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IB Program Approved for 2012-2013 School Year

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IB-hexagon

By Claire Walla


In a unanimous vote held on Wednesday, November 2, the Sag Harbor Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution that would allow the school district to implement the International Baccalaureate (IB) program for the 2012-2013 school year. Board member Theresa Samot was absent.

Though Pierson High School is still waiting to hear from the IB board as to whether or not it will officially be accepted by the IB board — Pierson only recently submitted the final segment of its IB application — for many, the board’s decision is a significant one.

“This has been five years in the making,” said board member Chris Tice, who pointed to the fact that Pierson administrators, led by Principal Jeff Nichols, have spent years learning about the program.

“There has been extensive research done on it,” she continued, and for those still unsure about what IB is or how it will affect their child, she added, “I urge you to ask questions and to learn about it.”

Before submitting her “yes” vote, board member Sandi Kruel made sure to address the issue of this year’s tenth grade students, which she said has been a source of contention among those for and against the program. She asked one more time for Nichols to clarify what options would be available for those tenth grade students who qualify for honors classes but are not yet ready to delve into IB.

“I just need to go on record as saying that this is a big concern for those parents,” she said.

Nichols reiterated that Advanced Placement (AP) classes would be eliminated to three offerings by 2015, but emphasized that they would be phased out gradually, meaning next year’s tenth graders would still be able to take a course load with up to seven AP classes by the time they graduate.

School Superintendent John Gratto said, in reference to Kruel’s comments, that he felt “a lot of apprehension in the air” at a recent parent meeting about IB.

“I do commend Jeff [Nichols] for the work that he’s done [in researching IB], and I would say that indeed the students will be prepared [for IB],” Gratto said. “But, I do agree with Sandi [Kruel]’s comments, too. We need to make sure we educate people well enough to take away that apprehension.”

Parent Tom Gleeson, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the IB program, said in an interview that he is still worried the school is investing in a program that is costly, but doesn’t necessarily improve the schools’ curriculums district-wide. (The program would cost about $10,200 annually — the cost of an IB coordinator, which could be up to $60,000, will be absorbed by Principal Nichols and Assistant Principal Gary Kalish for the first few years while the IB program is still relatively small.)

“I’m of the mindset that when you have something that’s going well,” he said in reference to the school’s current AP program, “then you should try to make it better, rather than bring in another program and derail it. We’re just not philosophically on the same page.”

In the midst of last Wednesday’s meetings, Tice said she knew there were still parents who were skeptical of the program.

In an effort to reach out to them, she said, “I would ask you to keep an open mind. This is a program that can only succeed if the participants are willing participants. The intent is good, and I ask that you evaluate it for what it is, not for what you might have heard.”

In other news…

Board members revisited a proposed bond measure that would cost a grand total of $7,220,345 for repairs to both buildings, an updated kitchen, a storage closet in the elementary school gym, updates to two school parking lots, as well as two separate propositions that would give Pierson a synthetic athletic field and provide stadium lighting. The turf is expected to cost up to $1.6 million, while the lighting will total about $675,000.

While the bond will be put to the community for a vote, the board has still to decide what elements of the proposed bond measure to include. School board members will revisit the issue at an upcoming meeting.

Principal Presses for OK on IB Plan

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By Claire Walla

It’s been nearly five years since the Sag Harbor School District began exploring the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and about a year since the district started pursuing the program in earnest. But the board of education has yet to formally take a stance on IB — a detail Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols hopes will be remedied sooner rather than later.

“I would like the board to formally take a position on IB in the next month,” Nichols declared at a school board meeting last Monday, October 17. More specifically, he continued, “I’d like the board to say that, if this school receives the OK from the IB administration, we will offer IB diploma program courses next fall.”

To date, the district has spent about $23,000 to participate in the IB application process. This money has covered the base application fee and paid for an IB consultant to visit the school — a mandatory part of the application process. The next and final deadline for Pierson High School’s IB application is Tuesday, November 1, when those teachers tentatively slated to teach IB programs next fall will submit sample course outlines to the IB board.

Nichols explained that Pierson administrators plan to meet with the handful of those teachers crafting IB course outlines this week so that the district will be able to submit the final step of its application well before the November 1 deadline.

At this point, support from the board is imperative, Nichols explained, because should the school follow through with plans to introduce IB in the fall of 2012, Pierson administrators will need to reach out to the students who would potentially participate in the IB diploma program next year.

“If we’re successful in bringing the program here, we’ll meet with students in the coming months and start to map out their junior and senior year schedules,” Nichols clarified.

