Tag Archive | "jeff nichols"

Sag Harbor School District Presents Options for Parking Lot Plans, Offers Traffic Safety Solutions for Pierson Drop Off

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Option 1, one of three potential plans for the reconfiguration of the Jermain Avenue parking lot at Pierson Middle-High School in Sag Harbor, as presented to the Board of Education Tuesday. Plan courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

Option 1, one of three potential plans for the reconfiguration of the Jermain Avenue parking lot at Pierson Middle-High School in Sag Harbor, as presented to the Board of Education Tuesday. Plan courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

Sag Harbor’s traffic calming proponents and school district officials may not have reached a compromise on parking plans for Pierson Middle-High School, but at least they have some options.

At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, the district’s architect, Larry Salvesen, laid out three options for expanded parking lots at Pierson. Altered from the plan originally proposed in a capital projects bond approved in November, the options aim to address criticisms from members of the community that the parking lots would encroach on green space and drastically disrupt the vista of Pierson Hill.

Proposed revisions to the Hampton Street lot at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Plans courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

Proposed revisions to the Hampton Street lot at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Plans courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

Plans for the Hampton Street lot at Sag Harbor Elementary School, a considerably less controversial project, have been scaled back and now call for the addition of 15 new parking spaces as opposed to 25. The plan extended the lot toward Hampton Street,  adds an internal circulation route and places crosswalks across the exit and entryway.

At Pierson, there are 112 existing lined spaces. The Jermain Avenue parking lot has 39, the Division Street parking lot also has 39, the Montauk Avenue lot behind the school has 28 and a small administrative lot on Division Street has six spaces.

There are 152 staff members, Mr. Salvesen said, adding there are also spaces reserved for visitors and the handicapped, leaving about 40 employees without spaces.

“Right now, there’s not an issue with faculty parking,” Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said later in the meeting, adding most faculty members park on site and he knows of only two employees who park off site, both by choice. There are also several spaces given to students on a rotating, lottery basis throughout the year, Mr. Nichols said, calling the situation “pretty good from my perspective.”

The existing conditions at Pierson. Plan courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

The existing conditions at Pierson. Plan courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

“The intent here was to keep the existing counts, improve the safety and if at all possible add a few spaces,” Mr. Salvesen said of the original bond plan, which had the parking lot being  expanded about three-quarters of the way down the northern edge of Pierson Hill.

Mr. Salvesen presented three new options to the board and the community, which will now go to the Educational Facilities Planning Committee, the group responsible for drafting the bond, for its review.

Option 1 is closest to the original plan, but adjusts radii to allow for safer access for buses and emergency vehicles. Buses would load and unload on the side of the parking lot, bordering the building. The plan includes potential on-street parking for nine cars if permitted by the village, which has jurisdiction over the streets. All options would add a sidewalk along the street for the length of the hill with crosswalks at the entry points.

Option 1 would propose a total of 44 lined parking spaces in the Jermain lot (see above).

In Option 2, the school bus loading zone would be moved to an on-street pull-off loading zone on the southern side of Jermain Avenue, which Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano told Mr. Salvesen he would permit. The Jermain lot would have 38 spaces.

Options 1 and 2 call for the removal of an old Norway maple tree that Mr. Salvesen said is not in good health and “will take care of itself over time anyway,” and the relocation of several others.

Option 2 for the Jermain Avenue lot. Photo courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

Option 2 for the Jermain Avenue lot. Plan courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

Both options provide for the potential to construct five additional spaces in the Jermain Avenue lot in the future.

A “reduced scope scheme,” according to Mr. Salvesen, Option 3, would still expand the Jermain Avenue lot westward, but considerably less so, with less intrusion onto the walkway and green space on the hill’s northern edge. It would have 30 spaces, five spaces for on street parking, if allowed by the village, and an optional three spaces that could be constructed later on. The Norway maple would not need to be cut down, although two trees, the dedication tree and a small double cedar, would still need to be relocated. The bus-loading zone remains on school property.

The net gain of Option 3 is one parking spot.

In all three options, the Division lot has 49 proposed spaces, with the 10 additional spaces made by filling in the green tree wells, once occupied by trees that have since died.

Board member Mary Anne Miller said she is “not in favor of cramping the Jermain lot at the expense of the Division Street lot.”

Ms. Miller said since 2004, enrollment in the district has grown by 135 students, “so it isn’t the sleepy little Pierson that it used to be.”

Option 3 for the Jermain Avenue lot, as well as the proposed plans for the Division Street lot. Plan courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

Option 3 for the Jermain Avenue lot, as well as the proposed plans for the Division Street lot. Plan courtesy of the Sag Harbor School District.

Carol Williams, who lives across the street from Pierson, called the first two options “extremely destructive to the character of the hill” and asked whether the plans could be superimposed over an aerial photograph.

