways of trimming the proposed 2013-2014 budget.

“Tonight we’re looking for input, ideas and suggestions on how we might strategize as a board and as an administrative team if we have to make some difficult cuts,” said Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent.

During the opening presentation, Dr. Favre revealed that next year’s draft budget is $11,456,039, which is$759,675 or about seven percent higher than last year’s budget. Much of this increase can be attributed to rising costs in health care and retirement, step increases, increased technology needs and out-of-district tuitions.

The proposed tax levy for next year is $10,181,467, which is $747,221 or 8.13 percent greater than in 2012-2013.

Still, budgeting remains a tricky task, given that Bridgehampton and other school districts are once again facing a state-mandated two percent tax levy cap, which limits the amount of money they can raise through taxes.

But as Dr. Favre noted, it does not mean that taxes can only go up by two percent. For Bridgehampton specifically, the overall tax levy cannot exceed 4.48 percent. Exempt from the cap are the capital projects and increases in the teachers’ retirement system.

To stay within the cap, the school can only raise the budget by $423,036. This means that as it stands now, the school must trim $324,185 from its proposed budget or ask voters to support the district in piercing the tax cap, which would require at least 60 percent of all votes cast for the budget to be in favor of the spending plan.

And while the school has not ruled out the possibility of piercing the cap, administrators and board of education members have expressed a desire to “whittle down” the budget as much as possible.

“If we have to make cuts to make our tax levy limit, what are we willing to give up?” asked Dr. Favre.

“We built a wonderful program here for our kids. I’m the first one to tell you, I don’t want to live without any of it,” she added.

After the presentation, the audience split into six groups to discuss what they felt were priorities in the budget, and what cuts they would and would not make. Responses were, indeed, varied, but there were some items that several groups agreed were “non-negotiable.”

For example, several groups believed that keeping the cafeteria stocked with healthy, organic food was a priority and did not want to make any cuts in that category. Some groups emphasized the school needed to update its technology, and others said sports programs needed to be kept intact. For others, not cutting any programs or teachers was important.

When it came to making cuts, many of the groups agreed the number of school administrators could be reduced. According to literature given out at the meeting, Bridgehampton has four administrative positions, and cutting one administrator could save the district $150,000.

As one parent said, “In comparison to other districts, we are totally top-heavy…We have a district this size; do we really need a superintendent and a principal, both full-time positions?”

Making cuts in the areas of transportation, homework club, summer programs and summer curriculum work were all brought up in several other groups.

But as some participants pointed out, making stringent budget cuts would not be necessary if the school were to ask taxpayers to pierce the cap during the spring budget vote. Piercing the cap would mean not having to cut faculty/staff or programs, and not jeopardizing the quality of education at Bridgehampton, they said.

On the flip side, other groups pointed out the school could receive backlash from the community if they asked voters to pierce the cap. Furthermore, it would need 60 percent of voters to approve the budget and if the school’s request was rejected by voters, the consequences would be dire: Bridgehampton would not be allowed to raise the tax levy at all, and even more severe budget cuts would have to be made.

In related news, Bridgehampton School held a public vote on March 20 in order to establish a five year capital reserve fund. The fund — which comes from unanticipated savings and revenues received by the school — is intended to provide the district with monies for repairs outlined in its Five Year Plan.

Voters to Weigh in on Transportation from Bridgehampton to McGann-Mercy

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By Amanda Wyatt

After nearly 10 months of discussion at school board meetings, the decision of whether or not to provide a bus for students from Bridgehampton School District attending Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead now rests in the hands of taxpayers.

Last spring, Bridgehampton residents Rachel Kelly, Mary Ellen Gazda and Tara Hagerman first approached the board of education (BOE) with a request to provide transportation for their children to Mercy.

However, the three mothers — all of whom currently send their children to Our Lady of the Hamptons, a K-8 school in Southampton — hit a roadblock when they learned the district can only transport students to private schools within a 15 mile radius. McGann-Mercy, the closest Catholic high school to the South Fork, is located six miles over that limit.

In late January, the mothers submitted a petition — which contained over 100 signatures — asking the board to put a proposition on their May budget ballot to extend the busing limit from 15 to 25 miles. Last Wednesday, the BOE approved this proposition, placing the decision in the hands of voters.

“It’s going to be a taxpayers’ decision. It’s really going to come down to a vote and the decision on what they feel more comfortable with,” said Nicki Hemby, school board president, in an interview on Friday.