The IB program has been contentious for some in the community who have criticized its cost (roughly $10,200 annual base fee), perceived exclusivity and questionable reputation within the college admissions process as compared to the more standard Advanced Placement (AP) program.

Nichols disputed this claim. While IB credits are not accepted for credit at every university — though he said they are recognized by many schools — he explained that many institutions of higher learning are beginning to discount AP credits, as well.

But Nichols insisted this is beside he point. He has maintained from the get-go that the IB program is, in fact, more rigorous and rewarding than the AP program because it emphasizes critical thinking skills, and it’s more versatile than AP because it encourages a range of learning styles that push students to absorb and communicate information without relying on rote memorization (which is sometimes associated with AP). Furthermore, he looks forward to implementing new learning styles within the classroom that will challenge all teachers to think outside-of-the-box when administering lessons.

Parent Tom Gleason said at the meeting that he worries about introducing a new curriculum while the district currently lacks a K through 12 curriculum coordinator.

“We haven’t had any of that curriculum going on [prior to IB],” argued Gleason argued who wondered whether students in the lower grades will be adequately prepared for IB coursework.

Pierson High School Vice Principal Gary Kalish countered that the IB curriculum — which focuses on more broad-based and internationally focused learning — is a step-up from what the district currently teaches. Furthermore, he said teachers have reported that IB “has more flexibility” when it comes to designing lesson plans than courses purely designed according to state requirements.

Parent Laura Matthers expressed her concern for this year’s tenth grade class, which she referred to as the veritable “guinea pig” class: the first Pierson class with the opportunity to graduate students with IB diplomas.

“I want to make sure you’re going to be leaving a lot of options available for these kids coming up the pike,” she said.

Nichols estimated that in its first year, the IB program would probably only have 10 to 15 diploma candidates, a figure based on the current number of students who take five to seven AP classes before graduation. But this leaves several dozen other students who currently take advanced coursework to a lesser degree.

While Nichols mapped out a three-year plan that would reduce the school’s AP offerings to three courses by 2015, he assured Matthers that students in next year’s eleventh grade class would have the opportunity to take up to seven AP courses by the time they graduate. And gradually, as AP courses are pared down, Nichols said he’s confident that the school will be able to grow its number of IB diploma candidates, the same way it grew the number of students taking AP courses.

As for the cost of the program, Nichols said he hoped to put some rumors to rest Monday night.

“A lot of people have concerns about the tax cap, and justifiably,” he began. “But the primary cost [of the IB program] would be an IB coordinator. But we’re of the opinion here that we don’t need to assign a teacher to do that. Mr. Kalish and I can just fold [those duties] into what we do, which would [garner] a savings of $60,000.”

With that cost out of the picture, the school would have to pay $10,200 annually, plus a one-time cost of $135 per diploma student and the $92 test fee, which Nichols said is comparable to the fees associated with individual AP exams.

“Certainly, every dollar counts,” Nichols continued, but with an overall budget set at roughly $33 million, he added, “that’s a very small number.”



“It is my opinion, and the opinion of others who have looked at both programs, that IB allows us the opportunity to raise our standards even higher,” Nichols said. “The skills emphasized in IB will allow us to serve our students better.”


With the exception of one to two teachers, Nichols said the Pierson faculty largely supports IB. Teacher Peter Solow, who attended last Monday’s meeting and is slated to go to IB training this year, told the board he has a positive outlook on the program. “Without having gone to training, [Art Teacher Elizabeth Marchisella] had a very positive reaction to the training that she got,” he relayed. “I’m looking forward to seeing more of what it’s about.”

Enrollment Is Up In Sag Harbor

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By Claire Walla


At its first meeting since the start of the new school year, Monday, September 12, the Sag Harbor School Board visited a topic that’s spurred debate across the nation: state testing.

“As a school, what’s important to us is, number one, looking at individual performance,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone.

He explained that the elementary school uses these tests to see where kids’ individual strengths and weaknesses are. And for those kids who have scored either a one or a two — both being below the state standard — the school offers Academic Intervention Services (AIS), during which students receive an extra period of instruction in the subject they need help in.

“We look specifically at individual performance, but also — as administrators and teachers — we look for specific areas where we as a school can do better,” Malone added.

This year, Malone said “the bar has been raised” in mathematics owing to the fact that the state realized last year’s numbers had been inflated and took action to regulate scoring. Schools’ scores across the state consequently dropped by about 25 points.