Gordon Herr asked the board to consider a product his company, Marketing Works, sells, EcoRaster permeable paver, a green alternative to asphalt. Manufactured from 100-percent recycled bags, the product resembles a box-like planter and allows for grass parking lots, has a 20-year warranty, does not deteriorate in extreme temperatures, can be plowed over and can sustain trees, Mr. Herr said, eliciting cheers from the audience.

All of the options, which will be run by the planning committee at an open meeting Tuesday, April 8 and again presented for public input at the following board meeting, Wednesday, April 23, allow for a 100-foot drop-off area along the right side of the Jermain lot, which Mr. Salvesen said could alleviate the congestion in the Division Street lot.

Addressing the traffic safety issue for afternoon pick-up and morning drop-off, Mr. Nichols proposed some temporary solutions to be implemented, which the board approved.

The first is to provide multiple points of entry into the building: the main entrance, the Pupil Personnel Services door off the Jermain lot and at the cafeteria, to accommodate students entering from the Montauk lot.

Mr. Nichols also suggested closing the entrance to the Division lot off in the morning (except for teachers parking there) and encouraging parents to head down Division Street from Grand Street, rather than up from Jermain or from Marsden.

The school will station two people, in addition to the current monitor John Ali, to monitor the Division Street area and two people to monitor Jermain Avenue. Mr. Nichols said they will be “very proactive” in letting parents know of the changes and would implement them beginning Monday, April 7.

The plans presented by Mr. Salvesen on Tuesday also include a renovation of Pierson’s main entrance, currently hidden in a corner by the Division lot. With “some of the character of the former front door” at the top of the hill, it will have a gateway arch, thin steel columns and tablature with the school name to make the entrance more prominent.

School and Village at Odds Over Who is Responsible for Traffic Safety at Pierson

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Concerned community members watched Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols present possible solutions Tuesday evening.

Concerned community members watched Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols present possible solutions Tuesday evening. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Some 20 concerned parents and traffic calming proponents joined village officials and Police Chief Tom Fabiano in a traffic safety workshop hosted by the Sag Harbor Board of Education Tuesday night.

The school board asked village officials and community members to join it in a discussion “to collaboratively address traffic safety and congestion in and around the school parking lots and campus,” according to a release sent by district clerk Mary Adamczyk.

But once the meeting began, school officials said the discussion would focus solely on how to best alleviate the safety concerns surrounding pick-up and drop-off at Pierson Middle/High School, which parents and board members alike said was dangerous.

Officials from the school and the village, as well as several community members who attended, proposed many ideas, both as quick fixes and long-term solutions, but not one measure was implemented or even agreed on by the end of the two-hour meeting.

Calling the situation “a bit of a mess,” Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said the problem occurs between about 7:12 and 7:28 a.m. and again at the end of the day, from roughly 2:25 to 2:40 p.m.

Mr. Nichols proposed a few ways he thinks the village could aid the school district in addressing the problem. The first would be to make Division Street a one-way northbound street for 15 or 20 minutes in the morning and again for 15 or 20 minutes in the afternoon to reduce the flow of traffic. The second would be for the village to provide “some sort of crossing guard” to help direct traffic during those times.

“My understanding is that’s problematic for budget reasons,” Mr. Nichols said. “So, I don’t want to put anybody on the spot with regard to that. I do think that when you go to most schools, there is a crossing guard at the facility.”

There is a village-appointed crossing guard at the Sag Harbor Elementary School during pick-up and drop-off times.

“When we work with the village and we work with the community,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent, “there’s a synergy and there are more powerful possibilities. We very much want to hear from the village. Have you heard of some of these issues?”

“Since our last meeting we had a few weeks ago,” replied Chief Tom Fabiano, “I believe we discussed the possibility of making Division Street one-way. I thought I was pretty clear about the fact that I didn’t see that as an option.”

The village has an unofficial ban on creating any more one-way streets, Trustee Ed Deyermond said, adding that recent attempts, such as on Elizabeth Street and Clinton Street, are “not working.”

“What you’re asking for is for the village to cede liability to the school for that street,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

The crossing guard option seemed more feasible.

School board member Sandi Kruel said as a school district, the fact there is not a school crossing guard on the property when kids are in school “to me is unacceptable.”

“If we can figure out in our budget to rearrange, then I think that’s the least you guys could do to look at your budget,” she said to Chief Fabiano.

Chief Fabiano said he has been discussing the possibility with elementary school crossing guard Kathy Carlozzi of having her aiding Pierson occasionally. Ms.  Carlozzi also attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“You can’t just put one person out there,” Chief Fabiano said, “you can’t put Kathy out there. You need a couple people out there to monitor this.”

The chief said he has asked “time and time again” for the school district to have extra personnel to monitor drop-off and pick-up, “but does it happen? No.”

School security guard John Ali is currently the only person officially manning drop-off and pick-up, although Mr. Nichols said he steps in during  warmer weather and Chief Fabiano said he helps out when he can.

“Would a crossing guard help there? Possibly. I would have to discuss it with the board next September,” Chief Fabiano said.

Mr. Deyermond said crossing guards “in this particular fiscal budget year are problematic. I don’t see us adding any crossing guards.”