If taxpayers vote in favor of the proposition, busing from Bridgehampton to Riverhead would begin during the 2013-2014 school year.

At this point, there are three students living in the district who would be bused to Mercy next fall, said Hemby. However, she noted this number could conceivably change in the coming months.

“Now with that being said, we will go with the most fiscally responsible and the safest option to get the kids bused in the event that the taxpayers decide that’s the way that they want to go,” Hemby said.

Robert Hauser, Bridgehampton’s business administrator, said at the last BOE meeting that the school had been researching the cost of providing busing to McGann-Mercy. Ultimately, the school could contract with McCoy Busing, which would cost $62,000 annually; Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which would cost $60,525; or Hometown Taxi, which would cost $14,475.

Both McCoy and Hometown Taxi will have to respond to request for proposals (RFPs), legal ads that are placed in local newspapers, in order to be considered. The RFP will likely go out later this month, and then the school can begin the process of evaluating the proposals.

At the same meeting, Kelly and Gazda were asked by the school board how they felt about sending their children to school in a taxi.

“We’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about them,” said Gazda. “Everybody that uses them raves about them.”

Kelly said that McGann-Mercy had been using taxis to shuttle students to the school from other districts for the past four years and “had never had a complaint.”

“A lot of school districts around the country are using taxi services for similar situations, where small groups of children are either going to special services or to parochial schools,” she said.

Kelly pointed out that taxis could charge per student, unlike bus companies, which charge per route regardless of the number of kids being transported.

“You have to get beyond the taxi stigma. It’s more like a shuttle,” added Gazda.

Still, Hemby said, student safety is her top priority.

“As far as Hometown is concerned, they definitely have requirements and stipulations that they have to meet in order to make that happen, so I just want to make sure that the kids get bused safely,” she said. “That’s my main concern.  I don’t want to put anyone in jeopardy over finances.”

In related news, Bridgehampton School will host a special community forum on the subject of creating the 2013-2014 budget on Wednesday, March 13 at 6 p.m. in the gymnasium.

Currently, the school is in the middle of the lengthy process of developing its budget for next school year. The purpose of the scheduled “community conversation” is to provide participants with an overview of next year’s budget, explain tax levy limits and provide the audience with an opportunity to collaborate on creating solutions to fiscal issues.

Bridgehampton Parents Continue Fight for Transportation to McGann-Mercy High School

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By Amanda Wyatt

A campaign led by three mothers to obtain transportation for their children to Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead from the Bridgehampton School District appears to be gaining momentum.

For the past nine months, Bridgehampton residents Rachel Kelly, Tara Hagerman and Mary Ellen Gazda have sought to persuade the board of education to provide busing to McGann-Mercy High School, the closest Catholic high school to the South Fork.

Currently, the district is bound by law to bus students to private schools anywhere within a 15-mile radius of the Bridgehampton school district. But since McGann-Mercy is located six miles beyond that radius, the district cannot transport students there — unless the voting public chooses to extend the limit.

At last Wednesday’s board meeting, the three mothers delivered a petition — signed by over 106 district residents — requesting the board to initiate a proposition on the May ballot to extend the limit from 15 to 25 miles.

“Please help our children get the Catholic education they deserve and have worked so hard for,” Kelly said at the meeting.

While the board did not make an official decision, some members seemed inclined to move quickly on the matter and asked board attorney Tom Volz what their next step would be.

“If the board is inclined to put a proposition before the voters, it would act to do so and it would go on the [legal] notice that calls your May election to order,” said Volz, noting the advertisement would have to go out 45 days prior to the vote.

He recommended the board put together the legal notice for the election, including any proposition it may make on busing, for approval at its February 27 meeting.

For Kelly, obtaining transportation to McGann-Mercy is a particularly pressing concern; her daughter, Rose, is about to graduate from Our Lady of the Hamptons (OLH) in Southampton, which provides education from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Hagerman — who attended McGann-Mercy herself — has a daughter, Laura, who is in sixth grade at OLH.

“I love Our Lady of the Hamptons and I love Mercy. I just feel like [Laura] gets a great education for her mind and soul,” she said in an interview.

Gazda’s two children — Margaret, age 12, and Jimmy, age nine — attend OLH, as well. Growing up in North Haven, Gazda and her siblings attended Catholic schools. She remembered her older brother, who just turned 60, would have to hitch a ride with a friend to Hampton Bays every day just to catch the bus to McGann-Mercy.