Going into this year, 73 percent of third graders, 79 percent of fourth graders and 87 percent of fifth graders have passed state math exams. In English Language Arts (ELA), 68 percent of third graders, 84 percent of fourth graders and 68 percent of fifth graders scored a three or a four on their exam.

At the middle school, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the numbers don’t vary too much from where they sit at the elementary school level. In mathematics, 79 percent of sixth graders, 69 percent of seventh graders and 63 percent of eighth graders passed their exams. As for ELA, 80 percent of sixth graders, 68 percent of seventh graders and 66 percent of eighth graders scored a three or a four.

Picking up where Malone left off, Nichols said that middle school students scoring ones and twos on state tests will receive academic intervention services (AIS) as they do in the elementary school. He went on to say that AIS classes are also offered at Pierson, and they get more specific the older the student gets.

“The state says that you have to provide AIS for the minimum requirements for graduation,” he explained, which does not include higher-level math courses like Algebra II and Trigonometry, for instance. “But, we’ve decided to [offer those AIS courses] anyway here in Sag Harbor.”

In the end, Nichols said he doesn’t put too much weight on these test scores. He explained that the only statistical correlation between middle schoolers’ state test scores and high school Regents Exams is that students who score ones are more likely to also fail Regents Exams. The same has not proven true for students who score twos, he added.

According to Nichols, the greatest benefit of state tests is not about statewide rankings, it’s about assessing students within the school district from year to year.

For example, in terms of ESL scores, he continued, “I see a strong correlation between our ESL [English as a Second Language] population and some of our lower scores. I also see a strong correlation with Regents assessments as these students get older.”

Nichols explained that this population of the student body has been shown to struggle more, on average, on state tests.

“If you think about it, that population is faced with learning a subject and a language at the same time. That’s not easy.”

In other news…

School superintendent Dr. John Gratto informed the Sag Harbor School Board that enrollment numbers are up in all areas. Total enrollment at the elementary school has increased by 54 students (25 of them coming from pre-K), putting class sizes “just a touch over 19” at all grade levels, said elementary school principal Matt Malone. “It’s very manageable.”

Pierson Middle/High School has seen a less sizeable jump of 12 students.

Dr. Gratto also pointed out a significant increase over last year in the way of tuition-paying students. Since the end of last year, the school district has added nine more out-of-district students

Athletic director Montgomery “Monty” Granger gave the school board an update on athletic programs. While high school boys and girls cross-country, soccer and field hockey teams have “adequate participation,” there are a few teams — particularly at the middle school level — that may not have the numbers to compete this fall.

The girls JV tennis team at no time had more than six participants, Granger said, and the middle school girls cross country team only has four. Because cross-country requires a minimum of six players to complete, Granger said he’s giving the team a couple more days to come up with an adequate number.

Similarly, the girls middle school soccer team currently only has six participants, Granger said, “So, unfortunately, my recommendation is going to be that we not continue with that team.”

He went on to explain that, had it been prior to the start of the season, the girls would have been able to try out for the boys’ team. However, according to Section XI regulations, the girls are no longer eligible.

“My suggestion is that we offer a middle school girls intramural team,” Granger continued. “We can provide separate space for this potential intramural program.”

Proposal to Add Counselor

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By Claire Walla


With the two-percent tax levy cap looming on the horizon, school districts across he state will be struggling to find ways of cutting costs, without sacrificing services. At a Sag Harbor School Board meeting last Monday, August 14, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols offered a plan he said would not only be cost-effective, it would increase the services the district provides.

Last year, the high school spent about $74,000 for transitional services for about 14 special needs students. But, according to District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, he and Nichols have begun talking about using that money instead to fund a new position at the school.

“From my perspective, spending $74,000 for transitional services for 14 or 15 students a year is pretty expensive,” Nichols commented at the meeting. Transitional services are mandated by the state for some special needs students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Once a student with such an IEP turns 15, the school is required to bring someone in to help that student get through the course work he or she needs to graduate, in addition to helping that student explore various options available to him or her post-graduation.

“Our thought is that we could not only do that, but we could bring [in a counselor with] other skills that would help the growing needs that we have,” Nichols explained.

The way he and Dr. Gratto have discussed it, that $74,000 can be channeled into a full-time position, bringing in a counselor who will be on the campus five days a week, instead of a part-time person who might only be at the school for two. The idea is in its preliminary stage, but Nichols said at this point he sees this as a $50-55,000 salary, which, plus benefits, would roughly equate to $74,000.