The village officials in attendance agreed that while there are things the village could do, the school should also enact measures to alleviate the congestion.

“I’ve been saying this for the past 14 years that I’ve been chief. Why can’t we have a drop-off for cars on one side and the buses on the other side?” Chief Fabiano asked, referring to the parking lots at Jermain Avenue and Division Street.

“We also brought up the idea of the buses and here’s where the parents have to step in,” he added. “We’re looking at buses and they’re 75 percent empty, according to your numbers. To me, that’s a big issue. We’re spending a lot of money on buses and no one’s riding them. everyone’s dropping kids off at school.”

“This is a generic problem in a lot of schools,” Trustee Robby Stein said of the congestion, adding, “You have to get more kids on the school buses.”

On Wednesday, school business administrator John O’Keefe said, “Bus utilization varies depending on the time of year, weather, etc., but typically runs 30 to 45 percent for the five primary routes.”

Mr. Deyermond said if the entrances at the Montauk Avenue parking lot behind the school and the Jermain Avenue parking lot on its northern side were open longer for students to use and the school publicized that those entrances should be used, some of the traffic could be redirected from Division Street. Several members of the audience nodded in agreement.

“I would like to see what the school is going to do and what Larry [Salvesen, district architect] can do with the possibility of shifting all this congestion from one spot,” Chief Fabiano said. “To say, hey we designed the school and we don’t have place for drop-off…I don’t think it’s too fair to the village to say, ‘You just make it a one-way.’ That’s not the answer.”

“It is our responsibility, yes, but it’s also the responsibility of the school to start doing something,” he said.

“With a little bit of luck, we can get that crossing guard out there relatively soon, I think,” said Dr. Bonuso. “And when I say soon, I don’t mean next week or necessarily next month.”

The school board agreed to discuss the issue further to see whether there were immediate steps that could be taken. It will discuss the plans for the new parking lots at Pierson at its next regular meeting on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson library.

Sag Harbor School District Administrators Make Recommendations on Pre-K, IB Expansion

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By Tessa Raebeck

In back-to-back workshops before parents, teachers and members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Monday night, administrators voiced their recommendations on how to progress with the potential expansion of the district’s Pre-Kindergarten and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

Pre-K

Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone and vice principal Donna Denon updated the board on the pre-K program, currently in its third year, and discussed the possibility of extending the program to a full day of five and a half hours.

Through SCOPE, a not-for-profit organization chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide services to school districts on Long Island, Sag Harbor currently offers a fully funded two and a half hour pre-K program for any eligible four year old in the district. Ms. Denon noted it is an option for parents that is “very rare.” The district pays SCOPE tuition costs to run its pre-K program.

If that program extends to a longer day (considered to be anything over three hours), there are additional requirements the district would need to meet, including limiting class size to 14 students, providing a bathroom for each classroom, ensuring both a certified teacher and teaching assistant is in each classroom, scheduling a 40-minute recreation period, as well as designated lunch and snack times.

The extension would increase the tuition paid to SCOPE from $2,750 to $3,150 per child for the half day, or $10,150 for the full day, although the numbers are approximate because they dependent on enrollment, Mr. Malone said.

“Each year, we’ve been making sure we have monies to accommodate 60 students, so clearly that would be a significant increase in what we would have to budget for for an extended day program,” Mr. Malone said.

This school year, 2013-2014, the pre-K program has 32 students and a budget of $88,000. The district is using only one classroom, which has its own bathroom, for both the morning and the afternoon sessions. The reduced class size of a full-day program would mandate more classrooms, and thus more teachers and teaching assistants.

“It’s a great model, but it’s a big undertaking,” said Ms. Denon, voicing concern over how they would find empty classrooms that could be designated solely for pre-K. Parents dropping off and picking up students would also “be a bit problematic,” she said, as more pre-K parents would be coming and going at the same time as the parents of older students, rather than in the middle of the day.

With space and logistical concerns, as well as fiscal limitations due to the lack of state aid for pre-K and the state-imposed tax cap on the district budget, the administrators’ suggestion to the board was to keep the program the way it is for now.

“We have a very strong program right now,” said Mr. Malone. “The entire school district and community are behind it and let’s keep that solid.”

Mr. Malone and Ms. Denon had several conversations with George Duffy, the director of SCOPE, on the pros and cons of pursuing an extended day program. His advice, according to Mr. Malone, was, “You don’t want to hinder the greatness of what you have. In other words, you don’t want to sacrifice something good to say you have an extended day. Keep your eye on what’s important.”

 

IB

In its second year of offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program for 11th and 12th grade students, Pierson High School is considering extending the curriculum to students in grades six through 10.

The program offers students the option to be diploma candidates, who complete the full IB program for diploma credit, or certificate candidates, who do not receive a diploma but can take individual courses where they have an interest in that subject matter. It has grown steadily each year; in 2012-2013, there were 11 diploma candidates and 47 students enrolled in at least one course. This year, there are 21 diploma candidates and 83 students enrolled in at least one course. Selection is still ongoing for next year, but there are an estimated 31 diploma candidates.