“I think my mom had such an ordeal with trying to get him to the Catholic high school that the rest of us just went to Pierson,” she said.

All three mothers noted that they had received overwhelming support from their relatives, friends, fellow churchgoers and acquaintances, some of whom had encountered similar problems when trying to attend McGann-Mercy.

“They all knew where we were coming from,” said Hagerman. “They were sympathetic and were very happy to sign the petition.”

“It is something that we’re hoping the taxpayers understand and vote for, because this area needs this transportation,” said Kelly.

She pointed out that the issue at hand was not necessarily a religious one.

“We live in such a unique area…This is about living in a community that has one road going in and one road going out, and not many choices out here. It’s about choice. It has nothing to do [with] religion…It’s about the children in the district,” she said.

Kelly added, “We pay our taxes to this school and we don’t ask anything from it.”

At the same time, the request for busing comes just as Bridgehampton School is looking into ways of “whittling down” the budget.

When asked in an interview how a bus to McGann-Mercy would affect the budget, Nicki Hemby, board of education president, said: “Budget time is never an easy one for anyone, and with our tax cap of two percent and our recent reduction of state aid of $50,000, our administration is constantly looking at ways to be creative with funds. Every expense at this point is a strain on the budget.”

Still, “it is taxpayers’ money, so the taxpayers will decide if they would like to take this cost on. Then it is our job as a board [to] figure out how to make it work,” she said.

But as Hagerman noted, even if they are unsuccessful this time around, “we are not going to give up.”

Gazda agreed: “For us, another school just isn’t an option, so that’s why we’re working together to try to figure this out. No matter what, our kids are going to Mercy for high school.”

Bridgehampton School Considers Piercing Tax Cap

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By Amanda Wyatt

As Bridgehampton School plans its budget for next year, the subject of piercing New York State’s two percent tax levy cap remains a topic of debate.

At last Wednesday’s board of education meeting, the district presented its preliminary or “wish list” budget for the 2013-2014 school year, which amounts to $11,557,569. This would be an increase of $861,205 or eight-percent over the 2012-2013 adopted budget.

“Right now, if we wanted to remain within the [New York State-mandated two percent tax levy], we’d need to cut an estimated $722,520 from our ‘wish list’ budget, and that’s basically what this is,” said Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent of the district.

While the board of education plans to trim the preliminary budget, some members said they still wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of piercing the two-percent cap in order to fund what they consider crucial items in their budget.

“If it comes down to having to raise the cap to make mandatory repairs on our building, yeah, I want to go out and ask the taxpayers,” said Nicki Hemby, school board president.

However, she added, “I want to whittle it down. I don’t want to waste taxpayers’ money.”

“I agree,” said board member Lillian Tyree-Johnson. “It’s not easy…We have to make some tough choices.”

At the same time, some board members expressed a desire to stay within the cap, rather than ask for additional tax monies.

“I think there’s always things you can find [to cut from the budget] and I think we should try to find them,” said Doug DeGroot. “…I want non-inflated prices on things. I want everything to be efficient.”

DeGroot criticized some of the costs associated with Eastern Suffolk BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), such as a $95,000 administrative fee, and questioned whether the district should remain a member.

“Not every school district joins the cooperative of BOCES,” DeGroot pointed out, suggesting that the school should talk to other small districts on Long Island who choose not to join the cooperative.

However, some of the increases in this year’s budget are related to the cost of complying with new state mandates, said Dr. Favre. For example, the school needs additional funds for staff development related to the Common Core standards, a state mandate that took effect this year.

Dr. Favre pointed out the district also needs to budget for a main office and an additional clerk. This year, the principal’s secretary has been handling main office and guidance office duties, so the additional of another clerk for the guidance office would help reduce the “overwhelming” amount of work she has. The guidance budget—which includes the salary for the new clerk—is proposed at a total of $127,553.

The district is also holding a special vote on March 20 for the creation for the school’s five-year, capital reserve fund of approximately $1.3 million. The monies, which have already been collected, would be used to fund repairs on school buildings over the next five years.

However, if the public votes down this proposition, Dr. Favre pointed out, the district would have to add $200,000 to the budget for repairs during the 2013-2014 school year.

“We can try to be creative and think outside the box,” noted Hemby. “…But I can’t see us staying at the two-percent if we have to add the $200,000.”