The person in this new position would serve two main needs of the school: helping with transitional services, and doing more outreach to parents and students who are part of the school’s English as a Second Language (ESL) community. This aspect is not required by the state. But Nichols said it’s crucial for the district — which currently has about 60 ESL students, 25 of them in the high school — to address the growing needs of the ESL community.

“Obviously the person we hire would have to be bilingual,” Nichols said. He also urged the school to hold-off on hiring someone until the right candidate — with a background in counseling and/or social work, plus Spanish language skills — is found.

The third aspect of this new position, Nichols continued, would involve hands-on experience for Pierson students who could serve as mentors for ESL or special needs students. To this, he added, “I think it would be preferable to hire this person in the spring, which would allow him or her to cultivate relationships with the people who would want to serve as mentors [beginning next fall, 2012].”

Schools: Gearing Up For Day One

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By Claire Walla


Taking Advantage of Tax Cap Exemptions

Starting a process board members hope to continue through the next budget season, the district heard a presentation from District Business Manager Janet Verneuille on the two-percent tax levy cap.

Verneuille noted three crucial exemptions to the cap. First: pension cost increases above a certain threshold, which in this case is two percent. In other words, Verneuille explained that this year the district’s increase in pension contribution costs is 2.49 percent, so .49 percent will be exempted from the cap.

Secondly, the tax cap will exempt the local share of capital expenditures. “That’s good news,” Verveuille exclaimed, “that’s huge.” Without this exemption, she continued, the district would have less incentive to pass capital improvement projects.

The third exemption refers to certain legal expenses. However, Verneuille explained, “this does not apply” to this district.

The board briefly discussed the notion of looking at its current budget with a little more scrutiny to get a better sense of where some cost-saving measures might lie. Referencing the school’s clubs and sports programs, board member Walter Wilcoxen wondered how much the district could save if certain programs were cut.

“What about trying to pare-down now” to avoid making more drastic cut-backs going into next year, he wondered.

Board Member Chris Tice said she agreed, in theory, with being proactive in taking steps to cut costs, but she cautioned the board against looking at certain aspects of the budget with a narrow lens.

“The beauty of the budget process is that we get to see what our program looks like, A through Z,” she said. “We’re looking at it from an informed, balanced perspective.”

With both perspectives, the board had little argument, and yet drew no conclusions. The discussion will be ongoing.


Summer School a Success

Before giving his “back to school” report at last Monday’s board of education meeting, August 14, Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone spoke for a few minutes about the success of this year’s summer school program.

“We invited the same number of students as last year,” he said. “But our participation rate was higher than in years past. Bussing [which was provided for all students] made it more possible for parents to get their kids to and from school.” Most importantly, he added, it made it so that students were in their classrooms on-time, which had been a problem in years past.

School Board Member Sandi Kruel complimented Malone on a job well done, explaining that field trips — like those to the South Fork Natural History Museum, Morton Wildlife Center and even a math-related journey to Conca D’Oro, measuring ingredients for pizza dough — reportedly made the experience worthwhile for one family she spoke with.

“However you did it this year, it was the first time I heard of a student actually enjoying summer school,” she noted.


Enrollment Increases

Though enrollment is slightly up at the elementary school with the closing of Stella Maris last year, Malone said, as of now, enrollment “is still fairly steady” in comparison to last year. In fact, the slight increase is even less than administrators had initially imagined because much of the Catholic school’s student population was from out of district.

“Many of those families that live in Sag Harbor and chose Stella Maris for the Catholic education chose to go to Our Lady of the Hamptons [in Southampton],” he explained.

However, while the main student body will remain steady, the district’s Pre-K program — which was offered last year for a fee, but is free for all families in the district this year — has an expected enrollment of 42. “It’s a big up-tic from last year,” Malone continued, when the program had 12 students. The Pre-K program is scheduled to have two morning sessions and one in the afternoon.


Playground to be Ready for Start of School

Though it may look like a giant sandbox now, Principal Matt Malone confirmed Monday night that the district just signed a contract with Lobo Construction Company to begin work on the school’s new playground. The work actually began last Tuesday, August 15 and is scheduled to be completed next Thursday, August 25.

“We’re right on track,” he continued, noting that the work will all be complete before the start of the school year.


New Courses for the New Year

At the upper school, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols announced four new classes that will be offered this year. In addition to a 3D sculpture course and advanced marine biology (which will be taught by Dr. Robert Shoemacher, himself a former marine bio major), the school will add a year-long personal finance class. This is a subject several board members and participants at last year’s educational forums highlighted for its importance. Lastly, the school will offer a course in social studies called Philosophy of Understanding. Nichols said it is partially modeled after courses in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which emphasize critical thinking and a depth of knowledge over wide-ranging survey courses.