“For the last five years,” said Gary Kalish, Pierson High School vice principal and the IB diploma coordinator, “we’ve been making the kinds of changes and trying to do the kind of development to help students achieve at a higher level.”

The Middle Years Program (MYP), he said, offers curriculum alignment across the grade levels and opens the program to all students, rather than the self-selecting, open enrollment of the upper level program.

After working with IB for the past couple years, “We’ve recognized the rigor and the level of difficulty,” Mr. Kalish said, adding that in the end, “it really is just good teaching and good learning.”

IB is designed to give students a global perspective, with more group discussion, problem solving and abstract thinking than traditional lecture-style classrooms. With an interdisciplinary focus, the MYP has eight subject groups: mathematics, language A (the “mother tongue,” or English for Sag Harbor students), language B, humanities, arts, sciences, physical education and technology. At the end of the five years, MYP students complete personal projects and compile portfolios of all their work. Administrators said the Common Core curriculum, with its similar focus on collaborative planning and interdisciplinary work, could be embedded within the IB framework.

The district can choose to extend the program to just the 9th and 10th grades or to grades six through 10. The administrators’ recommendation to the board, Mr. Nichols said, is to extend the IB program to grades six through 10, “because we see value in what the IB does for our students.”

Districts must apply to be authorized to offer IB, with the candidacy process expected to last about two years. After initial application and candidate fees of around $13,500, there would be an annual school fee of about $8,000. Staff development costing as much as $20,000 is also required, although Pierson has already sent its three administrators, Mr. Nichols, Mr. Kalish and Ms. Brittany Miaritis, along with some seven teachers, to training on MYP.

Pending board approval, the program could be offered for the 2015-2016 school year at the earliest. A resolution to extend the program will be voted on at the board’s March 25 meeting.

 

 

School Officials: Pierson Students Will be Allowed to Take Limos to Prom

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Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor.

Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor.

By Tessa Raebeck

After a month-long debate, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols confirmed Friday that Sag Harbor students will be able to take whatever transportation they choose to the prom this spring.

The traditional method of taking limousines or “party buses” to the prom came under threat in January, when Pierson’s Shared Decision-Making Committee (SDM) – a group of parents, teachers, administrators and students – suggested that, in hopes of curbing drug and alcohol use, students instead be transported to the event in school-sponsored coach buses.

Olivia Bono, a member of the senior class and president of the student council, quickly spoke up on behalf of her peers, who she said felt their voices were listened to, but not heard, in the discussions leading up to the proposal. The two parents on the committee are parents of middle school students, not high school students, and Mr. Nichols said the students on the SDM were not in favor of the committee’s suggestion.

After voicing their concern at a school board meeting in January and again in February, the students’ voices were heard – with a little help from their parents.

This week’s decision came following the results of a survey Mr. Nichols conducted of the parents of students in grades 11 and 12. Parents were asked to choose between two options: requiring students to take school-sponsored buses with increased security procedures or allowing students to take limousines/party buses with increased security procedures. Parents chose the second option three to one, Mr. Nichols said.

“I will [be] allowing students to [use] whatever transportation they wish to use. Increased security screening prior to entering the prom will be in effect,” said Mr. Nichols.

Pierson administrators are not yet sure whether they will be hiring an outside security firm or using school security personnel to conduct the increased security screening. Mr. Nichols said Friday he is in the process of checking with other schools to see what their practices have been.

Citing Exhausted High Schoolers, Sag Harbor Parents Ask for Later Start Times at Pierson

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Susan LaMontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

Susan Lamontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

By Tessa Raebeck

By 7:25 a.m. when many adults are either still asleep or just getting up, Sag Harbor teenagers are in class, solving math problems, writing chemistry equations, and, some say, struggling to stay awake.

Since the mid-1990s, school districts across the country have taken measures to push back morning start times for high school students, citing research that says early times interfere with the natural circadian rhythms of growing adolescents, who require more sleep than adults and naturally have more energy at night and less in the early morning.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has voiced his support for later start times, posting on his Twitter account in August, “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.”

Despite the research and growing public support, however, many school administrators are wary about changing start times due to potentially detrimental effects on student athletes, who practice and play games after school. Administrators also cite the logistical concerns of having enough sunlight for outdoor games and the inherent difficulties of competing against schools with different hourly schedules. Later times would also require transportation schedules to change, an obstacle with undetermined costs.

At the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday night, several parents showed up to advocate for later start times, present the board with supporting research and offer their help in determining how such a change could be implemented in Sag Harbor.

As it stands, the bell rings for first period at Pierson Middle/High School at 7:25 a.m. The sixth grade eats lunch at 10:17 a.m., seventh and eighth grade students eat at 11 a.m. and high school students eat at 11:43 a.m. The last class ends at 1:49 p.m. and students have academic support, an optional period they can use as a study hall or to get extra help from teachers, until 2:26 p.m., when the academic day ends.