Dr. Favre added that most years, the proposed budget is always higher than the actual budget. For instance, while the district proposed a budget of $11,412,246 last year, the actual budget was only $10,696,364.

“Each year for the past four years we’ve been cutting things that we believed we needed. Naturally, we survived without them,” she added.

At the same time, the district—like many others on the East End—must grapple with a reduction in aid from New York State. According to Business Administrator Robert Hauser, the state is proposing to cut Bridgehampton’s aid by about nine percent, or roughly $50,000.

While state aid only accounts for about five percent of the district’s budget, he said, “certainly any reduction hurts.”

Dr. Favre also noted during the budget presentation that enrollment for next year was projected at 153, compared to 155 in 2012-2013 and 160 in 2011-2012.

“We do go up and down. We’re at a little bit of a low,” she said.

Bridgehampton Reports on Test Scores

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While the results of Bridgehampton School’s most recent state tests are somewhat varied, the scores still “look good,” according to Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre.

Dr. Favre made the announcement at the board of education’s October 24 meeting, during which she and Bridgehampton Principal Jack Pryor presented the results of the 2011-2012 scores for students in the district.

At the same time, she noted that looking at percentages of passing rates is not always the most accurate way of determining student success.

“It’s hard to look at the percentages and gather any real meaning from them,” she said. “What I like to look at more so is how our students are doing with regard to [average] cut scores.”

For example, while only two out of four Bridgehampton third graders passed the English/Language Arts (ELA) exam, the average cut score was 660, which is right near the state average of 663.

Sixty four percent of fourth graders, 64 percent of fifth graders, 78 percent of sixth graders, 38 percent of seventh graders and 60 percent of eighth graders passed the ELA (English Language Arts) exams. At the same time, no third graders, 71 percent of fourth graders, 73 percent of fifth graders, 90 percent of sixth graders, 44 percent of seventh graders and 33 percent of eighth graders passed the math exams.

Dr. Favre and Pryor noted that Bridgehampton is a particularly small school, and nearly 25 percent of its students are new each year. With a sizeable “transient” community in Bridgehampton, many of their students attend the school for only a year or two.

“The best thing to look at is exit exams — 11th grade English, 11th grade social studies — where they are when it’s time to leave,” said Pryor.

For example, 100 percent of students scored 65 or above on the exams for English 11, U.S. history, Earth Science, Living Environment and Chemistry, said Dr. Favre. The rates of passing for other subjects were as follows – 86 percent for Integrated Algebra, 65 percent for Geometry, 89 percent for Algebra 2/Trigonometry and 86 percent for Global Studies.

“There is an absolute, direct correlation between the number of years a student has been in Bridgehampton and the level of their success,” said Pryor. “So the system works, you just have a lot of variables in this community.”

Common Core Becomes Common Standard for Students

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By Amanda Wyatt

As local schools contend with a host of new mandates from New York State this year, they are keeping in mind what may be the mother of all current educational reform — Common Core Learning Standards.

This school year, school districts are charging ahead in the implementation of New York State pre-kindergarten through 12th grade Common Core Learning Standards. Designed to help get students “college and career-ready,” these new standards involve a number of educational shifts in English Language Arts (ELA) & Literacy, as well as in mathematics and pre-school education.

New York is one of 45 states that have formally adopted the standards put forth by the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). The CCSS, led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, developed the standards in 2010.

While Common Core has been somewhat controversial, local educators were optimistic about the initiative.

“Anytime you’re teaching skills that are going to be worthwhile to students when they leave here — whether it’s in college or in the workplace — I think that’s a positive move,” said Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso of Sag Harbor agreed, calling the standards “one of the more positive and productive reforms that have come down the pike.”

“[The standards] have been shown to be valuable goals and set valuable objectives for what should happen in the 21st century classroom,” he added.

One of the major changes advocated by Common Core is the inclusion of more nonfiction into the curriculum. While some classes have focused heavily on fiction in the past, Common Core requires students work closely with challenging informational texts, drawing conclusions and making evidence-based decisions from the reading.

“In the real world, that’s what you have to do,” said Dr. Bonuso. “People need to be able to look at nonfiction works and make some decisions…[and] to look for the evidence in the text instead of just taking an opinion without supporting it.”

Being able to write from informational sources and building vocabulary are also key components of the new ELA & Literacy standards. These standards will be adopted not only in English classes, but also in history, social studies, science and other subjects that require students to engage with informational texts.