Nichols also pointed out that the school will see a savings of about $75,000 this year. Instead of hiring a new faculty member in the wake of art teacher Tim Kraszewski’s retirement, “his classes have been farmed out to other departments,” as Nichols put it.

“The big challenge this year will be to finish portions two and three of the IB application,” Nichols continued. Should all go according to the current timeline, Nichols expects the school to be approved in the spring, which would allow Pierson to begin offering its first IB Diploma courses in the fall of 2012.

Springs and Sagaponack Eye a Move to Pierson

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By Marissa Maier

A visitor to Sagaponack Village might believe the one-room schoolhouse on Main Street has remained untouched since it was built in 1885. Pint-sized students sit on old-fashioned wooden desks with inkwells and a cast-iron stove located at the front of the classroom keeps them warm. Though everything seems sleepy enough, changes are afoot in this small school district.

In January, Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Pierson School Principal Jeff Nichols pitched the merits of a Pierson education to a group of almost a dozen Sagaponack parents. For the past year, said Sagaponack School Board President Charles Barbour, Sagaponack parents asked the board to explore the curriculum at neighboring school districts beginning with middle school. The village’s educational program runs from first through fourth grade only, at which point students have traditionally moved on to the East Hampton School District.

With the state poised to cut close to $200,000 in aid next school year, Pierson is looking for a much needed boost on the revenue side of their ledger and tuitioning-in Sagaponack students could help sustain programming, noted Dr. Gratto in a later interview.

“The fiscal condition of the state is restrictive and we are looking at ways to bring in revenue,” Dr. Gratto further explained.

When asked if the school would need to increase the academic staff, he remarked, “It depends on how many students there are in each subject. There is high enrollment in Spanish and science in some areas … [But] the cost of additional teachers would be offset by the revenue.”

For the 2010-2011 school year, Sag Harbor will charge out-of-district students $16,217 annually to attend grades kindergarten through sixth and $21,080 for grades seventh through twelfth. Full day tuition for special education students is $44,196 per year for the elementary school and $50,808 for middle and high school. The sending school district, however, must provide transportation for their students.

“We are also looking at the side of the cost to the taxpayer. Sag Harbor is definitely a little bit cheaper,” said Barbour, based on his preliminary research of the school’s contract with East Hampton. He noted though that East Hampton is in the midst of crafting next year’s school budget and their tuition rates are subject to change. East Hampton’s Business Administrator Isabel Madison couldn’t be reached for comment.

In exploring other districts, Barbour noted the board is seeking a well-rounded program with a host of extra-curricular activities and excellent test scores. At the presentation Dr. Gratto and Nichols highlighted the school’s class sizes, which boasts an average of 20 students per academic class, curricula focal points, including the Intel science projects, young playwrights program and the model United Nations, the selection of arts programs, athletics, the credentials of the faculty, and students’ regents and advanced placement test scores.

Sagaponack is currently in the midst of a five-year contract with the East Hampton School District. Dr. Gratto explained that school’s superintendent Lee Ellwood seems assured the school may end this agreement before the start of a new academic year. The Sagaponack school is presently comprised of 21 students. Four children are enrolled in the fourth grade. School clerk Jeannette Krempler confirmed one student plans to attend East Hampton in the fall of 2010. Barbour pointed out parents may decide where to send their children for middle and high school. Sagaponack, he noted, isn’t required to commit all of their funds to one school district.

“The kids who are in East Hampton, we want to keep them in East Hampton. We wouldn’t want them to have to change schools,” said Barbour. “We want to leave this as an option for parents and to make sure there is a choice for them.”

The Sagaponack school board is slated to discuss tuitioning-in their students to Sag Harbor at their next board of education meeting on March 4.

Springs School District

Last Thursday, on February 11, Dr. Gratto and Nichols made the same presentation to a group of around 15 parents at the Springs School in East Hampton. The Springs program spans from pre -kindergarten through eighth grade with a student population of around 550. After middle school, students have customarily passed on to East Hampton, but it appears many parents are rethinking this arrangement. Dr. Gratto reported that several parents appeared willing to sign their children up for Pierson that evening. He added that the Sag Harbor School will schedule a tour for prospective Springs students in the near future.