The Sag Harbor Elementary School starts at 8:35 a.m. and gets out at 3:10 p.m.

A parent of two children in the district, Susan Lamontagne founded the Long Island Chapter of Start School Later, a nonprofit coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and others “working to ensure that all public schools can set hours compatible with health, safety, equity, and learning.”

Addressing the board Monday, Ms. Lamontagne cited sleep research that has found teenagers’ changing hormones make it difficult for them to go to sleep earlier than 11 p.m. and wake up before 8 a.m. Some Pierson students wake as early as 6 a.m. to get ready, catch their bus and get to class in time.

Ms. Lamontagne referenced schools across the country that saw increases in attendance and test scores and decreases in failing grades, depression, sports-related injuries and teen-driving related accidents once later start times were implemented.

At Nauset High School in Massachusetts, after the start time was moved more than an hour later, to 8:35 a.m., the number of days students were suspended for disciplinary reasons decreased from 166 days in the first two months of the 2010-2011 school year to 19 days in the first two months of the 2011-2012 school year.

In 2011, the Glen Falls City School District BOE voted to change the high school start time from 7:45 to 8:26 a.m. effective September 2012. In an interview with PostStar, Principal Mark Stratton stood by the board’s decision, although he admitted some students, particularly those who play sports, were unhappy about getting home from school later.

According to Mr. Stratton, after a year of the later start time, by September 2013 the percentage of students who were late to school dropped by almost 30 percent. The number of students failing courses also decreased, from 13.6 percent to 8.6 percent.

Glens Falls City School District does not provide transportation for its students, removing one obstacle cited by administrators considering earlier school start times.

“We want to offer our help,” Ms. Lamontagne told the board Monday, adding that she and others are willing to walk the administration through the experiences at other districts, the logistics of changing times and “the full body of research.”

“All of the research that I’ve read indicates that there’s only benefit to the students’ health and performance,” replied Chris Tice, the board’s vice president, saying she would like to “at least put it on the table and hear back from the administrators on their thinking that—if that was going to be the will of the board—what would it take to make that happen.”

BOE member Susan Kinsella said, while other districts have lights on their athletic fields, Sag Harbor has no such means of finishing games in the dark.

“We have problems as it is finishing games in the fall,” agreed Todd Gulluscio, the district’s athletic director, adding that Sag Harbor students have longer travel times to and from games than other districts that have implemented later start times.

“For me,” added Mr. Gulluscio, “from an academic standpoint, if the kid’s going to miss something, I’d rather it be academic support than a class.”

Ms. Tice asked Mr. Gulluscio whether the district would be able to play schools that are closer.

He said no, “we can’t control where small schools are in Suffolk County.”

BOE member Sandi Kruel said that with the overwhelming amount of research in support of later start times, “the pendulum’s swinging backwards for us instead of forward.”

“I too have read and understand the research and it makes a lot of sense,” said elementary principal Matt Malone. “But there’s many, many factors that go into it.” He pointed to families who have structured their work schedules around the schools’ current times.

“We have to think about what’s doable,” agreed Pierson Middle-High School principal Jeff Nichols. He said the issue has been “brought up for years here” and it may be realistic to move the start time by 10 minutes or so, but in terms of athletics, the school cannot simply choose to only play schools with the same schedule.

Mr. Nichols said such a change might work with a larger school district, but not one as small as Sag Harbor.

“It would be a challenge,” agreed vice principal Gary Kalish.

Parent Diana Kolhoff said if she had to choose between having bus service and school starting later, she would choose the later time, but Ms. Tice informed her cancelling transportation is not a legal option for the district.

BOE member David Diskin said later start times “obviously” make sense in terms of the benefits.

“My personal transition—having my kids go from elementary school to [high school] time—it’s torture. I mean it’s so early, it’s crazy,” he added.

Board member Mary Anne Miller asked Ms. Lamontagne, “if there’s a roadmap or some sort of a guideline that you could provide the board and the district with so we could keep talking about it, rather than closing the door and saying it’s too difficult, because most things in municipalities have many hurdles and obstacles.”

Ms. Lamontagne proposed the board put together a small group to go through the barriers and provide the board with recommendations.

“I’m comfortable with that,” said Mr. Nichols.

No decision was made and a group was not officially formed, but Ms. Lamontagne committed to continually updating the board.

Contract for Teaching Assistants

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Teaching Assistants Association of Sag Harbor, which has been without a contract for three years.

The contract is from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2016. It provides for 0-percent salary increases in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, a .5-percent increase in 2012-2013 and again in 2013-2014, and 1-percent increases in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, thanked the negotiating team, calling them “respectful, caring, very clear with their perspective [and] willing to listen to all perspectives.”

The board also granted the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) the right to include the title “Occupational Therapist” within their bargaining unit.

Sag Harbor Students Plea to Save Their Prom

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Image: School bus

By Tessa Raebeck

Speakers at the podium at Sag Harbor school board meetings are generally thrifty community members or concerned parents; rarely do students appear to express their views — except, of course, when the prom is threatened.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, members of the student council came to address the board as representatives of the Pierson High School senior class.