In mathematics, there is an added focus on problem solving and real world application. Perhaps most important, however, is an emphasis on depth, rather than breadth. By studying fewer units but in greater detail, students are expected to gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, “In mathematics, the shifts seem to be to digging deeper into skill areas at each grade level, assuring that basic skills are brought to mastery for all students. With these basic skills in place, there is a belief that students will be able to master more complex tasks.”

For Sag Harbor Elementary Principal Matthew Malone, this is a major plus.

“In math, one of the struggles that teachers have had for a very long time is our past curriculum asked for so many different topics to be covered within the course of a year. Too much was being addressed, so there wasn’t enough time to really dig into the content,” he said.

While Malone was “pleased” with certain reforms, he was concerned about the pace of implementing the Common Core Learning standards, especially at a time when schools are dealing with other government initiatives and mandates.

“Change is always hard, no matter what, but it feels like we’re juggling a lot of balls in the air,” he said.

Dr. Favre agreed.

“My concern is the speed at which all of this is coming at us,” she said. “This is a major shift from teacher-directed learning to student-centered learning and inquiry that will require professional development, practice, and a commitment to fidelity to implement.”

“Whenever there’s a new educational initiative, there are financial implications related to staff development and the resources you need to provide to teachers and to kids to make sure they’re successful,” Nichols said.

Since last year, Sag Harbor has been bringing in outside consultants and sending staff to conferences to learn about Common Core, along with other new mandates and programs. Funding for training comes from monies set aside every year for professional development, Nichols explained.

According to Dr. Favre, faculty members in Bridgehampton have been developing curriculum maps based on Common Core and teachers have been attending special workshops on the new standards to prepare themselves. At the same time, they are also contending with state mandates that require their own outside training and curriculum writing — all of which cost the district.

“These costs are coming at a time when budgets are extremely tight, so we will send teachers to training who will come back and turnkey the training for others,” said Dr. Favre.

But, she added, “I am confident that our teachers will embrace and support the changes, provided they have the time and the training to adjust their curriculum and their strategies.”

While curriculum shifts are being implemented in schools, Nichols suggested the speed of such changes may not be as noticeable until new state assessments enter the picture.

“The speed at which change happens will somewhat be tied to when those assessments come down the pike,” he explained. “Until that assessment changes, [teachers] are going to focus on what the old one asked students to do.”

When asked about the format of the upcoming Common Core-aligned student testing, Malone said, “I think you’ll see more open-ended type questions, even in mathematics.”

In the meantime, even classroom exams and quizzes in Sag Harbor will start to “reflect some of the new strands that are in the Common Core,” Nichols said.

He added that even with the challenges posed by Common Core, he hopes the school can “go above and beyond what the state asks our students to do.”

“The playing field in the United States is such that in order to access the best colleges and universities, you have to go above and beyond what the state offers,” he said.

Hamptons Film Festival Reaches a Younger Generation

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By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Laurie Barone-Schaefer

While the 20th Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) brought a touch of Hollywood glitz and glamour to the East End last weekend, students at local schools were also able to get a taste of the silver screen — right in their own auditoriums.

On Friday, Pierson Middle School and Bridgehampton School students were not only treated to private screenings, but also to visits from the filmmakers behind two award-winning documentaries.

The screenings were part of the HIFF’s brand new Filmmakers in the Classroom program, which for the first time brought films and their directors and producers into East End schools.

The program was funded by a $20,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation to encourage community outreach and visiting artistic programing in schools.

Such an initiative is particularly important in an age of cuts to arts education, said HIFF community outreach coordinator Marianna Levine, whose own daughter attends Pierson Middle School.

“The foundation wanted to help bring the arts back to schools, because they think it’s a really important component to education,” she said. “I really wanted to be a part of it — as a parent, as a member of the local community.”

Just a few days before the film festival awarded “Best Short” to the film “Growing Farmers,” director Michael Halsband and producer Hilary Leff paid a visit to Bridgehampton students.

Sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust, the film focuses on how the organization has sought to revitalize agriculture on the East End. Particular attention was paid to the younger generation farmers, those in their 20s and 30s, making their way in the local agriculture industry.

Since Bridgehampton School has been a leader in the Edible Schoolyard movement, Levine believed the film was a perfect match. She also thought students would respond well to Halsband, a well-known photographer and director.

“[Halsband] discovered his love of photography when he was 10 or 11 — middle school age — so I thought it was a good fit,” she added.