Following the presentation, the Springs School Board reportedly decided to put a referendum to a vote in May. The referendum, piggybacking on the budget vote, would give parents the choice of sending their children to Pierson or Bridgehampton, as well as East Hampton after the Springs program ends in eighth grade.

Sag Harbor Music Program Will Change

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Based on the recommendations of an outside consultant, the Sag Harbor School district will revamp their music program in the fall. Pierson principal Jeff Nichols unveiled the plans for future music classes to the school board on Wednesday, April 22. The high school and middle school will offer a general music class — starting in 8th grade — to accommodate students uninterested in band or choir. An orchestra program will be set-up — beginning in sixth grade. Students will have the opportunity to attend two music classes, selecting from band, choir or orchestra. They will alternate the days they attend each class. Currently the high school operates a music theory class, but this will be replaced with an Advanced Placement music theory class taught by the same teacher. The school plans to run a guitar club, tentatively scheduled to meet once a week after school. Nichols reported to the board the initial costs for the program will be spent on purchasing and leasing equipment.

The music consultant’s recommendations for the elementary school were focused on tweaking the current curriculum as opposed to offering additional programs.

“[The Music Consultant] made more methodology and instructional recommendations,” said elementary school principal Joan Frisicano.

The consultant advised the elementary school to emphasize note reading and ear training by using advanced teaching materials, such as CDs and sheet music. When the recommendations are implemented, Frisicano expects students to memorize the fundamental notes by third grade. 

 

District Considers New Plans for Auditorium and Parking at Pierson

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The “Facilities Study” of both Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School in the Sag Harbor school district is a compilation of different tasks that need to be completed at the schools in order to comply with current codes and standards. At their most recent monthly meeting, however, the district’s Long Range Planning Committee focused more on big-ticket items such as a new auditorium and parking.
If combined, those two projects alone could cost the district as much as $12.7 million — but that is if they include all the bells and whistles. Although the beginning of last Thursday’s meeting focused on parking, the majority of the time was spent discussing the new auditorium. The conversations on Thursday mirrored those of earlier meetings. This time, district architect Larry Salvesen prepared three plans for a new auditorium as requested by committee members during their October meeting.
The three different plans for the auditorium included a basic plan, an improved plan and then the complete plan — costing $900,000, $2 million, and $12 million, respectively. Salvesen explained that the most expensive plan would include the creation of a separate space in the courtyard area, adjacent to where the current auditorium is.
“The art [department] is looking for space,” Salvesen said, “If you added art where the current auditorium is, then the entire center of the building becomes the arts.”
During Thursday’s meeting, some committee members shared their personal feelings from music concerts and plays they have attended in recent weeks. Members of the committee, which is made up of teachers, administrators, parents and other community members, expressed frustration about the lack of air conditioning, ventilation, torn curtains and other issues in the current facility.
Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols said that because of the inadequacies of the facility, he schedules “moving up” ceremonies and other similar assemblies in the middle school gymnasium.
Further, members of the committee talked about the vinyl tile that makes up the floor, the risers and issues with the stage itself.
“Why are we are looking at the little details?” committee member and former chemistry and physics teacher Richard Gold asked. “It is such a big project that has such a big impact and I wonder if we should be talking about the dismal feeling of the facility or are we trying to create a place that will give excitement to the facility and the community — and bring possible income to the school?”
“It’s a weird time to say that the energy that can be created by pride and enthusiasm is something that can’t be seen in dollars and cents,” said Gold who also noted that he attended a play the week prior, and there was a contrast as to what was going on on-stage and the actual room it was taking place in.
“It was painful to me,” he said. “This is the center of the school and it’s a shame. It’s a question of motivation and not just economies.”
But others at the meeting had different concerns, and requested more information about the current use of the facility.
One committee member asked how many school-related performances happen in the auditorium, and noted that it seemed like a lot of money to spend on a facility that hosted three performances a year.
Nichols disagreed with that number, saying he hadn’t yet finished tallying up all the performances scheduled for the year, but added that it was more like 20 in a school year.
“Right now the situation is oppressive,” said Nichols. “You can’t enjoy it.”
Pierson art teacher Peter Solow added that the number of performances is misleading.
“You are talking just about the performances, but not utilization,” Solow said. “Right now there is no facility to be used for rehearsal, there is no space for sets and there is no other place for them to go. They are rehearsing in the auditorium, and there are a number of other uses for this space.”
Solow explained that the new space can be used for awards ceremonies and other events, which have been moved due to the failing HVAC system.
“Some of the performances had to be moved. It was too hot, we had to change it. People have fainted in there while watching performances,” Solow said.
The three different alternatives for the auditorium include both minor and major changes.
“Scheme A is small improvements,” Salvesen explained. “Scheme B has everything in A and a little more.”
Plan “C” is a proposal that puts the new auditorium in the court yard and could potentially create more space for additional classrooms and storage.
The arguments bounced back and forth on what a reasonable solution to the pending issue of building a new auditorium should be.
“No one is arguing that the space doesn’t work,” president of the school board Walter Wilcoxen said addressing Solow’s concerns.
“You could say generally it doesn’t work, but we should say that it is fundamentally inadequate if you don’t build storage,” Solow argued.
Questions also raised by members of the committee focused on the idea that the new space may be able to generate income for the school if it is rented out.
“The motivation should not be to make money off of this,” Solow said.
Wilcoxen told members of the committee that the “C” plan may be more of a long term goal.
“It may not be realistic, right now, but start thinking about it as a possibility,” he said.
But Nichols informed the members, “There is another issue, there is an immediacy.”
Parking
The other large project occupying the Long-Range Planning Committee is the issue of parking at both the elementary school and Pierson.
The committee members decided at a previous meeting that the lots at Jermain Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and Hampton Street should be reconfigured to allow for more spaces. At their last meeting, committee members asked Salvesen to create a new plan, this time allowing for even more spaces along Atlantic Avenue by moving the asphalt court closer to Clinton Street and utilizing empty, unused lawn area for an extension of the court additionally providing an extension of the parking lot.
At last week’s meeting, Salvesen showed his plans to move the court and extend the parking lot along with the price tag for each of the three proposed lots. For the lot on Atlantic Avenue it would add an additional 26 spaces and cost the district $340,000. The reconfigured lot off of Jermain Avenue has a $375,000 price tag and would add an additional 17 spaces. And the lot on Hampton Street would cost $320,000 and add 25 spaces — but none of these estimates included contingencies and fees, according to Salvesen.