The students expressed their concerns over an administrative notion to ban limousines from the prom and instead make students take the school’s yellow buses to the event. The discussion came following incidents at last year’s prom where students consumed alcohol in the limousines before arriving at the school-sponsored event.

At the January 13 school board meeting, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee had “sort of endorsed” a tentative plan to have students who are attending prom meet at the school beforehand and be transported to the prom via school-sponsored buses, thus “eliminating the limousines that currently transport students to the prom.”

A significant part of the prom tradition is a group of friends renting a limo or party bus, essentially a larger limo, together to take them to and from the event. Students and their parents decide who rides in their limo and where those in the limo will meet for pre-prom photos. The limo, they argue, is as much a part of the prom as the dance itself.

The move, Nichols said, “Could be seen as an invasion of students’ rights [but] would help us to more closely monitor students on that evening.”

Speaking on behalf of her class, student council and prom committee member Olivia Bono made it clear that the students do, in fact, see the idea as an invasion of their rights.

“We just wanted to voice to you the opinions of the seniors,” Bono told the board from the podium, “because limos and party buses are part of the experience of the prom, even though we understand why you would be taking them away and we do appreciate your concern, it’s not really fair because what happened last year wasn’t necessarily our fault.”

“We just feel,” she continued, “that we would like the right to make our own impact, we would like the chance as our grade to not be punished for someone else’s choices.”

Carly Fisher, also a student council member, reminded the board that students and parents have to sign a waiver prior to the prom saying they will not partake in illegal activity, “which I assume is similar to what would be done if we were to take school buses — it’s the same idea,” she said.

“We feel it’s a rite of passage to have the limos,” said Fisher. “It also makes it easier for us after prom.”

Fisher said without designated limousines, students would have no ride home and many (who could be consuming alcohol regardless of whether the school bus rule is enacted) would have to drive later on.

After the young women left the meeting, Nichols said he had advised Bono to address the board after she came into his office with the assumption that a decision had already been made.

“That’s what we encourage in our students,” he said, “participation in government. I think it’s great that she came out tonight and expressed her views.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, BOE member Sandi Kruel was honored by the New York State School Board Association for putting in extra time and effort as a board member.

A meeting of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee to discuss the bond capital projects will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

Concerned Sag Harbor Parents Crowd Pierson Library for Math Curriculum Workshop

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Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols presents a workshop on the Math Curriculum in front of concerned parents at Monday evening.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols presents a workshop on the Math Curriculum in front of district administrators, the Board of Education and concerned parents Monday evening.

By Tessa Raebeck

Parents told stories of children bursting into tears, berating themselves for being “idiots” and spending hours agonizing over homework at the Sag Harbor School District’s math curriculum workshop Monday night, voicing concern over the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS).

“The first thing we say to her is get out your math homework,” said Christa Schleicher of her daughter, who is in seventh grade at Pierson Middle/High School.

Concerned parents, mostly of seventh graders, filled the Pierson Library to hear a presentation led by Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, with assistance from their math teachers.

Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core is a set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade that states voluntarily adopt. CCLS has been adopted by 45 states. New York State (NYS) adopted CCLS in July 2010, but it is being phased in over several years.

Every seat in the library was filled as parents showed up to express their discontent with the Common Core program, which many believe was rolled out haphazardly without clear direction from the state and to the detriment of students.

“It’s not specific or indigenous to Sag Harbor,” said Nichols, who has three children in the Southampton Intermediate School. “Everybody is struggling with these same issues.”

“We really want to commend the effort of all the instructors in our district who are working through this new initiative,” said Malone. “There’s a lot of challenges and in a way we’ve all kind of been thrown into it.”

At the end of the 2012/2013 school year, NYS math assessments for students in third through eighth grade measured CCLS. Nichols said state assessments assume kids going into the seventh grade curriculum had Common Core instruction since kindergarten, when in reality, mathematics instruction was not fully aligned with CCLS until the 2012/2013 school year for students in grades three through eight and the 2013/2014 school year for high school students.

“That assumption is a big assumption to me,” Nichols said Monday evening, adding that the pacing of the modules is also inaccurate. “They say a lesson will take 40 minutes…reality is it’s not 40 minutes, it’s 60 or 70 minutes.”

“As a school,” he continued, “what we struggle with and what I’m struggling with is to what extent do we let mathematics dominate the landscape?”

Nichols said about an hour and a half of math homework each night is on pace with the modules, a time requirement many parents said is overwhelming for their kids.

“It’s a lot more rigorous,” said Diana Kolhoff, a Sag Harbor resident and math consultant. “So some of the historical traditions that these schools have had are running into trouble with the Common Core. Things that had worked in the past are no longer working.”

“This is probably the most exciting part but also the most challenging part,” said Malone. “This is the part where you wrestle with, ‘are we presenting things in the best way to kids?’ Because it’s really challenging and it’s causing kids to have to work a lot harder than they had to before.”