And for Halsband, “Growing Farmers” was always designed to be an educational tool. He and Leff began filming with the intention of teaching the wider community about the efforts of the Peconic Land Trust and local farmers.

East End farms are “so visual and beautiful,” Halsband said. “So that was a draw for me, to explore that world deeper and to be the person discovering it for people who are going to eventually see the film.”

“I was learning as I was taking it in, like anybody else in the audience, just going along for the ride,” he added. “So in that respect it was an educational experience for me.”

At Pierson Middle School, students screened “CatCam,” which won an award at the South by Southwest film Festival. Charles Miller, the film’s director of cinematography and producer, introduced the documentary and handed out buttons with the image of its feline star, Mr. Lee.

The film tells the story of a German engineer who invented a miniature camera to track the whereabouts of Mr. Lee, a former stray. The images and videos taken on Mr. Lee’s excursions around his neighborhood transformed him — as well as Juergen, his owner — into Internet superstars.

“It’s really a dynamic film,” said Miller. “It’s about art and curiosity. It deals with technology. It’s just playful and fun on the surface, but it has a lot more depth to it.”

“This is the first time we’ve shown it to kids, and we’ve never heard audiences laugh like that. I think kids really respond to it,” he added.

According to Reilly Rose Schombs, a Pierson sixth grader, “CatCam” was “really awesome” and had an unexpected twist.

“I think that it teaches you that if you have a question in life, you should always try to find a way to answer it, ‘cause you never know what can happen,” she said. “You can always find surprises.”

Miller said that he and the “CatCam” crew were certainly open to invitations from other schools.

“I think it’s a perfect venue for the film,” he said.

According to Levine, the film festival is also interested in continuing Filmmakers in the Classroom next year.

“Our hope and dream is that we’ll have this year round, where we can bring local filmmakers into schools,” she said.

“I’m hoping in the future we can hook into the film community out here and also in New York City, and have them mentoring young people who are interested in film and photography, which is so accessible. It’s open to everyone,” Levine said.

Sag Harbor Community Coalition Debates Accuracy of Teen Substance Abuse Survey

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By Amanda Wyatt

Two months after new statistics on drug and alcohol use among Pierson Middle/High School students sent shockwaves across Sag Harbor, the Community Coalition met last Thursday night to discuss the results of the survey which triggered such a strong reaction.

Roughly 20 citizens gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School library for the third Community Coalition on the evening of September 27. While other items were on the agenda, the coalition devoted the span of the meeting to addressing the Youth Development Survey (YDS).

The YDS, which was administered to 339 Sag Harbor students in grades seven through 12 in December 2010, was part of a larger effort by the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to look at substance use and other “problem behaviors” among students.

At last week’s meeting, Kym Laube, director of the Westhampton Beach-based organization HUGS, Inc. (Human Understanding and Growth Seminars), presented a summary of the YDS data. Before handing out hard copies of the data, she stressed the survey does not provide a complete picture of Sag Harbor students.

“I caution that this is one data point in beginning to take a look at your community,” said Laube, noting that it does not paint a complete picture of Sag Harbor students.

The merits of the survey have been hotly debated, with some residents questioning the accuracy of the survey and suggesting that numbers of drug and alcohol use were inflated.

According to Laube and Pamela Mizzi of the Suffolk County Prevention Resource Center, the survey used a number of data controls, including a question about a fake drug. If any student indicated they had used the imaginary drug, the survey was omitted.

Researchers also tossed surveys that appeared “extreme,” had conflicting answers and/or included doodles.

Principal Jeff Nichols estimated 400 students probably took the survey and that roughly 60 surveys were omitted for various reasons.

Still, the accuracy of the survey continued to be questioned by some. Dr. John Oppenheimer said that in the 30 years he had been practicing medicine he had become “more and more cynical” about data collection.

“I don’t think it’s unique to Sag Harbor,” he said.  “The point is that there’s a problem.”

“I agree with John that whether it’s five percent or 22 percent, it’s a problem and it needs to be addressed,” added Allison Scanlon, a North Haven parent and founder of Hamptons Youth Sports.

For Police Chief Tom Fabiano, the survey was “a stepping stone.” He mentioned that Sag Harbor could use the data as a tool for identifying the problems in the community and looking at what other communities are doing that is effective.

At the same time, Laube noted, “Time and time again, no matter how [researchers] have done this, they’ve found that it’s accurate information.”