Kids can Earn College Credits at Pierson

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A few weeks ago, Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson High School, gave a presentation at a board of education meeting about Advanced Placement (AP) courses that the school currently offers. The presentation outlined how the students in the district compare with others taking similar courses around the world.
At this week’s board of education meeting, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced that he and Nichols are looking to get district students college credit for enrolling and passing the AP courses.
“We have been talking about the ways we could offer these courses to have dual credit,” Gratto said referring not only to high school, but college credit as well. “Jeff [Nichols] has been working with the Suffolk County Community College.”
Currently, Suffolk County Community College offers courses similar to those offered at Pierson such as European History, Physics and US Government.
The students would still be required to take a mandated AP exam, but at the same time, the students would be able to earn three college credits per course.
With the number of AP classes currently in place, the students could take 10 additional courses at Pierson and conceivably earn 30 college credits even before graduating from Pierson, according to Nichols.
At present, Pierson students can earn college credits for AP Math and AP Spanish through Long Island University, which gives the students college credit for these courses which are similar to courses at a college level.
The administrators are now waiting to hear back from Suffolk County Community College to see how the AP courses can be modified to fit the requirements.

Also at Monday’s board of education meeting, the board unanimously adopted a new policy on extra-curricular trips, which had been the topic of much discussion in prior meetings. Some residents and board members have, in past weeks, expressed concern for the students left behind as well as the educational purpose of the trips.
On Monday, Tin Wilcoxen, school board president Walter Wilcoxen’s significant other, said that she is in favor of extra-circular trips and believes these trips are a great asset to the curriculum.
The new policy outlines that a single teacher may only be allowed to take part in one extra-curricular trip per school year and that each teacher attending a field trip must submit a lesson plan to the principal a week in advance.
Also, the new policy will now require teachers to give a follow-up report on the trip to the principal, superintendent or board of education.

Purchasing Consortium Dead

In other news, at Monday’s meeting, Gratto announced that his idea for a South Shore Purchasing Consortium (SSPC) was “defunct.” The SSPC was an attempt to combine the resources of schools on the East End and have local businesses bid for providing things like fuel oil and paper. After a meeting with BOCES’ (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) district superintendent, Gary Bixhorn, Gratto found that it would be better to let BOCES work on getting better pricing for items while keeping the focus on schools on the South Fork. Gratto said that BOCES is better equipped with staff and information to put out request for bids for lower pricing.
According to Gratto, BOCES will hold informational meetings for local businesses to learn how the bidding process works.
“Now we have the opportunity to get bids on more products,” Gratto announced.
Additional items BOCES will focus on will include paint and supplies, fine and recycled paper, stationery, custodial supplies, fence equipment and art and craft supplies.
Business Manager of the Sag Harbor School District, Len Bernard, said at the meeting that BOCES will not charge a separate fee for this opportunity.
“We will get products at a lower cost and educate local bidders,” he said.
Gratto said on Monday that the South Shore Purchasing Consortium idea could be resurrected in the spring, if need be.