“I get it all and I get that they’re reprogramming,” said Schleicher. “My struggle and our struggle at home is the amount of it. My daughter, she’s beginning to despise math because it’s so much…she’s getting it, she’s getting better at it, but it’s just taking too long.”

“I’m dealing with the same thing with my children,” Nichols said, calling it a “juggling act” because by diminishing homework, the students fall behind the state’s expected pace in the classroom. He said they are trying to gauge how fast teachers can go without turning kids off math.

“If we have to tweak our workload and at the end of the day where our students are at, we’ll do so,” said Nichols, who has already implemented a few modifications.

To increase instructional time and hopefully minimize time spent on math at home, Pierson added a lab period designed to reinforce the CCLS lesson for students in seventh grade and algebra classes.

Middle School Assistant Principal Brittany Miaritis said lab time provides the students with far more one-on-one learning instruction than available in the classroom setting. Teacher Richard Terry said it has been “very helpful” for his seventh grade students. Additionally, several senior math teachers were moved from the high school to the middle school two years ago, due to their comprehension of what would be required of those students later on.

Although they recognized its challenges, the teachers in attendance appeared to be proponents of the CCLS methodology. Fifth grade teachers George Kneeland and JoAnn Kelly shared a CCLS fluency activity, a fast-paced drill that is supposed to be a fun way to measure a student’s personal best. Kelly said her students love sprints, asking for them almost every day.

Kneeland then introduced an application problem, or “problem of the day,” which is designed to be strategically linked to previous lessons and concepts.

“We were just taught a methodology for doing it and we did it,” he said of his grade school experience. “The Common Core philosophy is taking a step deeper and looking at things so we get a pictorial understanding and more concrete understanding and then transition to what’s called the standard algorithm.”

Janice Arbia, who has four children in the school district, asked, “When they’re actually grading these tests, does it matter how they do it?”

The intent, Malone said, is for students to grasp what they were asked to do, so they can choose the way of solving the problem that works best for them. Energy is devoted to the concepts instead of the calculations.

“One of the big shifts now,” added Terry, “is rather than have a teacher standing in front of the students doing all of this work, the students are becoming an active participant in the lesson.”

“My students coming up this year in geometry are significantly stronger than they’ve been in the past and I expect that trend to continue,” said high school teacher Chase Malia. “I really think my students are much better prepared than they’ve been in the past.”

The administrators said their model of approach relies on feedback from teachers, parents and students. Nichols said that while some parents say their children are overwhelmed, others say they like the rigor and their kids are thriving. He plans to administer a survey to hear students’ opinions on how much they can handle.

“We do have an obligation to make sure that we safeguard kids’ emotional well being,” said Nichols. “And if in fact we’re asking too much of them in terms of the amount of homework, this survey will be able to generate some data related to that.”

“Grading” Sag Harbor Teachers: Administrators Discuss Goals Updates at Board of Education Meeting

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External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

By Tessa Raebeck

“This has been a week of very special teams,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, congratulating the champion Lady Whalers field hockey team and the community team that helped pass the district’s two bond propositions.

Passing the bond was a key component of the district goals for the 2013/2014 school year, which Dr. Bonuso presented to a small group of people gathered Monday for the Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

Dr. Bonuso discussed the headway made on the first three of the district’s nine goals. He said progress was made on the first goal, improving academic achievement, through the resubmission and implementation of Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR), an evaluation system required by the state since 2012. It rates teachers as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on a 100-point scale. Half of the review relies on administrative observations, 10 percent on an “evidence binder” of components like electronic posting and 40 percent on test scores. For teachers whose students are not yet being tested regularly, that portion is determined by a project the district assigns in order to produce a score. Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the majority of Sag Harbor teachers were graded “effective.”

“We need to take a second look at this emphasis on testing, the over testing,” said Dr. Bonuso. “We need to take a second look at whether or not we have the materials and modules – let alone the mindset – to approach this in a manner where people are feeling good about what’s happening instead of anxious and discouraged.”

Susan Hewett, a parent, asked the board how teachers are rewarded or reprimanded based on their APPR performance. Dr. Bonuso replied teachers are not rewarded, but if they are determined to be “developing” or worse for two years, “we can literally remove them…even if they are tenured.”

If a teacher is rated “ineffective,” the superintendent said, “We don’t have to go through all the gyrations and all the bureaucracy that in the past we had to in order to remove you.”

The administrators reported on the progress of the newly formed shared decision-making teams, a component of the second goal: to build partnerships with the community. Two teams have met, one for the elementary school and one for Pierson. The district-wide team is looking for two replacements for members who left the committee prior to the first meeting.

Board member Mary Anne Miller questioned the inclusion of the middle and high schools in the same team, which BOE Vice President Chris Tice agreed should be revisited.