Laube said the data was consistent, although Pierson students ranked higher or lower than their county, town and nationwide counterparts on certain questions.

For example, no Pierson eighth grader had reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to eight percent nationally. Only two percent of Pierson eighth graders had used tobacco in the past 30 days, lower than six percent nationally.

However, Pierson students generally reported greater use of alcohol than their counterparts in Southampton Town, Suffolk County and in the nation.

For example, 77 percent of Pierson seniors reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to 57 percent in the county and 41 percent nationally. And while 22 percent of 11th and 12th graders reported binge drinking nationally, 41 percent of Pierson juniors and seniors reported they binge drank.

Community Coalition participant Helen Atkinson-Barnes suggested the coalition take a “pro-social messaging” approach to dealing with the data. For instance, rather than reporting 39 percent of eighth graders have had at least one alcoholic drink in their lifetime, the coalition could focus on the 61 percent who have never consumed alcohol.

The discussion on drugs and alcohol will continue at the next Community Coalition meeting, which is scheduled for October 18 at 5:45 PM.

Summer School on a Farm

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By Amanda Wyatt
From music and drama to sports and college prep, there’s a camp for everything these days. So while some kids will learn play soccer or the clarinet this summer, budding young agriculturists on the East End can look forward to a program of their own liking.
Starting July 30, the Bridgehampton School begin its second annual Young Farmers’ Initiative, a three weeklong “summer camp.” As part of the school’s commitment to sustainable agriculture, the initiative will provide youngsters with hands-on experience working with the school’s greenhouse and garden.
“I see this as a farm to table type of camp,” said Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, the program coordinator and a Bridgehampton teacher. “What we’ll be doing a lot is learning about where food comes from and how it’s grown, but also making that other connection between what’s in the garden and what goes on your plate.”
Carmack-Fayyaz, who has been a leader in Bridgehampton’s Edible Schoolyard Program, said the initiative was started because the school needed a way to maintain the garden during the summer, when crops are most active.
While high school students usually tend the garden, the 2011 Young Farmers’ Initiative was a way of introducing younger students to the project. Last year, high school students mentored elementary and middle school-aged children, and Carmack-Fayyaz hopes to do the same this year.
The program, which will run for 12 sessions through August 16, will also integrate lessons in nutrition.
“Part of the camp will be preparing salads, eating fruit, and celebrating the bounty of the garden,” Carmack-Fayyaz said. “What I’m thinking of doing is buying a salad that’s been in the supermarket and comparing it and contrasting it with the lettuces and other vegetables that are grown in the garden.”
Eating freshly picked vegetables, she noted, is a much different experience from eating a salad that’s been “sitting around for a couple of days or ripening en route from somewhere else.”
Peter Priolo, who works as a school garden coordinator for Edible School Garden, Slow Food East End and the Josh Levine Memorial Foundation, is also involved in the program as one of the school farm coordinators funded through the Levine Foundation.
“My role will be to teach the students about sustainable and organic small scale food production,” he said. “I will be working directly with them, engaging in teamwork and hands-on objectives related to planning successional planting schedules in order to provide a steady food supply for the school.”
Priolo said the approach is interdisciplinary, combining lessons about soil health, plant biology, harvesting and other agricultural topics with lessons in math, sustainability, history, culture, cooking and more.
Frank Roccanova, a local photographer and filmmaker who previously worked as the artistic director of Saks Fifth Avenue, has also signed on as a resource for participating students.
“[Roccanova] is a master gardener who’s volunteered to help us and has come up with a new plan for the greenhouse,” said Carmack-Fayyaz. “It actually looks a little bit like going through a department store.”
“Doing a layout of a garden is kind of like doing a layout for an ad or designing a page. It’s all related for me,” Roccanova said.
As part of the greenhouse’s reorganization, new signs and labels will have to be made, and this is where volunteer Austin Drill comes into the picture. Drill, who owns a sustainable building company based in Nicaragua, will teach the children how to make natural paint for the signs.
“The simplest way to create your own natural milk-based paint is to mix 0 percent fat cottage [cheese] with building lime and a coloring,” he explained.  “We have set our sights on using beets to make a bright pink color, and we may find other natural options as the garden grows. Milk-based paints were in use well before latex, and they are certainly the more environmentally-friendly option.”
Drill says that his involvement in the project came out of a chance encounter.
“I was shooting hoops on the school’s basketball court when I noticed a group gardening,” he recalled. “I am a novice gardener, but I have a keen interest in it, so I inquired if I could volunteer as well. Happily, they welcomed me into their initiative. I help out in any and every way I can — weeding, planting, watering.  I work with the students, and we teach each other as we go.”
Carmack-Fayyaz also mentioned that she hopes celebrate the wildlife that’s in and around the garden.
“We’re going to do activities to attract birds,” she said. “So we’re going to build some bird houses and create a couple of natural habitats within the garden.”
She added that she would like to celebrate the end of the program by inviting parents to the school.
“I wanted to have a little farmer’s market and a barbecue for the parents,” she said.  “The children can prepare a little lunch and show their parents what they’ve learned, and to really celebrate the food in the garden.”
“This program is important because we need to depend on future generations to [put a stop to] the non-sustainable direction that big food production business is headed,” said Priolo. “With this experience they can make better decisions about the use of natural resources, and about what food to buy and eat.”
“A goal of mine is to have the kids walk away from this with a sense of ownership toward their environment,” he said. “If the kids feel like they have that connection to take with them, I think that’s key.”