Sag Harbor School Kids – Three times better than Global Average

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Although teachers are still working without contracts, the Sag Harbor school district has managed to triple the worldwide average for certain college-based courses for its school students.
At the Sag Harbor school board meeting Monday night, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols gave a PowerPoint presentation to the board, community members and faculty on how the students in the high school compare with those in surrounding districts and other high schools with similar curriculums worldwide.
Currently, Pierson offers a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) courses for students in subjects such as world history, English, chemistry, calculus, art and so on. Nichols compared recent test results to those collected from previous years. In 2005, according to the data, there were 48 students enrolled in at least one AP course at Pierson and in 2008 there were 79 students. Nichols said that there was a 16 percent achievement rate for AP courses in 2002, but that results from 2007-08 show that there was a 74 percent achievement rate, even though the amount of students enrolled in AP courses has increased dramatically.
Nichols’ presentation also showed a comparison of the average exam results in AP classes in Sag Harbor and how they compared to other schools worldwide.
“We are doing very well against the global mean,” Nichols said on Monday.
The information presented was taken from the College Board and the results show that Sag Harbor doubles the physics and biology worldwide average and nearly triples the worldwide average for English literature and composition.
Nichols’ presentation also showed a comparison to local districts such as Bridgehampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Greenport, Mattituck and Eastport among others. Pierson typically scored higher in most state regents mandated exams such as English and math for eighth graders. Sag Harbor Regents test results showed Sag Harbor leading in five out of seven courses.
“Regents are tests mandated by the state and AP is not mandated,” Nichols told the crowd on Monday. “But the AP courses are the courses that help prepare for higher education and I see it as a necessity.”

Extracurricular Trips
After Nichols’ presentation, superintendent Dr. John Gratto explained that he and Nichols have worked on a revision of a new policy which outlines restrictions and allowances for extracurricular trips.
The new policy requires an outline for trips, those that will be curriculum-based and those not particularly tied to a curriculum. The new policy indicates students would not be allowed to miss more than two school days.
Board president Walter Wilcoxen said there is great concern for the quality of the education for the children that are left behind. He said they are trying to do a better job of finding a substitute or design activities relative to the subject for the children that remain in school.
Board member Sue Kinsella said on Monday that she is not in favor of taking the teachers out of the classroom for more than two days at a time and said that extensive field trips should be taken during vacation time.
Resident Elena Loreto, who also spoke at Monday’s meeting, said that she believes the only real impact a teacher has on a student is during traditional classroom instructional time. Loreto also expressed concern for those students that would be left behind.
This was the first reading of the policy, there will be a second reading and a chance for more input at the next meeting.

More Cost-Saving Measures
On Monday night, Gratto talked about additional plans that the district is investigating to try to save more money. Gratto said that there could be a mid-year state aid reduction, and that he and business manager Len Bernard are working diligently to try to come up with creative ways to cut costs. At the moment, Gratto said there are 16 ideas in the works for ways to try to reduce costs, including the South Shore Purchasing Consortium, a reduction in special education contracts and a freeze in the budget on some supplies. The district is now adding to that list an analysis of a different dental insurance company and requesting that computers are turned off when not in use, which Gratto said has shown a tremendous reduction in energy use in other municipalities. The district is also looking at a Medicaid reimbursement for services.
“We are in for a difficult year this year and possibly next year,” Gratto said.
Wilcoxen said, according to a publicized report from New York Governor David Paterson, the state has a two billion dollar deficit in education.
“I believe there will be no state money coming our way in the foreseeable future,” he said.
In response to the possible aid reduction, the school is considering buying a school bus and shuttle for field trips and trips for daily sporting activities. Bernard explained that the current bus company charges $85 per hour for a minimum of three hours.
“We had a field trip to Shelter Island, it cost three hours to bring the kids to the ferry and three hours to pick the kids up,” Bernard said. If the school had its own bus, the district could easily save money on trips such as this, according to Bernard.
Bernard said that the school might be able to examine shared services with Southampton or East Hampton and ask if those districts could pick up additional students. At the moment, Bernard said the district pays $22,000 to pick up Stella Maris students.