The third goal is to ensure sound fiscal operation and facilities management. The district added experienced security personnel and hours at both school, enhanced systems at school entryways and held its first lockdown drill of the year last week. External auditor Alexandria Battaglia said Monday the district is in good financial health, with an unassigned fund balance of about $1.4 million.

In other school news, BOE member David Diskin again asked the board to discuss starting to video record their meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look at further.

The next BOE meeting will be held December 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

Principal Proposes New Program To Help ESL Students

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By Claire Walla

English as a Second Language (ESL) learners at Pierson Middle/High School are typically not at the top of their class.

According to statistics presented at the most recent school board meeting, Monday, June 2, ESL students typically underperform on Regents Exams, often failing altogether.

Of nine ESL students who took the Regents Exam in Global History last June, only two received a score of 60 or above, the highest grade being 66. Of the nine students who took the Regents Exam in Algebra only three scored 60 or above. The numbers fluctuate over the years, but — on the whole — they remain low.

“This is our riskiest population,” said Dr. John Gratto, the Sag Harbor School District’s superintendent.

But according to Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols, this is not really a surprise.

In some cases, he explained, ESL students come from countries where the education systems are on par with the United States. However, particularly in recent years, Nichols said many ESL students come to Pierson well behind their peers, academically.

“What we have now are a lot of students with interrupted formal education,” he continued. “Not only is there a language deficit, there are preparation issues.”

For this reason — and in light of dwindling test scores — he has proposed hiring a new ESL teacher and adopting a new model of education geared toward helping the ESL population achieve success.

According to the district’s director of pupil personnel services, Dr. Lisa Scheffer, the ESL population district-wide has hovered between 50 and 60 in the last three years. About one third of the entire population is at Pierson, she added.

The plan is to create a class based on an education model called Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). The model focuses on eight inter-related components: lesson preparation, building background, comprehensible input, strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery and review/assessment.

Nichols said the idea at Pierson, starting in the fall, would be to hire one new bilingual teacher who either has ESL certification or is pursuing certification. While most candidates would likely have expertise in one content area, Nichols said that instructor would have to be able to teach the five content areas covered by Regents Exams: Living Environment, Algebra, Global History, U.S. History and English. There would also be an academic support period.

The newly hired teacher would work with Fausto Hinojosa, a teaching assistant who currently works with the ESL population at Pierson.

“It all situations, a key piece [to academic success] is to establish a strong connection between home and school,” Nichols said. “This is more difficult in core content classes, where teachers have [roughly] 100 students… it’s difficult to establish the kind of relationship required for these students to be successful.”

The SIOP model would allow instructors to work with ESL students more closely, giving them the ability to better follow through with homework and assignments, more clearly explain instruction, translate information (if need be), and establish stronger relationships between the school and the families of ESL students.

Nichols said he and Hinojosa have already identified 36 ESL students at the high school who could benefit from the SIOP model, however not all 36 need help in each of the five core content areas. The students would take part in a SIOP class on an at-need basis.

In total, Nichols added that he imagines each class would be anywhere from eight to 17 students. He added that ESL students at the high school range in age from 15 to 21, and it’s likely SIOP classes would see a range of ages for each subject.

“Is this a perfect solution?” Nichols asked rhetorically. “No. But, for what we’re faced with, is it a viable solution? Yes.”

“We have to do something,” School Board President Mary Anne Miller agreed. “We’ve tried a lot of different initiatives, but we’re not getting these students to where we want them to be.”

Nichols added that the new position would be paid for with reserves that have been set aside for special education.

“The goal is not just to get them to graduate,” Nichols continued. “But to get [ESL students] to be number two or three in their class. We have to continue to reach for that.”

Drug-Sniffing Dogs Brought to Pierson

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By Claire Walla

Last Thursday around 8:45 a.m., Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols got on the intercom and told students to remain in their classrooms.  Suffolk County Police were on the premises, he explained — drug-sniffing dogs in tow.

Two dogs from the county’s K-9 unit performed a quick sweep of middle and high school lockers on June 7 with negative results.  Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said no illegal substances or related contraband were found.

According to Sag Harbor Village Police, which sent patrol units to the school to supervise the search, the entire operation took 14 minutes.

In an interview this week, Dr. Gratto confirmed the county’s K-9 unit was not brought to the school as the result of a specific incident.

“We wanted to get [the drug-sniffing dogs] in before the end of the school year,” he said.

Dr. Gratto added that the district had arranged for the dogs to come in on two other occasions, but the date kept getting pushed back due to school conflicts, one of which was state testing.

“It went quite smoothly,” Dr. Gratto continued, adding that he has not received any complaints from parents.

The decision to bring drug-sniffing dogs to the campus was preceded in February with the adoption of a policy on the “Use of Drug-Sniffing Dogs.”  The policy details the process of bringing drug-sniffing dogs onto the Pierson campus, which allows the administration to bring the dogs in unannounced.

As for whether or not those in the district can expect to see similar instances in the future, Dr. Gratto could not say for sure.

“It’s a tool,” he began, “along with other preventative measures, that can be used occasionally to let kids know they can’t bring drugs to school.”