Kotz Resigns from Bridgehampton School Board

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By Amanda Wyatt

At the Bridgehampton School Board’s latest meeting, there was a notable absence around the conference table.

Longtime school board member Elizabeth Whelan Kotz resigned from the board on June 29, making the July 10 reorganization meeting the first in seven years in which she did not participate.

Kotz’s term took effect on the first of July, only a few days before she sent her letter of resignation to the board. While her resignation was short-notice, Kotz said she had been mulling over the decision for a while.

“I guess it was probably in the back of my mind for a few months now, but it didn’t really hit me until the last few weeks of this school year,” Kotz said in an interview.

Kotz, who was first elected to the board in July 2005, had served as its president for one year and its vice president for two years. At the time of her resignation, she was a member of a number of different committees.

She added that she and her husband, Stephen J. Kotz – editor of The East Hampton Press­ – chose to send all of their children to Bridgehampton School. Their daughters Olivia and Genevieve graduated in 2009 and 2012, respectively, while their son, Henry, will be a junior this fall.

“I have been on the board for seven years, and during that time, two of our three children graduated from Bridgehampton High School,” she said. “Our youngest has two years left and I felt that it would be best for all of us if I could be at home more.”

“I also think that this is a good time because the board is cohesive and works well with the superintendent,” added Kotz.

In an interview, Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Lois R. Favre expressed her gratitude for Kotz’s service on the board.

“Elizabeth Kotz has been a valuable, contributing member of the Bridgehampton School District during my short time in the district, and for many years before I arrived,” she said.

“She is passionate about teaching and learning, dedicated to continuous improvement —demonstrated by her ongoing commitment to strategic planning and our Middle States Accreditation process — and child and community focused,” continued Dr. Favre. “She was thoughtful in all of her decision-making and a valued member of our team.”

“We will miss her, but know that she will remain active on our district committees, continuing our work to move the district forward, and for this continued promise of her time, we are grateful,” added Dr. Favre.

Meanwhile, the reorganization meeting saw the reelection of Nicki Hemby as president and the election of Ronnie White as vice president of the school board. Gabriela Braia, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in May, was sworn in to fill Kotz’s seat.

A native of Romania, Braia has lived in Bridgehampton for 17 years. Her daughter, who will start second grade in the fall, and her sixth grade-bound son both attend Bridgehampton School.

By becoming more involved with the school, Braia hopes to give back to both her kids and the community. She is particularly focused on expanding the school’s athletic programs, as well as other activities.

“[Being on the board] means a lot to me,” she said in an interview. “If I could reach at least one of my goals to see kids in the community offered a little bit more than what they have now, I would be happy.”

“Mrs. Braia joined our Strategic Planning Counsel this spring as a parent member,” said Dr. Favre. “She is bright, articulate and has a pulse on both our students and the community. I believe she will serve the district well as a trustee on the Board of Education.”

Although she will no longer be involved as a trustee, Kotz is hopeful for the future of the board and the school itself.

“I know space is a concern and I do hope that there will be the opportunity as a school to work together with our community to address the need of expanding our facilities,” she said.

“I also hope that the Bridgehampton community, specifically those who do not support the school, will take the time and get involved and get to know the school,” added Kotz.

When asked what she would like to see the board accomplish in the future, Kotz said, “To keep doing what they are doing — advocating for the students of our school. The district has made excellent strides and I have no doubt it will continue to do so.”